Banker Finds Stress Relief in “Furniture Flipping”

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Bankers are “numbers people,” but Liz McGill-Bleakley of St. Marys, West Virginia, also has a creative side that led to a stress-relieving hobby – refurbishing furniture. “I have been banking for 34 years,” Liz explains. “Painting furniture started by accident. I had seen some items in catalogs that I liked, but didn’t want to pay big money for them. I thought, ‘I can do that!’”

An assistant vice president, business development officer and mortgage originator, Liz bought an old pie safe/cupboard that had seen its better days. “I usually look for solid wood, but I have done veneers and wicker, too.”

The cupboard was originally black, but Liz sanded, painted, sanded again, then stained and sealed it for the finished, aged look. “Multiple layers of paint make a really cool effect when you are going for a distressed look,” she says. “I figured I couldn’t hurt it too much, and it actually turned out better than I expected. A few people have even asked to buy it.” That was over a year ago, and her new hobby took off.

Since that time, Liz has completed several other projects for herself and others.  “Giving furniture a new look is easier than I thought it would be, and it has been a great stress reliever. If something needs major repairing first, my husband Chad helps me with that part. But I love having my own power tools, and I’m not afraid to experiment.”

Strength & Challenges

Liz shares part of the reason for her determination – all of the female relatives in her family eventually lose their hearing. Liz started experiencing hearing loss at age 25 with each pregnancy (she has two daughters). “I’m at a point where I know I won’t have hearing for long. I have no hearing in one ear, and the other has some left, but this creative outlet keeps me sane. I will have something to do ‘if and when,’” she says. “I read lips very well, so most people don’t know unless I tell them.” She also relies primarily on text and email to communicate instead of phone calls.

Liz’s husband Chad is a huge help to her in the shop, as well. “He does the heavy work and the repairs. We have redone some things that were in really bad shape. Those are usually keepsakes that have been passed down through families that people really want to keep.” When refinishing or painting a piece for someone else, Liz says, “Sometimes they just say ‘Do whatever you think will look good.’ Those are the fun ones.”

Some of Liz’s pieces are purchased and some are given to her in trade for doing work on other furniture. “The stuff I do for myself usually sits until I decide for sure what I want to do. Chad makes fun of me because he’s caught me just staring at things I have in my garage.”

Hutch to Wine Bar

Liz’s latest “flip,” a dry sink, sat for a year while she worked on other items.

Dry Sink - "Before"
Sanding down some of the old finish

Base coat of white latex

Once she was inspired with a vision, she began by using a random-orbital sander to remove some of the red and cream colored enamel paint where it might show through during the distressing process.  The insides of the cabinet were painted green. 

Sanding complete, Liz then prepped the entire piece with a coat of white latex as a primer base, which helped prevent the red paint from showing through and also served as the peek-a-boo color during the distressing process.

Woodcraft product manager Kent Harpool offers this tip for another way to prevent previous paint colors from showing through.  “Bleed through of any type can be controlled with Zinsser Seal Coat (clear) or Zinsser White Bin. Both are shellac based products effective at preventing bleed through while at the same time putting down a base that paint sticks to very well.”

The entire hutch was then finished with taupe latex paint. Liz prefers latex if the piece is going to be sanded, as it holds up better for everyday use. After letting the paint cure a few days, Liz then distressed the finish by hand, sanding in areas where it might naturally be worn over time (drawer edges, cabinet feet, raised panels, for example).

Distressing is a very popular painting technique which can involve one, two or multiple coats of paint. The distressing reveals the layers below the top coat. Generally, either a hand sander or an electric sander is used to distress furniture, but there are a few things to keep in mind. When distressing, sandpaper grits can create different effects. The higher the grit, (320, 400) the smoother the surface will be. Also, finer grits will remove paint more slowly. If you are unsure about how much paint you really want to remove, then start with the finer grits. If you distress with coarser grits (80, 120, 220) you will be removing a lot of paint very quickly, which is okay if that is the look you want to achieve.

For the stain, Liz usually uses a Minwax medium color stain to obtain a genuinely old, unique look. With a lint-free cloth, she hand rubbed the stain on and immediately wiped it off, using long strokes going with the grain of the wood.  Her objective is usually to make a piece feel “antiqued, not so much a stained look.” Depending on the color of the stain you choose, it will soak into the wood in the places that have been sanded. “Woods with a lot of grain look really pretty with ebony stain sealant in either satin or flat polyurethane. The water-based version has no odor and washes up with soap and water. Costs a little more, but it’s worth it,” she states. After a final coat of finish, Liz completed the painting portion of this project.

But because she was making the hutch into a dry sink, she added a wine glass holder (purchased at Ikea and sprayed bronze) for putting wine glasses within easy reach and included a coordinating mosaic tile on the inset cabinet top for a wine bar. Not only did this give the project a classy touch, it also made for easy cleanup when serving beverages and will eliminate any “rings” that might normally show up when mixing drinking glasses and furniture.

A Few More Befores & Afters

Originally a dresser, Liz revamped the first piece shown into a cool gaming entertainment center. After sanding it down, she used a combination of paint and black stain, one of her favorite looks. The door design was stenciled on.

The top of this short dresser (middle) was a thin veneer that had gotten wet, so Liz’s first order of business was repairing that. After sanding, painting and sanding again for distressing, Liz finished with stain and a sealant for protection.

Found at an antique shop, the third piece (right) appeared to have been burned on one side. “Chad thought it was ugly,” she says, “but I thought if I painted it, I could make it look okay.” She painted it first, then sanded, stained and sealed.

Liz transformed this old dresser into a gaming entertainment center.
The thin veneer on the top of this piece had to be repaired.

This item had burn marks on one side before Liz revamped it.

Liz’s youngest daughter Malee immediately claimed this desk (below) for her apartment at college and picked out the colors she wanted her mother to use. Liz did a paint and stain combo on it, with a stenciled design over the original pressed board material. The rest of the desk was solid, heavy wood, and came with several pieces of chewing gum underneath and included a stamp for “Kanawha County Dept. of Welfare.”

Liz offers this advice to anyone who may be interested in flipping furniture as a creative outlet: “If you don’t like it, you can always start over! It seems like everyone has furniture that they have grown tired of, and with a little time and paint, you can change the look of most anything.”

To see more of Liz’s work, visit her Facebook page at “The Flip”

We hope youll be inspired!

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