A Well-Deserved Kitchen Table Restoration

I bought this table on West 12th Avenue in Vancouver in 1997. It was one of those serendipitous things. I was about to move into my first basement suite with two hand-me-down kitchen chairs, but no kitchen table. I drove into the big city in my 1980 Subaru hatchback, and as luck would have it I stumbled across a fellow hosting a handmade cedar furniture sale on his front lawn. 

I paid $300 for it, which was a fair bit at the time even without considering inflation. The fellow removed two of the legs so we could fit most of it in the back and he helped me tie down the open trunk. I drove an hour back on the freeway to Abbotsford, hoping the bouncing trunk wouldn’t damage the surface.

Back at my parents’ house, I screwed the two legs back on and painted several coats of urethane on the top to protect the soft cedar wood. It looked fabulous until a bottle of bubble-blowing liquid spilled near the centre leaving a light stain about three inches across (I still have no idea how this happened). 

That was the first of many injustices to occur to this lovely table. Early on, I noticed the urethane was separating whenever a bump occurred, creating unsightly round lifts at random points. Of course life has lots of bumps and so over the years they popped up and multiplied.

The table followed me into the basement suite in Burnaby while I attended BCIT. This is where the legs were re-painted from green to a rusty burgundy that stayed on for two decades. 

I moved from Burnaby to Harrison two years later and the table jumped back into the hatchback to join me there. Then, I moved in with my would-be husband in Aldergrove, BC, and the table became ‘ours.’ We took the legs off again to haul it up to Prince George, BC, less than a year later, and again to Calgary two years after that. Somehow the table always seemed to fill the perfect space. It was a place for coffee, crossword puzzles and dinner for two. When we moved to Nanaimo nine years later, we decided to buy a new table. The poor, old table went into storage and later became a sort of sturdy work bench for my emerging leatherwork practice.

After the divorce, the table became ‘mine’ again. It had to live in storage for the first year, but when I moved to Ste. Anne, Manitoba I decided to give it new life with a handwoven orange tablecloth. That lasted until I got kittens, who regarded the handmade tablecloth as a sort of climbing gym. I regretfully looked at marred top, vowing to deal with it at some point.

Then it was off to Florida for a year. The table was too big, too heavy and too old to cart that distance, so I stored it in the shed of a newly purchased house in Winnipeg. Then 2020 happened – you know, the pandemic! – I found myself back in Winnipeg proper, moving into my own income property. 

During the limited days of my quarantine, I picked endlessly at the lifting urethane around the scars and gouges that now dominated the table top. I used a paring knife to get under the edges and once I was free to go shopping I bought a scraper and peeled off long lines of lifted, yellowed coating. I got the table to a point of no return; the uneven peeling reminded me of the leftovers of burnt skin after a sunburn. Gross.

It was time to take the legs off again and fortunately the warm and dry August weather permitted an outdoor paint project. I bought my first sander at Home Depot and more sandpaper than I thought I would need (I needed every last bit). The sanding revealed a beautiful, dry wood underneath with deep bluish veins of cedar grain.
After sanding, I used a conditioner on the soft wood to facilitate even stain coverage, then I coated it twice with ‘Gunstock’ Varithane (a slightly orange tint). With each coat, I delighted in the rich reveal of the wood character that has been obscured for over twenty years. Finally, I added two coats of a satin oil stain and the weather behaved to allow for full drying outdoors.

Meanwhile, I got out the leftover can of orange melamine paint and went to town on the base and legs. At first the orange fluoresced against the old rust-burgundy paint, but with each coat (three total) it relaxed into itself to become the delicious, warm orange that is also on my front door.

After a couple days I reassembled the table in the kitchen. For the first time in the table’s history, I used proper wood fill to cover the holes of the sixteen screws keeping the legs in place and painted over them with the orange as well. I took this as a sign of commitment to stop moving around and let the matured table enjoy its new home for an extended time.

I always knew this table was more than just a table. It’s a home, it’s a destination, a place to eat meals and sort thoughts during a crazy time. It’s a place where the cats and I now enjoy watching birds at the feeder as we settle into our new environment.