I first spoke with Maria Tarapacki in February when we selected the Elmwood Village home she shares with her husband, Tom, as a Home of the Week.
She mentioned that she was refinishing and repurposing a very old piano into a desk. Yes, you read that right.
On Monday, I received an email from her. She was “finally finished” with this gargantuan project. Refinishing the upright’s 88 keys was just part of the project.
Her email described the piano's transformation, step by step. Thoroughly impressed, I immediately called her. She was happy to share the details of the project with other readers and provided photos as well. Here is her email:
“The inspiration for the desk was to create a fun, creative work space for my husband, Tom, who is a writer. Our dining room table had become a temporary ‘desk’ for Tom and the area wasn’t conducive or practical by any means.
“This upright piano built in 1896 had been in my parents’ finished basement in East Aurora for 30+ years and before that for many years in our living room in West Seneca. My sisters and I had piano lessons on it and my parents’ grandchildren loved to bang on the keys when they were little. It had sat silent in the basement for a good 10 years and was beyond tuning. Dad was getting ready to throw it to the curb and I said ‘Wait, I can do something with that!’
“Just taking it apart was an enormous undertaking; my son Jon was a great help. All the wires had to be removed carefully; the tension on them if cut improperly would have taken an eye out. During the course of many weekends this past winter, we took it apart piece by piece and transported it back to our house in Buffalo.
“The remaining part of the piano was the heaviest. The back of it was built so thick and with such heavy wood it was difficult even on wheels to move it across the basement floor and impossible to maneuver up the basement stairs. At that point I was ready to give up the idea of making it into a desk. We ended up breaking the back of it apart and discarding most of it just to get it out of the basement.
“All the salvaged pieces were now at my house and I had reservations about reassembling it. But I went for it and as I began to piece it back together, ideas came to me, such as stabilizing the missing back with a bulletin board. I found one with a wooden frame the exact width I needed and screwed it into the sides.
“The inside of the piano where the shelves are was a bit rough so I decoupaged ragtime sheet music that I gave an antiqued finish to in Photoshop.
“The shelves are made from various scrap left over from the piano. I choose the paint color to match the antiqued look of the sheet music and when I turned the color swatch over and saw the name, I thought how fitting. It's called ‘Buttered Popcorn.’ The ¼-inch thick piece of glass over the refinished keys for the desktop was cut by Aurora Art Glass in East Aurora. They polished the edges, and it really showcases the old ivory keys I was determined to refinish, all 88 of them. The wood part had 100+ years of dust ground into the wood that needed sanding and the ivory was polished up with toothpaste. I polished the black keys with a wood oil.
“Tom now has his own space to write, surrounded by his treasures – his globe collection, bobblehead dolls, family photos – and a copy of his book 'Chasing the American Dream: Polish Americans and Sports' sits on the shelf of the piano.
“I hope this will inspire somebody else to repurpose a piece of furniture everybody else has given up on,” she said.
Here are the photos she sent. You can see how the project progressed:
* Take a look back at the Tarapackis' home when it was published on Feb. 27 as our Home of the Week. We also added a few new photos to the gallery.