The boy turned 24 last week, and I have to admit, I was feeling a little lame about my plans for him this year. I had set the bar pretty high in previous years, but this being his fourth (!!!) birthday we’ve spent together, I wasn’t feeling all that creative. I know, it sounds pretty lame. Especially given that two years ago I crafted him his own “GI Kyle” (duh, his name) and last year I gave him this sweet watch he’d been eyeing for months:
But this year I had to be practical. We’re both busy, we both pay rent now, and there’s stuff he actually needs. So I bought him a new pair of Sperry’s to replace his old and disgusting ones (that I also bought him two years ago) and made plans to go to the Wharf, a great seafood restaurant in Old Town, Alexandria where ma boo could get his favorite dish: crab cakes.
Then, last week I got ambitious. For a while I had kicked around the idea of refinishing an old chair for the boy to put on the side of his bed that doesn’t have a night stand. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, a chair is a lame gift too. But trust me, this one is cool for reasons you will soon find out. Anyway, Tuesday evening after work (his birthday was Wednesday) I stopped at Goodwill to see if they might have the kind of thing I was looking for. I am rarely one of those people who walk into Goodwill and walk out with a ton of treasures, but this trip was perfect. I picked up this beauty for $4!
As you can see, it needed some work. Namely, the back had to be glued back onto it, but that was a pretty easy fix. After my trip to Goodwill I headed a mile down the road to Home Depot where I snagged some Elmer’s wood glue, a can of colonial red spray paint, and a can of spray clear protective finish.
I was under a bit of a time crunch so I raced home, changed into my painting clothes, and set up a spray painting station in my back yard. This is the part where I tell you why this chair thing is cool: My plan was to spray the chair red and stencil an Indiana University (his alma mater) symbol on it. Not only does he love any opportunity to display something IU in his house, he would also have a good football/basketball chair.
Side note: if you’ve ever met someone who went to IU, you know that they are totally in love with their school. I also have it from a good source that the comeback of IU basketball will be the greatest sports story ever told.
Anyway, back to the chair. First I lightly sanded the chair and wiped it down with a damp rag to get rid of the dust from the sanding. Then I went to work gluing the back onto the base. I squeezed some wood glue into the holes that hold the back and then used my fingers to spread the glue so that it covered the hole for the spokes. I also put some glue onto the actual back itself. When you do this kind of a repair, especially on something like a chair, make sure that you look to see if any glue has dripped down onto the legs, and wipe it off before it dries.
In my haste, I didn’t actually wait for the glue to dry. Instead, I flipped the chair over and got to spraying. I figured the glue would still dry while the paint was being applied. I like to flip a chair over and spray the legs first so that the seat and back don’t get messed up if the paint is still a little tacky. I didn’t prime the chair because I intended to give it a distressed look, and I just wanted the wood to show through when I sanded it a bit. I sprayed a couple of light coats to the legs, making sure that my hand was always moving and that I was about 8-12 inches away from the surface I was spraying. When spraying, it’s always good to remind yourself that you don’t need 100% coverage on the first coat – that’s how you end up with a gloppy, runny finish.
I only had to let the coats dry about 10-15 minutes before I applied another one, so it was a quick process. After I sprayed the bottom, I flipped the chair back to its normal position and sprayed the top. When you’re using spray paint, it’s good to pay special attention to the corners because they can easily get missed.
I let the chair dry about 15 minutes before I brought it back into our basement. Once it was dry, I started my stenciling process.
In between spraying coats of paint on the chair, I made my own IU stencil using file folder and a symbol I found on the computer. I search for the IU logo and printed it on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. I had decided that I wanted the IU to be max 9” tall. I didn’t have to worry about width because the symbol is taller than it is wide. I actually printed the IU symbol to this size using InDesign, which I’m lucky enough to have on my computer. But, if you’re willing to not be quite as precise, you could probably use the regular picture editor on your computer and print a symbol about 10” tall.
After printing the IU, I used painters tape to secure it to the file folder, and then used a ruler (ok, it’s actually an engineering scale that I have leftover from an urban design studio class) and a craft knife to cut the IU out of the folder. Yes, I did this on top of a diet coke box and our coffee table. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a smart move, but our coffee table is a mess and I plan to refinish it, so I wasn’t worried about ruining it at all.
After I had made my stencil, I sprayed a stencil adhesive (available at Michael’s) on the back of it and stuck it to the chair. Then I used a mini roller to role some white paint I had on hand onto the chair. This is kind of the point in time where the file folder stencil idea isn’t the greatest thing, because it gets wet and doesn’t totally stay stuck to the surface. I’ve learned that I can’t really rely on stencils to produce clean lines, so I was kind of ready for this problem anyway.
After I had rolled on 2 – 3 coats I pulled the stencil off and evaluated my bleed problem (somewhat significant). I took a damp paper towel and tried to wipe most of the bleeding clean, using my finger nail to try and maintain the hard line. While the IU stencil was really easy to cut out, it’s actually not a very forgiving symbol to paint because its lines are so straight and it’s really noticeable if you can’t paint a solid line. I wanted to put another coat of paint on the IU but didn’t want to use the stencil anymore, so I took some narrow painters tape and taped off all the lines. In hindsight I probably should’ve taken this approach the whole time and simply used the stencil to draw on the symbol on the chair and then taped it off. Oh well. With a combo of my finger nail, a wet rag, and some light sanding, I was able to make the line look pretty sharp.
I think Kyle would be OK with me describing his style as casual all-American (seriously, this guy loves Amurica). So I wanted to give the chair a bit of a distressed, lived in look. I did this by lightly sanding down the paint in some places where you might see natural wear and tear, like along corners and edges, on the legs, front of the seat, etc. I then took a damp rag and wiped off any dust created by the sanding.
At this point I was pretty much dancing around thinking about how awesome of a girlfriend I am. I’m always excited when I finish a project, but I was seriously pumped about this. My roommates told me it was awesome and I wasn’t modest about it. The only thing left to do was spray a protective finish on the chair and I’d be done. This was necessary because while the plan is to have this chair next to the boy’s bed most of the time, I knew at some point it would make its way down to the frat house that is their first floor. Because I wanted the IU to stay intact and keep paint from rubbing off onto someone’s clothes, I decided to seal it post-distressing process.
I knew I could spray the chair in about 45 minutes total so I made a plan to leave work right at 5 and have the project done in time to pick up the boy for our 7:30 reservation…
Well, that was the plan at least. But when I got home and started spraying the protective finish on the chair, the very layer of spray paint I was attempting to protect started bubbling (!!!!!!!!!).
I wanted to cry. I think I sniffled a bit. This project had gone so smoothly up until that point and I knew that any delay would prevent me from delivering the birthday present on his actual birthday. The only silver lining was that I had flipped the chair over and started spraying the legs first, so the IU and most visible parts of the chair were fine. Knowing that this had just become a more involved process, I packed up for the day and went to get ready for dinner.
The next day after work I sanded off the bubbled paint really well, and was able to apply a new coat of red paint with very few mostly unnoticeable problems. After letting the legs dry, I brought the chair inside and applied three coats of Minwax Polycrylic protective finish using a foam brush. Polycrylic is a great finish to use over white paint because it doesn’t yellow and would keep the IU looking nice. I also used a different foam brush for the parts near the white paint because I didn’t want the foam brush to pick up any red particles and distribute them across the white paint.
Finally the project was done. I love it! And most importantly, so does Kyle. It looks great in his all American room and will be perfect for watching the IU – UVA football game (wahoowa!). Maybe by then I’ll have a UVA chair painted too!
And just to remind you how far it came:
For fun, here are a few more pictures of the boy's room, which I think suits him pretty well. Excuse the inappropriate street signs.