The Ottoman

Oh, my cocktail table turned ottoman, you have been an unnecessary saga.  And this has become an unnecessarially long post.

To be honest, I sort of avoided sharing the process as I went, because for a while there I wasn't sue it was all going to work out.  And I don't want to bore you with the details, but I did learn an important lesson or two, so let's get to those.

Here's what I was starting with.


A sort of fruitwood octagon cocktail table with a glass top, which I snagged on a whim for $29 from a consignment shop.  When my husband suggested that the glass might not hold up to a 2 and 4 year old, I decided to turn it into an ottoman, like one I saw on the cover of House Beautiful.

I would fill in the hole with plywood:


Add a piece of custom-cut 2 inch standard density foam to the top:


And upholster it.

And then the design process began in my brain.  The first big question:  is it all about the top, meaning, do I focus on fabulous fabric with an overscale pattern and even consider skirting it to play up the shape?  Or do I make it all about the base?  I'll share some of the inspiration images that went into this process later this week (a little backwards, I know--this is what happens when bloggers don't blog about projects as they go), but in the end I decided to play up the base.

For my living room, a black base was really the only way to go.  Now, here's where things start to go wrong. I knew that what I really wanted was an ebony stain, but that meant a crazy amount of stripping and sanding, and we're not talking about flat surfaces here.  My husband had a bad run in stripping 80 years of paint off the front door at our Brooklyn house, and did a good job of talking me out of this.  If I wasn't going to strip and stain, then I wanted lacquer.  So I read up on a couple of different lacquering processes, but, no surprise, they all take about 18 steps (with lots of sanding and LOTS of different materials that I did not have on hand), so I decided to paint it.

So this is kind of wussing out, but still seems reasonable enough, right? When we moved into this house, I decided to do things properly, which has resulted in me learning to pinch pleat draperies, painting 4 coats of paint to get an even finish, figuring out how to make pleated lampshades, and more.  In this case, "proper" painting meant oil-based paint.  I went to a couple of stores before I could even find it, and then discovered that a quart is $25.00.  I didn't discover this until after I had a quart mixed, however, and I like to think that the price tag (especially when you throw in primer and natural bristle brushes), would have stopped me in my tracks.  Then, instead of just buying the black off the shelf and adding a few drops of red for warmth, which is what I should have done, I got all fancy and chose a custom color at the suggestion of the (adorable) paint guy.

Black Bean Soup.  That's the color we decided on.  I wanted a very slight purple undertone to work with the wood stain on my side tables.  I cleaned, dried, and primed the whole piece, then opened up the can of paint, which sure did look EXACTLY like black bean soup.  I went ahead and started painting, despite my misgivings about the color, telling myself that the light was bad in the basement and it would turn out all right.

After letting it dry overnight, I brought it up to the living room, just as my husband was coming in.  It was a nice, sunny, day, and what do you think my husband said to me?

"Why did you paint the coffee table purple?"

Uh huh.  Good question.

So I took the 20 minute drive back to the paint store and begged them to make my $25 worth of purple-black paint black-black.  And they tried.  But we ended up somewhere in the region of mud brown.  And this little side project was starting to send me close to the intersection of batshit and crazy.

This post is way too long.  I know it.  Especially for a Monday.  But it would really be dragging it out to break this up into stages, especially after the fact.  I'm almost done.

At this point, I took it up with my husband, who would prefer not to discuss decorating but can see when an intervention is needed.  (Okay, none of this is such a big deal except that I was feeling the investment of time--all the thinking, researching and planning--and money for that damn expensive paint.)  Here's where the first important lesson comes in.  He said to me:  If you received this piece today, in this condition, what would you do with it?

See what he did there?  He removed all of my investment, which was clouding my judgement.

I went to Home Depot to get a can of black spraypaint.  (Thank goodness the kid working the register did not ask for my ID, as the touch screen suggested he should do, because it was in the pocket of the sweatshirt I had worn to the gym, which was at home.)  I bought the cheapest kind, in black semi-gloss.  At $2.99, I considered buying 2 cans, just in case, but then remembered the $25 oil paint.

And, of course, one can was not enough.  And my three local hardware stores did not carry the brand I bought, and there was no way that I was risking two different blacks or two different finishes at this point.  So I picked up my kids from school, dragged them to Home Depot, and bought another can.  This time I DID get IDed, and thank goodness I had retrieved my license back to my wallet where it belongs.

I finished the final coat in one half of the yard while the kids played in the other half, making me a bad parent on top of everything else.


And let it hang out in the living room for a while, to get a feel for the thing.  You can see that the paint is a little patchy in spots, and if this was the final form of the piece it would not do.  But put a top on it, and many sins are invisible.

I realize that I should have just spraypainted it in the first place.  Herein lies the next important lesson for the two of you who are still with me.  When you are doing DIY projects, it is important to consider the original piece when you decide what to put into it.  In this case, we're talking about a solid piece of furniture, but not exactly valuable.  I realize now that while it will end up pretty nice, it never had the potential to be a showstopper, so why treat it like one?  You can certainly elevate a piece with the right materials, but in some cases the easiest and cheapest solution might be the best.

Stay tuned for the upholstery stage.