“lebensmittel” & the man-made shelf

by | Apr 18, 2016 | Before and Afters, Furniture Makeovers, Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint | 14 comments

I find my furniture-loving eye lately enjoying more primitive and humble pieces than I did even just a year ago.  There was a time that anything curvy and flouncy stopped me in my tracks, but now I love more simple lines and looks that are a bit more casual.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good turned leg and appreciate the curves of a bergere chair, but there is something about simple pieces, that can even be a bit crude in their construction, that tugs at my heartstrings.


Take this little “cubby shelf”…  When it was brought to my studio, I looked at it and said, “A man clearly built that.”  Many men build beautiful things, but it was obvious to me that this was built by a man who needed a shelf, probably in his garage or workshop, and banged this one together.


I can picture his wife, looking at it with her hands on her hips, lips pursed.  “Very nice, honey.  I think you should put some paint on it or something, though.”  The man obliges and paints some battleship gray on just the most visible parts of the shelf.  “There.  Now it’s painted.”

Maybe this shelf has a totally different story, but that’s the one I imagine.

We painted it in three coats of Farmhouse White (the wood really soaked up the paint).  It chipped in some places, mostly where it seemed something oily had been stored or spilled.  We roughed up the edges a little as well and sealed everything with matte Tough Coat.


It could be a stand-alone shelf, but it really works best as a hutch-top of sorts.  For this photo shoot, I paired it with a table painted in Grain Sack.

The table was actually one we painted before, but it wasn’t really “playing nice” with the other things we had to take to Lucketts…


…so, we painted it all in Grain Sack to give it a cleaner, fresher look that blends a little better with everything else we have for the market.


As I started collecting things to style the piece, it turned into a pretty “laundry room”.  You know, one without plastic laundry baskets, boxes of detergent, dirty clothes, and actual washers and dryers!





The box is a heavy metal crate with latches on the lid and “lebensmittel” stenciled on the front.  It means “food” in German.  I knew “leben” meant “live” and the word was familiar, but I had to look it up in the end.


It was really dirty and rusty, so we cleaned it up and sealed it, inside and out, with Tough Coat.


Now, I wouldn’t store food in it, but at least it’s clean and could be functional for some sort of storage.

It was a beautiful weekend, which I took advantage of to get the yard cleaned up a bit.  Something about the sunshine and warm air has me even more motivated than usual to get in the studio and get some more things knocked out for the upcoming market.

Just to clarify, since Lucketts has a lot of different sales happening, I will be at the Lucketts Spring Market, May 20, 21 & 22, 2016.  I’ll share more details about when, but I will be there all three days along with all of the stuff I’ve been sharing about over the past few weeks.


  1. Jennifer

    I know I’ve said it before, but I am SO EXCITED to see you, Kriste, and the rest of the Mustard Seed crew this year at Lucketts! Keep up the hard work and I’m sure it will pay dividends 🙂

  2. DeAnna

    Good morning Marian, I really love how your paint transforms tired furniture into such beauties. The colors are the best! The Lebensmittel box was a fun find and looks great with all the other accessories. Have a great day!

  3. Melissa from HeyGirlfriend.Net

    What a great post! A fresh look at something that was once surely banished to the garage. I love that you decided to style the shelving unit as a laundry room hutch, a great idea! Today, your writing reminded me of a fashion story.

  4. Jessica | Petal + Ply

    Perfect styling!!!! My husband just built a similar crude 15 minute shelf for a work buddy that needed a little extra storage. Sometimes these crude pieces slapped together to serve a purpose are the best. I really love the design of the one you found. And it looks great with a complete paint job.

  5. wendy

    I’m a bit crazy about that Lebensmittel box. It reminds me so much of one that my German grandmother had and I have no idea where it went after she passed. I love the precision of German – that Lebensmittel means food, but literally translates to “life means” Wish I lived close enough to go to Lucketts

  6. Marlene Stephenson

    I am the same way i like the curves but that simple home made stuff is grabbing my attention these days. Love that old German box. I hope you will have a good time getting ready for the sale.

  7. Iris

    Being German, I love the food box, of course. I wish that it could talk and tell us it’s history. Could it possibly be from a time during the war?

    • marian

      That’s my guess, that it’s from WW2. It’s a very heavy metal.

  8. Sue Pagels

    I have to say that your Luckett’s prep is my favorite time of year and I can’t get enough of the posts, even though I am not able to go 🙁 If I lived closer, I would be there in a heartbeat! I think I need to order some Tough Coat – sounds pretty interesting. I do have a hard time with the paint though, nothing EVER chips very much for me!! I bought the little paint mixer and that works well! Some day something WILL chip!! 🙂

  9. Naomi S.

    Amazing. How could a crudely-made old shelf like that suddenly be so appealing?
    It must have been the magic hands of Miss Mustard Seed! You have great vision, Marian! You know, I think our imaginations are such wonderful gifts! To be able to see the possibility in a thing or situation or task is such an incredible ability to posses. We are wondrous creatures when you think about it, aren’t we?

    Looking forward to seeing more of the “for Lucketts” pieces!

  10. Janice Flynn

    Oh, so funny! Clearly built by a man, yes! My father was an inventive MacGyver of sorts and he made all sorts of things out of scraps – and he painted everything in his workspace battleship gray. I still have his old tackle box that he painted in that very color. I think your “history” of this piece is more accurate than you know. And your title of “Lebensmittel and the Man-made Shelf” sounds like a good title for children’s book to me. But I love how you repurposed the shelf. It’s nice to know that there are still people willing to make use of even the simplest and crudest of old things. 🙂

  11. Becca

    Thanks for clarifying the Lucket’s dates, I was wondering why I was seeing different dates. I just ordered your Grain Sack paint and was happy to see it painted on your table today. The color appears to have a wonderful, soft feel to it.

    Thanks for all the inspirations and explanations of your projects!

  12. Amy

    LOVE it. I’m right there with you. Love the grain sack choice!

  13. Mel

    What a great find! I love your blog… it’s always so lovely and refreshing!
    This caught my eye, not only for the beauty of the piece, but also the name. My husband’s family name is Smittle. We know of an ancestor, Jacob Smittle, presumably from Germany, who started in PA, to eventually settle in Ohio.
    Imagining the lives of these historic figures and using the same pieces in our homes, that they made and used, enriches our own lives.
    Thanks again for brightening my day…


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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