Girl Walks Into A Bar Cart

This morning Sean and I went to the gym, an accomplishment which is really deserving of its own post—as well as a medal for the both of us for finally getting off our butts for the first time in eh, let's not go there—and on the way back, we detoured past a sign that said "Estate Sale" just a few blocks from our house. Now, I don't know about you, but there is nothing that gets my pulse quickening faster than a sign that says "Estate Sale," except maybe a sign that says "Estate sale! And everything is fifty percent off!" which this one didn't, unfortunately, but hey, you can't win 'em all.

If I'm lucky, Sean will accommodate maybe one "Pull over! An estate sale! Can we stop, can we stop?" request a month—the rest he just rolls his eyes at and mutters "don't you own all the junky vintage furniture in the world already?" and this goes for dumpster dives too, whether I have just spotted a mint condition Eames lounger on the curb or not—so I knew I had to use it wisely. A quick perusal of the estate sale's potential—three floors, lots of cars parked outside, including a hovering cab—convinced me it was probably worth cashing in my pull over card. So we pulled over and I ran in, promising Sean that I'd be back in five minutes.

Two seconds later I texted him "OMG, it's amazing, you have to come in."

I always feel a little weird at estate sales; basically, someone has died and you are now walking around their house, looking at all their stuff. It feels disrespectful, honestly, to be poking around in the closets of the recently deceased. I try and rationalize that all of their beautiful, well-loved things are going to go to new homes and be enjoyed again by new people, but there's something rather sad about it all the same.

This estate sale, nevertheless, was a goldmine. There were some nice things in the living room and the kitchen, but the jackpot was the garage, where I could easily have poked around for an hour. It was like the set of Mad Men exploded all over the place, but not the obvious stuff like the furniture or the clothes, more the mundane things like board games and stain remover and Christmas lights. There was a label maker, completely new in its packaging, from the early 1960s. There was a bottle of Baileys whose label suggested it couldn't have been produced any later than 1975. I picked it up. It was still half full.

We had, to our name, eleven dollars. Actually, Sean had eleven dollars, I didn't even have my wallet at all, just my YMCA card, which I was pretty sure wouldn't count as actual currency. We could have run home, of course, one of us standing sentry by whatever must-have item was going to put us out more than eleven dollars while the other foraged in the drawers for the emergency cash and ran back, but sometimes it's good to set yourself a limit in situations like these. I'm pretty sure I could have wreaked some serious havoc with fifty bucks in my pocket and nobody needs ten bins of old records just because the cover art is pretty.

(Actually, I would argue that I did need them, despite the fact that we don't even own a record player, because I vaguely suspect that deep down I have the beginnings of the hoarder gene. I'm sure I could psychoanalyze myself and say that I like stuff—the collecting of, the accruing of—because I moved around so much as a child and lived in impersonal boarding school dormitories with minimal belongings for seven years, but that would probably just be a cop out, or at least part of a cop out. I think I just really like stuff because I really like stuff.)

Still, even with eleven dollars—which reminds me, I still owe Sean eleven dollars—we made out like bandits. For a buck, we bought what is now my new favorite book of all time, "Global Geography," whose pages are full of gorgeous full-color maps and illustrations, and whose inside flap has a publication date of 1949: 

But the real prize was a bar cart, which I spotted three seconds after walking into the garage and made Sean stand next to—WITH HIS HAND ON IT, JUST IN CASE—while I tracked down the guy running the sale to ask for a price. I was seriously in love with that bar cart. I told myself I would pay forty bucks maximum for it, and that I'd just run back to the house for cash.

"Ten bucks," said the guy when I brought him down to the garage, where my dutiful husband was patiently standing guard.

"Done," I said, handing him the cash. He seemed a little disappointed that I hadn't bargained. 

Here is a picture of the bar cart, and also of my naughty cats trying to escape my front porch. It doesn't look like much here, I know it—and trust me, it looked way worse in the cluttered garage, covered in piles of junk and, for some reason, mounds of powdered laundry detergent—but there's potential there, and we're going to do her up right.

I spent a few hours this afternoon getting started. First, I put the bar cart in the driveway and hosed it off to get rid of all the dirt and grime and random particles of laundry detergent, which at least made some rather pleasant suds despite the fact that they were probably manufactured during the Reagan administration. Then I dried everything thoroughly and went to town on the rusted chrome with a big can of Brasso. I was actually pretty amazed at how well it turned out.

On the left: rusty chrome. On the right: brand new shiny chrome!

Then I took it upstairs, where my cat Charlie—ever suspicious of new objects in the house, specifically whether or not he might be able to eat them—immediately jumped on top of it to claim it as his own.

Mother, this is marvelous. Can I fix you a drink?

But now here's where I'd love to ask you something. Do you think I should paint it? The wood—which may look nice and rich from afar, but which I am pretty sure is just thin wood paneling—is a little beat up in spots and definitely needs a bit of love.

On the one hand, I could just sand it a little, stain it a little, and leave it at that, which would be nice in that it would be a) easy, b) fairly authentic-ish, and c) the same color as our TV stand, which will be to the right of it, but on the other hand, it could look amazing in a bright color like yellow or turquoise (which would match a lamp in the room) or Chinese red (which would match our side tables.) Or what about white? Or even gold?

The options are endless, and I'm curious what you think: leave it au naturel or pep it up a little? I await your verdict, paintbrush in hand, car pointed in the direction of the hardware store.

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it! You know you want to.

Sep 19, 2011

Oh, God. Paint it. I love wood, but I ALSO think it would fabulous in a bright color over that design. Either way, can't wait to see what happens!

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it! I think it will really bring out the details in the cutout shapes. Love!

J.A. from Amsterdam
Sep 19, 2011

Paint it a bright color immediately :)

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it a vivid colour!

Sep 19, 2011

I say paint it. My first thought is either brilliant or brilliantly tacky: paint it a glossy black, then paint the inside of all those geometric shapes a bright white to make them really stand out.

I love the idea of painting it Chinese red, too.

Sep 19, 2011

I say that since it's probably just junky wood paneling, paint it!

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it! I love the idea of a glossy white or aqua, or maybe orange.

Kristin Huston
Sep 19, 2011

Paint it for sure!

Sep 19, 2011

Yep. Paint it.

Sep 19, 2011

I may be a little too "old school", but I would sand it and try to stain it. If it turns out to be crappy panleing, then go all out and paint it. If it had to be painted, I like the idea of a nice glossy Chinese red. Lots of luck though!! :)

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it! I love yellow! And green! Or turquoise!

Sep 19, 2011

Will the paneling come out? What about recovering it (gently) with some fabric? It could be seasonal - or change with trends!

: I'm seeing a....Chevron pattern...

Great scores!

Anna K
Sep 19, 2011

Ok, I am going to stick my neck out here and say; stain it. It's a beaut, this one. It's a beaut because it's OLD, and OF ITS TIME. I worry that if you paint it, it'll come out like mutton dressed as lamb - ie: too trendy, or like something from Bo Concept. But then I know bugger all about interior design...and you do like a red, don't you?

Sep 19, 2011

You can always paint it later - clean it up a bit and leave it wood. It's an amazing piece - can't believe it was only $10!

Sep 19, 2011

Dude. I'm going to propose something that might be a little scary, but I've totally done it and have come through to the other side. HOT PINK. If you want the statement piece (and it's small so you could get away with it), something that will be different than everything else in the room, paint it HOT PINK. I took an old, carved, wooden trunk (dragon) and spray painted it hot pink. It is the only hot pink thing in my living room and looks completely rad. The juxtaposition of the ornate, rather masculine carvings and the pink is unexpected and lovely at the same time.

Good luck either way. It's a great piece and I don't think you can lose.

***Don't know about CA, but my state has monthly auctions of stuff state agencies are trying to get rid of to make room for updated office furniture and filing cabinets and other such stuff. These have been a GOLD MINE for mid-century chairs and desks and filing cabinets. Bought a 1950's school desk at one for $5! (Am in the process of painting it now!)

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it. No question.

Sep 19, 2011

I would definately go with everyone on the Paint IT! Some bright and cheerful color.

Venita Michelle
Sep 19, 2011

PAINT IT! The retro cutouts will still stand out, so you won't be altering the aged look too much. I think high gloss white or turqoise would look amazing! Also? Turqoise reigned big time in the 60's; I know because my grandmother's home is still fully decorated in 60's decor, all of which are some shade of turqoise or gold.

Sep 19, 2011

I say stain it. When watching Antiques Roadshow they always look in horror at things that are painted. If it doesn't look good you can always paint it.

Sep 19, 2011

I wanted to tell you that we had the mother of all estate sales this past spring (in-laws lived in a house for 50+ years and never through anything out) and I can assure you that the family is thrilled that these things are going someplace other than the dumpster. By the time the sale is open to the public, the planners have had the family in several times looking at things that they think might be sentimental or precious so we've taken everything that means anything to us. The rest (I'm looking at you every TV they ever owned from 1956 on) is destined for the dumpster if people don't take it.

Sep 19, 2011

Betsy Draper would (have her housekeeper) paint it!!

Sep 19, 2011

paint it! a high gloss red! swoon!

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it! Bright yellow! Those quatrefoil cutouts will look awesome in a pretty color.


I LOVE IT! I would stain the surfaces, but paint that paneling. If it weren't for the chrome, I'd go gold on the sides, but I think any bright color would kick butt.

Sep 19, 2011

Paint! I am envisioning turquoise, but you know best!

Sep 19, 2011

What an awesome find! Can't wait tosee what you decide to do (I generally lean towards paint myself).

Sep 19, 2011

definitely a bright, clean white. not the handles on top, but the side cut-out panel area. trust me. i'm a doctor.

or not.


Sep 19, 2011

I agree with Lisa...yellow for the win!

Sep 19, 2011

paint it! it's going to look amazing.

Laura B.
Sep 19, 2011

seems like i'm in the minority, but i say stain it!

Sep 19, 2011

I love the idea of it being just the stained wood. However, the idea of it being painted (yellow, of course) would make it just absolutely the best thing ever.

On a side note, I too went to an estate sale this weekend. While in one of the up-stairs bedrooms, an old music box started to play on its own. The whole scene was so hauntingly beautiful and insanely sad. I had one of those "and this is what it all comes down to" moments compete with tears in my eyes. And then I left with my beautiful cut glass bowls to add to my final scene one day.

Sep 19, 2011


Sep 19, 2011

I vote for painting it as well. It looks amazing!

Sep 19, 2011

The bar cart is fabulous and I vote for painting it a fun color.

My favorite part of this whole post though is the picture of Charlie with his little paw hanging over the cart and your caption about making you a drink. I just giggled to myself for five minutes.

I don't know's just so adorably funny to me!

Sep 19, 2011

Agree with Anna K. Stain it with an option to paint it later if you don't like it. It's worth it for something old and precious.

Sep 19, 2011

When you mentioned this on Twitter, and I pictured it in my head, I saw it as Gold.

So I vote for paint it gold! Or yellow. Or any colour really, but definitely do paint it!

Sep 19, 2011

i'd love to see both outcomes! but please not red or white, that's just so unoriginal!

Sep 19, 2011

I vote for paint!

Saucepan Man
Sep 19, 2011

I'd say stain it if you're keeping it in the main room. Slightly darker than the current brown. The room is elegant; brightly painted wood would detract from that. If you want more color, put colorful things on it.

Sep 19, 2011

I say paint it but not a bright colour. its going to have plenty of colourful bottles with labels etc on it, right..?

If it was mine I'd paint the top handles charcoal grey, the outside cutout pannels mid grey, and the INSIDE of the cutout panels a dove grey. It'll look so sophisticated against the silver..(I think so anyway!)

Whatever you do with it Im sure it'll be gorgeous - cant wait to see it!

Sep 19, 2011

Two words: Hot Pink. (Seriously)

Sep 19, 2011

Paint it!! Yellow. Or white!

Sep 19, 2011

Turquoise, baby!

Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 19, 2011

I love hot pink, but it's definitely out because there's a lot of red in that room! Choices are really yellow, red, turquoise, white, or gold. Oh man, I just thought: GOLD LEAF. Ahhhhh, too many decisions.

Amy Louise
Sep 19, 2011

Paint it turquoise! Please, please PLEASE paint it turquoise. It would make my week, given my obsession with turquoise things.

Sep 19, 2011

My vote is to paint it -- I was picturing it in gold the whole time I was reading your post and thought "Is she going to pain it gold?" And now, I see you're considering it. Definitely, do it. Gold leaf or gold paint all the way, baby.

Sep 19, 2011

i think you should paint the barcelona-esque sides turquoise. but i would paint everything turq if i could ...

lastly, good eye!

Sep 19, 2011

Ooh! One of my favorite flea market finds of the last year was a similarly vintage bar cart. We spent a couple of hours brasso-ing it like crazy and it looks great now. Sadly, with a baby a few weeks away, I'm afraid we may have to move it to storage in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway, about YOUR bar cart. I wouldn't paint it. Definitely go with a stain and keep it authentic looking. if you do paint it, though, go dark — like midnight blue or black or very dark brown. Please don't do turquoise. It's a wonderful color and it has its place, but a bar cart is not it.

Sep 19, 2011

Can you paint the inside a turquoise and stain the outside? With the turquoise showing through the insides of the cut outs?

I can suggest harder alternative since I am never the laborer (thanks to my handy boyfriend)

Sep 19, 2011

Hmmm.....I think design sponge has a lot to answer for. Some things deserve and need a splash of high gloss paint and a makeover but not everything. It is what it is and I think it will lose some charm if you attempt to contemporize it. Its the dark wood next to the chrome that makes it brilliant. Fill it with booze and glasses and sit on it charlie is doing. Listen to your cat, he's trying to help you!

Sep 19, 2011

I say stain, but I'm very lazy. I also fear it might look like a reproduction if you paint it. And you want people to ask the question that invites the answer 'FROM AN ESTATE SALE FOR TEN BUCKS!!!', if you are, as I am, a compulsive discloser of price when anything is a bargain. Good find.

Sep 19, 2011

The first thing I thought when I saw it was PAINT IT GOLD. But maybe leaving it the original color and then putting a gold tray on top would do the trick? Either way, I LOVE IT.

Sep 19, 2011

I was going to say turquoise, but clearly 50 other people have beat me to it, so now I'm changing my mind and say fuchsia all the way baby.

More seriously, au natural is probably the best - it has all the charming and vintage-y touch to it. You have to count my vote as two votes, on account of originality, because I made up the word vintage-y.

Sep 19, 2011

What a fabulous find! And before you even said a word (wrote a word?) I was thinking, "That would look awesome painted!" So YES!

Sep 19, 2011

I like the idea of painting it red or turquoise. I keep thinking, "red, red, RED" but since everyone is saying turquoise, I could compromise!

I say paint it. I tried sanding something that I thought was solid wood...and ruined the table! It wasn't any more than a thin veneer. :( Go for something maybe.

Sep 19, 2011

1. you don't own all the junky vintage furniture in the world, because you weren't at my grandmother's, picking through things. however, you and i combined? totally do. (i will have to email you at a later date with pictures, as i have already bored my friends and family witless with my Love of Old Things)

2. i have never heard of brasso. my recently acquired rusty chrome thanks you.

3. your description of the estate sale was my grandmother's house, minus the third floor and garage, plus a basement of great-grandmother things, moved to new england.

i vote not painting it, but you have fabulous taste, so i trust your gut better than my own.

Sep 19, 2011

i am shocked by all the "paint its!". i vote for stain it. i say keep it to its original, there was a reason you were drawn to it.

Sep 19, 2011

Gold! Goooooold!

Sep 19, 2011

Even cooler than the picture you sent me! I definitely think mixed metallics.

Once I spied a fur coat in a charity shop, and I decided to go back and buy it after class and was willing to pay all my birthday money for it, like £100, and when I got there and asked how much it was..... only £10!!!!!

Sep 20, 2011

Paint it!

Sep 20, 2011

I say pep it up a bit! And, dare I suggest painting it in your beloved turquoise? I think it would look divine!

Sep 20, 2011

Okay, so. Two more words: Gold Leaf!

Stephanie S.
Sep 20, 2011

Before I even read that you were considering painting it I thought to myself that it would look awesome in turquoise! Do it!

Renee from GA
Sep 20, 2011

Normally I am a paint it red girl, but in this case I love glasses/coctail napkins/serving pieces so much, and liquor bottles usually come in cool colors and shapes, so I would stain the wood paneling dark and let the things you put on the cart stand out. Either way, what a cute find!


Maybe paint just the panels and leave the two surfaces wood tone? My vote is turquoise, either way. ;)

Sep 20, 2011

I would paint it a really bright color I think...especially if it's just cheap wood paneling. Awesome find!

Sep 20, 2011

Paint Paint Paint all the way baby!

Sep 20, 2011

turquoise or charcoal paint! re-finishing & staining is a big risk when it's a veneer or composite.

Sep 20, 2011

Oh, you have to paint it. Completely. Something really bright and a little shiny, but not too shiny, and just awesome. I would say like yellow or green or something (light green) but that might be too much, since you are into turquoise and all and that wouldn't match. But don't stain it, it is crying for color!

Sep 20, 2011

This comment is a million years too late (SORRY, BABY) and echoes many other but...paint that side stuff. Turquoise! (Obvs.)

I am so jealous that you seem to always stumble into the most awesome finds out there. Here in the suburbs, it is mostly Ralph Lauren circa 1995.

I should just send you a check and tell you to personal shop for me.

Sep 21, 2011

Awesome find! I would probably sand and then stain it, that way if it still needs pepping up, you can go forth and paint it. I think it's stunning either way. And also now I need to go buy that de-ruster because WOW.

Sep 21, 2011

Replace the flimsy, horizontal wood panels with glass. You can get them custom-cut for not much. Think of the increase of sparkle, when you put your glasses and bottles on it! Then paint the side panels with the cut-outs in turquoise or red, or gold or silver. Now step back, and it belongs to the ages.

Sep 21, 2011

I already commented (turquoise!) but after reading Jenertia's comment I am thinking how sexy that cart would look painted turquoise and then adding glass (or a mirror)to the top of the cart so as to avoid water (liquor) stains. Glass would let the beautiful color shine through and protect the paint...can't wait to see what you do with this fabulous find!

Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 21, 2011

Oooh, I like the idea of glass! Or maybe even MERCURY GLASS. This is a problem, you guys: too many brilliant ideas.

Sep 21, 2011

I can see how it would be awesome to paint it, but I would leave it the way it is or fix it up with a similar stain. It's a beauty of a find! I have been obsessed with midcentury modern stuff for a lonnnng time, and I'm not sure if I want to celebrate Mad Men for bringing it back or curse them for making the prices on everything skyrocket. In any case! $10! For an amazing bar cart! No matter what color it ends up. I'm jealous. :)

Sep 21, 2011

I actually am in love with the idea of painting the top and bottom parts a high glossy white, then leaving then staining the sides. I just love the look of dark wood and glossy white together! I feel like it will keep the character of the piece if you keep some of the wood. Whatever you do, it will definitely look great! It's a great piece and all of your options will still make it amazing :)
P.S., I read this entire post with it as 'bat cart' instead of 'bar cart' for some reason for some confusing reason!

Sep 21, 2011

Oh now that I'm reading the comments, if you can't stain the sides, then I think staining the wood on the top and bottom and painting the sides glossy white would look great. You'd still have the high glossy white/wood look which look awesome together. I can't wait to see what great idea you end up picking!

Sep 22, 2011

I vote sand it.... stain it... leave it. Preserve that timeless slightly used quality! Good luck!


I think you should try Morgan's (of Brick House fame) wood fixer-upper process, which doesn't require staining and see how it looks. If it still looks crappy, then paint it. Although I tend to think that once it's polished up, you can add the shots of color through your accessories (like a bright red lacquer tray, those cute tiny Coke cans, yellow tonic bottles, etc.). and I love the idea of old mirror glass cut to fit on the bottom shelf.

I'm such a waffler.

Sep 29, 2011

I'm normally a leave-it-as-it-was person, but in this case, I say PAINT!

Sep 29, 2011

Don't (if you haven't already) destroy an antique with paint. You can get a stain/wax finish at Lowes or Home Depot. Clean it with Goop and a toothbrush, let it dry, and apply the stain EXACTLY AS DIRECTED. You will be proud of the piece forever, and it will be a real conversation starter, not an envy ender, as it would be in some gaudy color. I have done this to some old pieces, and the results are absolutely stunning. You won't be sorry.

Oct 02, 2011

Thies piece is crying out to be yellow! crazy bright glossy yellow...

Alicia C.
Oct 04, 2011

My very first thought (before I'd even read further) was paint it turquoise. But I do love the wood/chrome mix. However, if the wood is in bad shape and staining it wont fix it, then I say paint it. What an awesome find! I need to start trolling yard and estate sales. Just not something Ive added to my repertoire yet.

Lisa Frick
Oct 04, 2011

Red on the outside surface, Lemon Yellow on the inside and the cut edges turquoise.

Oct 08, 2011

Paint it! It would look fabulous in a bright colour like turquoise (my favourite!) or yellow.

Beth Morrow
Nov 18, 2011

Nothing says love like Turquoise...and this baby needs some love! Can't wait to see your finished product!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

Just to make sure you have a pulse
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.