That did not go to plan – What Plan???

About eighteen months back I decided to redecorate the living/dining area of our apartment. I wished lighten up, shake off a feeling of claustrophobia, and make the limited space seem . . . spacier. That meant I was left with an amount of surplus furniture stained and varnished in a deep rich brown.

Redecorated living_dining room

Redecorated living_dining room (the corner chair was on loan – there’s a red one there now )

I sold most of the furniture on Gumtree, and gave a few items to the Women’s Refuge *, but I was left with one item that would not sell.

Cocktail Cabinet before

I was kind of glad for that, because I had designed the piece myself, and it performed a valuable storage role. Space is always at a premium in apartment living. This piece had a display cabinet for my few “precious bits”, a drop-down servery cocktail section for my “essential bits” (i.e. liquor), and a storage cabinet for tablecloths, place-mats, and so on. And it had a unique door feature to blend with my “Asian-inspired” decorative theme.

Perfect . . . except for the dark colour.

I considered re-painting it, but the thought of a chemical strip and re-sand had my heart sinking to my boots. Apart from anything else, without a backyard or shed, where could I perform this task?

“Gwen!” my friend enthused. “Chalk paint! It’s fab! It’s so easy. Nooooo preparation. They call it Ladies Paint!!!!!”

So I went to the local corporate-giant hardware store, and the only shade of red they could offer was a kind of pink-based crimson (that sounds like an oxymoron).

Then a friend told me about a smaller hardware franchise that sold a wider range, and had great advice to boot. It’s about a half hour drive from home. So off I went, and came home armed with a swathe of swatches. I sticky-taped them to key decorating pieces while I decided on a shade. You can just make them out on the painting in the living room photo above.

Red LanternNow many of you know that really any spare time I have is meant to be allocated to writing Australia’s next best seller. So all I managed to do in the next twelve months was whittle the decision down to THE colour.


A couple of weeks back, Bill and I sat on the balcony on a balmy evening, emptying the contents of the cocktail cabinet (and I’m not talking place-mats here), and decided that there were a couple of free days coming up in the diary. I borrowed a sander from a neighbour (not quite believing that you could really apply the chalk paint straight over a lacquered surface), and one morning after breakfast reminded Bill of our commitment.

It’s fair to say that I hadn’t planned out this project. We didn’t even have the paint yet.

Carpe Diem, I say.

So we carried the cabinet out to the balcony and dropped it face up on our outdoor table.

We were very disorganised, not methodical at all, but somewhere along the line I phoned another neighbour who had done a similar project, and decided that yes, indeed, a light sand would not go astray. And somewhere along the line the cabinet doors were removed, the sanding started, and I broke away to buy some paint . . . And that’s where the whole project began to go pear-shaped.

I breezed into the store and laid my swatch down. In my head, the only paint in this colour was chalk paint, and the streaky finish on my swatch was a feature of chalk paint. The store attendant and I had a fabulous conversation about the project. I showed her photos on my phone. We talked about how easy the paint was to use, and so on, and so on. . . . She said, “This paint comes in a variety of finishes. Your swatch is Eggshell finish. Here’s a swatch with the different finishes.”

Uh-oh . . . a decision. That set me back for a bit. Should I choose the gloss, semi-gloss, etc, etc? The decision was made when she checked stock and all they had was Eggshell. At the time I thought it was therefore a wise choice to go with the Eggshell finish. With the proviso that I could give it another coat with semi-gloss if I changed my mind. I’d just have to wait a week while they ordered it in.

“How shall I apply it?” was my next question. “With a roller,” was the reply. “But not just any roller. I recommend this type,” she proffered her suggestion. “Okay,” says I. “But there’s a lot of fiddly bits. I don’t think I can fit a roller in there.” So then I bought a little angled brush as well as my roller.

The first coat went on thinner and flatter than I was expecting. But we hadn’t sanded back to bare timber, so what was I to expect?

That night, my neighbour rang to hear how I was progressing. “Now, you do know that you need to finish off with a top clear coat?” he asked. “Nooooooo,” says I. “We didn’t talk about that. But it comes in a variety of finishes,” I continue cheerily. And I proceed to tell him about the semi-gloss, etc, etc, etc.

“Uh, Okay,” he says uncertainly. “Perhaps they’ve improved the product since I used it. Things change so quickly these days,” etc etc etc.

So!!! I do some of my best thinking in my dreams. For example, that night, I kept dreaming that there were nine for my upcoming pre-Christmas dinner, not the ten I was setting for. I kept counting the guests over and over, and could only come up with nine. I even called myself derogatory names in my dream. When I got up in the morning and checked my guest list – sure enough – the tally was nine.

Another thing that came to me in my dream is that Porters Acrylic Eggshell is not Chalk Paint. And sure enough, when I rang the hardware store the next day, they confirmed that my dream was spot on. . . . what we had applied was wall paint. Now, if this post was not already too long, I would describe to you in detail the conversation that ensued over the phone and in store an hour later. I hasten to add the hardware store manager and his paint expert fell over themselves to set this hiccup to rights and at the minimum cost to myself. As I said to them, in my days as a customer service manager, I used to tell my team, “Things go wrong – and we can’t always help that. What we can help is how we handle it.” And this team handled it very well, and very generously.

Sadly though, they could not help with me the chalk paint. Their advice was that it was not available in Red Lantern. In fact, there was no red base in the range at all.

The upshot was that we continued with the existing paint, but had to give another light sand to the two coats we had applied by then, and ditch the roller for the VERY professional quality brush they had given me, and yes! Even with this paint, we still need to apply a clear top coat for durability.

When we had the third coat on and I’d wandered off to check my emails, I heard an “uh-oh” from the kitchen. Bill was reading the instructions for the clear coat.

“What” I asked cheerily (just joking – there was no light note in my voice by now).

“You need to wait 72 hours before application,” he yelled up the hallway.

I rang the hardware store again. “Is this true?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied hesitantly. “What’s the downside if we don’t?” I asked. . . . Well, anyway, her reply must have been convincing – we decided to wait the three days.

Now if this had been a Government Project and the objective had been to transform the cabinet from dark lacquered timber into a red colour showing all the features and characteristic finish of a chalk painted makeover then we would have failed dismally.

But! If it had been a Government Project then we would have simply changed the stated objective at the first hurdle and claimed 100% success.

Ta-dah! So our cabinet is now transformed from dark lacquered timber into a red colour, and, there are a couple of coffee tables thrown in as well.

Cocktail Cabinet After

And I am running out of projects that I can legitimately claim are keeping me from starting the second draft of my novel manuscript. Hopefully writing these type of yarns is giving my writing muscle some exercise.

There is a postscript to this story. A few days after finishing the job I drove past the nearby “Dulux Trade Centre” and noticed a banner for Porters Paints in the window. So in I go with a hypothetical question as to the availability of Red Lantern Chalk Paint, and sure enough, it is available, they do have the red base in stock, they do sell to the public, and all this within a five minute drive from home.

You remember those derogatory names I was calling myself in my dream?

Well that’s another part of the dream that came true!


Coffee Tables Before

Coffee Tables Before

Coffee Tables After

Coffee Tables After

    When women and children who come to a Woman’s Refuge are re-housed, it is often to an unfurnished apartment. Typically, a refuge has limited storage capacity, but if you can time a donation to co-incide with a housing transfer, your spare furniture can come in very handy. The refuge itself could also be in need of a spruce up. I recommend you consider this option for donation. Usually volunteers will collect the items. It is normal for the location of the refuge and the new housing to be kept confidential, even from a well-meaning donor.

34 thoughts on “That did not go to plan – What Plan???

  1. Just been reading your fascinating stories of Michaels Nook all those years ago. I don’t suppose you remember Maureen’s fiancé Stewart’s surname do you? Br Johnnie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the delay in acknowledging this and your other comment on a different post. I have been travelling and only returned yesterday. Glad you liked the Michaels Nook posts – I enjoyed reminiscing about those days. So sorry I can’t remember Stewart’s surname. He worked at the Swan Hotel on Keswick Road in Grasmere. Cheerful young fellow as I recall.


      • Thanks for getting back to me. I’m presuming Maureen’s surname was Williams… if so do you know what happened to Herland or do you know anyone who would? Br Johnnie.


        • Not sure of Maureen’s surname – Williams sounds a possibility. As I recall she left Michaels Nook shortly before I did, which was around May 1979. She was seventeen at that time if that is any help. Although I returned to work there at a later date all the General Assistants had changed. The chefs were still the same, but I don’t recall them mentioning having any contact with her. Apologies I’m not much help.


    • Our charity shops are becoming extremely picky about what they will take. These days they sell the furniture rather than donating it so their decision is influenced by space and turnover in the shop. That’s not to say that they don’t do a good job, and I also donate to them, but it has become a commercial enterprise. In a sense they are reflecting current society, where even kids leaving home for the first time desire brand new furniture. So where possible I prefer the direct route – a kind of “from my hand to yours” approach. The refuge I donate to is an off-shoot of one of those charities, but they operate as separate business entities to such an extent that they cannot even use the same truck!


    • Thanks for the positive feedback! I think chalk paint would do the job easily, and apparently it’s a project that can be completed in one day. In the meantime though, your friend could try a mixture of equal parts vinegar and olive oil to the table top, rub in the direction of the grain, then rub off with a soft cloth. It might not work, but it sounds as if she has nothing to lose.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it is a 100% success. That particular red you’ve used and the original design have combined to make an appealing, authentic looking piece of furniture. I thought chalk paint was all about giving a very flat, matt finish that you can also wax or varnish to add the lustre if you wanted to. Is it a different preference in Australia to have matt finished furniture as I think an eggshell finish looks softer on painted furniture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Agnes. I must say as I look across the room now, from any angle, there are pleasing repetitions of the red; on the cabinet, tables, cushions, artwork and so on. It has tied together nicely, and I feel “settled” emotionally.
      I had never heard of chalk paint until my girlfriend told me about it. I think it must be gaining popularity because of its ease of use. I didn’t know what finish I was expecting, but on reflection, I would have liked the matt, not distressed, with a wax finish to give a soft lustre on a thick base.

      Nevertheless, what I have looks good too, and your comment about eggshell for furniture is encouraging. My only concern is whether the paint will peel over time. The other problem was being told to use a roller. It meant the finish had that flat, slightly speckled appearance of a painted wall. That’s why we had to rough it again before applying the third coat with a brush. And even if we had used a brush from the beginning, it still would have required three coats to cover the dark base that remained after the original sand.

      Anyway, I’ll take it as a win for now, and deal with any problems if and when they arise!


      • Definitely a win! On the brush versus roller debate. I know lots of professionals swear by using rollers for all kinds of paint applications, but I personally prefer seeing fine brush marks than the speckled look. Airbrush spraying will get you a flat, very smooth finish. My ex-husband was very good using the specialist equipment and once sprayed all our big old radiators. Think it is something that needs to be done in a workshop with air extraction and face masks! Better still take stuff to the specialist sprayers, but then it’s no longer a DIY project.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. never heard of chalk paint, then again I haven’t heard of paint. 😈
    The bottom half of said red cabinet with trellis on top reminds me much of the ice boxes of the 1950’s (they were probably the same in the 20’s 30’s and 40’s but I didn’t know anything about them until I came to Australia in the 50’s 👿

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hadn’t thought of that. Very much like the meat safe which was common in country areas by the 1950s, having been standard in suburban homes for decades before. We had an icebox until 1962 although it was enamelled like a refrigerator. The day our fridge arrived, the icebox was left lying in the backyard with its door facing the sky. The neighbourhood boys thought it would be a good lark to get 7yo me to climb inside. Then they closed the door and forgot about me. Marvellous I don’t suffer extreme claustrophobia. Just get a bit jittery if I feel cluttered.


  4. Ah, Gwen, your story gave me a hearty giggle this morning. Thank you. That writing muscle got a good workout in my opinion, so the second draft of your novel should go much smoother as a result. The end product looks fabulous, and hey, it is proof that there are stories lurking everywhere. I sure hope you filled up the cocktail section with ‘essential bits’ again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of essential bits, as I set up a cocktail station for the early Christmas party! And I agree, story inspiration comes from simple observation of the world around us. I am often practising ones in my head that never get written. Glad you got a giggle out of this one 🙂


    • It will do, but I think the chalk paint would have given a thicker, more lustrous look. You can distress it or not, as you prefer (I would not). And you can finish it off with wax or clearcoat. Post a photo whenever you have done your piece and we can compare. I am also being recommended Annie Sloan chalk paint, which I think is readily available in the US. Probably comes from there in the first place.


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