09 July 2011

DIY: vanity refinish

Once upon a time, in a faraway land of bad photography, there was this vanity:

Or it could have been in our downstairs guest bathroom. The photography was seriously lacking either way. And so was the room, which was suffering from a bad case of bright red walls:

Once upon a slightly later time, I painted over the bright red walls. It really transformed the room so I’ll write more about it someday, but for now, a tip: Do not paint the smallest room in the house with vertical stripes, because you will feel as though you are in the bottom of a well. Another tip: Do not paint the smallest room in the house BRIGHT RED, just because I said so.

But even after brightening and making the space feel larger, I was still stuck with this builder-grade orangey oak vanity, topped with that Corian-like built-in sink. I was not a fan. Sure, we could put the money into replacing it with a gorgeous pedestal sink, but I knew that project would most likely involve re-drywalling the back of the vanity and most definitely re-tiling underneath it. I had no idea if matching ceramic tiles would even be available anymore, and if I picked something different to re-tile the entire bathroom, we might also end up re-tiling the hallway AND laundry closet AND broom closet under the stairs. It was going to get out of control, fast. So I repeated to myself a dozen times “this is not my forever home” and found a cheaper solution.

Enter Prince Charming, and his trusty steed, Cheap 2” Disposable Paintbrush:

That’s Minwax Polyshades in Bombay Mahogany Satin finish, if you cannot read the label. I first heard of it and similar products at ABP where the delightful Katie used it (or a similar product made by Cabot) to “stain” a dresser and a new ceiling fan and even her stairs. No sanding, no staining, no wiping. Just stain on top of stain, basically. I suppose that Polyshades might soak into the wood like a real stain on the first coat, but because it automatically polyurethanes in each coat, subsequent coats are really more like a glaze.

So basically, Polyshades is the Velveeta of Wood Stains. By that I mean it’s not a real stain and no professional or even semi-professional would ever be fooled by it. And I would die if someone used it on valuable antique fancypants furniture. However, sometimes the shortcut way is also the easiest and most pleasing way, not unlike making “homemade” macaroni and cheese with the fake unrefrigerated stuff in the yellow box. You know how delicious that is. Just velveeta and butter, baby. Mmmm.

Anyway, I had already successfully used Polyshades on a dresser I refinished for our bedroom, so I figured I’d give it a try here. I told myself if it didn’t work, I’d just paint it, because the 1990s orangey oak was sticking out like a sore thumb in the newly updated bathroom and something had to be done. So, I covered the bathroom floor in garbage bags, took the doors and drawers and hardware off the vanity, half-heartedly sanded it a teensy bit, and applied three coats of Prince Charming over the course of a weekend.

Here’s where I would show you progress shots, but because this was pre-blog days where I didn’t wander around taking photos of every single thing I do, I’m just gonna hit you with the after. Kablam!

Holy moly is that the same vanity? Goodness. Hello, gorgeous.

In lieu of progress photos, I’ll give you a few polystaining tips, but honestly I have already told you the most important points:

1) You really don’t need to sand, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt (so long as you do it evenly so the stain absorbs/covers evenly). Cleaning and wiping the wood is crucial, though – you don’t want anything permanently gunked into the stain.

2) Use a disposable brush, unless you are a freakazoid who enjoys cleaning up with mineral spirits. I actually bought a cheap brush for each coat for only $1 each.

3) However, you should have mineral spirits on hand. I have an eco-friendly version of the stuff for drips and spatters and getting it off my hands.

4) Several light coats are better than one heavy coat. This stuff can and will drip all over the place and once the drip dries into place, you are totally out of luck. I haven’t figured out a way to sand out Polyshade drips seamlessly. So go light! I ended up doing three light coats, I think – and I really should have done four lighter coats.

5) Steady hands are key. There’s no wiping here, so you just gotta go with the grain and try to apply your coats evenly.

That’s it! Again, please do not use this stuff to refinish your great-great-grandma’s heirloom china cabinet or something. And if you’re trying it for the first time, maybe practice on scrap wood just so you see how it works. Even those with experience and the steadiest of hands sometimes get some drips:

Like many of my projects, it’s a Monet – looks great from far away, just don’t get too close. Fortunately it’s not noticeable unless you open the drawer, and anyway a guest (or future potential buyer) would have to be paying attention to see it.

A few other little details about this vanity update. You’ll notice from the before-and-after above that I changed the hardware. Before, the pulls and hinges were gold. I wanted to banish the gold, dress up the pulls, but have the hinges fade into the background. So, rather than buying new pulls and hinges – which, admittedly, would have set me back maybe only twenty bucks – I painted them instead. I took the opportunity when all the hardware was off to use nickel-finish spraypaint on the pulls (and TP holder, actually) and oil-rubbed bronze spraypaint on the hinges, both of which I had on hand because I'll spraypaint anything that sits still long enough:

So there you have it. A weekend of work (mostly drying time) and the Prince Charming of Stains transform the ugly vanity into one of my favorite DIY pieces in the house. I still don’t love the countertop-sink combo and of course a pedestal sink would be tops, but you can’t beat the price for what feels like a new vanity:

8 oz. Polyshades – $7 (so says the website – I feel like it was less, like under $5, but it’s been awhile and I didn’t save the receipt)
Disposable paintbrushes – $3
Satin nickel spraypaint – already owned ($4 at the store)
Oil-rubbed bronze spraypaint – already owned ($4 at the store)
Total cost: $10

And one last shot of the happily ever after:

Happy polystaining!


Lisa said...

Lol on the taking shots of everything you do! I am sooo there! Love your posts!