Most kids’ toys and their garish primary-color schemes are not the most aesthetically pleasing to look at, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When designer Leanne Ford received a hand-me-down Cozy Coupe, that iconic red-and-yellow bubble-roofed ride-on car, from a friend (hers was actually from Step2 and was originally pink and blue), she thought to herself, There’s gotta be a way to make this good-looking. So with the help of teammate April Lawrence, who led the project, Ford figured out a way to completely transform the look of the ride into something that wasn’t an eyesore. “Kids’ things take over the house; they’re never just stuck in their little playroom,” she tells us. “Now every time I see it, which is all day, every day, I love it. I still love it over a year later.”
In terms of the colors she picked, Ford simply wanted it to look “old-fashioned” and went with a black exterior and camel-brown “leather” interiors. “April went above and beyond and put the little leather stitching in and did it on the steering wheel, too,” says Ford. “I didn’t even think of that. I thought that was the best part.” And if you’re feeling iffy about painting over your child’s favorite color, don’t be. “We don’t have to be a perfect parent by getting your kid everything in their favorite color. Your toys are in my house, so I get a say sometimes,” she jokes.
Below, Ford takes us through step-by-step instructions on how to give your little cruiser a new paint job — and a new lease on life, as it were. You can apply this process, quite literally, to any number of cast-off items and hand-me-downs, too. (It also makes an easy, creative, and inexpensive gift from a crafty, say, uncle.) “Anytime I pass a thrift store now, I’m like, What can I get and actually make it look better? All of these hand-me-down kids’ toys don’t have to go to waste. They can live another life. We redo our kitchens. Why can’t we redo our play kitchen?”
Prep your vehicle
First, you’ll want to prep your vehicle and your work space. “Using a combination of soap and water and an old rag, remove any dirt, grass, you-name-it, that is left over from the car’s previous life of off-roading in sandboxes and running over toes in the kitchen,” says Ford. If you’re starting with a brand-new coupe, the same applies. You’ll also want to protect the ground by using a drop cloth or laying out flattened cardboard boxes.
Sand it down
These plastic cars are usually pretty slick, so sanding down the surface will help the paint stick “and not just chip off down the road.” Ford says that any old sandpaper you have lying around will do, but they used these blocks in 120 grit “so that the surface still stayed pretty smooth.” After you sand it, you’ll want to give it another wipe-down with a wet rag to remove any dust that remains. Then let the car fully dry.
“Using this spray paint in a semi-gloss sheen, we thoroughly coated every surface of the car and let it dry for 15 minutes before adding another layer,” Ford says. When you’re spray-painting anything, you have to be careful not to overspray, she cautions. “You want to apply it in quick, easy stripes. Start with light coats so it doesn’t drip.” You’ll want to do this three times to make sure you have a nice, even coat. Then let it dry.
Prep for detailing
“Using classic painter’s tape, tape off any areas you want to customize. We added detail to the seat of the car, the steering wheel, the wheels, and headlights,” says Ford. “You could even add a license plate!” If you feel confident in your free-handing skills, you can skip this step, she adds.
“To create the look of leather seats, we used this spray paint in an ultramatte sheen. We sprayed it directly into a bowl, dipped a paintbrush in, and hand-painted the spray paint on like you would with any other paint. We did the same for the headlights, wheels, etc., using different colors of spray paint,” says Ford. Before you choose a color, make sure the spray paint is meant for plastic.
To finish, use this clear spray topcoat meant for plastic to seal the whole thing. Ford even painted the wheels, which have been used indoors and outdoors. “The wheels do get a little more scuffed up if it’s used outside, but you can touch them up if you need to,” she says. Ford’s daughter played with it on the sidewalk and inside for over a year, and the paint has held up and hasn’t transferred onto the floors.
Now it’s time to have fun and customize it with bumper stickers and whatever accessories you like. Ford’s daughter’s ride sports an El Cosmico bumper sticker (from the hotel in Marfa) and a “Yellow Submarine” sticker (in homage to her favorite band). “It’s now fully her own cruise mobile,” says Ford.
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