Friday, January 25, 2013

Deciding Which Project to Tackle Next

Recently a few people have asked me how I decide which projects I take on when, so I thought I'd give you a little insight into my process. Here are a few rules to live by when planning which projects to tackle around the house.

Rule #1: As much as possible, finish a project before you acquire a new one. I am a total furniture hoarder. I'm really trying to be better about it, but in the past I've been really bad about picking up stuff on Craigslist because it's free, or accepting things from friends I don't really need, or holding on to pieces because I think I can sell them. I do not suggest being like this, because it makes it a heck of a lot harder to get anything done. It's kind of like ordering a book on every time you read a good review, but never finishing the book you started months ago. You're never going to read those new books until you finish that one you started, so just stop buying them. OK, you caught me...I do that too.

Stop looking on Craigslist. Buy/order your materials. Make decisions. Dedicate time to your project. One way that you can help yourself to do this while preserving ideas or intentions for the future is by keeping a sketchbook. Maybe you have an idea of what kind of a media stand you want to get, but you really should spend time refinishing the dining room table first. Sketch the media stand, know what kind of dimensions you're thinking about, and revisit the idea after you've finished the table. Seriously. It's a lot easier to let an idea go when you know you have it recorded somewhere.

My dining room as I prepared for Lucketts. Furniture everywhere. 
Rule #2: Don't burn out on difficult projects. I have a few friends who like to run marathons. Most of them run about two a year. In between marathons, they're still running and racing a lot, but they're doing 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, etc. They just can't run marathon on top of marathon because they would totally burn out. I am no marathon runner, but I treat some of my more intense projects the same way. For example, stripping and refinishing a piece of furniture like my desk chair is a long, often miserable process. I am always proud of the end result, but I need a good long time in between projects like that. While I could probably tackle a similar project immediately afterwards, I know that 1) I will be miserable, and this is something I try to do for fun; and 2) I probably won't do a very good job because I will be so impatient and fried after the last project that I'll try to take shortcuts or miss important details. I also need time in between projects to forget how long and annoying some of them can be.

I ended up taking apart my desk chair to do a really thorough job stripping paint off it before I refinished it.
It took forrreevvverrrr. 
Rule #3: Give yourself some freebies. This is no new concept: it helps to gain momentum by taking care of a small project  that you've been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to yet. In this case I'm talking painting a tray or vase or something. They are quick and can be done on a Saturday afternoon, and it feels so good to cross it off your list that. Plus, you might be so inspired that you spend the rest of the day tackling more projects. Freebies don't have to be furniture or painting projects. They can be finally putting that accessory you bought at the store in the right place, or hanging a picture, or even cleaning your room.

Rule #4: Plan projects with the seasons. This week it's been in the 20s in DC. This is not spray painting weather or doing anything outside weather unless it involves a snowsuit. So it would be really stupid of me pick up something tomorrow that needs to be spray painted. Likewise, I better not intend to paint anything in my backyard in July when it's 95 degrees and 200% humidity outside. It will never dry. So when I think about acquiring projects, I have to think about when I'll reasonably be able to address them.

My desk was much easier to sand outside because I could use my power sander, which would have generated too much dust to use indoors.
Rule #5: Know your finishes. While my personal aesthetic leans a little more towards the lacquered furniture look, that paint can take 24 hours to dry, and the water-based ones need multiple coats. Chalk paint or milk paint, on the other hand, don't require sanding and dry very quickly. Given the amount of time it takes to paint something with Water-Based alkyd paint, it's useful to ask myself if there is an alternative, easier way to get a comparable look without compromising the quality of the finish.

This little table looks great, but it took way too much time to dry in between coats, which meant that a small piece of furniture like this took days to complete.

Although I was going for a modern look on these tables, I used chalk paint because it dried quickly and was easiest to apply the pattern with. In the end, I achieved the look I was going for. 
Rule #6: If you aren't willing to invest time in doing it right, then don't do it right now. I can't tell you how many times I used to throw a crappy coat of paint on something just to get it done quickly. Now everyday I pull clothes out of a dresser that I should have done a better job painting, and it's a daily reminder of how my haste led to something I'm not totally happy with. I wish I had done it right the first time, because it's really too late to redo the thing, and if I ever want to replace it and sell it, I won't be able to get a price that it worth of my other work.

Rule #7: Admit when you don't think you'll ever take on a project, and get rid of it. Last year I picked up a free chair on the side of a curb and planned to fix it up for the Lucketts Market. When I got it home, I realized it wasn't in awesome shape, but was determined to fix it up. Finally, I determined it wasn't worth my time or energy, and I gave it away. It feels good to know that project isn't still sitting on my plate, and it's not taking up room in my home either. I'll probably end up doing the same with this chair too, since the frame is rotted beyond my ability to repair it.

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