Sideboard, upcycled

Somewhere in the mists of time, probably three years ago now, we inherited an upcycling project from my sister-in-law. The once quaint wooden sideboard didn’t fit the decor of their new home, and my wife and I thought we’d give it a go.

Good from afar, far from good

The sideboard turned out to be a wreck. It had been left outside for some time, and as I didn’t have space for it in the workshop it was outside and covered in tarps for another winter before I could even get started on it.

A closer inspection showed that it wasn’t a particularly good piece either. No wonder they’d picked it up for a tenner. The main structural parts looked like oak, but the rest was plywood and veneer. Most of that was de-laminating.

A good clean up works wonders

The first step was elbow grease. Sanding, and more sanding. All by hand because the parts were a bit too fragile to risk the orbital sander, and the belt sander would have reduced the whole thing to dust.

Slowly a picture of what might be possible emerged.

Left, sanded and cleaned, right with just the cobwebs brushed off

The veneer from the shoulders was all over the place, bits missing, the ply underneath also coming apart. I stripped away everything that was loose and built it back up with that rough packing paper you get with Amazon deliveries and watered down PVA.

With enough bits and layers that gave me a base to put on some new veneer. I had assumed the fascia was square to the shoulders, but obviously over time the two had warped, so there was a bit of fettling and filler required before that process was complete.

I didn’t mess too much with the veneer on the sides. It was wafer thin and ripped in places. I glued down the loose bits and made judicious use of filler for the gaps. It really was in a bad way and stripping it back could have destroyed everything.

We had toyed with the idea of covering the shoulders with copper coins, and I really would have liked to give it a go, but the curve was a bit too severe and undoing that if it went wrong would be really destructive.

We did of course give it a bit of a personal touch at the end. More on that later.

Pro tip – heat breaks up old glue. It took about five minutes of half power and jiggling per handle to get them out. Don’t forget to wear gloves.

Finishes, and the end in sight

I have no idea if there is any science to this, but it felt right. I used two coats of walnut wood dye first. In part this was to even out the colour and hide some of the water damage, and harmonise the different wood types, and in part the wood was in poor condition from exposure and I felt it needed some care lavished on it.

That gave me a good base on which to apply two coats of walnut stain.

Dyed on the left, first coat of stain on the right

The split in the doors posed a tough question. It was theoretically feasible to unglue, disassemble and try to straighten and repair them, but it was a risk. The crack has not penetrated all the way through, there are bends in the back of the door but no open space.

In the end I went with the easy option, and consoled myself that this allowed the sideboard to tell its story.

That said there were myriad cracks and splits that needed repair. I mostly used dust from the sanding and pva in the gaps, and an array of clamps. I’m pretty pleased that the repairs aren’t obvious.

Coming unhinged

The hinges were also a mess. At some point a previous owner had varnished over them. Don’t ask me why. It took a combination of gel paint remover, a toothbrush and wire wool to get this mess off.

I don’t actually like the hinges, and I don’t see how they fit the overall style. There are no holes indicating other hinges were once used. I’ve stuck with these for now, but I can see a future in which they are replaced.

It was around now, with the wood recoloured and a shape emerging that it was clear this was a bit of Frankenstein furniture. The style of the doors, drawers, hinges and top piece don’t seem consistent.

That made it easier to give it a bit of a flourish of our own.

Top, tiled

The flat top on the base was a ruin. It was where the water damage was worst, and it needed a complete replacement. I went with plywood because why be different to what was there before, and a beading to finish off the edge.

There’s something very satisfying about a hand cut mitred corner

That high edge and flat surface meant we could add a personal twist. Tiles.

A bit out of sequence, this is before I cut the top to size, also the beading had been kicking around in workshop for a while and was decidedly wonky at one end

We used a contact adhesive to stick the tiles down, and then grouted. I really like the effect we achieved with this. My wife’s idea and choice of tiles, so well done to her.

Fit, and not quite finished

The two parts are attached with a pair of dowels and pair of screws on each foot. I decided to keep the original dowel position and put in new screw holes. A bit of precise measurement was required to get that right, as well as making a template for the two feet.

Finish line just out of reach

The handles we like aren’t in stock, so there will be a bit of a wait. The build work is done though, and the whole thing put together and in place.

It fits the colour of our fireplace and the two sets of tiles riff off each other. That was completely intentional, obvs.

After a couple of years of on and off tinkering, and a bit of lockdown inspiration, I’m quite pleased with the result. Of course I know every inch of this thing now, I know where the veneer is tap away from falling off, and where glue, filler and hope are holding things together. The whole house is like that.

It was never a high end piece. It looks like it was several ideas cobbled together before we got hold of it, and we have added a few of our own. Something about that feels right. It fits our house and our family.

Job (almost) done.

I had to do some last minute drilling when the screws for the hinges would not sit quite right.



Crossing Picture Rails and Rubicons

I have lived my life with picture rails; in rooms where plain white ceilings spill down the walls until they meet the thin, carved baton, below which the colour and character of the room flows. They were once in every room of my mother’s home, a late Victorian terrace, and over the years of decorating and maintaining it I developed a love hate relationship with them.

In the days of wallpaper they were incredibly useful, providing a neat straight line to butt up against, rather than attempting to judge the point at which plaster from the wall became the ceiling. They provided definition, a distinct “here one thing ends, and another begins” without the pretension of a dado.

But they were also fluted and fiddly – difficult to sand and prepare, tortuous to paint. This is particularly true in the current post wallpaper age when they are the last element to be painted, along with skirting boards.

Strong emotions to elicit from a piece of household trimming, you may think, but over the years I have done a lot of decorating.

It was a dislocating experience then, when some of the picture rails in mum’s house were removed during the recent complete refurbishment and rebuilding. The rooms look a little higher but this is offset by the feeling of bareness. I don’t live there anymore, I understand why they have gone, but I would have kept them.

That’s not the only Rubicon I have had to cross recently. Things hang from a picture rail, and not just pictures. In Bob’s room for example, suspended from hooks were storage for her tights and her teddy bears. There are a lot of both, I don’t understand why, but I know better than to question. The space above a picture rail on the other hand was sacred. It was part of the ceiling, and the only decoration there would be covings and ceiling roses. Nothing else.

Except Bob’s room is a box room, 10’ by 7’ with two small windows. Space is at a premium and that entire unused wall above the picture rail is a terrible waste. Necessity butting up against aesthetics – this time necessity won.

v2-0435The plan was to get Bob a cabin sleeper (bought in, not bespoke as I wanted to make). That would put her about  4 feet off the ground and bring the empty white space into play. I got to make something, so I was happy. The space is now partially filled with a set of bespoke shelves. The heretics have stormed  the citadel of truth, there are now things above the picture rail.


I went for bull nosed MDF from the shop rather than furniture board. Another  Rubicon crossed. Thus far MDF has been a banned material in the house. In general I don’t like it – sure it is smooth finished and easy to work with, but it sags under load, and I have little confidence in how well screws will bind and it clags up drill bits. In this build the screws are to help the glue go off rather than the primary pinning.

The reason for coming down off my high horse was time and the weather, This plan came together as while measuring what would fit in the room, and it became clear there just was not enough storage. There were only days between the end decorating and the delivery of new carpets and the bed, Anything I needed to build had to be in that window in the evenings after work. On top of that the weather turned foul and there wasn’t enough room in the workshop to manoeuvre 2m lengths of timber. It was a time to be radical so I threw all the principles of the bodging carpenter out of the window. Saving myself a soaking, tendonitis and myriad cuts and scrapes I got the shop to cut all the pieces to size for me, in the hated material.

Of course I did end up at the table saw, my approximate approach to measurement meant I had to take the uprights to my workshop to trim off a few mills. As I wasn’t going to trust my baby to sleeping beneath fixings through MDF I used some scrap spruce stock to secure the unit to the walls.

I think it works. Lets hope it stays up.

The very pretty light fitting is another little adventure – it is a discontinued item from Homebase, and we were tempted by the heavy discount on it, as well as the way it suits the overall colour scheme. Alas there were none left in England and Inverness was an awfully long way to go for a light pendant. TBH asked if we could take the display version and the jobsworth on the desk said no. I went back later that day in search of more radiator enamel. A lady with a more can do attitude sorted it all out, gave me a discount for it being unboxed and ex display, and then applied the 15% off everything that runs over a bank holiday weekend. In the end we got it for a third of the original price.


Of course that left us with the question of what to do with the old furniture. For now the cabinet/changing table and cupboard are staying. Bob is still young enough that the Humphrey’s Corner detailing isn’t offensive to her. The bed needs a new home, and we convinced ZedBee that she would like to change her cot bed for Bob’s one. That was quite a coup because ZedBee’s has a broken slat (repaired by me) and the headboard is covered in stickers. Bob’s old Humphrey’s corner cot bed is pristine. ZedBee’s old bed will find a new home with the local charity shop.

There was a bit of relief in all that.  Outwardly it was because the Humphrey’s Corner stuff is beautifully made and has lasted really well, but the truth is a little more personal. That furniture is from when my baby was a baby. When it goes it will be because she has grown out of the furniture and its chubby elephant detailing. Thankfully that is not a Rubicon I have to cross just now.