Treading in a sea of good fortune


POSTED: Thursday, May 28, 2009

Treasures lost at sea aren't necessarily gone forever. Sometimes they wash ashore, waiting to be found by Michael Riley, who's drawn to whatever fortune the tide may bring. Even a lost love.





        ”;With a can of paint and an hour of time, you can have yourself a nice piece of antiqued furniture,”; said Michael Riley, who builds and refurbishes furniture as a hobby. He suggests starting with a garage-sale find or inexpensive, unfinished furniture. Although there are several ways to achieve a time-worn finish, he shares this simple technique:

1. Choose your paint. He prefers a flat pastel. Leave the existing color on the piece because “;the color underneath shows through and is enhanced.”; Or, completely paint it over and let it dry.


2. Apply the top coat with a paint brush or rag and let it stand about 5 to 10 minutes—not too long or you'll have trouble wiping it off.


3. Wipe the surface with a damp cloth. Depending on the look you want, rub off a lot of the paint or a little. Some people use sandpaper, he said. It's a different look, but just as nice.


4. When the paint dries, repeat the process to your preference with a couple of coats in different colors, which gives the appearance of having lived other lives in those shades. Allow at least three to four hours to dry between coats.




Riley's chosen field as a rough-and-tumble mason is in sharp contrast to his hobby of collecting nautical castaways as home accents. Had he not gone into construction, he might have taken up interior design—something he'll readily admit, even for the ribbing he endures from peers.

“;I always get the same reaction when they first see my place. The guys are either shocked and say, 'What are you, Martha Stewart?' or don't even notice,”; said Riley. “;But women say, 'Did you do this yourself? Where'd you get this? And this?' The women love it.”;

And for that, he owes thanks to his mother.

“;She inspired me; when I was growing up, she always had the house set up nicely,”; styled in modern contemporary.

The southern California native who works for Pacific Integrated Builders has called Hawaii home for 17 years, and spends much of his free time boating and surfing. His Hawaii Kai townhouse is a calm reflection of the beach, but without lauhala mats, bamboo or Hawaiian prints. Rather, his pad radiates a Cape Cod or California beach vibe with its antiqued furniture, ticking stripes and sea-worthy decor.

“;I call it the coastal-living or beach-cottage look.”;

There's a tale attached to it all. Lighthouse pictures, for instance, “;represent safety and being able to find your way home,”; and a shadow-box coffee table he made is a hit with his friends' kids.

“;Whenever they come over, they'll look to see what new things are there,”; said Riley. “;It's a great conversation piece.”;

His nautical collection began taking shape 10 years ago when he and then-girlfriend, Stephanie Dyment, were furnishing their home and concluded that furniture was either too expensive or poorly made. So he constructed what they needed, first a bed, and then some nightstands.

“;I built the shadow-box table, and when I stained it white, that was it, we started doing our place in that shabby chic, beachy look.”;

His treasure chest continued to grow even after they split six years later, and he's now starting to market some of his finds and handiwork, a sideline that grew out of his dislike of clutter.

“;When it gets to be too much, I've given stuff away.”;

People have discovered his wares mostly by word-of-mouth, but he's working on a Web site.

“;What's hot in Hawaii is the tropical/Asian/Balinese look. Nautical is found in small pockets.”;

Some of the more unusual finds, like a ship's portal window, were combed from his back yard in Maunalua Bay and the Hawaii Kai marina. Japanese glass floats were netted during a fishing trip.

“;When you spend as much time as I do around the ocean, you come across all kinds of stuff. It's the biggest playground in the world,”; he said.

Others were gifts, like a propeller from a torpedo-recovery ship given by a grateful client, and a helms wheel from a pal who found it on the Kapolei coast.

Savvy scavenging doesn't stop at the shoreline. An entry console dressed in a coat of white paint is a '60s stereo cabinet scooped near a job site.

“;When I plugged it in, it worked! It still had some vinyl records in it—an Elvis one and some Don Hos.”;

But the most prized find is an unassuming wooden plank that sits in the corner of his dining room as a sculptural piece.

“;It's a gangway I built so Stephanie wouldn't slip to get to our boat.”;

After they broke up, he sold the boat. She married and moved to California.

“;A few years later I was visiting a friend where (Stephanie and I) used to live and the gangway was gone ... but driving out I saw it sticking out of the Dumpster. Like it was meant to be found—by me.”;

The plank has a weathered-time look, refinished in tones of aqua and white, awash in ocean colors and memories.

“;It has the most meaning to me ... Stephanie, the friends who came on board, the boat-parade parties ... If that thing could talk,”; he said. “;I'll probably keep it forever.”;

Months ago, he learned his former girlfriend divorced and returned with her two children to be near family. He invited her over and “;when she saw the gangway, she recognized it right away,”; Riley said.

“;We're together again. She's the love of my life.”;

Contact Michael Riley at 368-1413.