Musings On Life After College, Daughters And Coffee Tables
There is a coffee table in my garage where Mrs. JPC’s minivan normally parks. Or more accurately, it is not so much a coffee table as it is a project. And it is what is becoming my favorite kind of project – someone else’s. It is, however, a very satisfying one.
A little over four years ago I captured some fleeting thoughts that bubbled up from one of the many moves of a kid to a college apartment. Let’s see – three kids, four years each, yes that was a lot of those moves.
Time has passed and my youngest (and only daughter) has been out in the workforce for over a year. Though she has been out on her own, she has been in a transition from one set of roommates to another and has been in a short term layover at our place as the new plans come together. One of which is a coffee table.
This was a cast-off from a neighbor, one of those pieces of furniture you pick up because it fills a need in a college apartment full of cast-offs from multiple families. There are families who send their children off to high-end housing full of new furnishings, but we are not one of those families.
My daughter had taken a liking to this old coffee table, a large square one with a glass insert for the top. It is getting a new lease on life via a refinishing. And because old Dad has picked up a little experience in this over the years, I was invited to a seat at the (coffee) table.
I don’t know where I learned how to do wood finishing, I think I just started. I was a single guy when I bought my first house, a two bedroom bungalow that had been built during the Coolidge Administration. Yes, ancient history – Calvin Coolidge was the President of the U.S. through most of the 1920’s.
Tangent Alert – it just now occurs to me that my first house was about sixty years old at the time I bought it and that my current house (built during the Eisenhower Administration) is about sixty years old now. That doesn’t seem right, but here we are. End Tangent.
Anyhow, my old house had been built in the era of great swaths of varnished woodwork which had been painted in later years due to changes in tastes and styles. Being a lover of originality I began the long project of stripping many layers of paint from woodwork and replacing it with the dark, glossy finish that I had seen in so many homes from that era.
I never did get all the way through, but I made serious headway on many linear yards of oak baseboards and even a pair of window sashes in one bedroom – a big project, those windows, with their multiple small panes of glass that were all removed and replaced after I worked my polyurethanely magic.
I like projects like that – ones that require (or allow?) me to spend uninterrupted hours on something both tedious and rewarding. This is a luxury for me. Those hours have been spent on my present house as well. Remind me to tell you some time about my ten louvered doors, many of which have required paint or other finishes. Or not, it’s up to you.
This time, though, my daughter and her steady boyfriend are the ones with the project. I am sort of the helper emeritus, someone there to offer some guidance and a little help, but who also must learn the difficult skill of stepping back to let a new generation learn these skills for themselves. So far, so good I would say.
I suppose I am a preservationist at heart, because I really like the idea that they have chosen to take a piece of junk furniture and, through some time and effort, turn it into a feature of the living room in the apartment where it will soon be situated.
Will she (or they?) catch the bug and find other pieces to refinish, projects that may be more ambitious than this one?
Her older brother may be more typical of his generation. He has little patience for this kind of time-suck, preferring instead the ease and modern style that comes from the new stuff that is available from so many sources these days. Although he has not yet purchased a home, so who knows?
Anyway, the sanding is done, as is the first finish coat of the product that combines stain and polyurethane into a single coat. The second coat will go on within the next few hours and all that will be left to do is allow it to dry for a couple of weeks before it moves to new quarters (along with a truckload of other stuff).
It remains true that each move beyond college involves bigger trucks and more stuff. A single minivan won’t cut it anymore. It is also true that the quality of the stuff gets better.
Another thing changes as well – the roles of father and daughter. In terms of controlling the whens, whats and hows, Dad’s role recedes to one of elder adviser while daughter’s grows to that of Queen Of The Domain. And both of these changes are good ones. It is not always easy (speaking for myself, at least) to transition from Boss to Resource. But there are rewards in watching my daughter – and her brothers – flower as Real Adults.
Which is why I will not be volunteering to handle the large piece of glass when we move the coffee table. My default mindset (acquired over many years of practice) is “I have to do this myself to be sure it is done carefully.” But I must become acclimated to my new role – It is neither my apartment nor my coffee table. It is only a happy coincidence that I will not be the one blamed if the large piece of glass gets broken. Sometimes the role of Resource has its benefits.
This coffee table is the right size for a project. The scary part is my parents have a very similarly designed coffee table. Aren’t these still too new to require refinishing – aren’t they???
Wise move on letting the first coat dry. Having been given a table in which Coat #2 was applied 30 minutes after Coat #1, those little bubbles that can erupt in polyurethane are a bear to sand out.
Impatience and oil-based finishes are two things that do not go together well. Says the guy who has learned more than one hard lesson.
I just did some redwood baseboards with wipe-on polyurethane. No bubbles, no brushes to clean … good stuff. I used clear, but it’s available in tints too, Minwax brand I think.
That sounds like an interesting product. I didn’t go shopping for the stuff, just told the project girl what I had used and liked, which is a Minwax product called Polyshades – a one-step tinted polyurethane. I am kind of amazed that they have not re-forumulated the entire line as they seem to have done in both house and automotive paints.
It’s hard to remember to encourage rather than just dive in and go “Ok, here’s how you do it” so well done on your part.
Have you noticed that “mid century” furnishings are now a thing and are sold for actual money in stores? I was in a furniture store a few years ago with Mrs DougD and looking at a coffee table said “furniture designed like that is supposed to be free, I can’t imagine paying money for it”. I still appreciate a nice piece of free furniture 🙂
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My mother replaced most of her mid-century stuff with stuff bought later – the baroque-looking stuff from the late 70s or early 80s. That’s the stuff none of my kids had any interest in even though free. I couldn’t blame them. I am like you – on those rare occasions when I walk into a secondhand shop I keep being surprised that all the stuff is modern. 🙂
I keep reading that real wood furniture goes begging these days because everyone wants IKEA or such.
My son moved into his first apartment last week and I got to go see him in it on Saturday. There was the desk I refinished for him when he was about six. It had been my desk growing up. I hadn’t seen it since his mom and I split up in 2004. I got a little emotional when I saw it. I used polyurethane too.
My dad made custom, bespoke wood furniture for a living for several years. He looked well down his nose on poly. Most of his furniture had only a wax finish on it. Wax! I have a coffee table he made with just that dadblasted wax finish on it. It’s so, so fragile. I live in fear of someone sitting a glass down on it for just five seconds without a coaster. I love my table, but hate that you can barely use it. If it were coated in poly, good heavens, dunk the thing in a bathtub for all I care it will be fine.
My son’s desk looks as good now as the day I finished the job.
My childhood bedroom set still resides in our house, having served our boys – we got lucky when my mother found a more-or-less matching bed. It is still in great shape so no need to refinish.
I have no experience at all with a wax finish. I don’t suppose I love wood furniture enough to try any, either. I will take your experience, adopt it as my own and move on. So thank you for that.
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Tangential comment as I am wont to do – one of the election slogans for Coolidge was “Keep Cool Coolidge!” Just read up on that in an old National Geographic yesterday, and it applies here. Keep Cool JP in your newfound role as coffee table restorer and Honoured Dad.
I keep wondering if I will ever turn into “the cool dad”. I suppose there’s still time. 🙂
This is a very sweet story that is also a fine exemplar
of the orderly nature of generational change when it unfolds smoothly. Kudos to all involved. I enjoyed the Tangent Alert as well.
And yes, I’d like to hear about the ten louvered doors. In exchange, I’ll describe how my husband and I just removed a large broken air conditioner that the man who replaced our living room windows years ago had bolted into the frame.
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It sounds like you had (until recently, anyway) the most burglar-proof air conditioner in the US! And I announced long ago that we must be happy with the color of the painted trim in our house because those louvered doors were never changing color ever again.
This is a great post. I have one great memory about my dad acting in the “Helper Emeritus” role. One day I called him asking how to unscrew a stripped screw, my attempts all having failed. I was installing a DVD player in a the dash of a 2006 Hyundai Elantra. He invited me up, took me out to get Mexican food, and then provided the perfect combination of careful advice and doing it himself that was required to get the job done. Today, I still don’t know how to unscrew a stripped screw, but I have a fun memory in its place. There’s always WikiHow or Google for directions these days anyway.
Truthfully, that has been my default: “Step aside, I can do this.”. Maybe Mexican food makes the difference – you still don’t learn but the screw is gone and you would rather take a nap anyway. 😀
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An excellent read, with many good observations. I like the coffee table but would chalk-paint it beige – chalk-paint is wonderful – no prep, no sweat and it fits my cottage decor. I still have my 80’s glass top coffee table with the wicker stand – I’m waiting for it to become vintage. When I look through the Vintage Store here and see all that 60/70’s furniture and tableware I grew up with and the young kids are all buying it – I just shake my head. I didn’t like the look even then….shag rugs ugh…
I have no experience with chalk paint, I will have to start paying more attention to what’s out there.
And yes, my mind still has a cutoff for “vintage” of about 1960 or so. The world has clearly moved on.
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Your Mrs. might know. All the craft stores like Michael’s carry it and there are several different brands. It’s mostly only cottagey decor but great for refinishing old fleamarket finds without a lot of work.
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