About two months ago I had an epiphany as I was trying to tackle the clutter in our household. I have been minimal with not only the things we have in our home but also with storage. We have three floating shelves in our living room and a cabinet. That doesn’t make for lots of places to put (hide!) things.
I decided we needed an armoire. After pricing a few new options and hunting craigslist for a few weeks I decided to just build my own. With Andrew’s travel schedule and dissertation commitments he wasn’t able to be involved much with this project. He did help me draft a plan and a cut list from 3 sheets of birch plywood (1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″) because I was too sleep deprived to trust my own measurements.
I loved having a challenge that exceeded my abilities and comfort again and again. I felt connected to the legacy of women in my family who don’t wait around for other people to solve their problems. The kids helped me every step of the way. Each time we began we started with prayer. I was amazed at the inspiration that came for how to approach each step with the resources and limitations we were working with. When we finished working we would say a prayer of gratitude. It was a great way for me to feel connected to my grandma as I followed her process and example of prayer and hard work to create beautiful furniture.
We started out late Saturday a few weeks ago at Home Depot. I put Laura in the back of the cart and Nathan in the front. Emily helped me push the lumber cart and the main cart with the two kids. I quickly realized I was not strong enough to lift the 4’x8′ sheets of plywood by myself. I felt incredibly validated when two men came to help me. A friend’s husband met me outside and loaded the wood into their car. He drove with the seat all the way forward and head down to squeeze the wood in!
My friend watched her two plus my three (the youngest four are all the same age – it was like having twin two year old boys and twin 5 months girls!) for a few hours while I worked in the shop in her basement cutting down my boards. It was a little crazy and there was a fair amount of running up and down the stairs to help. I felt so indebted and ridiculous (and tired!) at the of those few hours, but also incredibly grateful.
We got all the wood to my house and hid it in the bedroom, bringing out only the pieces I needed as the project progressed. We made a new friend after borrowing their kreg jig. Emily pretended we picked it up as part of school. We walked to Ace hardware to buy kreg screws. We took multiple trips to home depot to buy supplies as we got to each next step – finish nails for the borrowed nail gun, paint, polyurethane, hinges, handles, edge banding, and more paint. We are starting to be known over there.
I drilled the majority of the kreg holes while Emily was at preschool and Laura was sleeping. Nathan grabbed a book for his recipes and “cooked” with the drill bits next to me. During this time our furnace gave three little explosions (that blew the door open and moved the kids’ table). The amazing maintenance worker, Tyler, was in and out during my drilling replacing all the insides of our furnace.
Emily helped me do the bulk of the construction because I needed a second set of hands. She was totally into the process and was vital to the project. We had so much fun together. Nathan played close by with the tools. Any time we paused (because I was feeding/holding/diapering Laura) the two kids swooped in and immediately started playing with either the cabinet or wood pieces. They would build gardens (inspired by little house and the prairie), turn it into a house, or run their cars along the “road”.
On the first day I was amazed and shocked that what we had built was actually level. It was so clearly obvious that God was really helping me.
Once the bookcase part of the armoire was built I set the doors in and was a bit disappointed to discover the doors were about an inch short. After a bit of prayer I had the thought to add the length at the bottom as it would be hidden by the paneling on the front. Andrew cut the two pieces for me on campus and I glued and nailed them later that night. It was the perfect fix.
The one thing I did with Andrew around was the nail gun. I had no way of running that safely by myself with the kids around. I am often interrupted and need to pause to help one of the kids and I just knew they would pick it up if I left it. Compressed air plus nails is no joke. We stayed up way later than I wanted to a couple of nights to finish using that tool.
Originally I thought I’d sand all the pieces before assembling but that, of course, wasn’t sufficient for the final product. I ended up using the random orbit sander in one hand and the vacuum cleaner hose in the other so I could work in the living room. Between that and ironing on the edge banding (50 feet of edge banding, to be exact!) my shoulders and arms were way more tired than they’ve been in a long time.
I stained the inside of the cabinet at night while Andrew was gone. The fumes were so strong that by the end of the night I had opened every window in the house and had all the fans going. The kids helped me stain the doors outside a few days later and I let them air out as long as possible. They also sanded the handles for the doors.
I did the bulk of the painting during the evenings with little progress coats during the day while the kids played on the front porch. They were pretty good about not touching the wet paint but one day when Andrew got home Nathan ran on top of the freshly painted door to get to him. I did the coats of polyurethane in two early mornings (at 5am). When it was time to take off the painter tape Nathan kept saying, “The cabinet is dry? I can touch it? Yeeessss!”
By this point our downstairs was a disaster. For a few weeks we were all constantly tripping over things because that is just what happens with your living room becomes a workshop and your time is spent building an armoire. The final day I stalled for a moment because I had to drill into the beautiful doors and cabinet that I had been working on for weeks. A final prayer was said for courage and insight and I pulled out the drill. It took a few hours but installing the hinges, handles, and magnetic bottom clasp went smoothly.
Nathan wanted to be part of the picture taking action! Once I installed the bottom magnets the door didn’t go back farther than it is supposed to.
The kids and I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the downstairs and vacuuming the floor. Our little space looks so much bigger with a clean floor. I’ve had fun just starting to carefully fill my cabinet with things that have needed a home. Andrew finally has a place to put some of his things downstairs. Our homeschool resources are starting to populate the shelves. My wood carving tools are safely placed up high. A few treasures from my grandma’s home are finding a place there. The beloved curvy boards finally have a resting place for the evening!
I’m in love!