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This old bureau, restored

With a little time, used furniture can be made beautiful

Lauren Zimmerman and Nick Siemaska in front of a bureau they refurbished. Lauren Zimmerman and Nick Siemaska in front of a bureau they refurbished. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Nicole Cammorata
Globe Staff / February 4, 2010

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Maybe there’s an old desk sitting in your basement. Or perhaps you’ve inherited an armoire. If you’ve always wanted to attempt a furniture restoration project, it’s easier than you think.

And for a pair of friends in Jamaica Plain, a love for design and furniture restoration is quickly going from pastime to profit.

“The point of refurbishing, in my opinion, is to get something cheap and make something awesome,’’ says Nick Siemaska, who together with Lauren Zimmerman, rehabs sad, discarded furniture found online or on the street. The pair make up Second Coat Design, transforming bureaus, tables, chairs, and bookcases into one-of-a-kind statement pieces.

Siemaska and Zimmerman are drawn to objects with character and unique detailing. On a recent chilly Monday, the piece they’re working on at Siemaska’s JP apartment is a four-drawer bureau they found on Craigslist and bought from a woman in Beacon Hill for $35. It has long, carved legs and is painted a loud bubblegum pink and a pistachio green so light it’s almost white. Over the course of assorted weekends, they’ll sand, prime, paint, and replace the hardware to produce a modern take on a traditional silhouette.

“There’s so much pride and joy in seeing the finished product. It’s exciting,’’ Zimmerman says.

Siemaska, who attends Harvard and plays guitar in the band Pastel Group, began redoing furniture as a hobby. Zimmerman works at Digitas and met Siemaska years ago through mutual friends. When Zimmerman expressed interest over the summer in getting involved, they joined forces.

Since then, the endeavor has grown. They recently launched the website secondcoatdesign.blogspot.com (www.secondcoatdesign.blogspot.com), their projects have been featured on popular style blog Design Sponge (www.designspongeonline.com), and they’re in talks to sell their work through Brookline retailer Pod.

“We’ve been taking it more seriously because other people are taking it more seriously,’’ Siemaska says.

Here, the duo takes us through the refinishing process step by step, so would-be refurbishers can do it themselves.

Step 1 Finding the right piece

If you don’t have something already, Siemaska and Zimmerman recommend scouring Craigslist, where there’s often more furniture to choose from in the free section than there is for sale. Yard sales, estate sales, and curbside on the first of every month can also prove fruitful. Look for pieces that have “good bones.’’ They should be sturdy, structurally sound, and made from wood. Check that the drawers fit and glide easily.

Tip: Make sure you like the shape of the piece - this is the one feature you won’t be able to change.

Step 2 Remove the hardware
Using a screwdriver, carefully remove all drawer pulls. Do not discard hardware - you may want to use it later.

Tip: Decide which hardware you’re going to use before you get started. Often, the look of the entire project may hinge on this detail.

Step 3 Sand, sand, sand
The point of this step is to clean the surface of the piece and smooth out any imperfections. It is not to remove the paint. Use coarse sandpaper to start - 120 grit is a good choice. This creates a rougher surface that will be easier for paint to stick to. Sand in the same linear direction; sanding in circles or opposite the direction you anticipate painting will show through later. A dry paint brush will help to eliminate debris. “I learned that from Martha Stewart,’’ Siemaska says.

Tip: Wear a mask to avoid inhaling dust particles. The paint on older furniture can contain lead.

Step 4 Wood filler
Repair any cracks or chips using wood filler.

Tip: Let it dry completely before re-sanding.

Step 5 Prime the piece
At this stage, your painting doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s important to keep the brush strokes going in the same direction throughout the painting process. “Otherwise you get this crosshatch pattern,’’ Zimmerman says.

Tip: Don’t use paint that includes primer. Siemaska likens this to peanut butter and jelly sold in the same jar - they’re both subpar versions of the original. Siemaska finds that combining them dilutes the effectiveness of both.

Step 6 Paint
It’s best to apply at least two coats of paint, taking care to smooth out any drips in the process. Sanding between coats with a finer grit paper (Siemaska and Zimmerman recommend a 220 grit at this stage) will ensure a smoother final product. The type of paint you use depends on the project, and it comes down to personal preference. Glossy paints tend to highlight underlying flaws in the wood while satins downplay them.

Tip: Practice good brush care by washing them immediately.

Step 7 Attach hardware
Once finished, stand back and admire your work.

Project cost $128
Furniture: $35 (on Craigslist)

Primer: $19 for a gallon (will give you more than you need and can be used for future projects)

Paint: $17 for a gallon (Glidden satin base in “Mustard Seed’’)

Hardware: $18 (purchased from House of Antique Hardware, www.houseofantiquehardware.com)

Painter’s tape: $5

Paintbrushes: $14 for large, $5 for small detail brush

Sandpaper: $15