My brief for this was a new coffee table which reflected the sea. What I didn’t want was the usual light hearted vintage kitsch sea-side imagery, which don’t get me wrong is delightful and lovely in all the right places, but how many more chalk painted wooden signs with ‘to the Beach’ written on them do we need?
I was thinking more of sailing ships and the cape of good hope, ancient mariner’s tales and pirate treasure maps, and especially the voyage of the Beagle, taking Darwin on the epic journey that laid the foundations of his great theory of evolution. Well, coffee time doesn’t mean you can’t ponder the larger questions.
The table itself was a simple square number bought for £15 at one of my local charity shops. There are a few near me that do have solid pieces of furniture from time to time – look for the build quality and form of a piece rather than the surface appearance. This table was nice and simple and robust, and gave me more surface area than a standard console table might. I also thought it looked a little like those specimen tables where people used to collect their treasures under glass, which gives me food for thought……
Ok, so this is a few steps down the line, forgive my habit of getting stuck in before I remember to take a picture. Once the table was a bright blue, and needed a little screw tightening and a sanding under one leg to eliminate a slight wobble. And yes, I did break out the chalk paint, because it’s great stuff, though this table is destined for regular use and so needs serious varnish – no matt finish for this one.
I used a pale beige-grey ‘cocoa’ colour, not wanting the over effect to be too dark, and then covered the top with crackle effect paper in pale gold. Again, I could have used paint to create a 3d texture, but when the piece is meant for everyday use, I try and avoid that because in my world, there are enough outside forces looking to create spills, I don’t need to add an uneven table top.
I’d selected some rice paper decoupage images of sailing ships, old maps and compasses, and some paper napkins of shells which I wanted to look more like fossils. I also found a print out of a letter written in elegant french script, and though this would give the feeling of a love letter sent from far away, when any news was a miracle.
Always lay out your images first to get a feel of what you want to do, play around before you start glueing. I use my own home made glue – 50:50 pva and water – and whatever old loyalty card I can find when I remember I need a scraper to ease out the air bubbles. This is why I prefer rice paper for the bulk of a design, it’s that bit tougher and will take more smoothing without tearing than napkins. The napkin paper, in this case the fossils, never goes on as smooth and takes very gentle handling. It will always dry with a textured finish, but what is nice about that is that if you apply such features last, when they’re dry and you sand them back with fine ‘wet and dry’, they gradually reveal the images underneath, giving them a translucent quality.
You can see the top left one here before sanding, I’ve sanded the other two. Obviously wait until your piece is dry, at least 24 hours if not 48, before sanding, because if you sand when its still wet you will just rip it to shreds. And go slowly, have a damp cloth to hand and wipe off the dust after a few strokes to see what you’ve done – remember you can rub it away, but you can’t put it back.
When I was happy with what I’d done, I gave it its first coat of marine grade varnish. I use the type recommended for boats and outdoor furniture, because this will need wiping down and will have years worths of hot drinks spilled on it. A completely different effect would be possible if this was for a more occasional piece. After the first coat is dry I give it a second, and when this is dry I buff it with fine 0000 wire wool for a final finish, then paint its third coat of varnish. So, if you were doing this as an evening project, allowing things to dry from one evening to the next, perhaps leaving the varnishing to the weekend so you could do one coat in the morning, and another in the evening, if you start on a Monday you’d be setting your cups on it the next Sunday.
One final detail, I put a small image of an old map on the underside of the table, because I love hiding little details like that for inquisitive little ones to find when they’re using it as a den.
If you want to ask me anything about how I revamped this table, please do.