Functional Art, Inspired by Nature: Many Thanks to Talented Ana White and Knock-Off Wood…

My new, home-built, farmhouse style work island, in my very own kitchen, (before finish oil)

Want to know a secret? I stash glossy magazines under my bed. And sometimes, late at night, I pull them out and let my fantasies run wild. Do you do it too? You know the ones I mean. The naughty catalogues taunting and teasing you as they spill out of the mailbox: Restoration Hardware; Pottery Barn; West Elm; and the incongruously named Design Within Reach, (not within my wallet’s reach, friends). The tables, bookshelves, lawn and patio furniture whisper like Greek Sirens from the Rocks of Financial Ruin: “Oh look at me, look at me – aren’t I pretty ?”. You want them. You need them. They make you ache inside. Then, you take a peek inside your checkbook and you know you can’t have them - four thousand dollars has three zeros Michaela, not two. Those beautiful designs are not within reach – or so you think, (well, so I thought, anyway). Then I stumbled upon Ana White, and her brilliant blog, Knock-Off Wood. Suddenly, I found myself shallow-breathing. OH MY GOD, I can make these things myself?  Where have you been all my life Ana White?

But I am getting ahead of myself. What does this have to do with The Gardener’s Eden, right? Time for some back-story. So, it’s winter. Yes, (go ahead, roll your eyes), you know that. And if you read this blog regularly, you also know that I really like to make and do things. This urge to create is long-standing. First I tried to build a fort from a dishwasher crate when I was a kid, (sad, but true). Then I moved on to a tree house, (dismal failure). You see, my dad is an amazing gardener, but he’s never been much of a carpenter. And my mom is great with sewing and knitting, but I am not so sure she is familiar with a jig-saw. So, along the way to adulthood, I found myself picking up a little bit of this and a little bit of that in high school wood-shop class and from handy boyfriends. Gradually, I learned a few basic carpentry skills, and eventually I picked up some power tools and a passion for homemade things. I assisted with building various structures, from raised vegetable bed planters to rose trellises and even a garden shed. I was hooked. Then, my crafty compulsion blossomed into full-blown, do-it-yourself mania when I bought a piece of land, and designed and built my own studio/home. As the general contractor on my building project, I learned a great deal about how things work. And, I was fortunate to find a team of carpenters willing to let me work along side them, (thanks guys)!

Yes. I have had a bit of experience building things; big things even. But until last week there was one thing I’d never tried to do: design and build a piece of furniture. And boy do I really, really need furniture. Fortunately, I regularly read, (and adore), a blog called Young House Love. A few months back, authors John and Sherry featured a do-it-yourself furniture making site called Knock-Off Wood, written by the generous and talented Ana White. A stay-at-home mom and homemaking Alaskan, Ana describes herself as “obsessed with furniture”. And lucky for her readers, she definitely is! Yes, take one look and you are sure to notice that Ana is beautiful, but she’s a lot more than meets the eye. Ana is smart as a whip, (I think she’s a complete math whiz), and she is also one talented carpenter and furniture designer. Plus, her blog is ultra-approachable, tons of fun and easy to use. But here is the best part of her blog: she posts self-created building plans for some of the most coveted, name-brand furniture items… for free. The woman has single-handedly restored my faith in humankind. You must visit her site, even if it’s just to dream. Ana considers our moral support, (spread the word), our thank you –  and it’s also her motivation.

So now, this brings us back to my kitchen island, and to last week’s three-foot snow storm. Take another look at that farmhouse-style kitchen island at the top of this post. That island, (minus the two very handy drawers and added middle shelf), retails for nearly $3,000 from a certain catalogue company. Want to know what it cost me to build, (using sustainably grown and harvested douglas fir)? Just $165. Yes, you read that right. One hundred and sixty five dollars. That’s less than the cost of shipping and handling, and/or tax on the original, RH-inspired item. Ana posted two designs on her blog, and I fused them into one. The dimensions and basic building plan was taken from Ana’s W.S. inspired kitchen island design and the salvage-style and construction details were taken from Ana’s R.H. inspired farmhouse table. This island took two days and two sets of hands to build, (thank you Billy!). Warning: it’s not a beginner project. But plenty of the beautiful furniture plans on her site are suitable for beginners. Ana has created a “bragging board” and “suggestion board” on her blog and on her Flickr® site, (this island, and many other reader-built projects are featured there), where you can find and/or upload home-built examples of her plans.

So, just to bring this full circle –  Ana has really inspired me to get on some garden-related building projects to help The Gardener’s Eden’s readers. Some of you will remember that late last summer I posted plans for home-built hoop-house cold frames. Basic carpentry skills and building projects can really open up your gardening options, (think vertical, retaining, etc.). So what’s up next? Well, hopefully there will be project plans for trellises, planter boxes, raised beds, potting benches, outdoor furniture and more. Yes, I have some big ideas. And if Ana posts anything for use in the great outdoors, you bet I will link it here for you, because The Gardener’s Eden is a huge fan of Knock-Off Wood.

Thank you Ana White of Knock-Off Wood !

Knock Off Wood


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32 Replies to “Functional Art, Inspired by Nature: Many Thanks to Talented Ana White and Knock-Off Wood…”

  1. Condo Blues

    I love DWR and salivate every time I pass the store. After talking about it forever my husband went in the store with me. His first question was, “In reach of WHAT?” Needless to say we did to leave with the Nelson bubble lamp of my dreams…

  2. Ana White

    Hi Michaela, can I just say that you are amazing? You have a beautiful writing style, and your island is stunning. Thank you so much for this post. Ana

  3. Michaela

    Thank you Ana. You truly are my hero. Now we need an electrician in the community to help Condo Blues, (above), with her Nelson Bubble Lamp dilemma!
    xo Michaela

  4. Christin

    I too have *recently* discovered Knock Off Wood and had a similar reaction – even thrift store furniture seems overpriced/overrated now! I can do it myself! and I will…
    I’m so glad I found your site (via Ana’s happy referral), because I also love to garden! Can’t wait to read more of your site!

  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Wow! Love your island! Fabulous colour and the grain is just gorgeous. It looks as smooth as a baby’s bum – can’t wait to see it with the oil on… Could you post more pics once it’s finished, please?

    Thanks also for the link to Ana’s Knock Off Wood. So many possibilities – where to start? And a DIY Furniture show on TV? What a great idea! There is no substitute for actually watching someone while learning: a carpentry apprenticeship on air… You gotta love it!

    Oh and you were speaking of building plans for the garden, how about some for bat houses? They’re #2 on my list(s) of important garden creatures, right up there with pollinating insects (my fuzzy honey bees being #1).

    I’m so excited!

  6. Michaela

    Thanks Julie. I used it to spread out everything and make my pancakes yesterday!

    And Deb – yes – I think Ana White is amazing. And yes again… garden projects on the way.

    Bats are wonderful. I like to name the ones I see flying from my roof in spring.

    xo Michaela

  7. Carolyn

    What a joy to find your website, and then find the link to ‘Knock-off Wood’ in just a few minutes! You are both on my blog list now. The island is beyond stunning, congratulations on the accomplishment- and is it normal for someone (meaning me) to start swooning over kitchen accoutrements? If only I had the space, if only I had the space…

    It is finding websites such as yours and Ana’s that keep me from driving the car right off the bridge in these last days of winter. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Maybe now I’ll finally finish that lil’ ol’ garden hod I almost completed back in November…

  8. Michaela

    Well hello there Carolyn,
    Welcome! Nice to hear from you. I’m sure glad you went to Ana’s site. She is a genius and quite a fabulous personality.
    And thank you for the compliment on the island. I actually had quite a good time prepping breakfast there this morning. It’s amazing what a difference it makes. Ana has lots of wonderful smaller-spot plans.
    Glad to provide you with a bridge abutment. Stay between the yellow and white lines and I hope to see you soon.
    Happy Gardening! (and maybe building?)
    xo Michaela

  9. Lillian

    Just linked over from Knock Off Wood and had to tell you that this island is AMAZING!!! Just what I’ve been hoping for – definitely going to try to put this into action:)Thanks so very much for the incredible inspiration!

  10. Michaela

    ;) Hi Lillian. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m so happy that Ana has created and posted plans for this project, (heaven knows I never could have done the math!), so that others can create this great island. I think it would also make a great shop table or potting bench – very affordable if made from inexpensive pine or reclaimed/salvaged wood. Knock-Off Wood is one of the best resources I have found anywhere, and Ana is one inspirational and generous woman. We are lucky indeed to have found her!
    xo Michaela

  11. Billie

    Michaela, that is a gorgeous creation! I have to ask you though – what did you use to hide the nail holes? I can’t seem to find any on that island! Whenever I try to use wood fillers, the discoloration between the fillers and the wood makes it even more noticeable after staining than if I’d just left it alone.

  12. Michaela

    Hi Billie. Thank you. Ah – ha. Good eye to notice that detail. Yes, we countersunk the fasteners with a countersink drill-bit, (see Ana’s plan), and then we created plugs with a shank plug cutter, (a great tool for finishing wood stairs, floors, furniture, etc). The plugs were made from a scrap piece of the douglas fir and then glued into the countersunk holes. If you like that clean look, it’s a great tool. But if you can’t afford to go that route, then you could always use hand forged nails. I have an old trunk with old-style nails, and I love it.
    Good luck and have fun :)
    Here is a link to the tool we used, $25 at Amazon for assorted size plug cutting bits:

    ( Vermont American 16595 3 Piece 3/8-Inch, 1/2-Inch, and 5/8-Inch 1/4-Inch Shank Plug Cutter Assortment )

  13. Leslie

    I am curious as to how you went about finishing this piece. I really like the more flat finish you have going on here. Even with a few coats of matte finish on my piece it still ended up shiny/glossy. My boyfriend mentioned maybe using an oil based finish on my next piece but I’m not really sure what that means and I’m think, from the looks of it, that you might. :) Beautiful job. I wish I had a house to put something like this in. *sigh*

  14. Michaela

    Hi Leslie,
    Your boyfriend is right. I used two coats of raw linseed oil, applied with a rag. Each coat dried for three days. Then the top is finished with a beeswax rub to make it water-resistant. I also finished my hand-poured concrete countertops in a similar way… using a polished carnauba wax finish. Oh yes, building your own house is a lot of work… but so very worth the effort. It’s a great experience, and you will save a small fortune if you can find the time. Good luck. This island isn’t a beginners project, but it was easier than we imagined going into it ! :) xo Michaela

  15. Patty D.

    I know the island is the star of this photo, but I love the shelves you’re using to store your wine and wine glasses! Did you make those too or where did you get them?

  16. Billie

    Thank you for sharing the shank plug idea with me! I’m going to get these to try to hide some nail holes for my next project. I think they’ll save me a lot of money and frustration in the long run over using wood fillers! I can’t believe I’d never heard of them before! Thank you again, Michaela!

  17. Michaela

    The wine rack/shelves/glass storage in my kitchen are units from the P.B. catalogue a few years back. Those would be super easy to make out of pine with a simple satin paint finish. The metal wine glass hardware, (hanging), can be purchased online, and I am pretty sure that you can also find them at some better hardware stores. The back of the shelf has two parts… one piece is a mounting strip that is screwed to the wall, and the other piece is a matching strip on the shelf, which slides into the mounted strip on the wall. I know I have seen that hardware online too, (floating shelf bracket hardware). It would be fun to make more. I sure wouldn’t bother buying them again. They are definitely a beginner project.
    :) Nice to hear from you Patty.

  18. brooke

    I linked from Ana’s brag board. Not only is the island constructed beautifully, I came to your website looking for info on how you got such a beautiful finish on it so thanks for posting it on a comment above. A lot of the diy brag board projects on Ana’s site don’t look quite polished because I guess it takes a little more know-how than I posess to finish/paint them with a “wow.” Well done on your island’s finish – it really looks expensive too.

  19. Courtney

    Wow, it’s absolutely lovely. I’m green with envy. If we only had the space our tiny little condo! Your writing is so fun to read. . . I loved this post!

  20. Michaela

    Hi Allisha, sorry for the delayed response… I am back to gardening work now that the snow has melted! That stool was made by the dreaded PB. I got it at a tag sale, and wanted another but they were discontinued. I won’t buy anything from them anymore after the bully-incident w/Knock-Off Wood. But – I have seen some similar stools at the Sundance Catalog Website. Warning: they are not cheap. I must learn how to WELD :) You might try trolling Ebay or Craigslist for used stools? (just a thought). I am looking for 2 more now myself.
    :) Michaela

  21. Michaela

    Thank you Courtney. You know, you could make a smaller one… or a rolling cart based on the design. But you will have to be good with the math, (um, not my forte!).
    xo Michaela

  22. Michelle

    I would love to see some pictures of the top and construction of it.. i’m in the process of deciding of what to put on the top of mine. I was thinking of a mosaic top or a sheet of stainless steal

  23. JoAnn

    Looking at the Island, I enlarged it and could see kitchen cabinets behind it.
    Do you have plans for the kitchen cabinets? I agree with Michelle and would like to see pics of the top and consider a different top. I just discovered you site and love it. Thanks!!!

  24. Michaela

    Hi JoAnn, Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoy the site. Although I built this kitchen countertop, I used plans from Knock-Off-Wood, and I am going to refer you to that site for details and top options. I don’t have a close up shot of the top posted anywhere on the site at the moment… though Ana White has details on how to build it. By cabinets, I imagine you mean the shelves on the wall? Those were not built by me, but were purchased from Pottery Barn. Ana may have plans for similar shelves on her site. I would check there first. The lower shelves are custom, built-in units we built consisting of lath and plastered 2 x 4’s. They actually are no cabinets in my kitchen… it’s all open shelving. Ana’s site is amazing, and you will find super-detailed plans there. Good luck! Thank you so much for stopping by!

  25. Shannon

    Hi! Ok.. thanks for posting.. my husband just followed Ana’s plans and built this today.. we went to home depot and bought wood. Can you tell me in simple-step by step – how to make mine look like the top picture on here? Can i buy what I need at home depot? We are beginners!

  26. Michaela

    Hi Shannon, Congratulations on building the kitchen island! My kitchen island was built with Douglas Fir. Part of the look of the island is the beautiful color of that particular wood (quite like cherry, with more red undertones as it ages). After sanding –plus brushing down and using a tack cloth to remove dust and residue from the surface– we rubbed linseed oil over all surfaces with a rag. Be careful with those linseed oil rags (we know someone who suffered a house fire after leaving linseed rags in a trash can where they spontaneously combusted). The linseed oil will take awhile to dry (a few days). We then went over the surface a second time with another coat of linseed oil, applied in the same manner. Good luck and enjoy your kitchen island! ;) M

  27. Kate B

    I don’t know if you still read responses on this or not but I would love to see more pictures of your kitchen. I am having someone local custom-make your island for my kitchen and will eventually need to have a piece built for my sink and would love to see more pictures for inspiration!

  28. Michaela

    Hi Kate, I’m happy to hear that the photos have inspired you! I do occasionally publish photos of my kitchen —mostly when writing an article with a recipe— but mainly, this is a garden-centric blog. I will keep this in mind though, and next time I post a food article, I’ll try to get some photos in of the counter area (it’s plastered open-shelveing with a hand-poured concrete top). My kitchen looks sort a bit modern, French-country. Good luck with your renovation! M

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