Furniture artist Leah Rex is the owner of Leah Noell Design Co and the brain behind Confidently Creative, her membership group for new furniture artists! She shared an incredible before and after furniture makeover and we are so excited to share an excerpt of it from our Fall 2022 issue of The Turquoise Iris Journal.
Even though I had what I would consider a traumatic experience with the last dining table I custom painted in 2018, the furniture flipper in me couldn’t justify not painting my old set since I had it already. I also had a very specific vision for this piece.
I decided to make my job a little less overwhelming and get rid of two leaves and two chairs. Two of the chairs had breaks in the caning from my kids so that was an easy decision. I originally wanted to paint each chair a different pastel color and use a white and blue floral pattern fabric for the seats. I purchased the fabric and was ready to go but somehow I always gravitate toward warm dark tones. This color palette of deep purple, olive green, magenta, and mustard with leopard seats came into my head and I could not resist changing direction and going this route!
I cleaned and prepped everything with trisodium phosphate (TSP), sanded the chairs, and then used my Apollo Sprayer HVLP E7000 to spray an adhesion primer on each chair. Dining sets are heavy-use furniture so it’s really important to properly prep including cleaning, sanding, and priming. I would not take on a dining set without a sprayer! Chairs have a million little nooks and corners and a sprayer makes your job so much easier.
The colors I used for the chairs are Wise Owl’s Spanish Olive for the green, RockSteady for the pink, and Turmeric for the yellow. The purple was a custom mix of some paint I had on hand. I top-coated them with Renner Satin clear in 1062. This is my favorite topcoat because it sprays nicely and is also easy to apply by hand. It has a smooth feel and is water and heat-repellent. I sprayed 3 coats on the chairs.
The table is my favorite part of this project. I actually purchased this table around the same time we bought our home. Before we put the new countertop in this was a perfect size for our breakfast nook. I love the oval shape and the straight, stately legs. I added the Cherry Blossom mold from Redesign with Prima around the entire skirt of the table. This was definitely a labor of love but once I had this idea in my head I had to execute it. It ended up not being as tedious of a task as I imagined.
I made the moulds out of resin and slowly added them over a week while working on other projects in my workshop. Since the table skirt is a curved surface I had to work with the moulds while they were still warm from pouring them. It takes about a 15-minute de-mould time from the time they’re poured in. Since my design has four different color chairs, I wanted to keep the table as grounded and elegant as possible.
I chose to use black for a few reasons. First, making the table a different color than any of the chairs completes the look with five total colors. Using an odd number of colors or objects is appealing in design. Second, black is classic and will easily pair with many different spaces. Third, it makes the decor waxes I used on the cherry blossom mould stand out and the gold pop on the leggy details. With this design, the top HAD to be wood. I honestly have no advice for you when it comes to staining the top. I spent a-lot of time trying to get an even finish on it. I ended up stripping it twice because it kept coming out uneven. I had used a pre-stain but the type of wood is meant to take a lighter stain not the darker stain that I wanted. (At least that is the conclusion I came to.) I ended up taking the stain off with mineral spirits, letting it dry, then applying my topcoat. I’m happy to say it is even with minimal imperfections!
I used DEFT brushing lacquer on the top and I have to say I really like this topcoat. I believe lacquer is the best way to finish a high use wood top. My Dad had taught me how to use lacquer when we refinished the first table from my in-laws. You need a good quality brush preferably new if you don’t have a lacquer brush already. You want to work quickly and apply multiple thin coats. I let my topcoat dry 12 hours in between and hit it with a finishing pad in between. You have to use lacquer thinner to clean your brush. Since lacquer has heavy fumes I did it in the evening when I was done working for the day and in the morning when I could work with the garage door wide open. I also wore a fume mask.
Last, my husband and I re-upholstered the seats… Well, kind of. We have reupholstered seats together before but these had a few more curves to them. I’ll let you in on a little secret. We really tried on 2 of the seats and got discouraged because depending on the pressure applied we got 2 different thickness results. We decided to roughly staple them, take a picture, and then bring them to a professional reupholsterer. I’m a firm believer in doing things the right way and sometimes that means hiring a professional who has the right tools and skills.
Read the rest of Leah’s tutorial and see exclusive photos in the Fall 2022 issue of The Turquoise Iris Journal. Subscribe today, issues ship October 15th!