the red chairs saga

I’m really only writing this, because I promised ErikaErin, and Mary Ellen [who neeeeeeds a blog!] I would do so. And sometimes addressing trauma head-on is part of the healing process. [I’m never ever dramatic.]

The story is *seriously* too long, chock-full of hyperbole and pettiness, so if you don’t care to read ramble-y paragraphs about my DIY angst, the short version: I decided to paint some dining chairs red. It should have been a simple process, but I made it w-a-y too complicated for myself, and they turned out not-at-all like I wanted, but I still like them. The End.

And now for the long version after the jump.

Our “original” plan for a dining room table was that Ryan was going to make one. [Inspired by his always-fav Art of Manliness.] Then, I was going to troll Craigslist and the like for mis-matched chairs, which I would then paint red, so they would kinda-match. Well, during a late-night Craigslist session, I discovered a set of six chairs that looked like what I wanted [except the fact that they matched]. However, they came with a table. Upon closer inspection of the grainy picture, I decided that I actually loved the table too.

Not wanting to crush Ryan’s dreams of building his family a table, I off-handedly suggested that we go down to Derby to look at the table and chairs the next day. To which Ryan responded, “you know, with work and school, I really don’t think I have the time to make a table anymore, but if I could do the work of re-finishing one, then I would still have some ‘ownership’ of our family’s table.” Enough said.

The table and chairs ended up being in worse condition than the picture depicted [shocker], but nonetheless the table was well-built, solid, with two leaves. We did some back-and-forth negotiations, including a walk-away, but in the end we scored the set for an extremely reasonable price. I think I remember remarking something like, “well, even if we don’t use these particular chairs, the price was worth it for the table alone.”

So, my husband (with a lot of help from my mother) spent countless hours re-finishing it. He has triumphantly returned to the blogosphere and described the process here, and the end result was a truly beautiful table. I like to walk by it during the day and just stare at it and run my fingers along its perfectly-imperfect top. [Overshare?]

And now, the chairs…

Since the full-on refinishing turned out so well, I thought maybe we’d do the same for the chairs. However, my mom who has extensive experience refurbishing furniture insisted that they were not in good enough condition and were too intricate, that the stripping of wood, etc. process would just be too time-consuming for the outcome. I trusted her judgment, so we returned to the original plan of painting the chairs red.

[Yes, I know that red dining chairs is so 2009, but really, I don’t care.]

As most of you are aware, there are many ways to paint furniture. Probably the most classic way is with oil-based enamel paint, but spray paint has gotten awfully trendy on the ‘ol Pinterest. After many many many many late nights on google, we decided to go the route of chalk paint and wax (NOT to be confused with “chalkboard” paint). The advantage of chalk paint is that you do not have to prime the wood in any way- no stripping, using mineral spirits, etc. Also, chalk paint lends itself well to the “distressed” look, which we decided was necessary anyway, because, well, these chairs were already pretty distressed.

As far as my internet knowledge goes, there are two main brands of chalk paint: Annie Sloan (very popular, almost-synonymous with chalk paint) and CeCe Caldwell’s (a more “green” option). The problem with these paints was twofold: 1. they are crazy-expensive and 2. they didn’t have the “right” shade of red, in that both of their reds were fire-engine/cherry or orangish/pink, whereas we desired more of a brick red.

And thus, my sister and I decided to try our hands at *making our own chalk paint*. Tedious, ridiculously long story made short, we came up with this formula: 1 part water to 2 parts non-sanded grout to 3 parts paint. Mix the water and grout until smooth, then mix with paint until smooth and consistent in color.

Now, we didn’t just jump into the chairs. Instead, we tried out the homemade paint with two side tables that Ryan got for free years ago [thanks, David!]. We cleaned them up, painted them, distressed, then waxed them. And, not to brag, but they turned out awesome. See:

In retrospect, I wish the side tables hadn’t turned out well, because then I wouldn’t have been empowered to try the same process on the chairs. Blah.

Anyway, the first challenge was finding the right shade of red. I spent an unbelievable amount of time searching such things as “best paint color for red dining chairs” on Mr. Google. I came up utterly short. I bought a few samples, but every time I mixed it with the grout, it turned out PINK PINK PINK.

Finally, I decided on Sherwin Williams’ “Bolero” latex at 150%. Mixed with the grout it DEFINITELY pink-i-fied more than we wanted, but it was still “brick” enough.

However, if you know anything about paint, the more pigment that is in the color, the thinner it is. So red is naturally thin, and red at 150% is ridiculous. In hindsight, I think this was our great downfall.

Our other downfall was the fact that the paint didn’t “keep” overnight, even in a tightly-sealed container. Since I could only work on the chairs for an hour or two every few days, having to re-mix the paint each time was really really really annoying and surely affected the consistency of color.

Also, little dots of grout kept popping up and making little white streaks in our brushstrokes. In retrospect, this probably happened with the side tables too, but because the gray was so light, we didn’t notice it.

And because they were in my parents’ garage for so long, they kept attracting weird fuzzies and other oddities that we kept having to try to wipe off without hurting the paint, but it did take off big chunks here and there that we had to try to make look “distressed.” Example:

So, after the chairs were painted and distressed (this took about three weeks?), it was time to wax. At this point, I kind of hated them. Seriously. I kept sending desperate, expletive-filled texts to Ryan about how much I wanted to throw them into the river. Except that I love the river, and I wouldn’t want to traumatize it with the ugliness of the chairs.

Amidst my pessimism, I held onto the hope that waxing would make them all better. This ended up being kinda-true, but it was a long road to that process.

So, the night we started to wax, my mom pulled out the can and said something to me about the lid not being on it. I wasn’t listening carefully, so I thought she meant that she had just taken it off…yeah…in reality it had probably been off for a few weeks.

Thankfully, we only waxed one chair with the dried-up wax, but when we realized it wouldn’t buff off, I kinda freaked out, and almost gave up entirely. However, my much calmer mom and husband figured out how to remove the wax (Imperial Cleaner), which my mother blessedly did for me, even though it took an entire afternoon.

Buuuut, the cleaner also took off some of the paint, so we had to re-paint that chair, which I did without complaining and saying bad words. [Not.]

So, when we finally got around to buying more wax and reserving a day…which ended up being two days…to wax them, it really helped the chairs look not-terrible. The waxing process was tedious. We did three coats on the bottom and five (!) on the top. One thing I would recommend was a system I had of tying a piece of paper to each chair, where we kept track of how many times it had been waxed and buffed. This greatly aided in our assembly line.

To conclude, the chairs are far, far, far from perfect, but I don’t hate them. I’ve decided to dub the look “shabby shabby shabby chic.” I am so very very grateful to my amazing family who put up with my crazy and helped SO much.

Not to get all deep, but as I was finishing up the chairs and the wax fumes were getting to me, I started to think about how even if we won the lottery and could buy a perfectly new table and chairs, I wouldn’t want to do so. There really is something about taking pieces that could be discarded and making them beautiful [well, in this case, “acceptable”]. Going to a fancy store and just buying a dining set wouldn’t have a story attached to it. And I am sure our kids will hear the tale of the dining chairs again and again…and I am confident the lore will become more exaggerated with each telling.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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4 thoughts on “the red chairs saga

  1. Those chairs, along with the lore that will be passed along with them, are a family treasure Sarah! Surely you will fill them with a multitude of happy and delicious memories.
    You guys are already better home-owners than we are. :)

  2. Pingback: Yes, another 7 Quick Takes | sarahunfiltered

  3. Oh I missed this post somehow until now. Thank you for elaborating on all the gory details. It was like reading a birth story. I would really like to repaint our kitchen chairs so thanks for sharing this so hopefully it won’t be quite as difficult. Way to go for persevering to the end of this project!

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