One of the blogs I follow regularly is Apartment Therapy. The idea behind Apartment Therapy is simple:
A calm, healthy, beautiful home is a necessary foundation for happiness and success in the world.
Creating this home doesn’t require large amounts of money or space. It requires inspiration, connection to resources and motivation to do something about it.
The basic elements of good home design can be learned and achieved by all.
Simplicity and luxury are not mutually exclusive. – Apartment Therapy
The contributors at Apartment Therapy make great design attainable by all. With frequent posts about DIY projects and Craigslist finds, they provide the common man with a wealth of ideas without having to break the budget. Their affinity for “character-driven” design that has a story and/or history behind it (ie. reclaimed wood furniture, mid-century modern design, DIY projects) only makes Apartment Therapy that much more appealing for this aspirational hipster.
After moving into a new place last summer, finding a great dining table was on the top of my to-do list. Using reclaimed wood was particularly appealing to me – in addition to the great quality of old growth wood, the story behind up-cycling old barn wood or old floor boards was something that I couldn’t pass up.
The problem, I found, was the insanely high price folks were charging to own a piece of history. The up-cycling of old used wood into modern pieces of furniture, which I find fundamentally hipster, has made its way into the mainstream. You’ll find the rough, hand-hewn pieces expertly juxtaposed with the stark lines of modern minimalist design; or, in magazines such as Elle Decor, you’ll find them as the beautifully raw centerpieces of an otherwise elegantly designed room.
Early last year, Apartment Therapy had a great post about the “DIY Gods of Spanish Harlem“, a couple of guys who made the incredible reclaimed wood table shown below (and the beautiful gas pipe bookshelf in the background – we’ll cover this in a later post). When AT posted an article on building your own reclaimed wood table this past summer, I took that as a sign and set out to make my own.
After doing some thorough Google research, I found my reclaimed wood at District Millworks, a small custom reclaimed wood furniture shop in the downtown Arts District. They keep their old growth wood stacked high in the front warehouse-area. Just walking through the warehouse, talking about where the old floorboards came from, learning about what species of hardwood are best for making what kinds of furniture – I felt my hipster cred bump up a couple notches just from the half hour I spent in there.
(As a side note, the guy helping me was a perfect specimen of a hipster – flannel shirt, form-fitting jeans, worker boots, an apprentice at a reclaimed wood furniture store in the Arts District in DTLA… just a fucking cool dude.)
At his recommendation, I chose a couple planks of hemlock, which I believe were used as old siding for a house in the midwest. The planks had this dark patina to them, developed from the years braving the elements. The sides of the planks also had these great crisscrossing saw marks.
Since I have no woodworking equipment at home, I asked them to cut the planks to my desired length (7′ each), plane the bottoms (which would allow the table to balance evenly on the legs), and join the planks (which makes it so when you put the planks side-by-side, there are no gaps between the planks). They left the tops and the sides of the side pieces as-is in all their dirt-covered, cobweb-spotted glory; after all, what’s the point in buying this beautiful wood if you’re just going to plane away all the character?
Back at home, we gave the planks a good sanding. In addition to removing the grime and splinters, the sanding also brought out the natural color and grain of the wood. We were careful not to sand the planks too much, leaving the odd marking, gouge, and nail hole as a reminder that this wood had a story. We used a rotary sander, giving the planks 2-3 passes with varying sandpaper grits. Starting with a course 80 grit to chew through the dirty top layer, we finished with a fine 300 grit that left the wood deliciously smooth to the touch.
We applied a stain to the wood after sanding to bring it to our desired color (the natural color of the hemlock was lighter than we wanted). Since we were going to be wining and dining on this table, we applied several coats of polyurethane to seal the wood. This helps give the table some resistance to staining from spills.
We ran into some issues when it came time to attach the cross braces on the bottom of the planks, turning them from individual planks into our tabletop. We left our planks in the garage for a couple of weeks before starting on the project. The heat wave we experienced last summer turned our garage essentially into a big oven, which caused some of the boards to warp. Luckily, we caught it early and were able to move the planks to a cooler area before the boards warped too much. Unfortunately, due to the warping, our joined planks no longer lined up perfectly side by side.
I found some old lathe legs on eBay for our table legs, to complete the vintage feel of the table.
Since we live on the second story of our duplex and each piece of the table weighed quite a bit, final construction of the table had to be done in our dining room. We lined the planks up as best we could and added the cross braces – we have a couple of gaps between some of the planks and top is not perfectly flat, but overall the warping didn’t cause too much damage and we were pretty satisfied with the end result.
Some knockoff Eames molded plastic chairs found on Amazon added a modern touch to our dining room.
Total (approximate) cost:
Reclaimed wood: $350
Table legs: $250
Eames chairs: $325