First, I dug into the archives for a "before" shot:
This was taken on the morning of St. Patrick's Day when the kids were assessing the damage done by the leprechauns. Caroline is covering her ears in fear that the leprechauns are still there and about to make a loud noise.
Anyway, as you can see, the tabletop is in rough shape. The tone of the wood doesn't particularly jibe with the rest of the kitchen and den, and kind of disappears into the wood floors, which are roughly the same color. It just looks tired and dated in general.
Closer up shot of table finish:
Much as I love it as a quaint round table for 4, there are 5 of us, and we'll have to keep the leaf in 99% of the time. In fact, the only thing that keeps the table from being perfect is that it still doesn't comfortably sit 8 (which would be great for when we have company, as we have a formal dining room but generally aren't "formal dining room people" outside of holidays). Here it is with the leaf in place:
As I mentioned earlier, I was inspired to try this project after reading this post by Centsational Girl. She used a combo of Minwax Cherry and English Chestnut to get her finish, and I LOVED it. So I tried the same mix and felt like it was way too light on our table, even after letting it sit for 20 minutes before wiping it off. David and I stood there looking at it and said "after two weeks of sanding, the table looks EXACTLY THE FREAKING SAME." So I ended up doing a second coat of stain in straight English Chestnut, and the darker finish is exactly what I wanted.
I didn't really know what I was going to do with the chairs. I knew that staining them would take way more intricate sanding than I had in me, so I never seriously considered anything other than painting them. And here's where I need to give a big shout out to my great friend Betsey. She has fabulous taste, and when I was deciding on paint colors I shot her an email with links to a few Krylon spray paint color samples I was considering: red (an early front runner, because we have red accents in our kitchen and I thought they'd be kind of fun), an off white color (to generally blend with our cabinets), and some kind of khaki color. And she asked me if I'd considered black. I hadn't, but as soon as she mentioned it the angels started singing and I knew that black was definitely it.
The black chairs tie in to the table and the rest of the house perfectly, and heck, what's more classic than a black Windsor chair? I feel like the combo has a very traditional New England Colonial vibe, which suits my house perfectly (well, minus the New England, although I suppose that *I* bring the New England to the house).
I really tried to do my homework before diving into the project so that I would do it right. I stalked woodworking message boards, for example. In the true spirit of the interwebs, these boards contain drama. Nothing like what you'll see in the comments to your average NPR.org piece or, God knows, any parenting website, but still, these folks get WORKED UP about their wood finishing.
The more I read the more confused I got about the various finishing options (wipe on poly? brush on poly? lacquer?) but in the end I decided to go with Minwax Wipe On Poly in Satin, and I'm SO GLAD I did. It was insanely easy to work with -- applying it is literally like wiping down the kitchen table after dinner, albeit with toxic fumes. With each coat I applied, the finish became prettier and richer looking. While the can recommends 2-3 coats, I applied a total of 6 coats to our table, because (1) I know my family, and (2) the finish honestly became more and more attractive with every coat. I let each coat dry for 12-24 hours, sanded lightly with 320 grit sandpaper between coats and then applied the next coat. Repeat. After the final coat, Minwax recommends letting it cure for 24 hours before normal use, but in a highly uncharacteristic demonstration of patience, I decided to play it safe and let our table cure for nearly a week. I may or may not have squealed with glee when I saw water bead up on the table for the first time.
I have to say that refinishing furniture is an ideal DIY project for DIY-inclined people who have limited time and/or attention spans (that's my situation, on both counts). If you decide to paint a room, there goes your whole weekend. But refinishing furniture inherently happens in short bursts. Now of course if you wanted to you can spend a whole afternoon sanding to finish it all at once rather than spreading it out in 20-30 minute mini-sessions over the course of a couple of weeks. But other than that, you really can't work on it for more than 30 minutes at a time even if you wanted to. It takes no time to wipe on the stain, and then you have to let it dry before you could do anything else. You can put on a coat of poly in 10 minutes, and then you're done until the next day. You could spray primer on 2 chairs in 15 minutes, and then you need to wait before you could move on to the next step. As a result, it never really feels like it's much work. I need to remember that most projects aren't like this before jumping into my next project. But for the time being, I'm project-free and really enjoying my new table!