The suffering, the struggling, I did it for you, I did it for me…*

*Lyrics from Cubism Dream by Local Natives. It’s no secret that I love this group, even though Jeff warns me not to look at them if I ever see them live – apparently they’re hipsters with a capital H. Little does he know, I don’t care (bring on the waxed, handle-bar mustaches!). I love that album, and love it still every time I hear it. This song feels like love and sadness and nostalgia and tenderness mixed together, which is pretty much what touching love feels like. Which is pretty much what I feel for my little niece, touching love.

BEFORE: Color notwithstanding, I could see the cuteness in the piece. Plus, it was smaller than an adult sized desk, as many older pieces are. Perfect for my 9-year old niece.

Last year, driving innocently by a yard sale (that I swear I didn’t know was going to be there) I spotted a weird but cute vanity/desk in a gross shade of green. I kept driving, but thought about it for the rest of the afternoon. Later on, I convinced Jeff to drive by with me, just to see if it was still there. If it was, I told him, I’m buying it. He said, what for? I said, not for me, for [my niece]! She needs a desk! He said, okay. So I got it, for $20. Not bad, eh?

I had all sorts of ideas for it. At the time, my niece was obsessed with Lady Gaga, so she wanted me to make the desk look like her. I thought about that, considered how I could even achieve such a thing, and started to get excited about making that happen. First thing I had to do was give it a clean, fresh coat of paint, so I figured I’d start there and then let my instincts guide me to Gaga (I thought about using mirrors, fringe, ribbons tied to the legs, nail head ‘studs’, you name it). But, well, when I got the clean coat of paint on (one coat of primer, and two of solid white) I realized just how much work it would be to have to undo the gagafication when she tired of that look. Which, with kids, is anytime from 2 weeks to 2 years (usually the half-year mark is where I see them shift their likes/dislikes). Still, I didn’t want to burden my sister with more work in 2 years, so I decided to limit myself to doing something decorative on the top of the desk. That way, when my niece (little J) tires of the look, they can simply repaint the top, which is really easy.

DURING: First I clean it up, sanded it, primed it and painted it white. Then I added new hardware, and drew a pattern of interlocking triangles all over the top.

And, instead of Gaga, I thought I’d go with something uber colorful to tap into the ’80s craze that little J is currently into (no, I stopped at bright, and did not go all the way to neon). I also wanted to do something that was interesting to me (since I knew it was going to take a long, long time to hand paint the top), so I chose geometric shapes (mostly triangles) inspired by some of these pinterest pics. I wanted the desk to be inviting enough to help her like doing homework (who really wants to do homework anyway?), and inspiring enough to encourage her to be bold, and experimental with her own art, writing, or whatever else she ends up getting interested in.

AFTER: Not your mother's vanity, eh? Perfect for a little girl who's obsessed with neon, bright colors, and being wild.

Bright, youthful, and modern was what I was trying for, with a bit of classic thrown in – white paint and traditional brass ring pulls pair with the turned-legs and curved center drawer front, while the crazy, colorful, almost 3-D shapes on top speak to modern trends in graphic design and visual style.

This process was a labor of love. Of course I love my niece, that goes without saying, but I loved making this art for her. I loved drawing out samples for the pattern, figuring out where to begin, and letting the process take me along for the ride. I loved mixing each individual color. I loved painstakingly hand painting each triangle, at least two times for solid coverage. I loved watching something emerge from nothing, watching a plain, ugly green desk turn into an oasis of creativity, a place where she can go to be in her own head,  with her own creativity.

I showed her the desk a few times throughout the process, and each time she gushed about how cool it was, and inevitably inspired me to do something else – use a particular color more (she loves bright!), go bolder, don’t hold back, let loose. So, even though it started out as a project for her, I think it ended up being a project for me.

Pictures, with captions about some of the nitty gritty details (like how toothpaste really does remove pencil marks from painted surfaces). Enjoy! xoxo


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