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Eastlake Dresser Makeover

31 March 2018

(this is actually a project from spring 2016, but I’m just now getting around to writing about it.)

In the midst of a home-improvement kick, I decided my antique dresser needed some refreshing.




I wasn’t wild about the middle drawer pulls, which didn’t seem to match the rest, and I wanted to draw out the wood grain and all the details in the carving. The top had some sad water rings on it, which needed to go.







Step 1: remove the hardware and start sanding.



Sanding the edges left all the recessed bits a darker color, so you could really see all the details. This thing has good bones.


…except one of those bones is broken. A few of the pieces that support the drawers had broken or been lost to the dustbin of history, so some structural repairs were in order.



I used angle brackets to reattach the supports and moved on. I don’t really have the carpentry skills (or the heavy machinery) to do anything more advanced here.

Once I started examining the dresser, it became clear how well-crafted it is.


Scalloped dovetail joints! Pret-ty.

dresser back

I suspect this thing has stories to tell.


See that plastic wrap around the bottom right leg? I’d owned this dresser for two years, and figured that was just keeping some broken part attached.


Rusty wheels!


Wrong! Turns out this thing had wheels all along. So after some quick googling about how to remove rust, I soaked the casters in vinegar for a day, then scrubbed them with a wire brush and some Barkeeper’s Friend.





4(ish): sand and stain the drawers. Then more sanding. We’re going for distressed.



Above: a reminder of what the drawers looked like before I started all this.

Below: a naked drawer, after sanding. I really like how the sanding brings out the contrast between the flat areas and the ridged details.

drawer sanded

Staining on the fire escape. Because apartment life.

drawer stain

Stain was probably some Minwax dark walnut I had lying around, because those cans last forever unless you’re doing entire pieces of furniture on the daily.

5. staining the frame!

I decided to go dark, way dark. Below: the frame after one and two rounds of stain, respectively.


6. Wait, what happened to the top?



I sanded the  top way, way down to get rid of the water rings. The raw wood look is nice, but incomplete.




The top got a coat of stain, then more sanding to keep some element of that rawness.








Dresser top in all its glory! That bright streak is just the sunlight appreciating my artistry. Finished with furniture wax to keep that raw look and avoid all of the things I hate about polyurethane seal.








Step 7: back to the hardware!

Top left: the drawer pulls were pretty gross before I started working on them. But after some scrubbing (Barkeeper’s friend, obvi), the details became much clearer (top right). I thought they were maybe too clean and shiny, so I baked the drawer pulls in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350°. Baking gave them this interesting blue tarnish (bottom left), which I evened out with some Brasso polishing (bottom right).


8. Getting decorative.

At this point the dresser looks like this:



Pretty, enit? But I want the drawers to be beautiful inside and out, so I paint the insides white (they were originally this drab beige color), and then start drawing in Mr. Sketch markers (because I’m basically still 8). Roots for the bottom drawer, leaves for the middle, and (not pictured) flowers for the top.

IMG_20160425_204206drawer roots


9. New hardware and finishing up.

Remember those medieval-looking drawer pulls from the middle drawer? I tossed them in the bin of random-things-I-might-use-in-the-future, put the two matching sets of hardware on the middle and bottom drawers, and set off to Anthropologie for new drawer pulls. We don’t skimp on quality hardware around here.

And here’s the final version! I’m really pleased with how the colors came out.



For comparison, here’s a side-by-side of the before and after.



More things soon!


Coffee Table Update

24 April 2016

As I mentioned before, I’m moving soon, and that has me wanting to make over or get rid of all my furniture. I wasn’t sure which category our secondhand (originally IKEA?) coffee table fell into, but I’m on vacation this week and felt like experimenting, so the table is at my mercy.


It’s cheap-looking and waterstained. But it has a neat shape and a glass top, so let’s see what we can do with that.


I browsed Pinterest for inspiration (duh) and decided on an industrial style: steel and aged-wood like. I wanted the legs to look like metal and the two wood surfaces to look antique.

The table was wobbling…better fix the structural issues before I attend to aesthetics. The legs are connected to the rest of the frame with cam connectors, and four were missing from the table. Good thing Home Depot has 4-packs for $3.50.

I taped off the legs, sanded, and spraypainted them with dark grey auto primer. This stuff is great: I used it on a pair of yellow and red milk crates, and after one coat both are solidly gray (why am I getting rid of all the color in my things? Ask me over a beverage).

Spraypaint is not the most subtle of instruments, but I suspect the auto primer will help me achieve the metal-look, so I’m letting it be for now. For the wood, I dug out a can of Varethane wood stain my roommate used for her bookshelves when we moved in two years ago. Sanded the whole thing, then gave the underside a coat of stain with a cheap brush.

Next is to flip it over and rub stain on the flat surfaces.

The Varethane Kona stain is really, really dark. I wiped some on with a rag, then switched to Minwax Dark Walnut.

I decided I did NOT have the patience for multiple coats of polyurethane, so I sprayed the whole thing with two coats of Rust-Oleum acrylic seal, let it dry, and went on my merry way.

Washed the glass pane thoroughly, replaced it on top of the table, and let all the books go back to their home.

Surprise: we got a “new” coffee table! If I decide later that I really value the industrial look I may add some hardware. But for now, there it is. On to the next one.



Smaller home decor projects

18 April 2016

A test-tube rack made from conduit hangers and a beat up old cutting board:



Gotta have a pencil on hand at all times. Dixon Ticonderoga for life.

And an update to my IKEA desk sawhorses: gray paint and a bit of wood stain.

left: my desk situation, before.



donezos! And a higher desktop means more storage space.

I needed a break before the next large project. Updates on that coming soon.



Girl in a hardware store, part 2.

18 April 2016

Now for the second entry in my DIY/refinishallthethingsinmyhousebeforeImove project.

About two years ago, I found this dresser on the sidewalk in Brooklyn. Yes, I was driving in Brooklyn. Yes, that was stressful. However, I found this neat thing. At the time, it looked like it had been in someone’s work space: there was paint on the top and dust and scratches all over. I tossed it in the back of my Subaru, drove it home, cleaned it up with some wood soap, and let it sit in the corner of my room, holding craft supplies and miscellaneous hardware. But it needed a makeover.


campaign dresser, before.

From Pinterest I learned that campaign style furniture is a thing, and a sought-after vintage trend at that, so hooray for me and my free find.

At first I was going to paint the dresser a solid gray, and have the color contrast with the brass hardware. I bought paint and primer, removed all the hardware, started sanding.

Looking at the dresser more closely, there was something about the wood grain that was just too beautiful to cover up completely. But I had this gray paint….so I did a “wash” technique: I painted with a dry brush in small sections, then wiped the painted area with a damp rag. This added color but left the wood grain visible.

The paint had a bit too much blue in it at this stage, so I added wood stain (Minwax Dark Walnut, because I had it lying around) by rubbing it on with a dry cloth. That looked neat, but I wasn’t quite satisfied.


after dry-brushing and staining.

I did another round of dry-brushing and washing, then sanded away the paint in a few areas – going for that “distressed” look that’s so in these days.

Borrowing another Pinterest idea, I scrubbed the hardware with Barkeeper’s Friend, then polished it with Brasso to give it a shine.

I sealed the dresser with two coats of polyurethane, waiting the obligatory 12-24 hours between each coat. I’m bad at waiting. Reattached the polished hardware, but I’m not done yet.IMG_20160401_071725




I had swivel casters that I bought for my card catalog project and decided not to use. They seemed like a better fit for this stocky dresser – only problem being that the bottom of the dresser is a thin 1/2 – inch frame, not something solid I could easily screw the casters into.




Back to Home Depot. I bought a 1 x 3, I think, and had it cut into one 20″ piece and one 17″ piece. I screwed the 20″ piece into the back of the frame; the shorter plank into the front.


Now I had enough width to attach the casters. The front casters needed to be set in from the edge a few inches due to those triangular braces in the corners. With all four screwed in, I finally got to turn the thing right-side up and let it sit next to my bed.

It looks pretty cute with its cacti hairdo. Let’s get a close-up of the before and after.

Woot! Onto the next one.




In defense of real sex ed

30 March 2016

below is my speech to a Planned Parenthood event titled “Stand Up for Sex Ed” on March 14

My name is Grace Evans. I teach high school math at Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park.

I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist church, which meant that my primary experience with sex ed was an 8-month-long Our Whole Lives course in the 8th grade. We compared 18 forms of birth control, drew anatomically correct models of male and female genitalia, and raced to put condoms on cucumbers while blindfolded. But we also role-played two way communication, to learn how to speak and listen effectively in all kinds of relationships. We learned about gender identity vs. gender expression vs. sexual orientation vs. sexual expression. I think I still have the Venn Diagrams at my parents’ house.  We saw the STI slideshow and the Miracle of Birth video that feature in most high school health classes. But we also talked about why people have sex and how different kinds of sexual behavior might involve different risks and different kinds of pleasure.

As an adolescent, I experienced how a comprehensive sexuality education shapes one’s development into a healthy adult. My peers and I were able to consider many hypothetical scenarios, discuss the options, and sketch out our responses.

And as a teenager, I experienced how even the most progressive and pragmatic upbringing can’t fully inoculate you against the vagaries of navigating sexual relationships for the first time. Nothing in my OWL class prepared me for the blurry, vaguely consensual encounters that led me to intimately understand the psychology of sexual assault.

Now, as a teacher, I worry about my students. I worry about their physical health, about whether they have the knowledge and forethought to avoid pregnancy and STIs, but I also worry about their mental and emotional health. I wonder whether they have the skills to avoid abusive relationships. I wonder whether they have the self-awareness, the security and the confidence to distinguish between their own opinions and the pressures of our culture. I wonder whether they’ll be able to sort out their desires from their rational thoughts and have the presence of mind to make decisions that take both into account.

Students tell me stories. A lot. About pregnancy scares, nude photos, and the pros and cons of anal sex. Girls compare notes on the birth control implant: what it is and how it works. Students talk about some boys being players, some girls getting with everyone else’s boyfriends. They seem to be getting the basic medical information, from our school-based health center (which is amazing, with its full time nurse, mental health professional, and nurse practitioner), from Peer Health Exchange, from each other, or maybe just from the internet. But what’s missing, what true comprehensive sexuality education offers, is a platform to synthesize all of the medical information and then personalize it, to talk about what sexual behavior and mature relationships actually look and feel like, to discuss all of the hypotheticals and students’ very real experiences in a safe place with adults who will both listen to their whole story and have the expertise to guide them in analyzing their choices.

When I listen to the way my students talk, and I see the way they interact with each other –  they’re smart, they’re thoughtful, and for the most part, they’re very aware of the world. And so I’m less worried they’ll get pregnant when they don’t want to be or contract a debilitating illness. I’m concerned they’ll be victims or perpetrators of a sexual assault. I’m worried they’ll make decisions about sex based on stereotypes and cultural pressure, and not based on what they want and what they feel is best for them.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood and all that it does seem to argue that if people don’t have access to information about risky behaviors, or the services to mitigate the consequences of those behaviors, then they simply won’t engage in those risky behaviors. To me, it doesn’t make sense to assume that teenagers will ignore behavior that centuries of human evolution has programmed them to want, simply out of ignorance. Students are able make healthy choices when they have both an adequate supply of accurate medical information AND the space, time, and freedom to make sense of that information, process it, and decide how it relates to their values and their emerging sense of self.

I support comprehensive health education because it provides students with both the information they need and the space to process and understand that information. And I support the Healthy Youth Act because it guarantees that school based sexuality education will include that information and that space.


A girl walks into a hardware store….

29 March 2016

I decided recently that I’m moving out of my current apartment and into a studio. It’s time for some solitary living. After all, I just turned 26, I’m not married (or anywhere close to permanently cohabitating), and I’ve traveled the world by myself, so this seems like the next adventure.

Planning for a new apartment got me thinking about trying a whole new aesthetic. That, and I’ve been emotionally exhausted from BPS budget crap-ola, so I wanted to make things.

It started with my card catalog. I love this thing. Found it at the MIT Furniture Exchange a few years ago, and it’s been my nightstand for a while, holding everything from dental floss to art supplies. This is what it looked like:


my card catalog as nightstand. labels made of paint chips.

I decided the library relic needed an update. I took everything out of the drawers, removed the hardware, and started sanding.


sanding on my fire escape. it was a process.

I realized two of the drawers were made entirely of wood – the majority are a wood panel screwed to a plastic drawer. With sanding, the character of these two drawers really came out. One has a metal number stamped into it – no idea where that came from, but it’s neat and I’d never noticed it before.

With most of the original finish sanded off, I stained the whole thing with Minwax Dark Walnut. Now we look like we have class. I sealed it with two coats of polyurethane.

The top of the card catalog was a single piece of particleboard, which looked and felt pretty crappy. So I measured the whole thing (hey, there’s the geometry teacher in me) and bought a thin sheet of wood at Home Depot (for about $4.50, and they cut it for me. Someday I’ll have my own circular saw…and a garage…). I pried up the old top, nailed down the new wood, and stained it the same color as the rest of the card catalog.

Bed risers are cool and all, but I wanted this thing to have real height. My new apartment has an entryway, and I decided the card catalog would be the perfect piece to stand in the foyer. Enter Pinterest (like it wasn’t the inspiration for this whole project). I found a post about building a table base from plumbing pipe, and I was sold like a horse.

Lots and lots of trial and error later, I had built the base, screwed it into the card catalog, and was ready to let this thing stand on its own four feet – er, flanges.

I polished the hardware with Brasso, bought new screws to attach the drawer pull that was never attached, and put the whole thing back together.


the finished product!


close-up of the drawers with their new finish and polished hardware.

Hooray! It’s excited for its debut in the new place, even though that won’t come for another two months. Meanwhile, I’m excited for my next project, and for designing (perhaps also building?) Tiny Houses with my geometry students.


I’m a mess, but that’s part of the fun!




How to #FightBPSCuts: 3 Areas for Action

16 February 2016

Flyer created by the Boston CityWide Parent Council

Screenshot 2016-02-13 17.05.51Screenshot 2016-02-13 17.08.25Screenshot 2016-02-15 13.16.31Screenshot 2016-02-15 13.16.42Screenshot 2016-02-15 13.16.48