DIY: Think Outside the Box

I live an organized life, perhaps more categorized than most, but not yet tipping the scales at any sort of compulsion, or obsessive behavior; but still I prefer to adhere to my own personal code of “feng shui” and so everything in my home has come to have it’s very own space. Thus when a old, large and very heavy wood shipping crate moved into my living room (courtesy of my then live-in boyfriend), I was confounded with how to assimilate this wretched blue splintery box into the space where my now wished for coffee table should be. The “antique shipping crate” as my boyfriend called it sat around for a few days while I tried to convince him the “big blue box” (as I called it) would be better served in the garage or stored somewhere out of sight…I lost that battle, but I would not accept defeat! This ugly blue, worn box would not become the metaphorical elephant in my living room. So I got to work.


I accepted the square wood container would live among us, I just couldn’t yet imagine how. It needed new everything: a new color, new rope handles, a softer and less splintery texture, but I was not adept at wood anything. Now I’ve never been insecure about a challenge, but I tend not to be too naive about them either and while the necessary tools (sand paper, new paint, paint brush, wood stain, among countless other items I would come to know I needed) were close at hand thanks to my penchant for Home Depot, I also did not want to spend very much money from my already snug budget.

So I got to know this box–I looked over it’s sky blue paint and matching rope handles…hideous for our decor, but not so bad if one wanted to easily spot the shipping crate among thousands of grey or natural colored ones. I thought about where this crate might have been, how many lands had it seen? What had it carried inside of it?  As I spent time thinking inside the box, outside the box, around the box I started to think more about myself. I wasn’t so unlike this box; I had a history, layers painted on me for protection so that the world might not see through to my raw splintery center, I had travels and I had been emptied out too. Importantly for the box, I also had time and in a moment I realized I wanted to make this work-this empty crate, this version of myself. I wanted to put part of myself back into life, back into the box. I also had a lovely and quite large sticker outlining the United States by vintage-esque posters of National parks, orchards and classic state icons which had been lying about my house for months urging me to “do something” with this. “Think outside the box” I kept thinking…when I thought about my life, about my happiness, when I thought about my non existent coffee table-“think outside the box”, when I thought where should I put this dammed sticker that I think is so beautiful but so large and would be utterly tacky and pointless to try and adhere to a wall in my house? THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. And so I did.

Here are my steps to do it yourself:

1)   Apply ancient paint thinner and pray it works. Stop using when despite wearing protective gloves, fingers become numb due to coldness triggered by chemicals in paint thinner.

2)   Find scrapes of sandpaper and start sanding. Once the vigor wears off, borrow an electric sander from your neighbor. Purchase one of every gauge sandpaper you find at the store and start with the largest granule (roughest paper) and work your way towards a cedar smooth baby’s bottom.

3)   Rinse and dry your fine wood specimen before layering on any paint or wood stain. Make it complicated, stain one side of the box –the side with the sexy wood grain circle pattern and paint the others!

4)   Apply (meaning seal and glue the shit out of) that beautiful vintage US sticker around the two sides of your box (put Alaska on the lid for a more comic (and spatially appropriate) effect).

5) Be astounded when you learn how much a piece of rope costs…get so mad you go for a run. On that run, find the perfect rope in both size and color for your box. Smile that fate seems to have helped you and smile again because the rope is now free.

When there is work to be done, you have to do it yourself. Every time I begin a new project, I usually find that I am learning more about myself than the new task at hand. This shipping crate turned blue box turned most cherished creation of a coffee table has been no exception.