Monthly Archives: April 2015


What do you do when your bed gets saggy and you need a new mattress? You shop for a new one, buy it, and have it delivered. If you’re feeling fancy, maybe you even buy a new bedframe to spruce up your bedroom. But us? Nooooo … that would be way too easy. We’d rather find the hardest, most time-consuming DIY solution.

Checkers is a big dude, but not quite big enough to make the troughs that are visible in our bed.

black and white cat on saggy bed

For the past year or more we’ve been grumbling about sleeping in the two troughs of our not-that-old mattress. “Does anyone sleep in the middle?” a salesman asked. “Because the padding will shift to the middle if no one sleeps there.” Well, hell no, no one sleeps in the middle! What’s the point of having a king-size bed if someone sleeps in the middle? You might as well have a full-size bed! The other person would be clinging to the edge! Personally, I like my space … plus, we share the bed with four of our cats, so we sleep where we can fit. But, back to our story …

Eric and I finally decided it was time to test mattresses. We fell in love with the first one we lay on: a firm TempurPedic. Yes, we tested others, but always came back to “the one.” We wanted to buy it right away, but where would we put it? We liked the idea of a platform bed instead of a traditional box spring. So we started looking around. We searched online. We hit all the stores. We thought underbed storage drawers would be a great idea, but that severely limited our options. The few nice ones that we found were so expensive. Then the solution came to us. Of course! Eric could simply MAKE a platform bed! How hard could it be?

We wanted something that would look timeless … at home with our antiques, yet able to transition to a modern house in the future. We found a design at IKEA that we both liked, with simple, straight lines that reminded me of my parent’s 1940s bed.

1940 bed

Now … what kind of wood? Off to the lumber yard. We looked at birch. We’d seen a gorgeous Asian design in birch, and I fell in love with some sleek, natural birch dressers with glass tops at IKEA.

modern birch IKEA dresser

Why not go with something totally new and different? You know how long it’s been since I changed up my bedroom furniture? Never! But then what would I do with my antiques? A modern birch set would stick out like aliens in our house. Common sense prevailed. We looked at walnut. And then we saw the African mahogany. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? I’m not sure if it’s exotic, exactly, but it sure as heck is expensive!

cart of mahogany boards at lumber yard

So Eric began translating the bed in our heads into reality. Naturally, he took advantage of this tool-buying opportunity to buy the planer that he’s been talking about for as long as I’ve known him. “I have no choice,” was how he put it. Oh, well, okay … if you have no choice!

planer in box

He began spending inordinate amounts of time downstairs in the shop/dungeon, but I didn’t hear any power tools running. What could he be doing down there? You know the old advice about measuring twice and cutting once? I think Eric was measuring 37 times but was still reluctant to cut that expensive mahogany.

Weeks passed. Eric insisted he was making progress, but I had still not seen so much as a footboard. (To be fair, his shop is cramped and he can’t keep all his machines set up at once. And it takes a lot of time to glue and assemble a king-size bed. And to measure 37 times. Not to mention, we have day jobs.)

We returned to the mattress store and reaffirmed our commitment to the mattress. But, they were no longer throwing in the absurdly high-priced matching pillows for free. Here’s the thing: We didn’t want to buy the mattress before we were ready to set it up. I didn’t want the memory-foam monster lurking in the library, nor did I want us to have to muscle it into the bedroom by ourselves, or deal with getting rid of our old set. All elements would have to come together at once. Planets had to align. The dance had to be choreographed.

A salesperson called us when the pillows became part of the deal again. A special offer would be in effect for several weeks, but we had to buy by April 19th. Time was running out. How in the world would we finish the bed frame—which not only needed to be built, but also stained and finished, a process that can’t be rushed? I was stressin’.

Eric said the footboard would be ready for me to stain by Saturday (Saturday passed)… okay, maybe Thursday (Thursday came and went) … or surely the next Saturday. So I grabbed a wood scrap and started testing stain colors. We knew the mahogany wouldn’t match the walnut mom and pop dressers, but we wanted the color to blend. I tried dark walnut stain … and, oh, crap … the color had potential, but the mahogany’s open grain sucked up so much stain in places that it looked as if the wood had been charred with a blow torch. This isn’t 1972 … and that’s not the look I was going for.

bad stain

Apparently, you can’t just slap some stain on raw mahogany, so we read up on the process. It goes something like this: 1. Sand. 2. Stain. 3. Sand. 4. Fill the grain. 5. Sand. 6. Apply sealer. 7. Sand. 8. Apply more sealer. 9. Sand. 10. Apply more sealer. I quit stressing and started freaking out.

We went back to the mattress store, thinking we would order our bed, get the pillows, and delay delivery for a few weeks to give us a chance to finish the bed. It was then that we learned that the pillows are only offered if we bought a set. We didn’t want the foundation … only the mattress. No pillows for us! Demoralized, we drove home, figuring we might as well put off buying the mattress until the frame was ready. Whenever that would be.

So let’s recap: We had no mattress, no free pillows, no bedframe (yet), and disastrous stain results. Oh—and the price of the mattress had gone up $300 while we dilly-dallied about when to buy. Will we ever pull out of this DIY tailspin? Are we doomed to be swallowed by our old bed? Should we turn the shop/dungeon into a chemistry lab and invent our own memory foam?

sagging bed cartoon


 To be continued …







Murphy and Howard take a shine to Mom and Pop

Eleven years ago I had a new roof put on the house. The roofer did a good job on the roof (it’s held tight ever since), but he was slower than molasses getting the job done. And a little screw-loose to boot. He failed to throw a tarp over my south side dormer when he was in the middle of working on it … and that July evening a thunderstorm swept through. The dormer leaked like a sieve. I came home to find a new water feature dribbling down onto my guest bed, and an even more impressive waterfall streaming through the attic. The roofer was an hour away, but he returned with the tarp after the rain stopped, and … well, to make a long story short, eventually everything dried out and this painful incident became simply another flakey-contractor horror story.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls [Shutter Tours]

Besides the mattress, the biggest casualty of the fiasco was my mom’s 1890s Victorian Eastlake dresser, which, along with my dad’s similar dresser, were stored in the attic at the time. It made me sick at heart to see its finish ruined, but I put it out of my mind, figuring I would refinish it one day. Mom would have flipped to see what happened to her beloved furniture on my watch.

Does the light from the window make the damage look even worse, or did I somehow choose not to see how bad it was? Pictures don’t lie.

walnut Eastlake dresser with bad finish

When Eric moved in and needed closet space, he took over the spare room’s closet and dresser, leaving me our bedroom’s closet. I pressed both antique dressers into service then, which made the room look like a crowded antique shop, but that’s what happens when you have too many clothes and a very small closet. The downside was that I had to look at the ruined finish every day.

water damage 1

water damage to dresser top

water damage to side

I didn’t know when I’d have time to sand and refinish the dresser, but then my friend Jessica at Cape of Dreams wrote about her trusted three-step method of reviving tired wood furniture. Dare I hope for a quick fix? Meet the mighty trio: Murphy Oil Soap, Howard Restore-a-Finish, and Howard Feed-N-Wax.

Murphy Oil Soap, Howard finish and wax

OMG, Jessica, your system really works!! First, I gave the dresser a nice sponge bath with Murphy Oil Soap. Then I applied the Restore-a-Finish in neutral. (My only other option at Ace Hardware was dark walnut, and although the dresser is walnut, I didn’t want to add color.) It’s a stinky process, as you might expect from a refinishing product, but I had the windows open. The can warns, “This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.” No worries—I’m in Washington!

This stuff is nothing short of a miracle. Can you tell what I’ve restored and what I haven’t?

dresser half restored

Finally, I slathered on a coat of Howard Feed-N-Wax, which is made with orange oil and looks and smells so yummy I may try it on toast. What do you think of Mom’s dresser now? Here she is, topped with Eric’s Eastlake mantel clock.

dresser with finish restored

Of course, she made Pop’s dresser look shabby. Before the roofing disaster, I thought it was his dresser that needed refinishing. It had always looked a little faded and uneven, and it also had some water damage toward the bottom. I was so excited about Mom’s dresser, I tackled Pop’s the next day instead of pulling dandelions. Pop’s dresser before:

pop's dresser before

And after:

Pop's dresser after

What a handsome couple! Mom and Pop dressers. My parents would be so pleased.

These pieces are sometimes called bachelor’s or gentleman’s dressers. The small upper drawers are for handkerchiefs.(Considering how many Kleenex I go through in a day, if I’d lived in the 1890s, I’d have had to store my handkerchiefs in a bigger drawer.) Befittingly, Mom’s dresser has narrow, rounded molding and delicate turned accents. Pop’s is more masculine with chunky appliques. Both are walnut. I’m sure they sprang from the source of all my family’s treasures: the dark and mysterious depths of my grandparent’s basement, where furniture from my great-grandmother’s lake house was stored.

two walnut Eastlake dressers

Mom’s has one more unique detail … when I was very young, probably around 4, I grabbed a pin from a dish on her dresser and carved a die into the top—complete with an attempt at perspective! I must have witnessed my parents playing a game with dice and thought it would be a good idea to commemorate it. I was always drawing on something—not necessarily paper. Look closely and you’ll see the three sides of the cube with one, two, and three spots. I got the perspective backwards, but I was impressed with myself. Mom was less impressed. I clearly remember her walking in on me before I could finish my artwork. The critique did not go well.

carving of die on dresser top

I’m so happy to have given these old friends the renovation they deserved. I know they’ll be with me for the rest of my life, even after I have a giant walk-in closet with room for all of our clothes … and 60 pairs of shoes.

[I received no compensation for mentioning Murphy or Howard products in this post.]