psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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Bringing New Life to Old Things, and the Sexiness of Nerdy Boys' Hands: Refinishing a Dresser

Posted by Lisa Johnson on

One of the big changes with my new relationship, which isn’t so new anymore, is that my boyfriend actually likes to DO things together.  Instead of sitting and watching shows nearly every night as the highlight of our “time together,” he actually likes to go tag “sailing” with me on Saturday mornings, so we’re able to kill several birds with one stone:  I work and spend time with him, he enjoys treasure hunting, and he’s got a great eye for stuff I miss, and is happy to stand guard while I do my last loops and revisit what I might have missed.

Several weeks ago, we hit a sale in central Greenwich at a self-described “historic” house.  As it was nearing the end of the day, plus the house’s location, on the corner of the Post Road, a central street that parallels the highway, and I knew loads of people had already been there. I didn’t expect to find anything good. 

But serendipity hits at all moments, and as we climbed the steps, I happily discovered a mishmash of eclectic stuff strewn on tables and clothing racks, as well as pushed against the walls of the front of the porch.  Score!  Somebody was my size, and had my taste in tank tops, and I was picking through a box of ethnocentric styled shorts, Chris noticed an old, peeling, wooden dresser.

“What do you think?” he wanted to know.  He is aware that I can’t usually tolerate large items, at least for myself (I feel like I have more than enough furniture) and loves when it’s my minivan that we have to stuff stuff into, especially his stuff.

But, he noted, his ex was to be finally moving her things out of the house the following Friday, and he had been on the lookout for a new place to keep his clothes.  So I should really check it out. 

As I rarely look at large items, I’d missed this piece, but as I stood in front of the dresser, I could feel its energy, through the dust, peeling veneer, and spots of bird shit on top.  I immediately felt myself falling in love with its curves, and charming center top drawer with a little keyhole and ancient metal hardware, its natural whorls within the wood.  Plus, all of the drawer joints were dovetails, which meant that it was either old, well-constructed, or both (thank you, Aunt Ruth, the antique dealer).

You never want to display your excitement right away to a person selling items, because they often jack up the price if they know the sale is a done deal, so we meandered over to one of the two older ladies sitting in front of a card table with a cash box and asked how much. 

“Oh, I’ve always loved this piece!” she began, which can sometimes be a bad sign, meaning the person will have a hard time really letting it go, or we have to stand and wait to hear about the entire history of how long she owned it before the exorbitant price is revealed and it’s been only temptation and wasted time.  She did tell us it had been hers as a child, and her parents had also had it forever, and that it was probably from the 1820s.

“It’s $5,” she ended with.  “We’re moving and we just have to get rid of it.”


The dresser sat in Chris’ basement, as barbecues and birthday parties took precedent, until the other weekend when Chris scored an entire new wardrobe of Italian sweaters.  It became time to finally deal with needing a place to put everything.  He took out his notes from a conversation with my antique dealer aunt’s boyfriend, hit Home Depot, and within two days, had not only refinished the dresser, but moved it up three flights of stairs by himself, anxious as he was to fit it into his new room and his new life.

The “new to you” dresser is amazing!  Chris sanded it down and shined it up (and all kinds of other details in between).  And the energy it gives off – to think, that we now own a piece of history, before even the Civil War, which had been cast aside and now holds neatly folded rows of Chris’ plaid boxer shorts.  A whole new era.

What struck me as well was that I was now with a person who could have a vision, carry it through, and create something beautiful out of someone else’s castaway.  And he finished the job without having to be nagged!

There is something about being with a man who knows how to make and fix things, whose hands transform.  As society places so much weight on technology, I’ve found that many people do not know how to build things, and it worries me.  What happened to doodling?  Or tinkering with stuff to figure out how it works?  Does anyone still sit quietly, alone, and master the art of anything?

Chris always professed himself to be a nerd as a child.  Girls, let tell you – the boys (if they still exist!) that make model airplanes and ships, that spend hours and days creating comic books, or can learn how to fix a bicycle – these are the hands that will be in high demand as an adult.  Everyone loves someone who can bring new life into the world.

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