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The Abby church pew

Today I am sharing a story about a DIY that is close to my heart.

The story begins with the first incarnation of Loverly Cottage, was my French country cottage inspired home goods store called L’abeille Vintage .
It was a 1000 sq ft office area, in a commercial strip mall that I transformed into a working boutique.

However, the store was almost derailed before it opened.
I was mid build out [or rather tear out] when my home, and almost everything I owned, was lost in a fire.

You can read about what I learned from the experience over here.

Painting furniture and creating was my peace, my escape. I had been painting furniture and repurposing objects since I was a teenager.

Opening up the store was my dream, and I needed something to look forward to.

I tried my best to look forward and keep moving forward.

So, I channeled my frustration and anger from the fire towards ripping up commercial carpet that was glued to concrete floor, tearing out office walls and laying the foundation for my dream.

I was at a turning point, dealing with the aftermath of the home fire was so much heartache and stress.

Continuing with taking my business to the next level weighed heavily on me.

Until the day that I met one of my neighbors, Mr. Jerry Palmer. He would come pop his head in the back door, checking in on my progress and sit for a conversation or two.

Mr. Palmer was a retired physics teacher turned entrepreneur who created materials for schools to complete physics labs and experiments.

As we chatted, I learned that he and I shared an affection for antiques and vintage pieces.
One fateful day we got to talking about some pieces that he had at his workshop.
There were a couple pieces he thought I may be interested in.

One piece stood out, he sure that I would instantly love it.
It was a Gothic style church pew, one that needed some love.

As we chatted, he mentioned that he had acquired it from an antique/junk shop about 40 years ago in Antioch.

My heart jumped, “wait, was that antique shop on North Avenue?”

“Yes,” he replied, “the man’s that owned it was named Ed or something like that.”


He thought so, but it was so long ago. Mr. Palmer said that he was told that the piece came from the Abbey and I immediately knew where it came from.

It was like a message from above.

You see, a long time ago, when I was only about 4 or 5 years old, my dad remarried and I was gifted with an additional set of grandparents.

My gifted grandfather owned a business with his sister, if I recall correctly.

It was so long ago…I think there were 3 buildings. The two I remember were the auction building and the sales barn.

The memories of visiting the sales barn when I was little and jumping on the beds upstairs [even though always denied it when asked]. No Papa, we were NOT jumping on the beds.

Oh, and thought we were so grown up when we would attend the auctions because I got to stay up late and listen to the auctioneers years rattle off prices as bidders upped the price.

Sometime I would even get to tag a long at flea markets.
I guess that is where the antique and vintage bug bit me.

As for the Abbey he referred to, it was St. Benedicts Abbey.

St. Bennedicts Abbey was less than a mile from where my gifted grandparents lived.

I did fall instantly in love with that church pew.
The provenance of the pew certainly tugged at my heart strings and it was quickly loaded in to my Jeep for to take home for a makeover.

It was like a sign of encouragement from the gifted grandparents above, that I was on the right path and to keep moving forward.

The store opened a bit later than expected.

Moving forward opening L`Abeille Vintage

and the Abbey Church pew…
Well, it was completely transformed.

Do you want to see how that turned out?

That church pew from the Abbey, was covered in awful orange fabric from the 70s and surely needed a makeover.

I started by removing that awful fabric.

There were SO many rusty nails to remove to get the fabric off.
The finish was so damaged due to neglect over the years, from the marred finish to the cracked wood. My church pew needed some serious love.

Once the fabric was removed, I filled in the cracks with bondo and gave it 2 coats of primer.

I can hear some people asking WHY DID YOU PAINT IT?
There were SO many holes from the nails.

So many cracks that were filled in and smoothed, staining would have been patchy and ugly.

Forgive me, it has been years since I started this project, I seem to have misplaced those photos, but if I find them I will update the post!

Besides, it is my pew. If I want to paint it, then I will paint it.

That is the beauty of working on your projects. You get to chose how you want them to look.

Now I did not want a smooth white finish.
My decor style is French Country Cottage, and I wanted this piece to look like it was plucked from my dreamy chapel in the woods.

Sure, I could just distress it, but I wanted depth and character.

I am going to show you how you that character that makes freshly painted pieces look like layers of paint have been worn away with a something you probably already have laying around the house.

After the coat of primer was dried, I added a greige color in random places all over the church pew.

The gothic accents on this church pew required a detail brush to get paint in all the little nooks and corners.

If you notice, I did leave some of the wood exposed. My goal is to be able to see layers of paint and wood by creating a resist before adding the final coats.

Now, you may be asking “What is a resist?”

A resist is a painting technique in which you apply something that will cause the next layer of paint to RESIST sticking to the prior layers.
I have used Vaseline or hemp oil, but in this instance I will be using a simple bar of soap.

To review what I did up to this point, the ugly orange fabric was removed.
I patched the holes and painted with primer.
Then I painted a greige color paint in random areas because only bits of it will be peeking thru the final coat of paint

Then I found an old bar of soap and rubbed it over areas of the greige that I wanted to poke thru.

The heavier handed you are, the more of a resist you will achieve.

Once you have rubbed the bar of soap, paint the top color right over the soap.

Once the top layer of paint is dried, use a sanding block or 120 grit sandpaper and gently sand the areas where the soap was applied to remove the top layer of paint and expose the color beneath.

Can you see the subtle hints of greige peeking out?

The areas that were sanded that did NOT have a resist applied will typically expose the wood beneath instead of the accent paint color.

The Abbey church pew is about 5 feet long, so it is hard to show the details and depth of color in a wide shot.

Here she is in all her glory, gracing the foyer as you enter my home.

I think of it as a loverly gift from my grandfather 30 years after he passed away.

The Abbey church pew is one my favorite things in my home.

I decorate it for the seasons and it makes a great place to kick off my shoes when I walk in the door after a long day.

It also reminds me that when something is meant to be yours, it will find a way to you [even if it takes years to make the journey].

Do you have a project or something close to your heart that you want to share?
Tell me all about it in the comments. I can`t wait to hear how loverly it is.

Save the project for later when you are ready to create your own distressed layered paint look.

I teamed up with some of my friends to feature projects that are close to their hearts, too.
Click on the link to view their projects.

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    1. Me too, I always wanted one, but could never the right one…well until this one found me! Don’t you love it when the universe sends gifts our way?

  1. Wow! What an engaging post. I’m so sorry you lost your home to a fire. That is one of my worst nightmares! Glad you recovered though. I have always wanted a church pew in my home. Currently, I have nowhere to put one eve if I could find one. I love the makeover – I would absolutely have painted it too. And the distressing looks amazing. I have never thought of using soap as a resist. Really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing this story.

  2. Love this! I have a pew that my great-grandpa made for a church and trying to decide to paint it or not. I love yours!

    1. Oh my, he made the pew? That is so loverly. When the provenance of a found piece includes family, it makes it so much more special.
      I can’t wait to see it!

  3. I have always wanted a church pew! What a great story. Happy to team up for this challenge and see all of the wonderful creations and stories.

    1. Thank you. This was a special case where the church pew actually found me. Sometimes the universe has a plan, and it can take 30 plus years to come to fruition.
      I bet there is a pew just waiting to find you. Please share it with me when you do!

      ~ Juliet

    1. It wasn’t THAT much work, but it is worth spending a little time on something to make it just as you visioned it 🙂

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