Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bathroom Break, Part II

As promised in the last post, I’m going to pick back up with our trip, at day 7.5! We have a (fun?) weekend planned of finishing our shower cement board installation so I’m excited to show an update on that next week.

So, back to Utah. After a morning of Canyonlands, we headed out towards Capitol Reef. In my googlemaps perusing, I saw a tiny little park off of our route, called Goblin Valley State Park. After a bit of research, I decided we’d be stopping there. The road leading to this park, both the highway (and by highway, I mean the tiny two-lane road) and then the side road, were so desolate, hot, dry, and remote it was actually a little scary. We’re glad we filled up with gas at the last station, a hundred miles back, because there wasn’t gas for another hundred at least! Goblin Valley is a small valley filled with short, sandstone shapes that look like little mushrooms, so-called ‘Goblins’. The park lets you walk right down among them which was really cool. We only lasted about 30 min, because it was so hot, but we got some good pictures!







After leaving here, we got to Capitol Reef National Park. We kind of just did a drive-through, with plans to hike some trails in it the next day, but those plans ended up changing. We did stop for a scenic point called the Goosenecks Canyon, however, although cloudy skies obscured the famous sunset at this place:



We stayed at a nice resort just outside of Capitol Reef, which was a bit touristy (they had teepees you could stay in, but at $260 a night this was out of our budget!). It did have beautiful views, though, and they had a cowboy on site who gave us a short horseback ride the morning of day 8:




After our horseback adventure, we packed up and headed out of the Capitol Reef area south on Scenic Route 12 (also called the “Million Dollar Highway”, containing a portion referred to as “Hell’s Backbone”). It was beautiful driving, unusual canyons and constantly changing scenery. We were aiming for a trail head in Grand Staircase Escalante National Park called Lower Calf Creek Falls, which was a long trail at almost 6 miles round trip, but we decided it was higher on our list than any of the hikes in Capitol Reef. We found a gourmet lunch spot a few miles before we got to the trail head, so we stopped and it was delicious! We sat on their patio, and Nik (reluctantly) had to share his space with the restaurant’s ancient resident patio cat, Jezebel.



After our yummy lunch, we continued down the road, and it turns out they were doing construction on Hell’s Backbone. This portion of the road is essentially a narrow ridge along the top of a canyon – the ground literally drops off on either side of the road! And with the construction there were areas missing guard rails and road markers, and they actually had an escort truck leading each cohort of cars past the construction. Nerve wracking!! We finally reached the trail head to Lower Calf Creek Falls and it was a beautiful hike through a canyon with smooth, striated red sandstone, with an amazing waterfall at the end.







After our hike, there was about an hour left to go to get to our hotel outside of Bryce Canyon. On Day 9, we woke up early to get into Bryce before the crowds. The drive in was surprisingly forested terrain, and it was chilly as well (Bryce has high elevation). Despite it being called a canyon, it actually was not formed by a river, but whatever weather elements caused it, the outcome was beautiful. These first two pictures are fun – that very high point in the top right of the first picture is zoomed in for the second picture and you can see teeny people standing up there. Just to give an idea of the enormous scale of this canyon!!


We hiked the Navajo trail to go down below the rim, which was pretty intense going down into the huge spires, the technical term for which is “hoodoos”:




And on our way out we stopped to see Natural Bridge, which was also beautiful:


After our morning at Bryce, it was on to Zion! The last half hour of this drive actually entered into Zion National Park to reach the main town that everyone lodges at, and it was unbelievable. There were numerous tunnels we had to drive through because there wasn’t enough room on the side of a cliff to make a road. It was really breathtaking! We woke up super early on Day 10 to get into the park, because the crowds were intense and due to the busy summer, they only allow entrance to the park on a shuttle…which you have to wait for. Even at 7:15am, we had to wait about 30 minutes to board a shuttle! But it was worth it!


We knew the park would get crowded so we picked our top hike and got started. We wanted to do the infamous Angel’s Landing, which is just steep and strenuous for the first 2 miles to Scout’s Overlook. At this point, most people turn back, but the adventurous ones can continue another 0.5 miles on a narrow, steep trail that at some points has 1,000 foot drops offs on either side of a 3 foot wide trail with a chain in the middle. It was pretty intense, and we were indecisive of whether we wanted to risk it. Several people die each year falling off this trail. But we went for it, and unfortunately there aren’t a bunch of pictures of the narrow, chain rope portion (since my hands were on the chain, not my camera!) but the view at the top of the final peak was fantastic. It certainly felt so high that angels would land here! Here’s some pictures of us on the way up, and finally at the top:


After the exhilaration of not dying on that hike, we decided to do one more easy hike all the way at the north end of the park that is a riverside stroll leading up to the other infamous Zion hike, the Narrows. Where the riverside path ends, the Narrows begins…IN THE RIVER. Literally, the river is the trail. So only serious hikers who have the right equipment to essentially the bottom of a canyon, often wading and swimming, continue much past this part. Flash floods through these slot canyons claim lives each year so there’s a lot of information warning about weather conditions. A lot of people go up the Narrows maybe half a mile or so, just to see what it’s all about though, so here’s a picture of that (note that I couldn’t even begin to get a picture of the river and the sky in the same frame, that’s how monolithic the canyon walls were!):


So, that was the end of Zion. After this last little hike, we headed out because it was getting really crowded. As in, the trails were wall-to-wall sweaty people. Crazy.

We headed out, grabbed lunch, and got on the road to Vegas! I don’t have many pictures from Vegas, but we stayed at the MGM Grand, and walked the strip for the evening. We got some food, but we were really too tired and hot to enjoy it – I was over 100 degrees even in the evening, plus, I think I was still on an adrenaline high because I kept thinking how only 8 hours before, I was on the top of Angel’s landing! We did see the Bellagio Fountains which were beautiful. And we spent $60 in slot machines, and walked away with 7 cents. The only other time I’ve played slots, I put in $2 and walked away with $60, so it seems the tables have definitely turned.

The next morning (day 11), we wandered around a little more, then caught our flight in the afternoon. We got home at 1am (with the time change), and it felt GREAT to sleep in our own bed! This was a perfect trip, because we obviously had an awesome time, and with how much hiking we did, we were also ready to go back to real life and our jobs after 11 days. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Zion was mine, despite the crowds. What continued to shock us every place we went was that each park was so different. Different rock, different shapes, different trees, different landscape and animals. I was worried that we’d get tired of the “same national park scenery” but that was never an issue. Everything was amazing – you forget what unbelievable places are right in this country!

I haven’t added up exactly what we spent, but I’m pretty sure it was well under $4000, including all hotels, rental car, flights, meals, excursions, and our park fees. In grad school that would’ve been an insane amount to spend on anything, but now that we’re real adults, for the amount that we saw and did and the length of the trip, I think I did a pretty good job keeping it reasonable. It was certainly an unforgettable adventure, and I already want to start planning our next one!

Bathroom Break, Part I

It’s been a while since we had an update…but it was for good reason! Nik and I have been traveling for the past couple weeks, and we’re finally back and ready to finish up our bathroom. But since we have no progress to show from the last few weeks, I’ll show vacation pictures instead!

Nik attended the American Society of Microbiology conference for undergraduate microbiology teachers in Denver (to prepare him for his job search for a tenure-track professorship at a smaller liberal arts school where he’ll get to do teaching and research). I met him out there the last day of the conference, and this is where our trip began. We essentially road-tripped from Denver to Vegas (~1000 miles!) and stopped at numerous national parks in between, including Colorado ski country (Beaver Creek, specifically), Grand Mesa National Forest, Moab/Castle Valley Utah which was near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Goblin Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Park, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and finally Vegas.

While planning this trip, I was worried that the busy itinerary might kill Nik…he likes activity, but he also enjoys relaxing, which I have a particularly difficult time doing. But by the end of the trip, he was the one that was asking if we could fit one more hike into a busy day – I think he caught the hiking bug! Also, we were in an insanely beautiful area of the country, and I think even a person who loathed hiking would have wanted more!

I had rough plans of where we were going each day, and was armed with a guidebook I bought that highlighted the best hikes at each park, but other than that things were flexible. Our hotels ranged from very nice resorts (still at reasonable prices, with the off season rates) to extremely spartan lodgings to save some extra money, but all of them worked out perfectly with our route, and at the end of each day we would probably have slept just fine on a hard floor, we were so tired! I’ll show some snippets from each day of our trip – I’ll do the first week in this post, and our last few days in another post (too many pictures for one post!).

To start, here’s a map of our whole trip route, with some of the stops highlighted. We did this in ~10-11 days, but the travel really wasn’t too bad. Most days we didn’t drive more than 3 hours in the car, and it was all unbelievably scenic.

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Day 1/2 – I met Nik in Denver, and we had some good food and beer, and caught up with some of my good friends from college, their fluffy malamute Yeti, and their sweet little boy Logan. Then we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens, (which were amazing!) and ended with a beer at the Vine Street Cafe before heading out to the mountains.






Day 3: Headed out to Beaver Creek, Colorado, and did a short detour off route 70 to the Loveland Pass (passing by Arapahoe Basin and a few other ski resorts) to really test out the rental car! The views were spectacular – the pictures really don’t do it justice! And there was quite a bit of snow still visible on the mountain tops. When we got to Beaver Creek in the afternoon, we decided to do a quick hike up one of the ski trails before dinner and found ourselves in beautiful lupine fields and aspen groves (which we mistakenly thought were birches at first).  A good first hike!







Day 4: We headed out bright and early (6:30am!) from Beaver Creek to get to the Hanging Lake trail head about an hour west. We were warned the parking lot for this popular hike fills up early – and this was true! It was grueling though – my altitude-naive lungs were quite winded after the 1.4 mile uphill hike (think stairmaster nonstop at 10,000 ft elevation) to the falls, but they were so worth it! The water was so clear, I even got a good picture of a lurking trout – which my dad promised to identify for me, so here’s the pic, Dad!









After the morning hike, it was onward Palisades, CO which is famous for its peaches and distilleries and breweries. We had great pitstops at the Palisade Brewing Company, Talbott’s Cider Company (we got delicious “Grow a Pear Cider”), and the Peach Street Distillers.  That afternoon, we headed to Grand Mesa National Forest. We passed isolated alpine lakes, and saw numerous yellow bellied marmots. And at our destination, we stayed in this teeny cabin, which was a little sketchy, but ended up being a comfortable evening.






Day 5: We woke up bright and early in our tiny cabin, and set out for a couple short hikes. Grand Mesa is a high, flat mountain, so it was all alpine forests and lakes, and beautiful wild flowers. It was so empty here – it felt like no one was around for miles, just very peaceful and serene. And it was cold – probably in the 50s when we woke up. After our morning hikes, it was on to Utah that afternoon! We stopped at The Colorado National Monument which is right on the border of Utah and saw some impressive canyons and rock formations (and wild bighorn sheep!):









After touring the Colorado National Monument, we headed on to Moab/Castle Valley Utah where we stayed for 2 nights, passing through the infamous Professor Valley, which made us feel so tiny. We got to Moab early enough in the afternoon that we did a quick evening hike through a beautiful wash in Arches national park, called Park Avenue.






Day 6: This day was devoted to the rest of Arches National Park, starting with a 3 mile crowded and strenuous hike to Delicate Arch early in the morning, then views of Skyline Arch and Balanced Rock, and ending with a quick hike through the Devil’s Garden area of the park to see the super-wide Landscape Arch (305 feet across!). We ended the day with a late afternoon kayaking trip through the Colorado River, and dinner with a stunning sunset at the beautiful Red Cliffs Lodge.











Day 7: We woke up to our second morning in Castle Valley (we were staying about 30 min outside of Moab, UT) and I took an early stroll around our beautiful bed and breakfast, with views of the red cliffs and the famous Castle Rock. Then we headed to Canyonlands National Park, and did a few short hikes to see views of Schaffer Trail Road, White Rim, Mesa Arch, and Grand View.








Alright, so that’s just about the first week of the trip so I’ll stop there for now. Still to come is Gobin Valley, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante Park, Bryce, and Zion! I’ll try to post before the end of the week, with a promise to make more bathroom progress this coming weekend to show next week!


Back to Reality

It’s been a while since I posted, but we made it successfully through our wedding and honeymoon! As fun as both of these were, I’m glad to be back with a much-reduced to-do list! With the time crunch on finishing our renovations and planning the wedding, I’ve forgotten how nice it is to do whatever you want to on a weekend or weeknight. While we’re still finishing up some minor projects in the kitchen and other places downstairs and working on a few fun new furniture projects as we feel like it, we’re not starting another large renovation until next year. I think we deserve a few months off =)

In the meantime, we don’t have our wedding pictures back yet so I’ll show some honeymoon pictures today. We went to Cozumel, which is a Mexican island off the coast of Cancun. I went there about 15 years ago with my family (8th grade I think!) to snorkel:


…but after researching many other islands in the Caribbean I came to the conclusion that Cozumel was still the best destination for snorkeling. And we feel pretty lucky that I chose it since Cozumel was so far west in the Caribbean it was untouched by Matthew.

We chose a resort called the Explorean that had daily excursions included in the all-inclusive package, which ranged from bike rides, snorkeling trips, an island Jeep tour to the far side of the island with sandy beaches, various eco park visits, ocean kayaking, and an off-shore boat ride/snorkeling trip. Our resort itself was set back in the jungle with an accessible shore line through a sister resort that we could also eat and drink at. The beach wasn’t really a beach, it was a rocky shore with stairs going down into the coral reef which was pretty cool.

The views were beautiful, as was the wildlife (crabs, iguanas, geckos, butterflies, birds). Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the trip:

This weekend we worked on getting the rest of our kitchen shelves stained and brackets mounted. We ran into one issue with the larger shelf that is going on the far side of the kitchen so we’re still dealing with that. Next up is getting our banister installed on the stairs which I’m hoping is a single weekend job. Happy Halloween!

Parental Supervision

This past weekend my parents came in to town to visit and supervise and help out with some projects. I didn’t have any big goals in mind, but I thought it would be nice to finish painting our trim work in the dining room, which my mom helped with, and finish adding the trim to the stairway area.

Here’s my mom painting in the dining room, which came out nicely.


And here’s my dad and Nik working on the stair trim:


Nik has been putting off this project because if things don’t fit together perfectly, he’s not happy. But in the end, I think they were able to get a pretty good fit on all the parts, and with some shims and caulk added I think it looks pretty good. They also got to test out our new air nailer putting it in.


And under the front edge, we added cove trim to hide the gap:


They filled the holes and on Sunday we created a dust bubble and my dad went to work sanding down the edges of the column that didn’t match perfectly with our mouse sander:


Everything looks pretty smooth now, so I think its about ready for paint! Once this step is done, we’ll be able to install the balusters and banister to complete this project. I don’t know if you all remember how this started back in August, but I think it’s come a long way:

My mom (in hopes that our garden will someday be approved) also brought us some seedlings…well, they’re not really seedlings anymore! We got 3 huge tomato plants (they’re leaning a little in this picture because it just poured), an eggplant, and 4 peppers.


I tried sprouting some plants too (tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, eggplants, peppers, vincas, and marigolds), but mine are a little behind hers to say the least:


For the garden application, we have made some slight progress. This week (7 weeks after our application was submitted) they said we can put a garden in our side yard, but it has to be in the ground, and it can’t have a fence. Or we can put a raised bed in our backyard, but if we want to fence that we have to put in a SEPARATE application to add the fence (even though our first application has the fence we would use already described. And I’m pretty sure I know how that application would go if I resubmitted it). Our yard is all clay, so I’m not sure a non-raised bed garden would work well, but we could try digging down and replacing the clay with dirt to be able to put it in the side yard. Our backyard is shaded and our HOA doesn’t allow us to cut down trees, so this was my concern about relocating the garden here. And in either location, we need a fence because we have rabbits and deer.

We have the option to “appeal” in a couple weeks, so I think we’d basically push for what we want – allowing the raised bed in the side yard, and the ability to add a very thin deer fence to this garden. Houses on our street have exactly these things, in the exact location on their property we’re trying to make ours, so we’re hoping this argument will work (although all these points were stated in our application and they have yet to sway their decision). But, if they won’t cave, I suppose putting the plants in the ground will have to do for this year, and we’ll have to make some sort of removable fence to try to protect them. Let’s hope our appeal goes better than this though!

Dining Room Progress

We’ve recently switched gears and started focusing on our dining room. Since we still seem to be a ways away from ever deciding on a couch and how we want to lay out the living room, the dining room seemed like a place we could actually work on and have an end in sight.

What we’ve done in here so far is the floors and floor trim (still needs sanding and re-painting over the nail marks), painting the walls, and some curtains, first sheers then curtains on top:



A couple weeks ago we picked out mid-century dining chairs and a table to match the similar themed china cabinet we started working on last year, that has graduated to being inside since it just needs a few coats of paint to finish it:


Ordering chairs was a disaster: we tried ordering other ones we liked a little better, then they weren’t going to ship until March…yes, next year. So we changed the plan and got some from Amazon and the set of 4 came in last week:


The table came from Wayfair and arrived yesterday. It was so exciting – we almost had a complete room of furniture! Then we opened up the table box and realized nothing matches! The cabinet is a slightly darker walnut, the table is lighter walnut (but still matches decently with the cabinet), and the chairs are much darker. We thought of all the options – staining the cabinet darker, returning the table and getting the darker color (but return shipping was a third the price of the table!), and I think we’ve finally settled on stripping/sanding the chairs and re-staining them in a lighter color to hopefully match the walnut.

The whole reason for buying a new set when we are perfectly capable of refinishing things was that we were tired of not having furniture and we just wanted something ready-to-go so we can start living in our house instead of it being a perpetual construction zone. So this seems a little backwards that we now want to refinish the chairs, but I like all the pieces enough that I’m willing to go through the extra effort to make them match better.  So last night I dragged out the chemical stripper and tested a teeny spot on the underside of the chair. A lot of newer furniture is made out of some sort of fake type wood that doesn’t take up stain, so doing this test was critical:


The stain stripped beautifully and the wood sanded easily to raw wood!


Yay! So we tested out a variety of stains, from left to right: cherry, dark walnut, red chestnut, and polyshades (poly and stain in one) in American walnut. I don’t think any are a perfect match right now, we’ll have to do some mixing and matching when we tackle this project, but at least I know the wood takes up stain nicely which is a huge relief!


And finally, here’s the table, assembled by Nik:



It is definitely light considering it’s called “walnut stain” but we’ll live with it! Unfortunately there is a tiny chip in the glass (it never ends!) so we’ll have to get that replaced. I like how light and airy it looks, and it will allow people to actually see through to our cool china cabinet even if its on the opposite wall. We also have to pick out a rug that matches better, this one is just in there temporarily to protect the floor.

As for the actual room, we picked out some chair rail to start our wainscoting process. We’re doing very simple picture frame molding beneath the chair rail, similar to this:

This means we don’t have to disturb the baseboard that is already there which will save us some work. For our chair rail I picked out this trim, which I liked better than the curved trim above since it seemed a little more modern looking:

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It looked a little insubstantial though (only about 2.5″ wide), so we looked at the chair rail backer boards and they were $23/8 feet!! We needed ~30 feet for the whole room, so that would’ve been about $100 for chair rail backer…no way! So we improvised and found some thin trim pieces that had a slightly rounded edge and were only $5 something per 8 feet. They were thin though, so we needed twice many pieces so we could do one on each side of the chair rail like this:

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The cost for these makeshift trim pieces was much cheaper than the real backer, so I think it’s a perfect solution. Also, the lady at Lowe’s only rang up 8 feet of our 32 feet of chair rail that we bought (we didn’t notice until later, and I didn’t feel too bad based on how much we’ve bought at this store in the past few months…) so we got about $30 off this project anyway! Once we get the chair rail up, we’ll have to pick out the trim for the picture frame boxes, and get around the crown molding, but the room will look almost complete with the chair rail up so I’m just excited to get that done first!

Mid-century Modern Small Dresser

This cute little dresser was purchased for $50. We originally wanted to stain the entire thing to maintain its mid-century glory, but the mark on the top left turned out to go deep into the wood so it couldn’t be sanded out.

IMG_0739 IMG_0740We re-thought our plans, and decided to paint the body and legs a sleek shiny white, and stain the drawers. The body was sealed with polycrylic. We decided to experiment with furniture wax for the first time, and bought some Minwax furniture paste. This was applied over the stained drawers with cheesecloth, then allowed to dry out, then buffed with 0000 grade fine steel wool and finally a buffing pad. The drawers came out beautiful. While furniture sealed with polyurethane feels hard and durable, and looks smooth, furniture sealed with wax feels soft and buttery and supple. Wax is relatively durable as well, but should be reapplied more frequently, depending on how often the piece is used. Waxed furniture also can’t withstand heated things being on them since wax softens even after it has cured on a piece of furniture.

The hardware on this dresser was very unique, so we spray painted it with a mixture of satin nickle spray paint over a layer of Rust-o-leum “Hammered” spray paint in copper. That stuff really does look like hammered metal, I have no idea how it works, but it came out great for the handles and the metal feet! We then sealed all the hardware with a few layers of spray on polyurethane to protect the spray paint. In the end, this piece sold for $105. 

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Bow Front Buffet Dresser

This beautiful old dresser was bought off craigslist for $50. Its a really solid piece of furniture, but the seller was getting rid of it because one drawer had a lot of veneer damage, and another drawer was missing a pull.

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We decided we could make this work by removing the drawer and making a nice shelf instead. We stripped and sanded the top, and then sanded the rest of the body and drawers. The top was stained dark walnut and sealed with polyurethane.

IMG_0219The body was primed and painted with a slate green-blue color. We also sanded out the inside of the drawer, removed part of the sliding mechanism, and painted it.

IMG_0215IMG_0216The hardware was cleaned up and put back on. To make it presentable, we bought some baskets from Michael’s for about $18. This piece sold for $150 to a family who wanted to use it as a TV console, with the empty shelf as a storage area for their DVD player and cable box.

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Andrew’s Side Table

We didn’t have much to work on, so we asked our roommate if we could redo his side table. He said sure. Here’s how it started:

IMG_0499Nik did this mostly by himself. He stripped it down and stained the top and the side panels with dark walnut stain.


Then he painted the legs with left over green and white paint. We replaced the hardware with a new knob as well. The piece was sealed with polyurethane and polycrylic. We never snapped a finished photo of this, so I’ll take one soon and add it to this post!

Waterfall Dresser

We bought this eclectic dresser from craigslist for $40. It was in decent shape, but had a lot of dings and scratches on it. We first stripped and sanded this down to the raw wood. In these pictures we’ve already sanded the drawers, but you can see how beat up it was on the top.

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Some of the veneer had chips in it, so Nik used some extra veneer we had to try to fill in the holes. We then used marker to make the new wood a little darker before staining to try to even out the color.

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After sanding, the entire piece was stained with special walnut. We sealed it all up with polyurethane. The old handles were ugly wooden things so we splurged on some cool acrylic crystal handles from Home Depot. These handles were a little wild, but they make the piece look sparkly and classy – it reminds me of the roaring 20’s!

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The entire piece and all its intricately carved details came out beautifully, and Louise decided to replace her blue dresser (see earlier post) with this one.

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White Antique Dresser

This dresser was purchased for $40 from a lady in Carrboro. It was old and needed some structural repair, but in the end we got the drawers working decently.

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We started by stripping off the old paint, and it turns out there was about 5 layers of this! We found white, yellow, orange, magenta, and pink layers of paint!

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Once we got off as much as possible, we sanded the entire piece. The top was stained a dark walnut stain and sealed with polyurethane. The body we painted a nice white color, an we cleaned up the original hardware and put that back on. Because of its age, the drawers were a bit funky inside, so I lined them with some pretty drawer liners.

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We sold this beautiful piece for $140.