Mall Relic Turned Colorful Porch Showpiece

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Our local Grand Central Mall was built back in the early ’70s, and it was a very big deal at the time! I wasn’t very old, but I clearly recall going inside before the stores were completely finished and being amazed at the huge space and all the shopping under one roof. Over the years, I have spent LOTS of time at that mall (probably too much) — movies with my friends in high school in the ’80s, birthday party for my son in the food court in the ’90s, shopping for a swimsuit for vacation, trying to find the perfect shoes for a work outfit, and on and on. So when I saw a bench for sale that had once been part of the mall’s midway, I wanted it!

In an era of fountains, waterfalls and streams with footbridges, live ducks roamed the mall through the ’90s (yes, really!). A large aviary was home to a variety of birds, quite an attraction in those days. The food court was built in the late ’90s, and that was the time the curved benches were installed throughout the mall.  

Grand Central Mall, Vienna, WV, early years

Large aviary was home to many exotic birds

Fountains, waterfalls and streams with live ducks

This curved bench was once a feature in the Grand Central Mall, Vienna, WV.

At $40, I felt like I got the bench for a steal. The nostalgia alone was worth that. As you can see, time was not good to this old girl. Grunge from years of “sitters” had turned this once-white bench a dingy gray. The seat cushion was squashed thin and looked almost too gross to touch. 

Prep

Before I could refinish the bench, the first order of business was to get it cleaned up. Off came the cushion, which I saved to use as a template for a new one. This job called for rubber gloves, because yuck. Krud Kutter got the grime off so I could move on to the next step. Before and after below — still looks pretty bad but it’s an improvement, trust me.

Before & After Initial Cleaning

Before - Years of yuck
After thorough cleaning with Krud Kutter

Next step was sanding. There was a lot of chippy paint that needed to come off, and I wanted the surface to be as smooth as possible before I painted. I sanded the entire piece with a Festool sander, and where I could not reach between the slats, I used a Preppin’ Weapon sanding tool.  

Sanding

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Cushion

Next, I needed to create a pattern that would be used to cut the foam padding for the new seat. I got some 24ʺ-wide craft paper (we have a large roll in our mailroom) and rolled it out the length of the bench. The width of the seat is 18ʺ, but to account for the curve I needed about 28ʺ-wide paper. I pieced it together, put the old cushion on top, and traced around it. Then I test-fit it on the bench to make sure I was happy with it. Once I had the pattern ready, I used that to cut out the foam padding from a roll of 2ʺ-thick Air-Lite Extra High Density Polyurethane Foam 36ʺ wide x 82ʺ long that is rated for indoor and outdoor projects. I cut around my line with a box cutter to get one big piece of foam for the padding. An electric bread knife would have made the job easier, but I don’t have one. I test-fit the foam on the bench and made a few minor adjustments.

Solarium Outdoor Fabric - Kitchi Marine

Meanwhile, my mom had graciously agreed to assist with the sewing part of this project. This outdoor fabric really caught my eye at Jo-Ann Fabric, and I liked the tie-in with the birds that used to reside at the mall (even though the birds and the benches weren’t there at the same time), so I purchased enough to cover the new cushion. My mom used the foam to trace her cutlines onto the fabric.

She sewed up the “sleeve” and left a hole in the back part to insert the foam, a task my mother likened to “wrestling an alligator.” Once the alligator was successfully beat to a pulp (more politely, the foam cushion was all stuffed into the sewn sleeve), she hand-stitched the back in order to enclose the entire piece. I think it turned out really nice, and she’s a champ for helping me out! She even had enough fabric to make two pillows. 

Homeright Finish Max HVLP Sprayer

Paint

I had been looking for an opportunity to use my new HOMERIGHT Finish Max HVLP Sprayer, so I thought spraying the bench would be way easier than trying to use a brush to paint in between all those slats. I chose a bold spring green color that I thought would stand out nicely against the brick of our home. I already have in mind to paint the front door and/or shutters a deep blue so the bird fabric in blues and green will tie it all together when I get that checked off my list.

Thin paint as needed for best results

I took the sprayer out of the box and read the instructions to familiarize myself with its operation before I did anything. One of the most important things to remember when spraying paint or finish is to make sure it is thin enough to properly run through the sprayer. The Finish Max comes with a viscosity cup and a guide for optimal run-out times for various materials, but always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. I thinned my paint as needed; then I was ready to go. Paint can be thinned with distilled water, Floetrol or General Finishes Extender, but again, read the suggestions for your particular sprayer. 

My handsome helper

HOMERIGHT advises that you do a few test sprays on newspaper or cardboard to give you the feel of the sprayer and to check your spray pattern, which you can adjust with the volume control knob and the wings of the spray tip. Depending on the project you are working on, you can select one of three spray patterns: horizontal, vertical or cone. We gave the bench two thin coats of paint, keeping the gun moving at all times to prevent runs. For any outdoor project you complete, protect it with a clear outdoor topcoat with UV stabilizers, like General Finishes Exterior 450, to keep it looking nice for longer. The paint dried quickly, and we had the bench on the porch within a few hours from start to finish.

Spraying with the Finish Max was a breeze, and the paint went on in a snap. My husband, who claims to hate painting, actually seemed to enjoy helping me out.

I’m thrilled with how it turned out, and the fabric choice is a winner in my book. I look forward to spending many evenings sitting on the bench with a big glass of sweet tea in my hand, enjoying the sunsets with my husband.   

You can find outdoor paint and finishes at your local Woodcraft store or woodcraft.com, along with several HVLP sprayers to meet every need, from hobbyist to industrial.

At under $70 retail, the Homeright Finish Max is a great choice for refinishing projects or DIY jobs around the house. I plan to use it to paint my shutters and kitchen cabinets soon.

On to the next project.

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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  • lm from BELPRE
    Nice job, Lori!

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