The Cottonwood
Workshop Blog

No 8 ~ A Refinished Chest of Drawers

Posted on October 27th, 2017

Around twenty seven years ago, I had just moved into my first unfurnished flat and my parents quickly sourced a number of items for it. One of which was this chest of drawers. Its been through the wars a bit since, the varnish cracking and was a bit water damaged in places. I’ve always intended at some point to re-varnish it, but never got round to it until now.

It didn’t match the dark brown wood with black that the rest of our bedroom is finished in. So one a refinishing job on one of the largest items I’ve attempted so far began

I started with the drawers. Though the original varnish sanded off very quickly, the veneer finish underneath didn’t absorb the dark wood stain evenly. I found it was better if I applied it with a natural sponge rather than a brush, it left a less streaky finish. A couple of coats of stain appeared to provide a sufficiently good base for the Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish to build on.


Its a truth of  decorating jobs, that once you emulsion a wall it will highlight the shabby nature of other paintwork. In the case of the drawers the rather stained and dirty state of inside the drawers. So I decided to paint the drawers interior with Farrow & Ball Portland Stone No 275. This made the process of painting and re-varnishing of the drawers far more logistically complicated than I’d at first planned. I tried to adopt a sequence where bye  I’d not be endlessly touching up edges or redoing varnish finishes. I didn’t entirely succeed in this aim.

The drawers took an age to do. So by the time I got to the cheat of the drawers I was looking forward to something a bit more straightforward. I varnished only the top. I chose to paint the sides and drawer edges and handles in Blackfriars Matt Black. The matt finish providing a contrast to the satin finish. However, I didn’t think it would take constant handling well, so I ended up having to apply Ronseal Matt Clear Varnish in order to improve its durability. On the sides of the unit it took several coats to get a uniform finish.

When I put the drawers in it became immediately apparent that the top three were substantially different in tone to the bottom three. I blame the poor light levels in my workshop, because I had checked this and thought they were OK. Any how it wasn’t hard to rectify, a further three coats of walnut varnish and it was sorted.


You are always more aware of the process of doing a job, and this often affects how you feel about the finished piece. I am quite pleased with the completed finish of the chest of drawers, whilst also being aware it went a bit beyond being a labour of love at times.

No 7 ~ A Refinished Crate

Posted on October 2nd, 2017

Once we moved into Winter we found we needed to set ourselves up for the colder months. Buy kindling, logs, smokeless coal, fire guard and irons. Rather than have kindling knocking around in a plastic bag, we decided to convert a crate we had into a holder for kindling.



The wood the crate was made from was quite poor and dry, as soon as I put paint on it soaked it up.  So first I pre-primed with a wash of diluted PVA to seal the wood. Then used my favourite paint of the moment, Johnstone’s All Surface Primer, that covers most surfaces, even old gloss paint and is water based to boot!


Then three coats of Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275, followed by two coats of satin varnish.  We wanted to line the crate, and used hardboard cut to size with hessian stuck to it with 3M Craft Spray glue, both back and front so the hessian would be seen through the slats in the crate.


I’m very pleased with the end result, which transforms a necessity into something that is quite an aesthetic thing to have in your lounge.


No 6 – A Refinished Display Cabinet

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

We bought this display cabinet from the British Heart Foundation shop for £15. The previous owner had attempted to give it a black laquer look by painting it in black gloss paint, in a rather slapdash manner.

dscn4232I removed the door handles, the small strip light and paint encased hinges, and began by sanding off the black paint. The original wood grain underneath was a machine made one so not very substantial. I ended up in places sanding more than the paint off. Once it was removed the surface took the Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 rather well, and the Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison as a finish.




dscn4233I intended to remove the fake leading from the glass doors. However, I tried a few solvents, and then a glass scraper. It was as tough as Teflon and hard baked onto the glass. It just wouldn’t budge, so it would have to stay. I replaced the original period style handles, with some more modern cabinet handles from Homebase, and bought new hinges.

No 5 – A Refinished Side Table

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.


This table shown on the left, is one of two side tables that we bought for £5 each from the British Heart Foundation shop. One had a dark varnish, the other a light varnish. We wanted to make both tables identical in tone, with a dark varnish finish that would match the rest of our furniture.  I took the top off from its leg supports. With both tables their was some remedial work required either on the table surface or the leg supports.


The varnished veneer of the table surface sanded off very easily. I then re-varnished with 4 coats of Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish, finishing off with 1 coat of Ronseal Clear Satin Varnish. The edges and underside I painted in Blackfriar’s Matt Black Paint, which is the hardiest, blackest, mattest paint there is. Its touch dry in half an hour, but hard dry after 16 hours, so you have to be patient, this paint will not be hurried.







The folding legs proved much easier to sand down than I initially thought. I decided not to re-varnish the whole thing, because the quality of the wood in the legs structure was poor. So I only varnished the outer facing edges with Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish, and used Blackfriar’s Matt Black Paint on all the interior structure. This maintained an aesthetic link with the table surface, whilst also creating a more uniform appearance to the rest.






dscn4235The Finished Side Table




No 4 – A Refinished Nest Of Tables

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

fscn4231When my Grandma died many years ago, I inherited a few pieces of furniture one of which was this nest of tables. Originally there were three tables, but one got lost in a previous house move.  The veneer was a bit battered and water marked, so I gave them a good sanding down before re-varnishing with Ronseal Clear SatinVarnish.

I took the base framework off in order to paint and wax it more easily, and to produce a neater edge between painted and wood varnished surfaces. The paint was Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 and I finished it with Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison.

No 3 – A Refinished Mirror

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.


This mirror we picked up from a Car Boot at Upper Sheringham Village Hall, for £10!  It was a simple varnished frame, with a beveled mirror. The frame had a few small dents and gaps in its mitre corners, which required filling. After a base undercoat, it had 3-4 coats of Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275, and 3 layers of Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison, to give the paint finish a richer lustre.


No 2 – A Refinished Coffee Table

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of furniture finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

dscn4226We picked up this coffee table for free off Gumtree. Its table surface had been much abused by a child with a blue biro. As the surface was only an oak veneer it required quite careful sanding to remove the biro marks without wearing through to the MDF beneath. The table top was then finished with several coats of Ronseal Satin Light Oak Varnish.

The legs and framework were painted in Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 and then waxed with Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison. A piece of the framework had broken in storage so it had to be reinforced by gluing/screwing a piece of plywood on the reverse, and filling the crack in the front before painting/waxing.


Learning How To Photograph Craft Items

Posted on November 21st, 2016

Neither of us at Cottonwood Workshop is a highly skilled photographer. Our ability to produce reasonable photographs of our craft items rests largely on having invested in a good quality camera; a Canon EOS 1200D. 

eos-1200d-angled-frontFor such novices as us. it was easy to gain a basic grasp of how to get a half decent shot. We spent time on taking a decent range of photographs, from simple clear product shots – front, side, back and close up, to more ‘lifestyle’ shots that show off an item’s aesthetic quality, style or use in situ.

We were able to pick up second hand an admittedly somewhat wonky photography tent. These can help reduce glare or shadow on items by diffusing light sources. We found it did need a white sheet backcloth to produce a fully seamless background. However, it did prove a constant struggle to prevent folds and creases in the cloth developing, causing shadows. Also our bedroom is the only space we have large enough to erect a photography tent in.  This can feel it is like, for an interminable length of time, having this ghostly white cube haunting the centre of our living space. It was proving a bit of a nightmare so we hardly use it now.  

We have tried to use natural light whenever possible, it produces better photos that need little digital adjustment afterwards. We often photograph outside, weather permitting, because our room has poor light quality. When we have had to do shoots indoors, we are constantly fighting with the tendency of ordinary light bulbs to yellow colours. You can re-balance indoor photos to a degree on a computer, though this itself can make more difficulties,eg what is good for making a background white and crease-less, can cause colour shifts in how your product looks, so its no longer a true representation. 

We have eventually come to the conclusion that pure white backgrounds produce photos that, though clear, are often quite unsympathetic to our products. This is particularly so when the colours or textures were quite subtly balanced. So for our Kaede range we experimented in photographing our cushions laid flat on varnished floors, and we liked the results. We’re currently looking to find different styles of background for both our Norsk and Natural Textures ranges.

There doesn’t appear to us to be one right way to photograph your craft items, its up to you if you use white spaces, outside locations or on textured backgrounds, its more important that there is a visual consistency to what you do, than what you do.

Z-NAT-Lifestyle (30)We are lucky to be living in a 16th century house,which can provide superb locations for photography. Our greatest challenge, however, has been in creating visually interesting ‘lifestyle’ shots. Quite often we’ve had to review our whole approach. Ideas can just become too visually complex or be beyond our skills to accomplish well. Time and again it’s the simplest idea or spur of the moment experiment that has tended to work best.


ZZPHOTOHaving a good well made product is foremost. Often it has not been until we’ve begun photographing an item that we’ve noticed a slight flaw or a shoddy finish, and we’ve had to redo it.  A camera can be very unforgiving, so it’s worth ensuring that the things you have invested so much time, energy and ingenuity in creating, will look as good photographed as you believe them to be.

Devising The Kaede Range

Posted on September 28th, 2016

Our first ranges were arrived at more by happenstance, examining what we had made so far, discerning what stylistic trends were present, and grouping them. These were gradually pruned down to three main ranges, plus another incorporating whatever was left over.  Over the following year we developed a feel for the inherent character of these ranges. All except for one which neither of us could quite get our heads around. What were we trying to achieve with it? What were its defining character or style?  This was our Earth Tones range, ethnic patterning, rich colours, deep and dusty, yet something about it never quite stoked our creative fires.

This year in late spring we started generating ideas for our Autumn range. We looked again at the colour pallet of the Earth Tones range, its rather large and unwieldy spectrum of colours. Perhaps that was the problem all along. After removing the obviously extraneous, we were left with brown, red, orange and ochre.  In our colours we do seem drawn to subtler colour combinations, stylistically tinged with a clean edge straight out of the modernist textbook. So the ethnic aspect of Earth Tones, seemed anachronistic, and a hangover from our previous work for Windhorse Evolution. It was out of keeping, so had to be ditched. On Pinterest, we started an Autumnal board to collectfor images that were in the right ball park colour or style wise. David wasn’t entirely convinced by the direction I thought might work. until I alighted on one colour swatch, which, paradoxically, was one he’d pinned that demonstrated what I meant.  It had a picture at the top of a traditional Japanese house surrounded by a rich spread of autumnal tones that is a characteristic of the Maple leaf, beneath it a complementary spread of colour swatches  in blood red, coppery orange, broken gold ochre, and two tones of warm grey.

The Japanese have a great fondness, if not obsession, for the period of Autumn. They organise trips into forests and visit ornamental gardens specifically to view the colour changes in autumn leaves. This formal viewing they call Momiji-gari, the dramatic change in colour that the maple leaf goes through is referred to as Kaede (pronounced Ky- ee-da )  By this circuitous route we stumbled across both the name and colour theme for our new Autumn range. Kaede, as a range, is all about the sympathy of its rich earthy colours and a simple clean lined minimalist aesthetic. Informed by its source material without being culturally imitative or appropriating, there is also something of the warmth and style of Italian design about it.

Its all very well deciding on a colour range, but then you have to find paints and yarns to match and coordinate across different materials. We’d previously decided to source and make things from better quality materials; to use 100% wool yarns, whilst still keeping acrylic yarns for use on specific items, for example. We did some research online, visited yarn shops, eventually deciding on King Cole’s ~ Merino Blend DK because its 100% wool, reasonably priced, with a broad range of 48 colours. It also had the colours we wanted.

Finding the right paint colours proved more tricky. Jnanasalin crocheted some circular swatches of the wool’s we’d chosen and armed with Farrow & Ball, Fired Earth and Little Greene’s paint swatches, we went out for coffee and cake in a local cafe. Farrow & Ball and Fired Earth didn’t appear to quite have the colours with the right amount of warmth we needed. Feverishly tearing bits of paper off colour swatches and comparing them against the yarns and our original colour range print out, we eventually settled on Little Greene. We could have selected from across different paint manufacturers, but felt it sent a clearer message if we stuck with one supplier. Little Greene, did have the best matching colours, their high density, superior quality paints are also environmentally friendly, which fits our companies ethos.

Having gone through this research and preparation, and the experience of developing our ranges over the last year, has meant Kaede came come together remarkably smoothly.  Now the range is launched we’ll have to wait and see what the response is like.

Developing Our First Craft Ranges

Posted on September 8th, 2016

In the world of craft its not uncommon to make complimentary items in a consciously chosen style. Usually the craft person has a well honed skill or their own distinctive style that is then applied to everything they make. When you are making things to sell, it is initially guided by these skills, a sense of style or taste and hope sufficient folk out there like it.  You learn what does and doesn’t work or sell. In the early days of Cottonwood Workshop, we had to discover for ourselves what our aesthetic biases, preferences and stylistic strengths were, as well as what sells.

As we’ve both worked in giftware retailing, we tend automatically to think in terms of colour-ways, styles and ranges, its in the DNA of how we approach things we do. The expectation is always for things handmade to be in some way unique, not mass produced or a slave to a fashion trend. Though there are definitely trends in craft making itself.  Craft work, as such, should never become soulless.  Each of us has to discover where our comfort zone is, where the middle way is between our vision and how the reality of it works out in practice .



We tried out different things for a few months, experimenting with ideas for what we might make. This was a little chaotic at times, and quite hard to tell where it was all leading us. One evening we pulled out everything we’d made so far and lay them out on our bedroom floor. Once we’d done that it was easier to see the direction we instinctively were being drawn towards.  We roughly grouped items into similar styles or colour palette, ending up with 4-5 groupings, provisionally giving them names like – Scandi – Natural – Nautical – Beach – Earth Tones.


Norsk Pins

We carried on working with these for a while, then realised we’d missed out an essential design stage – we needed to define what the qualities and colour ways were for each range. Otherwise it was all too easy to go a bit ‘off message’ and away from the general concept of them. We selected images for Pinterest boards, assembling ‘mood boards’ of paint swatches,yarns, textiles and photographs we thought captured the spirit of a range. Through this process it became clear five ranges was far too broad, we’d never develop each one fully. We dropped two, Nautical and Beach, the latter being for the most part absorbed into Natural.


Mood Boards

Mood Boards

That left us with three ranges – Scandi (which became Nord, then finally Norsk) plus Natural Textures and Earth Tones.  Anything else left or one off experiments went into Eclectica.  Preparing to launch our website, it was clear that Norsk and Natural Textures were the strongest, and most developed ranges. Earth Tones appeared to be still in the process of defining itself, eventually we rethought the whole range from scratch, ditching the ethnic emphasis. Eventually the Kaede range came out of this revamp.  We are always looking into broadening our product ranges. We’re also developing ideas for future ranges. Well…..we’ve started a Pinterest board or two.