When people ask me what I do for a living, it’s hard to fit everything I do into a simple answer. I usually just reply, “I paint furniture.” People either respond with, “Oh wow! That’s interesting.” Or they say, “Oh wow! I wish I could do that for a living.”
This weekend, I was suuuuuuuuuuper busy and it got me thinking about all of the different aspects of running my business. Painting furniture is one part of my job, but I do a LOT of other things too. I thought it would be fun to take you through my weekend so you can get a feel for what life is like working at Eight Hundred Furniture, LLC. and read first-hand about what it’s like painting furniture for a living.
Friday began around 8 in the morning. Jake (my cat) woke me up with purrs and head butts and after some mandatory snuggle time, I was up and ready to go by 9. Before I headed out the door, I made sure to post the morning’s Instagram post on the Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint feed. I also popped in to the MMSMP Facebook feed and did some interacting there. After taking care of social media, I got into The Marshmallow and drove to go meet Laura of Feathering The Nest. She was selling a dresser that I was eager to get my hands on!
Can you see why I was practically running to go pick it up?
When I got to Laura’s home, the dresser wound up needing more structural work than I felt like dealing with at the present. I could definitely get it in working order, but I was looking for a faster flip so I asked her if she had anything else to sell.
This is a big part of what I do – buying pieces to paint. You have to be realistic about how much you’ll pay for a piece given its current condition and even more realistic about what repairs it will require. I’ve walked away from pieces like this before because I simply didn’t have the time or the skill set to fix what was broken.
Lucky for me, Laura is a fellow furniture flipper/painter and she had a few pieces on hand to part with. The Marshmallow and I went home with these lovelies instead.
Now I know the black dresser is upside down, but you get the general idea. It was painted in a peeling black latex paint with other visible layers underneath. Typically I don’t work on previously painted pieces, but this one seemed like it was going to be manageable (especially considering the top layer was already peeling off). The trestle table next to it has the prettiest original chipping paint and it’s incredibly solid. I can’t wait to get working on that!
After pulling in the parking lot back home, I got my furniture hand truck and manipulated each piece onto the cart and hauled them up to our second floor apartment by myself. I have help available if I need it. My parents are a hop, skip, and jump away, but I’ve gotten really good at pivoting and using gravity to my advantage. I don’t haul anything I can’t handle, and these two were just fine. After they were stacked in my “to do” pile, I turned my attention to this behemoth of a dresser that was in front of our fireplace, waiting to be painted.
This depression-era dresser had the ugliest handles I’ve ever seen. They’re art deco/mid-century modern, which is a style I just can’t seem to love. Despite its unfortunate hardware, the shape was beautiful and the construction was very sturdy, especially considering its age. The drawers slid in and out easily so it was a no-brainer for me to scoop it up.
It was a sizable dresser and it had been sitting in the apartment for about 3 weeks, taking up much-needed space. The time had come to dig it out and start working. It didn’t need any structural work save for removing the old caster stems on the bottom. The wooden wheels were long gone and the metal frames were all that was left.
Because of it’s shape and size, I thought the piece would look best in one solid color with very little distressing, if at all. I decided to use the color, Artissimo, fromMiss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint line. Artissimo is a dreamy navy that looks beautiful on just about everything.
I mixed my Artissimo with equal parts Bonding Agent because I didn’t want any chipping. I wanted this piece to look clean and elegant. I also made sure to give it a healthy scuffing with 80 grit sandpaper. The original handles had been spun around quite a few times and they gouged circles in the drawer fronts. I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t show through my beautiful paint job, so I attacked them with sandpaper too. After two coats of Artissimo (with the Bonding Agent mixed in) and a finish of Hemp Oil, the piece was looking amazing.
I swapped out the hardware with these classy ring pulls and called it a day.
Saturday began with the usual purrs and head butts from Jake.
Marc and I were ready to go by 9 and we loaded up the Artissimo dresser into The Marshmallow to deliver it to Brenda at Painted Table Designs in Elverson, PA. I work in this lovely shop two days a week and I sell my furniture and Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk paint there as well. I don’t own the shop, but I work for the shop owner. (Make sense?)
Marc and I had a heck of a time hauling the dresser down the stairs of our apartment. Because of its shape, it was hard for our hands to find a stable place to grab, but we managed. After packing it up, we started off on our 25 minute ride to Painted Table.
Along the way, we saw a garage sale and sitting in the grass was the most gorgeous mahogany server with Hepplewhite handles. This photo is a bit premature because I had already started working on it when I remembered to take a “before” photo, but you get the idea, right?
Even though it wasn’t on the schedule for the day, I had to stop and buy it. I don’t come across these every day and the price was incredible. There was plenty of wiggle room to make a profit so I paid for it in cash and told the seller we would come back for it on our way home from our furniture delivery. The server wouldn’t fit in The Marshmallow along with the Artissimo dresser.
Once we got to Painted Table, Marc and I set up the Artissimo dresser in its new home and together, Brenda and I agreed on a price.
That’s another thing I do a LOT – coordinating with the shop owners where I sell my furniture. I want to make sure that I’m bringing in furniture that works with their decor and meets the needs/desires of the local market.
When it comes to Painted Table specifically, I want to make sure the pieces I bring in coordinate with Brenda’s color schemes and that they will physically fit. Her shop isn’t tiny, but when it’s filled with furniture, an extra 3 or 4 inches can make a big difference. We nestled the dresser behind her sofa and she set about staging it with lots of pretty things.
Because of its solid construction and size, we both agreed on $325 as a selling price. Plus, the drawers were in great condition and it was painted cleanly.
I don’t typically paint over dovetail joints, but this piece required it. If you follow the shape of the drawer front, I had to make a straight line right down the side.
The original finish had begun to “gator” from time and expansion from hot/cold, which resulted in an amazing texture that showed through the MMS Milk Paint.
After the dresser was all set, Marc and I packed up our moving straps and blankets and hit the road to Honey Brook where we met the seller of a barn wood deacon’s bench.
It was beautiful and even prettier than the Facebook photos showed. We exchanged pleasantries with the seller and talked about what it’s like to run your own furniture business. I gave the seller my card and told her she could email me with any questions she has in the future about the business.
Networking is HUGE in this field, and I’ve found that it’s pretty natural for me to shoot the breeze with buyers and sellers alike.
I love answering and asking questions and learning from folks who have “gone before me”. If you’re looking to start your own business, then I highly encourage you to get to talking with folks in your community. Don’t force it like a salesman. Just be yourself.
After packing up the deacon’s bench, Marc and I made our way back to Painted Table. The deacon’s bench was going to go on the porch at the shop so I could work on it the following Monday when I worked my usual shift from 10-5. We were about 2 minutes away when we passed by a flea market. I heard Marc say, “Oooooh wow!” and I asked him what he saw. He actually spotted a fabulous wooden church pew that was roughly 6 feet long. It took me all of two seconds to pull into the flea market and buy it, despite the fact that I wasn’t even looking for one!
With the pew and the bench safely strapped into The Marshmallow, we rode back to Painted Table and unloaded everything. Brenda had been looking for a bench for her home and the church pew we snagged was the perfect fit! She paid me for it (plus a little extra for hauling it) and we unloaded the pew into her husband’s SUV. Marc and I put the deacon’s bench on the porch and went back towards home for the mahogany server.
While we were driving, I made sure that my MileCatcher app was running on my smartphone. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a sponsored post.)
Whenever I make a business trip in The Marshmallow, I turn this app on and it automatically tracks and logs my miles. Based on the government’s current reimbursement rate for mileage, it calculates how much I have accrued in mileage. I use this information for tax purposes You’d be shocked at how quickly your mileage will add up! So far this year, I’m up to almost $3,000. This is also why you can completely justify charging a pickup and delivery fee when you sell your furniture. Vehicles require gas to operate, and yours will incur wear and tear as you use it. That has to get paid for somehow, right?
Once Marc and I made it back to the garage sale, the mahogany server was loaded into the now empty truck bed and we made our way back to our apartment so I could grab my orbital sander and some sanding pads. My plan for the afternoon was to scuff and sand down a few pieces, including the server. We also loaded up a kneehole desk that had been waiting in the wings and after about 30 minutes, I was all set up to sand to my heart’s content in my parents’ driveway.
By this point, it was around 2:00 pm. Marc went home to relax and play “Call of Duty” while I set about working on the desk. I have to be careful not to eat up too much of Marc’s time on the weekends, because he works hard during the week and needs a break too. He’s such a sweetie though, and he’s happy to help me!
By the end of the day, I was so pooped out from all of the furniture shuffling that the desk was all I could handle. I barely got it finished and Marc came back over to help me move the buffet and the desk inside my parents’ dining room for safe keeping. I never got a chance to work on it.
Because we live on the second floor of our apartment building, we can’t haul large and heavy pieces upstairs, like the mahogany server. This also limits the types of furniture I purchase and take on as commissioned work. I don’t refinish large dining room tables with 8-10 chairs because I simply don’t have the space to store or work on them.
This is something you’ll run into as well if you start your own business. You’ll need to determine what you are and are not willing to take on for work. I know a few painters that work on tons of furniture for other people and they make a killing at it. I actually don’t prefer doing commissioned painting work, and when I do accept jobs, they’re on a limited basis. Most of the time, I simply don’t have room in my schedule for commissioned work (as you can probably tell already) and I also have to watch my storage space. We live in our apartment too, so I can’t stack up too much furniture. Smaller pieces work best for me, like this galvanized washtub that I finished for a customer last week.
That’s another important thing that I do just about every day – determine what I can and cannot take on. As time goes by, I’m learning to say “no” to things that don’t fit my business model. I’m also a one-woman show and I have to remind myself that I can’t do everything (even though I try) and I need to give myself down time or else I’ll burn out. I’m also a wife in addition to being a business owner, so I have to make sure there’s still enough of my time left for Marc at the end of the day…even if we’re both tired.
Sunday began just like the days before it – cat snuggles followed by social media posts for the MMSMP feeds and we were out the door by 10. Usually Marc and I go to church, but I had some things I needed to get done so I spent time with God one-on-one.
That is a balance that I need to constantly watch and protect. Furniture can easily take the place of my personal time with the Lord, and I’m still learning how to make sure I spend time with God before I ever pick up a paint brush.
Marc and I loaded the black dresser that I had purchased from Laura into The Marshmallow. (Remember the upside down one?)
I was a woman on a mission on Sunday! My goal was to have the tops of the kneehole desk, the black dresser and the mahogany server all down to the bare wood, and the bodies completely scuffed and ready to accept Milk Paint.
Marc and I pulled up to my parents’ house and loaded all 3 pieces of furniture into the driveway. The black dresser was in The Marshmallow, while the server and the desk were brought out from the dining room. After helping me carry everything outside, Marc went back home to relax and do laundry for the week.
I spent the next six hours hunched over furniture, sanding away old finish and attacking peeling paint. By the time Marc came back I was covered in sawdust, sweaty, completely disgusting, and all 3 pieces were ready to go.
We hauled the desk and the not-black-anymore desk back to the apartment where they’re currently sitting, awaiting their makeovers.
The server went back inside my parents’ house, also awaiting its new finish.
I promptly showered and collapsed with a glass of wine and a heating pad on my back.
So now that you spent a weekend with me, what do you think? I left out a few details too. There’s packing and unpacking of supplies, fueling up The Marshmallow, filing my sales tax return, answering emails, Instagram direct messages, and Facebook comments, logging my transactions in QuickBooks for accounting purposes and remembering to take care of the cat, Marc, and our apartment.
Now I didn’t write this post to brag about all the stuff I do and make myself sound like wonder woman. I also didn’t write it to dissuade you from potentially starting your own business. My goal was honesty. This past weekend was unusually busy with pickup’s and drop off’s, but the diversity of tasks was spot on.
Running your own business is hard work and as you can read, it takes a lot of time. Maybe after reading this, you’ll realize why your entrepreneur friends aren’t as social as your other friends are. Or maybe you get why painted furniture can be expensive at times, or why people like me charge for pickup and delivery. Maybe you never realized exactly what happens behind the scenes of small businesses. Whatever nuggets you take away from this post, I’m glad you stopped by to read about my weekend, and I appreciate your support in this busy life of painting furniture.