Friday, August 8, 2014

Lowering the Bar (Cart) One Day at a Time

A couple months a go I found the skeeviest, stickiest, ricketiest cart imaginable at the thrift store for $5. Still haunted by a beautiful brass and glass cart that got away during my early days of thrifting, I snatched it up before any other lunatic could get her hands on its faux-everything awesomeness.

I quickly went to work scrubbing it down. Before long, I'd spray painted the wheel covers, the trim, and the cool woven sides a subtle gold. Gorgeous!

Next, I applied two coats of chalk paint in a creamy white to the shelves and the sides. All was right in the world until I woke up the next morning to this on both sides:

Ugh. Yes, I knew there was sticky residue there. Yes, I know I should have cleaned it off with something stronger than Dawn, but hello, if that stuff gets grunge off of a duck's feathers in an oil slick, I thought it was adequate for this situation.

It seems like a previous owner must have applied contact paper to the particle board sides at some point. After pulling it off and finding the sticky sides were collecting all manner of dust, debris, flora and fauna, the owner likely pitched it on the donation pile.

The paint was so peel-y I'm sure it would come off easily. A little sanding? No big deal. I probably could have done it with my fingernails. Except I was SO OVER IT by this point. Every time I sat down to watch HGTV and its numerous home makeovers involving glass tile, "open concept living spaces" and "man caves," the bar cart taunted me, nearly blocking the path of my remote.

Contact paper? I mean, who does that?

Oh yeah. My mom.

I know I've told you the story of how no sooner had our brand new white fridge been delivered in the mid-80's, than my mother covered it with a faux bamboo contact paper. A year or two later she "updated" it with a wooden plank contact paper design. VERY realistic.

Mom knew that she just couldn't look at that bright white fridge surrounded by our lovely dark brown (!) appliances ONE. MORE. MINUTE. She was a take-charge kind of person who didn't over think things. Case in point, which you may recall: When she wanted to paint the wainscoting in our dining room late one night, and she had no one to help her move the china cabinet, she just painted around it. It stayed that way for 10 years, and no one suspected a thing.

She wanted it done.
She got it done.
And it was good enough.

A sweet teen aged girl came to stay with us for the month of June. Every few days she'd ask me about the cart as it sat in peeling glory on a piece of cardboard in the family room. When was I going to finish it? What were my plans for it? I had no real plans unless it involved the woodpile.

Finally, I rolled its chipping butt into the laundry room and tried to forget about it.

I mean, what did I need with a "bar cart" anyway? Unless you were in Key West with me for spring break 1991, you've mostly likely never seen me consume a mixed drink. So if drinking is not really a big part of my life, why was I so eager to have a little drinks station set up in my living room?

Was it  my obsession with Mad Men? But by last (ugh) season, Don Draper/Dick Whitman's drinking has surely not been something to be celebrated or emulated.

Was it my dear departed mother's Waterford decanters, packed away for decades in basement after basement as we've moved houses? It's not as if they ever had liquor in them anyway. I grew up in a dry household, so my mom (yes, she of contact paper fame) filled the decanters with food coloring to make them look extra k-lassy.

I was close to throwing the cart back in my car and re-donating it (no shame in that, right?) when I got together with our teenage friend this past week. I hadn't seen her since the end of June. "So, how's the bar cart coming along?"

Oh geez. I'm in a funk. I don't feel like sanding or painting. It's already so shoddy that I'd never be able to sell it. It reeks of my failure and shame.

I wanted to have a better answer the next time she inquired about the cart, so I asked myself, "What Would Margaret Whiston do?" Then I drove to Home Depot and inquired as to where they kept the contact paper. I had three choices: Faux Granite in light peach, floral with grapes (!!!), or textured black "leather." I went with the black.

Last night I slapped that stuff up right on top of the peeling paint, bumps and all. I kind of like it, and I kind of hate it.

Tonight, my empty decanters have a place to sit. I also put my mom's brass turtle ash tray there, as a nod to the woman who taught me that sometimes good enough is good enough. At least for a while.

I think that's a mighty good life lesson.

Get 'er done.


Linda Baker said...

Anna, Great post! FYI, my Mom kept decanters filled with colored water on our front windowsill for my entire childhood! Thought she was the only one.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

Oh my, Linda! It must have been "a thing" in the 70's!

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Hahaha! This is so me! And my mom was very much like yours. I recall seeing a few new can of exterior house paint in our garage when I was a teen. I asked mom about them...she said that "dad says we can't afford to pant the house so i am buying one can a month to show him that we can! "

A Speckled Trout said...

Family motto in our house.....Good from far. Far from good.

Valerie said...

Definitely a 70s thing. My grandparents did the same thing and really K-lassy changed the colors according to the season - i.e. red/green at Christmas. Thanks for the memory. Even if those things are crazy, I loved my grandparents dearly

julie gardner said...

I kind of love that you spelled it K-lassy with a K.

My parents didn't drink, either; but they did have a fondness for creative decorating. I remember a good decade where we had foil wallpaper (or perhaps it was simply aluminum foil) covered by wood in a lattice formation that my dad painted white.

We also had a Chevy van he tricked out with wood paneling and carpet. Even on the ceiling.

Yep. K-lassy.

And PS: I have some food coloring you can borrow. No pressure. Ha!

Unknown said...

Oh I love it! And the turtle nod too. Well done, friend. I just discovered Annie Sloan's beautiful colors of chalk paint and wonder if that's what you use. When you're not contact-papering, that is.
My decanter story: When I was a kid, my parents kept creme de cacao in a lead (!!) crystal decanter on a table in our hallway. It was meant to be decorative, like the food coloring, but every now and then I'd turn the thing upside down, take a sneaky lick of the topper's underside and put it back in place. mmmmmm premium leaded chocolate hooch.

Leigh Ann said...

I love it! My grandparents have had the same decanter filled with who-knows-what in their living room (the kind of living room that we only entered to open presents on Christmas or for Thanksgiving dinner) since I was probably a baby. I would love to have it someday. Without the mystery liquid.

Brandi said...

I have my mom's decanters and I still put colored water in them. They make me happy. They have lived in every home I can remember.

Alison said...

It looks lovely and very Mad Men-ny!

Anonymous said...

It is not easy to make re-finishing a bar cart into a compelling (and funny) read. And yet you did it. THAT's how you know you're a good writer.

I love that you mother left a large area unpainted as that's exactly what I did in our kitchen. If you moved our fridge....

Sharon said...

I love it Anna! You are too funny. I still have a failed tray makeover that I've yet to get around to fixing. :)

Gigi said...

I must be related to your mom - because I've done the same thing with painting. Just paint around it.

And now that I think of it, I seem to recall contact papering a few things that probably should have never been contact papered...

I love that you had a vision for that bar cart.

Anonymous said...

oh, oh, oh, can I be incredibly annoying and irritating and offer a small suggestion? if you don't through wine quickly (I do, so it doesn't apply to me), it's better to get some kind of a basket and lay it on its side and here's why: cork material dries out and crumbles if it is not kept in contact with the liquid inside. sorry.

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

It looks great!

Anonymous said...

LOL about your mom! We had a brown "settee" and a coffee table that was made out of tree trunks, orange wallpaper and green carpet. What were they thinking back then!!!

I have to confess, I have the peach contact paper with the fake granite look...I bought it to cover the back of a t.v. cabinet although vintage wallpaper was my preference...hubby preferred the idea (aka price) of the contact paper. After a couple of hours of sheer frustration, I tossed it. It's got to be the most annoying stuff ever to try and work with! I cannot believe your mom had the patience to cover an entire fridge with it!!!

Unknown said...

That is a fantastic lesson to remember. I think we get so caught up in "perfect" that we forget sometimes it can be good enough.

Very retro. I, for one, love it.

Unknown said...

So Mad Men! Love it. I enjoy your writing so, so much.

Anonymous said...

Anna, this post brought a smile to my face! What a lovely tribute to your mother and beautifully written.

monicac2 said...

I just love this!

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I enjoyed reading everyone's comments. It looks so retro....from here it looks like you did an awesome job!

Nicole said...

Oh my word, Anna, you are my hero. And so.freaking.funny!

Anonymous said...

Job done, Anna! Job done.

All the best,

K x

Anonymous said...

Sounds like decanters were a thing. Ours had pink liquid and sat decoratively on the back of the toilet. It disappeared somewhere along the way. Perhaps someone needed it when we became teenagers.