Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Handbuilt Home

Ana White is officially blogging about our (OUR???) book today and she asked the book contributors to chime in with our own thoughts about the pieces we built and the process of building for the book.

Lots of friends have asked me how the whole book deal went down, so let me lay it out for you...

I am incredibly blessed. Period.

Oh, I guess you might want a few more details. Let me indulge you. About fifteen months ago, maybe a bit longer than that, Ana redesigned her website. As part of the redesign, she asked her readers to create accounts on her new site and post about the pieces we'd built. I happened to have some free time on my hands that night and so I posted about everything I'd built. All at once.

Up to that point, I'd built a few incarnations of the six cube bookcase, an entry locker, a reading loft, a medicine cabinet, a big storage bench, and a little bathroom cabinet. I somehow managed to photograph them in a way that was semi-clear so that others could see how my pieces had come out. I posted all of them within a short window of time and I think Ana saw them all pop up and was surprised they were all built by the same person.

Maybe I had too much time on my hands? Or maybe I'd found a hobby I really enjoyed. And I probably did have too much time on my hands.

Anyway, a few months later Ana sent an email to several bloggers asking if we'd like to build a piece for a book she was writing. She posted plans on a top-secret password-protected website and asked us to send her a proposal for one or two of the projects. How much would it cost us to build the piece? How would we finish it? How would we stage it? Where would the piece sit? Would we be able to photograph it well?

At the same time, my husband, Scott, was trying to figure out how he could get a big flat screen tv. I said, and I quote, "There will be no big flat screen tv in this house until we can afford the furniture to go with it." I was totally imagining a big tv on a wall without anything around it, which wouldn't have been much of an upgrade from what we already had. Our main tv back then was a little 32-inch flat screen sitting on the tv stand I'd bought in grad school. And it was pushed up against a wall that is 22 feet tall. With nothing around it. Wait...I'm sure I have a photo.

Yep. You know what that is, friends? That is Klassy. With a capital K. Ten years after grad school I still had the same torn up chair, coffee table, and tv stand that I bought while on a grad school budget. Except the TV stand used to be six feet tall. At some point we jigsawed off the top half and screwed on a piece of plywood and painted the whole thing with some leftover paint. Klassy.

So, you can guess that when I got the email from Ana asking if I'd like to pick out a project to work on and, oh, she'd pay for the wood and finishing supplies...um, yeah. I was totally on it. I went looking for a media center to build and immediately sent in a proposal, along with the pathetic photos of our family room.

Thankfully, Ana put her faith in me and let me build what turned out to be an amazing media center. I photographed it as well as I could but, because it is black the photography part was not easy. In fact, it was probably the hardest part of the whole process. I had to borrow a friend's tripod and set my ISO super low (to reduce grain) and my aperture super high (to get the most depth of field) and then leave my shutter open for about 30 seconds in order to get a decent exposure. And then I had to mess with them in Lightroom. I took like 250 shots before I found some that I thought were reasonably good but, even then, I wasn't totally happy with them. I'm still not totally happy with them. Shooting black furniture is just...hard. I could have used some professional help with that part.

I'm totally crossing my fingers that some photoshop whiz at the publishing company figured out how to improve my shots.

The idea behind the book was that it would have a DIY feeling to it -- not just DIY projects, but DIY projects that were actually done by amateurs, written about by amateurs, and photographed by amateurs. Because the point of the book is that YOU can do it, too.

Sometimes I see my pieces pinned on Pinterest with a caption like, "Adding this to the honey-do list, honey!" or "For my hubby to work on this weekend," and my heart sort of falls. Because these projects really are things that women, especially stay-at-home moms, can do themselves.

I'm just a mom. I have a couple of degrees in communication (which are pretty much 100% unrelated to building furniture). I'm not a designer, I don't have a degree in industrial arts. I suck at math, although I'm getting better with every piece I build. I didn't grow up watching my dad work with tools (sorry, Dad). I did take six weeks of wood shop in seventh grade.

My hope is that by continuing to build and share with you what I build, and by sharing with you this book full of amazing pieces built by people like you, you'll be inspired to work on something. I hope you'll have confidence that this is something you can do.

I know building isn't for everyone. Not everyone wants to build or create or DIY. But I hope that if you're thinking about it, you'll know that the building part, the creating part...it's easy. Therapeutic even. Seriously, if I can do it? So can you.

Check out Ana's plan catalog and find a project to start with. Pre-order the book so that when you get it you can build something fun, something that isn't available on Ana's site. Start building!


  1. Nice job Hillary! You're awesome! I'll definitely be ordering the book. Although I'll need to spend a little more to get the proper tools necessary for some of these projects.

  2. What do you mean, "not everyone wants to build"? What is this blasphemy? :-O

  3. You shouldn't feel sad when people pin in to a board for hubby. Not everyone has a desire to learn how to build things. Hubby keeps telling me that he can teach me to play piano- but I have no desire to learn. I could teach him to sew, but I don't really think that's up his alley. ;) Everyone has something they're good at, building just might not be one of them. I am inspired by all the projects I see you and Ana do. Hubby and I took on our first project together (we're slow project people) and it turned out really nice. I oxidized my wood- but it turned out with a little bit of a redish tone. I still love it! I would never have tried if women like you hadn't inspired me. And we did it together which makes it even more memorable. :)

  4. does the book have the details on the finished you used? If not can you share with me how and the colors you used.

    1. Hi, Jessica!

      I used flat black paint, distressed it with fine grit sandpaper, and then sealed it with brown wax. I used Briwax, but I would recommend using Staples or another lower- or no-VOC brand. I buy the Staples brand at Woodcraft and I like it better than Briwax.

    2. Oh thank you! So no need to prime it with white first? I am new to using wax also.

    3. No, because when you distress it you'll see the white primer. If you want to prime, use tinted dark brown. But if it's bare wood, I don't think you need to prime on a low-use piece like this. If it's a high-use piece like a table, that might be a different story. Or use milk paint or chalk paint -- they don't require primers when used on bare wood.

  5. This is one of my favorite pieces in the book. We're moving into a new house and it's exactly what we are looking for! Now I just need some tools!

  6. We're about to build this piece. I'm just wondering how big is your TV?


Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.