Prone to create: Birthday chair for Natalie

Am I the only one who stresses out about what to get a one-year old?

As one of my best friend’s daughter approached this milestone, I knew I wanted to do something special for her birthday. Perhaps I felt an unusual sense of responsibility on this one because I had told Natalie’s mom and dad that I was going to block off my calendar for the week that Natalie was going to be born. Natalie’s mom and I have been close friends since first grade, and I was in Natalie’s parent’s wedding, so it only seemed appropriate to be around to welcome their first child into the world. Instead, I left for a 10-day trip to the Philippines the day that Natalie was born and received news of her arrival and a picture via text message as I was boarding a plane in Detroit bound for Manila. Clearly I’m not getting any awards for honorary uncle of the year.

I had lost ground that needed to be made up. I’m not a natural gifts person, but I figured “how hard can it be to wow a one-year old?

I knew that Natalie already had plenty of toys and would be getting more to celebrate her birthday, so I didn’t want to go that route. The same went for clothes. Books are always my go-to with kids because there are several books that I still have from when I was younger. They seem like things people hold on to for a while. But I didn’t find any books that I loved, so I kept searching.

It should be noted that all of this contemplation took place the night before Natalie’s birthday party. If it sounds like there were agonizing days and weeks leading up to this gift decision, that certainly wasn’t the case. The truth is that I had been traveling, once again, and didn’t think about it until I was on my way to my hometown for the party.


Then I began to think through other things I still have from when I was younger, and I noticed a small, unassuming, though significant small chair. The chair is almost 30 years old, and was a gift from my late aunt when I was likely very close to Natalie’s age. She had my name painted on the chair, and when I grew out of sitting in it, I kept it as a chair for toy animals and eventually backpacks and briefcases. I knew I didn’t have time to do something exactly like that, but I figured I could pull off something similar. The challenge would be to personalize a mass market product.

What better place for something like that than IKEA?!

I drove to my trusted IKEA store on a Friday night (evidently because I’m a masochist) and looked through every single child’s chair available. My original plan was to iron Natalie’s name with appliqués onto a small upholstered arm chair, similar to what I’ve seen elsewhere. But no such chair existed, so it was on to Plan B: I found a simple white chair that I knew would fit well in Natalie’s room. Then it was on to Walmart for some paint and brushes. This was getting serious.


It should be noted that I’m more used to painting rooms than names on chairs. I have a tendency to overestimate my abilities when it comes to executing plans, particularly ones with high visibility like cooking untested new dishes for people and personalizing gifts. Eventually, I’m going to crash and burn and learn my lesson about trying out new things on unsuspecting people, but I press on for now.

Once I got to my parents, I typed Natalie’s name on the computer and printed out several different font options. Once I found one I liked, I drew out a level line on the back of the chair and started painting. After a few coats, this plane white chair had been turned in to a special gift that I was happy with.


The next morning, I added some books and tied it all with some ribbon and made my way to the party. I’m sure Natalie was more enthralled with her plentiful toys, and I can’t blame her for that. But the real feedback came from the other mom’s who loved the idea. Mirror, mirror, on the wall…


In the end, I was very excited about my last-minute gift idea. I feel like it’s something I could easily do for other friends kids (especially since I’m a LONG way from any of my own), but I’m not quite ready to start taking orders yet. I’d love to add some creative elements if I do this again in the future, like sports things for boys, or flowers or My Little Pony for girls. (Is that even still around?)

What are the things you’ve been given in the past, maybe even as a child, that are still significant to you? Do you like choosing gifts for people, or does it stress you out (like me)? What’s been your best last-minute gift idea?


5 thoughts on “Prone to create: Birthday chair for Natalie

  1. Pingback: Prone to plan: 2014 resolutions and goals | Prone to wander

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