A SPECIAL FURNITURE PROJECT

I’ve recently started work on a couple different areas of our house and will be sharing posts about these various projects over the coming months. One of the rooms I’m working on is our guest bedroom which we want to move from a spare room upstairs to a spare room downstairs in order to create a first floor guest suite. I won’t be reusing anything from our current guest room so I am working on sourcing all new furniture and decor for the new bedroom. Fortunately, I have a set of inherited nightstands I can use, and they became my first project for this room.

About 5 years ago, I was at my parents’ house in their guest bedroom when the pair of nightstands they had in the room caught my eye. They were a mid-century modern style which is unusual because my parents didn’t own any other modern furniture. I asked my mom where they came from and she told me my grandfather made them many years ago. I immediately asked if she’d be willing to pass them down to me, and she said yes. I love mid-century modern furniture and the fact that my grandfather handmade these makes them very special to me.

My Grandpa Irv passed away 20 years ago. He was Swedish American and lived in Michigan, which was far away from where I grew up so I didn’t get to know him real well. But I knew him well enough to have great admiration for him. He was part of America’s Greatest Generation and fought in World War II surviving the horrible Battle of the Bulge despite being significantly injured. He was a kind-hearted hard working man who was always willing to help others and liked to joke around with his grandkids.

My grandfather was very creative and resourceful which meant that if my grandmother wanted some new furniture my Grandpa Irv would often make it for her from anything he had lying around his garage. His large detached garage was a complete woodworking shop, and I think he enjoyed working out there fixing up old things and creating unique pieces. These matching mid-century nightstands were just a couple examples of what he made decades ago, and thankfully, they ultimately got passed down to me.

This is how the nightstands looked when I got them

I had originally planned to use these in our master bedroom, but then I realized they won’t work in there because they are very small and we have a king size bed so proportionally they would look weird next to each other. But our guest bedroom is a much smaller room with a smaller bed so they would be perfect in that room.

While I love the shape of these pieces, the color and drawer handles looked very dated and don’t work well with the mid-century style (again, I bet my grandfather used stain and drawer handles he already had instead of buying anything new), so I knew these needed a quick makeover before I put them in our new guest bedroom.

I started by removing the backing from each nightstand. I guess my grandfather had chosen to use a cheap piece of fiberboard for the backing. I didn’t like the faux pattern painted on it and it couldn’t be stained to match the rest of the wood, so I knew I wanted to replace the backings with some plywood that I would be able to stain to match everything else.

With the backings removed, I got started sanding off all of the old stain. This process revealed more about my grandfather. I discovered that all of one nightstand and part of the other one appear to be made from a wood species that I can’t quite figure out. The rest of the one nightstand was made from pine. My guess is he ran out of the wood he was originally using and had to finish it up with some pine. My grandfather was not a trained furniture maker, and the way these were built wasn’t the way a high quality furniture maker would have built them. But I’m sure my grandfather didn’t care. He was using what he had—including his own creativity—to make what he could.

The sanded nightstands with the backings removed

The unexpected mixed wood species meant I would have to find a stain that blended well with the three different types of wood I had. I tested six different stains in some inconspicuous areas of each nightstand as well as on a scrap of the plywood I bought for the new backings. I ended up liking Minwax Provincial but discovered the color turned out noticeably different on the various wood species I had. So I went over the Provincial stain with some Minwax Classic Gray which changed the color enough to help it all blend together.

After staining everything, I nailed the new plywood backings onto the back of each nightstand, and then I gave everything a coat of clear satin poly to seal it.

I finished off this project by adding some new black leather drawer pulls, and here’s the final result…

The vintage look of these nightstands will be perfect for our new guest room.

And here is a before and after:

These pieces hold a special place in my heart because every time I see them I think fondly of my grandfather. I don’t care that they weren’t built using high quality furniture construction techniques, I just love that they are an example of the hard working ingenious man my grandfather was.

I can’t end this post without mentioning the current state of the world as we all navigate the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently a couple dozen cases of the virus in the area I live in, although thankfully no one I personally know. My prayers go out to all of those directly affected by the virus. Stay safe and be kind to each other!

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