1980’s Dining Table Transformation

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One of my son’s favorite books right now is “The Little Engine That Could.” Having read this story a number of times (okay, a lot), it was the first thing that popped into my head when trying to figure out how to describe the transformation of this dining set.

You see, this is actually the dining set my husband’s family used as he was growing up. It dates from the mid 80’s and has (as far as I know) been used every. single. day. since then. It’s worked hard, put in its time, been well loved and well worn, and was pretty much at the end of its life.

And that’s when we got it.

When my husband and I first got married and bought our house, we had no dining table. We were using the little 2-person Ikea table that had been in my husband’s apartment. While that was okay [temporarily] for us, we had nothing large enough for when friends and family came over. Conveniently, my in-laws decided it was time for them to get a new set and offered this one to us.

Hey, you can’t beat free, right? And having a table is better than no table…

And so we used it for several years…

…until I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore. We had finally renovated our kitchen and I was finally beginning to decorate (yay!), and that orange 80’s table with the busted out cane chairs just looked so sad.

(Please excuse my messy basement!)

Now don’t get me wrong – I was very grateful to have a table and extra grateful we didn’t even have to pay anything for it – but as you can probably imagine, it didn’t really fit with my “vision” for the room.

I brought up the subject of getting a new table and chairs – even an inexpensive set – that would fit with our decor. My husband was not keen on the idea, since we have very young children and the table will probably see a lot of messes, projects, and “love” [read: abuse] over the next few years. He wasn’t ready to buy our “forever” table only to have it torn up, and he didn’t want to waste money on “something cheap.” I saw his point, and mostly agreed, but was still majorly disappointed. I was so sick of looking at the broken chairs and orangey finish!

Since we weren’t going to replace the set, I was at least going to spruce up this one!

All that said, this is probably not our “forever table.”

(I’m not even sure exactly what our “forever table” will look like, but probably something rectangular and rustic…)

However… I am pretty pleased with the transformation that has taken place! That orangey 80’s dining table with the busted-out cane chairs has come a long way, and for not a whole lot of money! I managed to learn some new skills in the process, plus we have the satisfaction of having done it ourselves! Win!

Well, let me disclose to you that the whole process took months, because…life happened. Just the daily life stuff with little kids + only working on upholstering and painting during nap time, etc. The chairs alone took me *cough* 5 months to complete.

Two of the four backs on the chairs were broken. I could have ripped out the cane and just upholstered them, but I was afraid that with such long backs the chairs would begin to look “heavy.” I like the airiness that comes with a caned back. So I rolled up my sleeves and learned how to cane!

I’m not going to give you a tutorial on caning because I am not a pro in the slightest. I followed this tutorial on youtube, and it was SO helpful. If you ever want to give caning a try – which I recommend because you totally CAN do it – use that tutorial (and feel free to ask me questions).

After I roughed up the shiny finish on all the chairs and re-caned the 2 broken ones, I glued on these wood flower appliqués with some wood glue. (The photo below is of one of the chairs that wasn’t broken, that’s why the cane looks darker.)

I then gave them all two coats of Fusion Mineral Paint in Lamp White. You can paint cane with a brush, but you have to go super light with it and make absolutely sure that you don’t have drips coming out the other side! Working in a circular motion helps. To add depth to the flower appliqué, I brushed on some watered-down Martha Stewart Vintage Decor Paint in Charcoal. I wiped off the excess and touched up bad spots with white.

Whenever I got a spare moment, or while I was waiting for a coat of paint to dry, I stripped the old upholstery off the seats, and then worked on reupholstering them with this gray and white buffalo check fabric. It is super sturdy and I have no doubt that it will hold up with daily use. I plan to write up a chair-reupholstering tutorial in the coming weeks.

(The way I’m writing this would give the impression that this all went very quickly, but it definitely took several months!) 😉

Dining chairs get knocked around all the time, so to add extra durability, I sprayed the chair frames with a coat of Rustoleum Satin Clear Enamel (before I reattached the seats, of course!). As an aside, I know that Fusion Mineral makes a “tough coat,” but since it seemed to yield mixed reviews, I decided to skip it. The Rustoleum clear enamel did not yellow the white paint at all, but this may vary depending on what type of wood you are dealing with. Always test in an inconspicuous spot first!

Also before I reattached the seats, I gave all the new upholstery two coats of Scotchgard Fabric & Upholstery Protector, because life happens! Always test this sort of spray first to make sure it’s not going to mess up all your hard work! I tested it on some leftover scraps of fabric before spraying my precious seats!

Over the course of the 5 months it took me to redo the chairs, we continued using the table and sat on our old Ikea chairs. Then we switched and started using the new chairs at the little Ikea table! It was really quite comical.

The table got dragged down to the basement where it underwent many experiments and tests (bwa ha ha!). No, really, it did.

The top is a veneer and it seemed like no matter what we did, we could not get it dark enough. We thought we had it finished at one point, but after using two coats of stain it was all uneven and splotchy, so my husband ended up resanding the whole thing and we tried again. It never did get as dark as we wanted, but we finally said “good enough!” It received one coat of Minwax Gel Stain in Coffee, followed by a coat of polyurethane.

I then painted the legs and the apron of the table with two coats of the Fusion Mineral Lamp White. Hubby rigged up a system so I could paint all sides of the legs at once. He’s a keeper. 🙂 The legs got two coats of the Rustoleum clear enamel before being reattached to the tabletop. We decided not to worry about top-coating the apron. You cannot tell any difference just by looking.

And it is finally DONE DONE DONE! Woohoo!

I don’t have an exact total for this project, but it ended up being somewhere in the $150 – $175 range to completely revamp this table and chairs. The most expensive part was the fabric – heavy duty upholstery fabric isn’t cheap! But you want it to hold up, so it’s worth the investment.

Glad we could breathe some life back into this little dining set that was on its way out the door. It’s cool that it has so many special memories for my husband and now it gets to add a whole new chapter in its story with our kids! 🙂 That may be worth even more than having a brand-spanking-new table.

Shh…can you hear it?

I thought I could…I thought I could…I thought I could…

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