A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was

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I came so close. I really did. It was finished! Well, except for the paint job, but that would have been easy. So close. But I wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t perfect. So I had to go ruin it. A good dining table makeover gone bad…

Back in the summer of 2015, The Navage Patch didn’t exist yet. Handan and I were planning a blog – in fact, I’d already bought a domain name in October of 2014 – but we were dragging our feet on launching. I had the name, The Glue That Binds Us (I still own the domain), and I had designed a couple of logos, but that was about it. Would you like to see those original logos? Well, I’ll show them to you anyway.

 

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I thought the name was pretty clever at the time. But now?ย Blech. What a sentimental pile of crap! Thank god Handan wasn’t so keen on it and had the good sense to suggest “The Navage Patch” (that was the nickname of my San Francisco apartment). What did I know from good blog names back then? I’d never even read a DIY blog! In fact, my only experience with blogging up until that point had been a little recipe/lifestyle blog I kept while we were living in Doha. That one was called “Chef out of Water,” a name that I’m still proud of today. That was a fun little blog while it lasted. I’m sure my five readers were bummed when I stopped writing. I still have those posts saved. Maybe I’ll publish one from time to time, if you guys would like to read a younger and more flippant me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, back to whatever the heck I was yapping about. Oh yeah, the summer of 2015. Since a blog was on the horizon, we had started to tackle projects with the notion that we would someday be writing about them and publishing them. So when we chanced upon an antique Victorian dining table (Gothic Revival to be precise) at a weekly tag sale one Saturday, we knew we had a winner – both for our house and for the nascent blog.

What grabbed Handan about this table were the legs.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

She’s a sucker for carved animal feet. She’s also a sucker for baby feet. Yeesh, you should hear her every time she sees a picture of baby feet!

No matter that one of the feet was missing a toe. That could be easily fixed by yours truly.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

The table top was okay. Nothing to write home about, in my opinion, but a sanding/staining/sealing was definitely in order. Handan’s plan was to paint the legs white and distress them. That would make a nice counterpoint to the dark-stained top.

I set to work on it once we bought it home. Of course, I only remembered the “before” picture after I had started to sand the top, but this is close enough.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

See, even back then I had the forethought to photograph my supplies!

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

The table came with an insert. Unfortunately it was cupped and unusable as it was.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I read up on how to flatten cupped boards. The technique involved wet towels and sunshine, so I laid it on a wet towel and left it in the sun. It kinda worked.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

But it was just never flat enough to look good. I resolved to make an insert, though I had no idea how I would make it match. Anyway, that was a problem for later. I needed to focus on the main table top.

It was pretty dinged up. Not surprising given its age. Or maybe it belonged to wealthy aristocrats whose unruly brats gouged the table with their butter knives every time the cook tried to serve them beets. Or lima beans. Or fish.

“Chicken of the sea,” she called it. “It’ll be delicious,” she said. BAH! It tasted like oily fish!

Ahem. So yeah, this was how the top looked.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I sanded until my hands went numb. No really. It was the weirdest sensation. I turned off the sander, and it felt like I had two Polish hams attached to my arms.

Rather odd.

Quite unpleasant.

When feeling had returned to my hams hands, I wiped the table with mineral spirits and reached for the stain. I think I used a 50/50 mixture of Minwax Ebony and Jacobean. Oh, it looked perfect…

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

…Pity I hadn’t wiped off the excess stain yet.

After the big wipe, I had another look.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

Hmmmm…

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I’ve seen better stain jobs on my shirt after spaghetti night! A stain job like that outta come with free grief counselling!

As you’ve no doubt guessed, because each of you on your worst day is undoubtedly smarter than I was back then, I forgot (read: didn’t know I needed) to apply pre-stain conditioner to the wood before staining. Okay, look, I had a can of it, so it’s not like I was a total boob, but I don’t think I’d ever used it before. It just sort of sat there on the shelf, collecting dust – a silent testament to my woodworking ignorance.

I put on my hearing protection, donned my dust mask and fired up my ham-maker sander.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

It was like deja vu all over again.

I blew the dust off the lid of pre-stain and pried it open with a screwdriver. Hey, this stuff smells pretty good. I took a couple of big snorts before reading the warnings about inhaling the vapors. Dangit. I stumbled over to the table and slapped on the pre-stain. I waited the obligatory 15 minutes and wiped off the excess.

This time around, I went with full Ebony – no mixing it with Jacobean. I wanted it dark.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com
A rare glimpse of the blue-chested doofus in the wild.

The stain was as good as it was going to get, or more to the point – as good as I was going to get it. Handan and I carried the table inside so I could apply polyurethane in a cleaner environment than the garage.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I used my favorite glossy wipe-on poly, and after I had applied 3 or 4 coats, I had a pretty good finish. But “pretty good” wasn’t nearly good enough for this blue-chested doofus! Oh no! I wanted perfect! So I read up on how the pros get that mirror shine. Turns out they do all sorts of wet-sanding and then they apply car polish.

Wet sanding, eh? I could do that!

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

Hmmm, I think I need a higher grit! Time to ditch the machine and use my hands!

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

Dadgummit, where’s my mirror shine?? I was lied to! I’ve been had!

In the end, I didn’t get my mirror shine. The only thing I got was a swirly dull table and a broken heart.

Ah, well, onward and upward! Stiff upper lip!

I started over with the wipe-on poly.

I gotta say, it was looking pretty freaking awesome after the last coat.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

The surface wasn’t perfect. There were waves and indentations, but to almost anyone’s eye, it would have been more than good enough.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

But “pretty freaking awesome” wasn’t “perfect,” was it? “More than good enough” wasn’t “perfect,” was it?

Oh, no ho ho sirreee! Not nearly perfect enough.

And the more I looked, the more imperfect it looked.

Ripples! Ripples everywhere!

I threw my rags to the floor in disgust and shouted at the ceiling about the unfairness of it all.

Handan thought I had lost it. She thought it looked great.

But I knew better.

Oh, I knew much better!

“It’s crap!” I bellowed into the stale, vapor-filled air of my office. “I need to do it over!”

“Whatever, babes. Do what you want.” Handan said, as she shook her head and left me there alone with my rippled and pock-marked failure.

I needed to do it over, but I couldn’t keep spinning ’round the same old track. I needed a new angle. I had read somewhere that professional furniture finishers used lacquer for that perfectly smooth and mirrored shine.

Lacquer, eh?

How hard could it be?

I did a little more research and learned that the pros sprayed the lacquer from fancy spray guns in positive-pressure clean-rooms, so there was no chance of dust contamination.

Spray guns?

Clean rooms?

Pfffft. Overkill!

I could get the same results with some Home Depot brush-on lacquer in my garage!

(Couldn’t I?)

I kindly asked my long-suffering wife to once again help me move the table back out to the garage. I really didn’t want to sand back down to bare wood and start the staining process yet again, so I sanded off the poly as best I could. Once I had it sanded to where I thought it needed to be, I prepared myself to use lacquer for the first time.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

Everything I read planted doubts in my mind like little mines. Every thought or idea I chased led me to another explosion of promised failure.

“You can’t brush lacquer. It must be sprayed.”

Then why does the can say “Brush-on Lacquer?”

“You must apply the lacquer in a sealed tent with a positive-pressure system.”

I’m pretty sure my garage is ummm…positive?

“Lacquer is like ambrosia to insects.”

I’m in the garage….I’m sure they won’t find me.

“Lacquer vapors are extremely harmful. Use only in a well-ventilated area.”

Hello! I have the garage doors open!ย 

(But what about the bugs..?)

Doubt flooded my mind, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I switched off my brain and jumped right into the work.

I unwrapped my fancy new lacquer brush. It was made from the spring growth of a Gypsy Vanner Stallion’s mane or some such nonsense.

It promised a smooth and even coat of lacquer with less shedding than, say, the brush made from a Clydesdale’s fetlock fur. Whatever. Just gimme the lacquer and let’s get on with it.

I opened the can of lacquer and took a tentative sniff. I couldn’t help it. I smell everything. Especially if I’m told it’s harmful or fatal. The lacquer had the strong smell of impending doom.

Yikes. This stuff was no joke!

I took another sniff for good measure and got to work.

The lacquer brushed on easy enough. The brush marks self-leveled in no time. As I progressed across the table top, I started to feel pretty good. This may have been the job I was doing. Or maybe it was the vapors. We’ll never know, for sure.

About halfway through though, I looked back and saw something sticking out of the lacquer. So it was true, what they say. That bug must have had one hell of a rush before he died. I plucked him out with my finger and spread a little more lacquer on his place of death.

The table looked good when I finished. I was cautiously optimistic.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

I started to think that all those rules and warnings about lacquer were a bunch of hot air bellowing from the mouths dolts and dummies.

I had outsmarted them all! In a garage! With a brush!

I left the lacquer to dry, figuring I’d slap on one more coat a little later.

Well, when I came back a little later, the volatile organic compounds had all evaporated, leaving the lacquer a lot less smooth than it had seemed before. Okay, no big deal. I would put on another coat and all would be fine. You see, the great thing about lacquer, as opposed to, say, polyurethane, is that a second or third coat of lacquer will melt the layer underneath, hiding any imperfections that may have crept into the previous coat.

I applied the second coat with a will and a whistle. This table would outshine the gods themselves!

It was about then that I remembered that I hadn’t sanded the polyurethane off the table’s edge. That should be okay though, right? I bent closer to have a look.

It was not, in fact, okay. Turns out lacquer melts polyurethane, but not in a good way like it melts other lacquer layers. No, it melts polyurethane in an ugly and bubbly way.

Crap.

CrapCrapCRAP!

I looked up from the edge and inspected the table top again.

DOUBLE CRAP! A bristle from my fancy horse mane brush had dislodged itself and gotten hopelessly trapped in the table lacquer!

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

Aw, nuts!

And furthermore, why is the lacquer all ripply and pock-marked?? It doesn’t look any better than the poly! In fact…

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

…it looks far worse! GAH!

I stood there for a long time just staring at the table. My mind had gone blank. I think it had seen enough. It wanted no further part in this charade, this bumbling circus of fools, so it retreated to a deep, dark, quiet corner of my brain, leaving my useless and lifeless body to stand next to the failed table, swaying slightly and drooling.

Some minutes or hours later, my mind returned to survey the damage.

It was bad.

It would require yet another full sanding, down to bare wood. And those intricate edges would need to be hand-sanded of lacquer, polyurethane and stain.

My brain crunched the numbers and returned a verdict:

The hell with this!

I found a piece of plywood, placed it on the table, and pushed it to the back corner of the garage.

A Good Idea Gone Bad: The Antique Victorian Dining Table that Almost Was | The Navage Yaps | Makeover Fails | TheNavagePatch.com

And there it stood for over two years, a storage area for crap we never use.

Until now.

This January, we came up with a new plan. A bold plan. A break from tradition that would propel that antique Victorian dining table (or parts of it, anyway) to glorious new heights!

Even as I type, this new thing takes shape in the basement.

Soon, we will unveil it to the world.

Stay tuned.

*Update! The wait is over! Witness the long-anticipated union of Gothic Revival and Farmhouse in our new dining room table!*

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32 Comments

    1. I had some good laughs as I read all your troubles with this table project! ???Your descriptions were funny, but I got a big kick out of seeing myself doing all this too! Iโ€™ve had projects that felt like they kept slipping sideways. I admire your persistence and resourcefulness, and I canโ€™t wait for the next chapter on this table. Iโ€™m definitely with your wife on LOVING the table feet! I just know that something really cool will come out of all this.

  1. I do not know if i come here for your writing, your never say never, persistence, or the joy of burning hot coffee squirting out my nostrils while I snort while laughing unexpectedly. Despite the permanently curled nostril hair I do enjoy the journey from the sideline and will be right here next time round.

    Cheers.

  2. HAHAHA. This is so sad but funny. In my opinion, your wife is so patient. “Yeah, let him lose his mind on this table” she thought. Nope not me, I would have hidden all of your supplies & grounded you to your room. And I thought I was anal!
    But back to your gorgeous table. Old & antique furniture is not meant to be ‘show room’ like after it has had caricature. Using pieces & finding them after 50 or more years, is the best part of restoring their beauty. I am salivating over your table. The second try was perfect!
    I can’t wait to see what you have decided for it’s new try. (btw, I love painting old pieces, but this one is too pretty to do that to)
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. LOL, thanks, Loretta! Oh I know old stuff is supposed to have charm and character, but this one was gouged to the bejeesus. I couldn’t just use it as it was. But fair warning, Loretta: you may gasp in shock when you see the final result. It’s different. Hopefully you’ll like it though! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. It’s finally happened. My in-laws (whom I work for) think I have lost my mind. I am reading this post while I eat my lunch, laughing out loud! All I can think is, “This would happen to me!!” I am ROFLing and they think I’m crazy. Keep it up, Greg! You are hilarious!

  4. So happy to get my new post notifications! This did not disappoint! I am stomping my foot and patiently waiting on the update. My husband does not like all the ideas I’m getting from your blog. Please hurry!!

  5. I Love Reading Your stories. You Really Have A laugh Out Loud Way With Your Adventures. I Felt The Same Way As You While I Was Refinishing An Old Trunk That My Grandsons Cat Scratched The Heck Out Of. I Was Told That You Have To Keep Sanding In Between Staining To Get A Nice Smooth Finish. I Thought I Was Going TO Pull My hair Out. Although All I Did was Say Some Nasty Words.

  6. OK Greg, now that wasnโ€™t fair, LOL! Here I thought I was going to see the new and improved 3rd or is it 4th version. Looks like we have to wait for the next installment.?

    1. Oh believe me, it’s in there. I’ve toned it down and mellowed over the years, but I can still dredge the old me back up if necessary!

  7. If it makes you feel any better, that is not an antique Victorian dining table. It’s from the late 1920s to mid 1930s. The bulbous things on the legs were the bee’s knees in the 1920s and they persisted into the 1930s when the curved stretcher became popular.

    1. I’m going to have to put you on the payroll! You keep straightening me out, and I do appreciate it! I will update this post with the new info, and going forward, I will use the correct term, which I believe is Gothic Revival? Thanks again!

  8. Love the idea of you and your lady….i did read a bit of your story just so g lad it worked for you.love the ideas She is so smart

  9. Greg, I read your blog,And sometimes I read to my husband your problems during your projects..What I like are at the beginning as to see the dressers change to something else..on one {wine rack Second shelf would heald glasses for drinking} I think I would change that part ..but over all are great..I just do not have the talent.Love the blog.