Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Commissioned Furniture Piece

This past summer, I took on a commissioned furniture restoration that would later be known as: "the coffee table project from hell”.  This evening, three months after I brought the piece to my garage workspace, the finished project made its way back home…

Whew.  Glad that is over.

I thought I’d share my experience with you in case you’re thinking of picking up some commissioned work for a little extra moolah, considering what I learned in this process.

Mind you, this was not my first furniture rodeo.  I’ve redone quite a bit of furniture over the last year or so… but I don’t know that I was quite ready to take on a project of this magnitude.  I’ll start by saying this is not your ordinary coffee table.  It’s a very large piece, measuring almost five feet in length with a beautiful parquet top (translated: wood grain in many different directions).  Oy.

coffee table

Lesson One: Give an estimate of cost, plus supplies, rather than a cut-and-dried bid.

I wayyyyyy underbid this project, both in terms of cost and time.  I had to apply four coats of stripper to completely remove years and layers of varnish, and it took a lot of scrubbing to get everything out of those grooves.  All of the edging had to be hand-sanded because the curves of the piece would have been ruined by an orbital sander.  And all of that pretty parquet meant a lot of time applying stain to the varying directions of wood grain.

Lesson Two: Be realistic with time expectations.

I also waaaaaaaay underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete this project, which lead to not only a frustrated customer, but a frustrated customer’s sister-in-law.  Besides this being a bigger project than I anticipated, I also started on it during the hottest part of the summer and when you live in Texas and your workshop is your 120 degree garage, it’s next to impossible to work on this without having a heat stroke.  Luckily, the customer was understanding, but it set me back about a month and a half.  Unluckily, aforementioned relative did not know the project was delayed and gave me a nice “talking-to” via Facebook messaging.  *sigh*

Lesson Three: Be realistic with how much time you can devote to the project.

After I got my butt chewed about the time delay, I made sure to remind said butt-chewer that I’m a full-time working mom with obligations to my family and children and church and that furniture restoration was not my full-time job, but rather a side business, so turnaround is not quick.  I should have reminded myself of this too, because there are sometimes 4-5 days in a row that my husband is gone working and I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to work on furniture (in my Africa-like garage).  When a piece is commissioned, there’s a deadline, whereas a piece I pick up, redo, and then sell has no set date to be completed.  Boy, is the difference amazing.

Lesson Four:  Never Say Never

Although this project did turn out to be somewhat of a nightmare, the bottom line is I do love restoring furniture.  It was painstaking but also gratifying to take this tired, worn coffee table through the stages of restoration.  Removing years of old finish and revealing the beautiful underlying wood… sanding the wood smooth… applying stain and removing until the perfect color emerges… and finally adding the protective glossy coat until smooth as glass… each step of the process is oddly fulfilling to a quirky gal like me.

While I can’t say that I’ll take on a wood furniture restoration project any time soon… I also can’t rule it out completely.  You just never know when I might get the itch to do this again.

Until then… I’ll rest easier knowing the coffee table is no longer in my possession.

Have you ever had a nightmarish furniture experience?

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