Toy Chest Makeover

This is my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Tolman.


He died in 1948, but at some point before he did, he made a small wood chest for his granddaughter, (my grandmother) Bonnie.


She was his little darling–when Bonnie was 5, her mother, Ida, moved back home for a number of years before she married the man I knew as Great-grandpa, and so Grandma & Grandpa Tolman helped raise little Bonnie. She remembers that time as one of the happiest of her life. All who knew him described Grandpa Tolman as one of the kindest, most patient men they had ever met. It’s no surprise, then, that he took the time to hand-craft a small piece of furniture just for Bonnie, the sweet, bouncy-haired apple of his eye.

Obviously, I never met Grandpa Tolman, but when the chest he made for Grandma was passed down to my father and from him down to me, I felt like I was given a little piece of him. I even took the time to refinish it once, in my late teens, stripping off the old and yellowed (possibly original!) varnish by hand, and spending days sanding and staining and trying to do justice to the lovely piece it is. My boys have the care of it it in their room right now, and I hope to hand it down to my own daughter someday.

So you can just imagine how thrilled I was to find that one of my sons wrote “STUPID” on it in fat, red indelible marker. (I so wish I’d taken a picture! You really need a visual here. THE HUMANITY!!)

Yeah. It wasn’t just permanent marker, either–it was one of those markers you buy that soaks into ceramic, so you can make your own mugs. So…pretty much all hope of removing it was out the door. Le sigh. Oh, well. I guess it was time to give up on that old wood grain, anyway.

Shabby chic is really in, these days, so I embraced it: I bought a “heritage” antique white color and started sanding! I also got a new print to go on top. (Years ago, I had upholstered the top to protect it, since the kids were sitting on it, anyway).

In the end, this is what we got!


Isn’t all that routing lovely? And it was done by hand, which makes it all the more impressive to me.

One of my favorite parts: the original brass hinges. I cleaned them up a bit this time around–they were pretty tarnished. But I didn’t want to scrub all the aging right off of them.

Also, I took a special picture for all you people who think upholstering might be scary. Kids: this is all it is. If you were to start taking apart your couch, this is all you’d find inside. Actually, if you found finished seams, it’d be shocking. CRAZY, no? But the point is, upholstering is for dummies. If you wanna, you can do it.

Anyway, I think it turned out pretty cute. It’s certainly “antiqued”–75 years or so of use will give you all kinds of little dings and cracks. If I’d have been going for a complete restoration, I would have used wood filler on those cracks and maybe popped out the center panels to remove that glue that’s pushing them in a bit, buuut I really wanted the well-used look. Maybe next time around I’ll restore the piece, but for now, I’ve got just the look I want. Whatcha think?

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