Red Lacquer Pew via Good Brown Gravy

Hello!  This is Brandy (Jason’s wife).  Jason is graciously allowing me to guest post here as today’s project doesn’t really fit in over on my page, One is Hungry.

So, if you have been reading this page for awhile, you know that this spring we moved into a new apartment.  In the intervening months we have slowly been filling that glorious new space with treasures lifted from Craigslist and second hand shops.  While scouting Craigslist recently I happened upon Donation Nation in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a recently opened haven for the redistribution of unwanted wares.  Anything that fits on the scale is a dollar per pound, everything else is negotiable.  It is fantastic; if you live in the DMV area you should definitely give it a look.  Long (but interesting) story short, I walked backward out of the store at the front end of a 100+ year old purple pew!

Here I have to state that I was taking a bit of a risk.  Jason is notorious for not liking the color purple.  I made a detailed plan of three options for the color.  Purple doesn’t go with anything in our home, so I certainly wasn’t viewing the proposal to change the color as a hard sell.  What is the first thing that contrary man said upon seeing it? “That is so cool.  Can we keep the purple?!”. . .So, negotiations ensued; I was all for natural, unvarnished wood or high gloss black.  Jason wanted “pop”.  In the end, we matched his new, extremely red, telephone.

Tools and Supplies:

  • 1 old purple pew
  • DeWalt 5″ Random Orbital Palm Sander
  • sanding pads and paper in medium, fine, and extra fine
  • sanding block
  • 2.5″ angled head paint brush
  • Rustoleum Gloss “Sunrise Red” 1 quart and a bit
  • 1/2 gallon paint bucket
  • paint stirrer
  • 0dorless mineral spirits
  • canvas drop cloth, three plastic drop cloths
  • painters tape (and in an emergency, thumbtacks)
  • vacuum
  • rags
  • water, salt, vinegar, saucepan
  • Martha Stewart  Liquid Gilding Brass and Black Satin paint
  • small paint brush
  • paper bags


So, the inspiration for the red paint came not only from Jason’s favorite phone, but from a gorgeous, glossy, knock-out of a dresser on a blog called Natty by Design.  While my project in no way attained the liquid luster of her piece, her tips, and those of one of her commenters on another post (see Wende in the comments section) were immensely helpful in pulling this together.

First the hardware had to be removed.  The small history that came attached to the pew said the hardware was solid brass. . .  Be wary of such statements.  It turned out that only the aisle number plate was solid brass, the rest was brass plated.  Tarnish had all but destroyed the plating and cleaning washed it utterly away.  The great tip from Wende (mentioned above) about using boiling water in combination with salt and vinegar did wonders for the one actual brass piece.  I combined 2 inches of boiling water with 1/2 c. white vinegar and 1/4 c. kosher salt.  There was still a bit of discoloration that I touched up with Brasso; the other pieces, frame, hat clips, and screw heads got a lick of liquid brass gilding.pew hardware before and after via Good Brown Gravy

So, sanding.  Do it well, do it with multiple coarseness-es of paper, and, if ever in doubt, go with the grain of the wood!  Wear eye protection, a breathing mask, and, if using a power sander, ear plugs.  If you are sanding inside, consider building a tent by taping or tacking plastic drop-clothes from the tops of the walls or ceiling.  It keeps the dust confined to one easily cleanable space!  This was my first time ever using a power sander, and I liked it!  On the straight aways it saved loads of time.  I did an all over sand with medium and then fine paper, using sandpaper and a block for the detail work and tight curves.  When you’ve finished sanding vacuum the piece thoroughly and wipe with mineral spirits or water dampened cloth.Pew Prep via Good Brown Gravy Pew Prep Details via Good Brown Gravy


First, be prepared to open all the windows in your house or you will slowly asphyxiate.  On the first coat I chose to thin the paint to the maximum recommended amount of 5% with mineral spirits (I neglected to do this on the second and regretted it).  For a first coat it was beautiful.  After waiting overnight for it to dry I did the sanding.  Sanding between coats of paint, especially gloss paint, is highly recommended.  Unfortunately, no one told my new power sander that this twixt-coat sanding was supposed to be more of a buff than strip.  Even using fine grain paper it still took off far too much paint.  Live and learn, right?First Coat Sand-down via Good Brown Gravy

So, with a disheartening amount of purple showing through I moved on to coat two, and quickly realized there would be a coat three.  Between the second and third I did a light hand sanding with extra-fine grain paper.

Finish:detailduo verse via Good Brown Gravy pew profile via Good Brown Gravy Detail via Good Brown Gravy Red Lacquer Pew Full via Good Brown Gravy Pew Accomplished via Good Brown Gravy dining pew with table via Good Brown Gravy

Well, it is by no mean perfect, but it is finished, we are pleased, and we can now start inviting friends over for dinner since we have somewhere to seat them other than the floor.

What I learned (or “What I knew but didn’t take the time to think about because I was super excited to get this done!”):

  • When painting indoors always make sure that you have a waterproof drop-cloth on the floor; if using a canvas drop-cloth, put a plastic one underneath.  This will save you clean up time (and if you have carpet this will save you flooring from utter ruination!).
  • A smaller paintbrush is an extremely useful thing to have on hand for details (I ended up requisitioning my gilding brush, but a short handle, 1 in. would have been heavenly).
  • Lacquer thinner is an evil, evil joke produced by someone who knew how well mineral spirits works, and encouraged an unsuspecting world to use a product guaranteed to cause anxiety as  skin washed away while the paint stayed intact–use mineral spirits!!
  • Primer.  Use it.  The End.