FREECYCLED: SCHOOLHOUSE BENCH

There are a lot of things I’m painfully unaware of in the moment. When I order popcorn at a movie theater and leave with a buttered crotch–that’s one. When I’m texting in bed and forget about gravity (ouch!)–that’s another. When I’m caught picking my nose by the person in the cab right next to mine–WHICH WE ALL DO BECAUSE WE HAVE MEDICALLY-DIAGNOSED IRRITABLE NOSTRIL CAVITIES AND THAT’S A REAL THING–well, sure, that’s probably another good example of how I’m not always aware of my surroundings. The exception is when I’m on the street. That’s a different story. On the street there is garbage and garbage makes me happy and garbage keeps me focused. If you don’t know by now how much I love garbage and the potential I see in it then you must just be here for the silly dog pictures.

It was one of my first winters in Manhattan when I went to meet some friends for a CWC (classy woman’s cocktail). The night before it snowed almost a foot and the city was enveloped by a thick, white blanket of powder, like a layer of butter cream frosting over a sheet cake. One margarita became nine and what was intended to be a night cap turned into a sloppy stumble home at 3 AM through the dark streets of West Harlem, which should tell you something about what a fearless terror I was at 22 years old. Speaking of, I would like to take this opportunity to formerly apologize to all of the five boroughs of New York City for the emotional and physical distress caused by 22 year old Evan. He roamed the streets at night, inebriated, sifting through your garbage. He aspired to be Cry Me A River Timberlake but could only pull off Like I Love You Timberlake. He said things like “chill” and “that’s bananas”. He didn’t have much regard for his personal safety and when he rode the subway he always had a scowl on his face. He acknowledges that after three pitchers of tequila he really should’ve just taken a cab and called it a night but instead he did cartwheels up and down 137th Street, listening to She Wolf on his iPod, and he’s real sorry about that.

Drunk, damp and cold I barreled ass over tea kettle down the street, exercising the limits of my healthy buzz, when out of the corner of eye I caught a bright yellow table leg poking up from the snow, buried beneath a black Hefty bag and stack of AM New Yorks. What I dug out from that mountain of trash would eventually follow me from place to place (to place to place to place) for the next 8 years:

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Battered and bruised but brilliant (alliteration!)

Even through my double vision I could tell this thing had good bones. It was beat to hell but it weighed a damn ton. The top was bespeckled with all kinds of things: paint, plaster, stain, polyurethane. One of the legs was missing a huge chunk from it, but the cross braces were in good shape so structurally it was sound, which I tested by laying on it in the middle of the sidewalk (22 year old Evan’s idea). I found it 3 blocks from my apartment–I’m not sure how I was able to haul it back home–and my arms had given out by the time I made it to my front door. I woke up the next morning and marveled at my accomplishment, yet still slightly unsure of how this bench got to be in my room. Go figure. Most people have a drunken night and wake up with a strange person in their bed. I have a drunken night and end up with strange furniture. I’m proud to say that since this time I’m a little more socially acclimated–but only slightly.

Because the circumstances surrounding the bench were so unique it moved with me to each subsequent apartment. When I moved into my studio and got some outdoor space I made a pact to finally give it the facelift it deserved. Sanding can be a difficult business to tackle indoors. You can do it, for sure, but the prep work and clean up is drag. I’ll have to write a post on that later because it can be done. Whether or not anyone actually wants to do it (or read it) is another matter entirely.

Initially my plan was to go very simple and elegant with it; strip it entirely, use a delicate maple stain to highlight the wood grain, upholster the top with black leather and brass nailheads. It was a good plan, it was, but things kind of went south when I ran a sheet of coarse sandpaper over the top and found out how deep the different layers of paint and stain actually went:

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That right there took Daddy roughly 90 minutes of hard, finger-paralyzing labor. Ugh.

So I changed my plans. I think it’s great to go into a situation with your guns blazing but leave yourself some room to edit and scale back. Be practical and don’t get down on yourself for cutting corners if needed. The original design for the bench would’ve been stunning if it was executed but it also would’ve taken 10+ hours, and if you’re a weekend warrior like me that’s several weeks of work. Nah-uh. No thank you, sir. Next!

As a compromise I decided I would sand down the entire the top. The struggle was real on that poor bench’s face and it needed some love, no doubt about it. I couldn’t cut a corner there. However the legs and braces were in good shape, so to save myself some time I would lightly sand down any rough patches, prime and repaint in a darker color, most likely black, to cover any blemishes I couldn’t remove with the paper. The leather idea I threw out because who am I Finn Juhl? GET REAL, EVAN, YOU CAN’T UPHOLSTER.

Here’s what it looked like after the first coat of stain. I went with Minwax Dark Walnut instead of maple since I knew I would be painting the base a deep black and needed a wood tone to compliment:

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I had to make several passes before I was satisfied with the color. Also some woods are far more porous than others so if your stain doesn’t take right away just persist! You’re not doing anything wrong. For this project I went with five coats in total. By coat three I had achieved the dark walnut look but I wanted a deeper tone so I kept slapping that shit on. With a foam brush. Have a mentioned that before? TEAM FOAM BRUSH. I hate bristle brushes. They need to go somewhere far away–like hopefully where Woody Allen’s films from 1987 to the present will go–and never ever come back. I also use a rag when I stain, too, to wipe down any excess, so don’t forget to bring one of your old camp t-shirts with you. It helps ensure I can be as sloppy as possibly when applying the stain and I don’t have to worry about streaking or pooling.

For the base I went interior semi-gloss from Behr, but only because I had some extra lying around. This is hardly an endorsement for Behr. Unless one of the good people at Behr is reading this. In that case you can make the check out to CASH. Please email me for my address and thank you in advance!

Here is where I ended up:

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For a garbage bench salvaged from the bowels of uptown Manhattan I think it has been done justice. Sadly I had to part with it just before the Apartment Therapy shoot but I was able to find a friend who could take care of it for me until I get a little more room. All in all this project cost a whopping $9, which was the cost of one of the ‘ritas that sent me off into the night when I first discovered it all those years ago.

Now, for the people who are here only for the silly dog pictures, thank you for putting up with all of this nonsense. Your reward is a Finn in a shearling:

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12 thoughts on “FREECYCLED: SCHOOLHOUSE BENCH

  1. kay

    Finn in a shearling!! Gahh!!! He is too cute! (and nice job with the bench…too bad it’s not around but good on you for finding it a good temporary home!) love your writing – keep it up!

    Reply
  2. Mike

    Well,most of us have had youthful “adventures” of one sort or another( I once met a guy who I thought was super sweet but once we got to his place he wanted to tie me up and do God knows what) but picking up street furniture takes the cake- I mean really,cavorting with strange furnishings! Not quite comme il faut. But it’s absolutely one of the reasons you are too delicious- well,that and your handsome pal Finn. Woof! ( sorry,I couldn’t resist !)

    Reply
    1. Evan Post author

      Hey Mike! We here at This Is Not A House do not judge. One man’s salvaged school bench could be another man’s S&M dungeon–it’s all relative!

      Thank you for the kind words–I will pass on your compliment to Finn which he will EAT UP because he’s a huge narcissist.

      Reply
  3. Connor

    Are you unaware of how awesome you are? Because you are. What a fantastic transformation! This post has taught me that margaritas only lead to good things, and confirmed my previous assumption that strange furniture always trumps strange bedfellows.

    Reply
    1. Evan Post author

      Ha! Connor, I love your positive spin on The Tequila Haze, but it doesn’t *always* yield great results. For every freecycled school bench there is a broken papasan chair frame, so you might win one but it takes a few duds to get there, much like bedfellows.

      Reply
  4. Emma

    This post was hilarious Evan, you should write a book. And that is an awesome transformation. You make me want to look in garbage containers to find stuff like that. Are you not worried about bedbugs living in the pieces of furniture you find in the street though? I lived in NY last year and after my boyfriend woke up one morning with bug bites all over his back we thought we had bedbugs and freaked out for a whole week. Turned out he just had “dry skin” according to the doctor, and the “bites” disappeared with some body lotion. I almost kill him. Anyways, that event made me really paranoid about bedbugs and every time I see furniture in the street or in a flea market the thought of having bedbugs in my apartment always comes to my mind.

    Reply
  5. Emma

    By the way, the table lamp in the first picture is from CB2 right? I saw it in the store the other day and was wondering wether I should buy it or not because at first I thought the base was concrete but once you see it closer it’s just painted and looks kind of cheap. Are you happy with it?

    Reply
    1. Evan Post author

      OH, EMMA. Why did you have to remind me of them? Why! Just like the Scottish curse you’re *never* to say that word on This Is Not A House. In truth, I know a thing or two about those critters. I [gulp] had them three summers ago and, yes, I just admitted that and, yes, I instantly regretted it and, yes, I’m going to scrub my body with peroxide and cactus needles once I’m done typing this. Apparently (or so I’ve been told) it reached epidemic proportions in New York when I got them–my roommate and I had 2 of those creepy things to be exact #eyeroll–and since then the city has managed to keep them in check, so I really don’t think about it anymore. I mean, they were in movie theaters for God’s sake! If one’s going to hitch a ride on your shoulder and follow you back to your house then snatching up an abandoned ottoman will put you in as much danger as going to see Wolf of Wall Street. As a general rule I stay away from upholstered pieces, in part because of DEM BUGS but also because I’m terrible at reupholstering things and wouldn’t know what to do with a wingback if I found one. Sofas are a no-no. Chairs? Eh, that’s a maybe. Mattresses? If you have to ask then you should just chain yourself to your radiator and give your life a cold, hard look. Also they don’t (usually) nest in wood, plastic, lucite, metal–those are inhospitable environments–so you should feel comfortable picking up anything like that. They like warm, comfy places where people spend enough time for them to feed, which is why they are found in beds. It’s rare you’d find one in a sofa. But still–BLECH!

      As for the lamp, it is CB2! I thought the design was very cool but unfortunately it was a misstep for me. Most of the lamps in my apartment give off hues of soft amber, and as much as I liked the design of the CB2 burner I couldn’t find a way to make the direct light work with everything else. Obviously an Edison bulb is the way to go, but I found even at a low wattage the glare was just too bright. In my opinion it works more as an object than a light source, if that makes any sense–which I don’t most of the time SO I FEEL YOU.

      Hope that helps and thanks for giving me the heeby-jeebies at work!

      Reply
      1. Emma

        Haha Evan I am sorry! I knew you were going to have your own story though.

        About the lamp, I read the lamp reviews in the CB2 website and a lot of people talk about the bulb being too bright. They suggest adding a dimmer to the cord, but I don´t really know how difficult to do is that. Anyways, I will think about buying it because it really is a cool lamp. Thanks for the info!

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