The Intelligent Consumer: With all the trimmings

It was a humble pine chest of drawers from Ikea. Cayte Williams asked three designers to make it their own
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Indy Lifestyle Online
How do you turn a flat cardboard box into a work of art? Not easily, especially when it's an Ikea flat-packed chest of drawers. We asked three designers - a stylist turned shop-owner, an interior designer and an architect turned furniture-maker - to customise a pounds 95, three-drawer, chest of drawers from the Ikea Fjord range. It's said that artistic endeavour is 95 per cent perspiration and five per cent inspiration. After assembling the furniture world's answer to the Rubik cube, they produced some damn fine results with that five per cent.

"Undecorated, the chest of drawers was a very ugly little thing, so I had to start by painting it pink," says Emma Bernhardt, a former Elle Decoration stylist who now sells all things Mexicana from her shop in London's Portobello Road. She used a couple of coats of Mexican emulsion paint in hot pink, but had no clear idea of how she wanted the furniture to look. "I put PVA glue solidly all over the drawers - it's that white glue that smells really nice and dries to clear - and covered them with this gorgeous chunky Mexican glitter, so they look like fruit pastels. It's always a good sign when things look edible."

At this stage, inspiration struck. "I thought of Tybalt's waistcoats in Romeo And Juliet. So, I staple-gunned some sequinned patches, and stuck on a Guadalupe (Mexican Madonna) and satin roses. Then I covered the handles with silk flowers."

Emma loves the way it looks, but wants to do more. "I'm thinking of getting some glass cut for the top and putting lots of candles around, which would light up the glitter. I'm going to keep it in the shop and store all my trimmings in it. Whenever you open the drawers, little bits of glitter fall out, so you'd have this lovely pool of glitter on the floor. Or else I'll take it home and keep my underwear in it. I'd put it in a grown-up setting. It would get lost in an overly kitsch room."

The transformation cost Emma about pounds 115 in materials: pounds 30 for the sequinned patches (pounds 5 each), pounds 10 for glitter, pounds 65 for the flowers (pounds 5 each) and pounds 10 for paint.

"I decided to go for something simple and quick that anyone can do from scratch in a day," explains David Carter, interior decorator and author of The Complete Paint Book. "I sanded back the varnish and applied two coats of acrylic, white, primer paint. The wood is just cheap pine and the paint stopped the knots of wood from showing through and provided a smooth surface."

Next, David added three coats of ivory colour - a mixture of white, vinyl- silk paint and a dash of artists' acrylic in yellow ochre. When that had dried he used a ruler to make diamond shapes and little borders on each draw. He mixed paints from his studio to produce a "dirty green" to colour in the diamonds. He diluted it with water and an acrylic scumble, which is a glaze available from most good paint suppliers. "The glaze basically allows you to manipulate the mixture, and provides a transparent finish," says David. "I dried it using a flogging brush, a coarse brush which adds texture, and dragged the paint across the surface. Then, I mixed pure glaze with a little bit of water and some artist's acrylic in sienna and dragged that over the ivory paint. Don't be afraid to use lots of masking tape, but make sure it's low-tack masking tape, otherwise the paint will peel off when you remove it."

All that done, he just had to make the final touches. "I used a gold marker-pen to define the diamonds and screwed on new handles. They are made from gold-finished cast bronze, so they matched the gold borders and had little diamond shapes embedded in them." These cost pounds 150 (pounds 25 each from Haute Deco in London's Kings Road), more than the cost of the chest of drawers, but made it look a lot more expensive. David has sold his chest of drawers already - for an undisclosed sum.

Seng Watson, an architecture graduate whose caravan studio overlooks the Thames, was surprised at how complicated it was to assemble, so he improvised. "I wanted to clean it up, make it quite minimalist," he explains. "I noticed that the runners were reversible, so I cut down the drawer- fronts with a saw, so that they could be pushed in from both the front and the back. Then I put some wheels on it and now it's my TV stand."

Seng covered the chest of drawers front and back in sheets of fake oak from B&Q and cut out the drawer shapes with a router (a type of drill saw). He covered the top with white plastic, which he also bought, along with the wheels, from B&Q. "Anyone who can assemble an Ikea chest of drawers could make this and it was all very cheap. I spent pounds 20 on materials."

Emma Bernhardt's shop is at 301 Portobello Road, London W10, 0181 960 2929. David Carter Interior Design can be contacted on 0171 790 0258 or by fax on 0171 790 0259. Seng Watson is available for commissions on 0958 579775. The Complete Paint Book is published by Conran Octopus, priced pounds 20.

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