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  • Emily Lessig

From Drab to Fab- Side Tables!

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

You might remember that I shared this pair of side tables in our Design Your Business Community on Facebook with a note about my intentions to fix them up and make them pretty again. Well, I’ve done it and I wanted to share the process with you!


I used to dabble in painting furniture and re-purposing items years ago when my husband and I were saving up for a down payment on our house. After the move though, I stopped. I’m slowly getting back into it though because I find it very satisfying to take something old, unloved, a little beat up, off trend, and put a bit of time and love into it to create something new, unique, beautiful, and functional. Now, I’m no expert on this – I’m learning as I go and each piece teaches me something new – so this is just me sharing what I learned from these pieces and of course, looking for feedback from our wonderful community!


Here’s a picture of one of the two side tables – they matched exactly, except for the wear and tear, of course. Someone was moving in my neighborhood and had set them out for the trash man! What a find, right?!



My first step was to remove the hardware (side handles and screws) and scrub them down with a damp rag to remove the dust, dirt, and other grime. Once clean, I tried to decide what I wanted to do with these… paint them? Sand and re-stain them? The biggest question mark for me were the inset panels on the tabletops. I thought they were just weird chipboard… they seemed like the same color as the rest of the piece, fairly hard to the touch, there was gold paint around the trim… so my original plan was sand the whole thing, prime, and paint…. BUT…. In chatting with Joan Wilkening, I discovered that those insets are actually leather! I’m embarrassed to say that I argued. I could not see these being leather – it was definitely just cheap MDF, right? But Joan stood her ground so I stuck a screwdriver under one corner and started to investigate. And lo and behold…. Leather!!! All that to say, one, we never know everything and always have room to learn, and two, I now had to decide what on earth to do with these leather rectangles!


For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m a vegetarian and an adamant animal lover. So leather doesn’t really fit in with my aesthetic. With that in mind, I started peeling the leather off the tables and was surprised to find that it came off fairly easily! Woo!


So, step two for me was sanding. I started with rough sand paper and moved into the finer grit to make sure I had a smooth finish. I used chalk paint so I wasn’t worried about sanding these down to the bare wood, but wanted to make sure that I at least got rid of the shiny finish and gave the paint something nice to stick to. I’m a believer in “better safe than sorry” and have learned the hard way that skipping steps and doing it the easy way isn’t always best. So I sanded, I cleaned and dusted again, and got down to step three – priming!


Again, I know that some wisdom out there says that priming isn’t necessary when using chalk paint, but better safe than sorry! You only have to paint one piece of furniture and see the brown stains come seeping through your beautiful paint job to learn the lesson! I use a combination sealer and primer that promises to lock in those stains and so far, so good.



After both pieces had been primed and dried for twenty four hours, it was time to paint! This is my favorite part! I chose a light turquoise color chalk paint. One coat went on and I was very happy! Second coat went on and the tables were both starting to look brand new:


While I was happy with the tables being a solid color, I still felt like those insets needed a little something. Lucky for me, I married an artist and can pick his brain for ideas when I feel stuck. One of his suggestions was to use book pages to decorate the insets and I immediately knew that was the answer! After a trip to Goodwill to pick out a classic novel, I got the Mod Podge out and started layering the book pages onto the tables.



After the Mod Podge had dried completely, I put two coats of Polycrylic on the table tops to seal them. Mod Podge is very water soluble so you never want to leave it if you do decoupage a piece! Finally, the hardware got cleaned and put back on the sides of the tables and voila! I’m really happy with the outcome and can’t wait to get my hands on the next project!




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