I wanted a walnut type finish but after four coats of an oil-based stain, I still wasn't happy with the results. Oil-based stains are not nice to work with in my opinion. The volatile chemicals in them require wearing a NIOSH mask and because it's important that the piece remain dust-free while you're staining it, you basically must stain your work indoors, but because you need really good ventilation, the only truly safe place you can do this work, is inside the garage with the doors open. And then after each application it continues to stink for hours. I love the look of stained wood and will try a water-based stain next time I have the hankering for that look. I also like how easy it is to work with and the changing nature of it. If it's not what you envisioned, you can always add another coat.
Finally, I bought a can of walnut spray paint and dusted over the stain with the paint. Then I sanded once more with 120 grit and ended with two coats of an indoor semi-gloss coat. It still needs a colorful pillow or a basket of books beneath it, the window needs some sort of curtain header and the wall, which is recently painted needs pictures and perhaps a floating shelf or two or three...but here it is in the home it was built for.
Here's my lovely bench sitting in the garage back in April, waiting for me to finish it.
Kevin was patient about not parking in the garage for two weeks and didn't make a big stink about my unfinished project that was taking longer than expected. The plans for this bench come from Ana at Knock-Off Wood. Mine is modified to fit a much smaller space though. I wanted a bench to fit at the end of this little-used hallway where there's a nice window view. I recently painted the hallway with Sherwin-Williams "baguette" in Harmony, which is a no-VOC paint, and plan to hang some pictures and redo the trim work in the hall, which I discovered was plastic, sometime this month. Then perhaps it will truly be a finished project!
Update May 22, 2010: Here is the bench in its finished reading nook.