Upcycling GDR Sideboard

Project #22: turning an old GDR sideboard in to a modern TV stand

So, we’re moving to a new flat and we needed a new TV stand. We had found an old coffee table and repainted it but now we needed something with more storage – but also something that looked a little more aesthetically pleasing. Ebay Kleinanzeigen (https://www.ebay-kleinanzeigen.de) in Germany is a great resource for those looking for handy items for the house and garden, and normally they’re as cheap as chips or even free if you’re lucky.

I found this old East-German style dresser and thought underneath the dark varnish and old-fashioned handles, there was a modern sideboard just waiting to get out. It only cost 20 Euro too and given there’s a large retro market in Germany at the moment for old school GDR stuff, we thought it was quite the bargain.

After my wife and I lugged it home on the tram and got a few stares, I set about checking out the damage. There were quite a few water marks and as you can see from the picture the handles were a golden/copperish colour. The flower handle was just a random choice added by the previous owner. To each their own I suppose.

It was really quite dark and wanted to clean it up completely. The best thing to do is use a really fine sandpaper – I used 120 grit – so you don’t take off too much too quickly. You could do it by hand obviously to be extra safe, but I threw caution to the wind and used my orbital sander and took it nice and slow.

You can see how good it looked compared to how we bought it after just a few minutes.

If you wanted to be more careful and use the original handles as it is I would suggest you take them off immediately before you start sanding. I didn’t care because I wanted to repaint them and only took them off when I couldn’t get close enough with the sander.

We always didn’t like the stumpy wooden legs so I cut them off with my reciprocating saw and threw them away. We would buy some pin legs off the internet and attach them later when it was all done. After it was sanded completely, we took it upstairs and laid it down in our bathroom and noticed there were some fresh water marks – no doubt from my drinking too close and spilling some. To get these out it’s quite easy, you just have to dampen the area and then blowdry it immediately with a hairdryer.

Next we had to choose how dark or light we would like the varnish to be. We chose some clear Danish oil, although it still darkens it slightly due to it being sanded etc, but we were happy with the outcome anyway. To apply you just need some rags, a well-ventilated area and patience. We did about four coats, waiting about 45 mins each time for it to dry before applying the next one.

You also have to dispose of the rags after you use them because wet Danish oil rags self-combust apparently and I’d read some horror stories of places being burnt down overnight because of it. You can either keep them in an airtight metal box – which we didn’t have – or lay them out completely flat and dry them out and then throw them away like that. Be warned – the oil stinks! Open all your windows! Mrs Clark didn’t like this part very much!

After it was dry, we ordered the legs and painted the handles with some metal spray paint and thought black would be the best option for a light-brown sideboard/TV stand like this and screwed them in to place. The handles were quite old and I had to buy new bolts for them but that didn’t cost much, perhaps 2 Euro or something. 

Another thing – you can see in the second to last picture there’s a gap where the middle drawer is missing. This is because eventually I’m going to buy a piece of flat board and cut a hole in the back of the dresser so I can put my Xbox One in and dangle the cables out the back. It’s pretty much the perfect fit for it and had to be done!

We spent 20 on the table, 10 on the spray paint, 30 on the legs and 15 on the Danish oil. Grand total – 75 Euro. We’ve seen these things go for like 300 or more, so we’re really quite chuffed that we found it and upcycled it. Timewise it didn’t take too long and even when waiting for our legs to be delivered it still only took about a week and a half and about 5 man-hours to complete!



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