Friday, October 31, 2008

What we'd do with $100...

Helpful Advice for Home Construction Improvement, a blog with a lot of tips and answers, is giving away $100 Home Depot gift card. We can enter the contest more times if we make a post about the contest and tell the world what we'd do with the cash.

So here goes: Paint, paint, paint! We are pretty well done with our big giant building/infrastructure type projects. We've decided that our next 3 projects are the three bedrooms upstairs: the Animal room, The Bamboo room, and the Fruit Room (our room, there's no fruit wallpaper but there must once have been because 'Fruit Room' is written on the backs of all the drawers in the built in, in old fashioned handwriting). We're optimistically thinking of getting all three revamped over the winter, except for stripping the window sashes (too cold!).

Despite the fact that we do like the vintage bamboo paper and that the animals have a cult following, we really need to do a different wall treatment - the papers are torn, stained, and not everyone digs the tacky kitsch. Plus, we tore the hell out of some things when we re-wired everything. So we'll do some muted blue green, brassy-light green, and probably an off white - all with creamy trim. The $100 would pretty much cover all the paint for all 3 rooms, plus some paintbrushes - though I've managed to not destroy one nice cut-in brush over the past couple years.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now we can see in the kitchen sink...

...for better or for worse! That sink needs cleaning. This was a busy weekend, but then my job-work got cancelled Sunday due to a rain/windstorm, so I had a bit of free time. I finished putting together and wiring the light fixtures, after having assembled all the bits & pieces.

Assembling the right bits was a challenge - after a few failed attempts to get the rid threaded rod (called nipple) and then getting the right stuff but the wrong mounting bar, then finding that the right bar was for the smaller (now standard) 1/8" tapped rod, I went to our local hardware store and raided their lamp repair section, and found lovely brass reducer couplings and the correct threaded rod & plate. Geez, what a pain. This was my first real light restoration, so I'm pretty pleased with the results.

The main part of the fixtures was from ebay (see previous post; God they were ugly!). The shade fitter rings were from a separate ebay auction. They're Hubbell rings, very nice. The shades (all 4) were from a third auction, in which the seller happened to be located about 3 miles from our house -so we went & picked them up. The guts were all replaced - socket (though we kept the brass housing, just replaced the actual socket & cardboard insulator), threaded rod, mounting plate, and wiring.

Then, we got our lamp cord in Fedex on Saturday - although you don't see it much on this fixture, I have another fixture to do where it will run down long chains - so we were testing it here, and using it because you do see it a little bit. The wire is from Sundial Wire, in Western Mass., and they are super-nice. We got their sample pack a year or more ago - all their wires so you can see what they're like (in the little bag in the middle). We picked the gold rayon-coated twisted wire, and it's totally fab.

So, on the rainy Sunday, Ken took an hour off from his busy work tasks and hung the lights, wiring them into the kitchen system. Nothing like over-the-head work, but his arms are recovering. Here they are, it is soooo bright in there now!

Turns out, several thousand people lost power because of the storm Sunday, so we were pretty lucky that we didn't so we could do this project!

Monday, October 27, 2008

I love this!

Key rack. Brilliant! How wonderfully simple. And easy to make, I hope, since we'll be giving it a shot. We are the collectors of lots of spare keys, for various reasons, and need to store them somewhere in the mud room. This looks friggin' perfect! Love it! Why doesn't IKEA make this?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mistakes? What mistakes?

We're not actually that productive right now, we're just catching up on blogs. We finished the planter box for the deck a couple of weeks ago, and I kept forgetting to take an 'after' picture till after dark. I remembered today! So here's the planter, which covers all the awkward mistakes and transitions on the deck. The deck is a funny shape and we had a corner with multiple levels and multiple angles, so we did the great cover-up.

We grabbed these shrubs at the end-of-season sale at the big box - 75% off! - just to fill in. These were $4 each, less expensive than the mums we already had. Love those sales!

We also put in some rock to complete the half-round shape of the deck-patio complex since the stairs ended up more square than originally planned.

Deck - check! So nice to cross that off. And nice to not fall off the rickety, crappy old porch all winter. Blech - glad that's gone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


You know how sometimes you procrastinate and procrastinate and then you finally get off your ass and realize that it probably took more of your time & energy to procrastinate than to do whatever it was? Yup, that's me on this lighting project for the kitchen.

We bought 2 of these lights off Ebay about, oh, 2 years ago. These were the photos they were sold with - they looked absolutely hideous but for something like $15 for the pair, and with those Bungalicious square loops (the diamondy-shaped connectors) staring at me, we took the chance.

We immediately tossed the clown bulbs (who puts these things on a nice old fixture - or anywhere? Bozo?). Then I got a couple of old Hubbell fitter rings & adapters off Ebay. Those are hard buggers to get your hands on! Then I stuck them in the 'to-do' cabinet (dining room buffet, where else do people keep all their miscellaneous house hardware and metal parts? Duh!). Then we found pretty shades (4) and re-did the kitchen. I also managed to get, on interlibrary loan, this old book about rewiring light fixtures, and photocopied the relevant parts. That was last summer.

Then we re-did the kitchen, leaving 2 holes where those lights would eventually go. The holes are all fitted with nice new work boxes and wired up, ready for the fixtures. We found and installed a center light - this one is vintage but someone else fixed it up & rewired it. We paid a bit more, but I was not very confident in my non-procrastinating, so we went the easy way. Anyways, we installed that guy recently and used 2 of our matching mission-style shades, and it looks awesome. See the 2 holes in the background?

There they are again. Taunting us. Where are the fixtures? Are you ever going to finish? We look pretty tacky, just holes in the ceiling. Hello?

So the first step was to take apart the lights and clean them, then we'll re-wire, replace sockets and the threaded rod, and install. The cleaning was what I had been so lazy about. Ken tested out an old piece of brass we had with the Dremel and a buffing wheel, and it worked great. That was about a year ago, mind you. So last night, I got everything together and sat down to buff. Buff like the wind! The buffing didn't work real well, so remembering that I had just brass polished the heck out of some hooks for the mudroom, I decided to just try that.
First, I checked to make sure everything was solid brass. Everyone know how to do that? It's a simple physical chemistry problem. If a magnet doesn't stick to it, it's solid. Scrub away! If a magnet does stick, it's brass plated over steel. Don't scrub, be very careful not to take the plating off. Easy enough. I used one of Beth's super-sticky-mini-magnets (love them!) to check - and we were golden. Or brassy, I guess. I could scrub to my heart's delight.

The goop came right off, polishing it up to a gorgeous shine. There are some very minor polishing marks, but I really don't care - they're easily buffed out so we won't worry. So from this pile, we'll make some lights over the next couple weeks (waiting for our vintage style lamp wire to arrive):

By the way, you might wonder why we are polishing the brass to shininess - when we're so into patina. Well, the pieces were in really, really bad shape, and had all been scraped, scratched, painted, and tarnished in odd, irregular ways. The idea is that you polish them at the beginning, then let them patina again (it won't take long). The key with brass is to keep your fingers off - the oil from fingertips will make them tarnish in funny polka dot patterns. So if we can keep our mitts off, we should have a nice even patina soon enough.
And I can't resist listing this site, where those interested in the history of light sockets should go, post-haste. There's also plenty of info about fixtures and other bits of lighting history.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lions and tigers and chairs, oh my!

Remember this chair? Good ol' Blue velvet?

Turned out, this was the easiest refinishing project I have ever, ever done. Unbelievable.

I was in the cellar throwing in a load of laundry, and since we had already ripped all the crud off the chair, I figured I'd take a piece of sandpaper to the finish and see how terrible of a job it was going to be. I already had decided that sanding should be the way to go - it was not painted and had very little dirty old varnish on it. I don't usually choose sanding over stripping, but it just seemed right.

Well, in about 5 minutes I had all the finish off of an entire arm, so I did the other arm. Then the legs. Then the gorgeous back splat (bent oak! Does that take some chutzpah or what!?) Before the laundry cycle was even done, the whole chair was cleaned of varnish.

I tried my best to find something loose that needed gluing or tightening, but no dice. The only missing bit was a wooden button that went over a countersunk screw, and I have plenty of those. So I popped that in there, and then grabbed the stain & headed outside.

I used Jacobean - typically I've been using one of the very dark walnut stains, but this was totally it - I'm a convert. It's just like those old fumed oak finishes - provided you leave some patina intact and don't sand to bare wood. Check out the gorgeous flake in this oak - goes great with our famous (well, infamous) animal room, no?

Then some tung oil and it was ready to add the seat, which Ken & I had been working on reupholstering for some time. It's a canvas-webbing type drop in seat, so after we removed the icky pillow and the old stuffing which looked like a combination of cotton batting and hay (no lie!), we put on new webbing, stapled some canvas over it, and then stapled on new fabric. It actually took longer to do the seat than strip the chair. And look at that wallpaper, for cripes sake. Is it cripes or cripe's or cripes'? I find all three spellings in the literature. Is cripe a person? If so, should it not be capitalized? Anyways, I digress. It's - the wallpaper's - gotten such a cult following that I'm not sure we can rip it down. Maybe we can sell it on Ebay. I bet there's even a Jesus or a Virgin Mary lurking somewhere in one of the animal stripe patterns...hmmm...Regardless, I find it slightly frightening that this chair looks so damn good in there. Maybe my subconscious picked fabric that matched the wallpaper. What's up with that?

Kudos to the Peirce Furniture Co. of Boston, who made a chair about a hundred years ago that was structurally in perfect shape in 2008. Now that's quality.

Another chair refinishing success story is here. You guys do rock!

Friday, October 17, 2008

End of tourist season

Wabbit season! Duck season!

Kidding, that is one of the best scenes ever though, no? Here in Maine, it goes from mud season to black fly season to tourist season, the long tail end of which is just wrapping up. Fall is the season of 'leaf peepers', people unlucky enough to live in places where the leaves don't change color and fall, so they come up here to see what it's like to be in a place where everywhere you look is stunningly gorgeous. This is about the last week of peeping season, and foliage is at its peak in our neck of the woods.

How fortunate, then, that we're just had our last guests of tourist season - my folks & an Arizona-based aunt & uncle. How fortunate also that it rained yesterday, and not today - the day I had planned to head down to the Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory. When tourists come up, we locals get to do the tourist stuff - and though it's been open for a year, we hadn't yet gone to the bridge. This was the day, and was it awesome. The observatory is only open for a couple of more weeks, but it was a great time to go - nice & cool and few other folks visiting. Plus the foliage was incredible. We also went to Left Bank books, where I got a great cup of tea (in a china cup, no less) and we wandered around looking at their excellent inventory. One of my favorite shops, and Searsport is just a great little downtown spot.

It's the tallest bridge observatory in the world. A bit like the Washington Monument plunked in the middle of the new suspension bridge in Boson, it's a very cool deal - you take an elevator up 400 feet (where it reads that you're on the second floor!) then climb a couple of flights to a glass observatory where you can see 360 degrees, all up and down Penobscot Bay. Quite beautiful. Here are some shots - the glass made some of them less impressive than in real life. Some are of the old bridge, still standing but unused, right next to the new bridge. It's 1931 versus 2006 - kind of an interesting juxtaposition.
Also, this pretty sumac was on the riverbank. In fall, even the overlooked shrubs can be sublime.

Thanks for a lovely day, Mom, Dad, Lanie & Richard! Happy trails...and now we're into the season called "get ready for winter" season. Time to button up the house and get out the hot cocoa.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Je t'adore, door

The mudroom door has been a long, slow project. But very enjoyable, nonetheless. The key item was to strip off the white paint (big suprise), but there are loads of other tasks to do when you're restoring an exterior door, it turns out. Here's our list of things we did to bring this door back to its former glory:
  1. Remove from hinges and remove the glass window. Take off all the hardware. Sometimes I've been lazy and thought, nah, I'll just do something in situ - but I've learned to just take things fully apart and fix them, then put them back. It does seem to save time in the long run even though it seems like a pain at the time.
  2. Rip strips of fir, bring to cabinet shop to get more of the window stay moulding made that was destroyed when taking out glass.
  3. Strip all the paint. Then fill holes, sand to feather in scuffs, clean anything else.
  4. Stain the door.
  5. Strip all the paint off the hardware.
  6. In our case, we then put it back on (security issues), temporarily filling the glass void with OSB. Ken fixed some 'wallered-out' holes where the hinges attach to the frame using the old toothpick trick.
  7. We soon got the moulding strips back, stained them, and then re-glazed the glass window. This is Ken's specialty.
  8. Puttied any remaining holes.
  9. We had a long waiting period (other projects), but now we've varnished the door with spar varnish. Man is that stuff thick! 2-3 coats. For the second coat, I used a foam brush, which was much better than bristle - it went on thinner and a bit more even, perhaps. The door is now gleaming.
  10. Weatherstripped. We used spring bronze, recommended by Joe. It seems to be working and is very authentic indeed.
  11. Added hardware and a kickplate. The kickplate arrived via UPS literally as I was varnishing the door! The nice UPS man saw me with the brush and politely told me he'd leave the package on the deck. I told him that the package was a gift for that very door! Ah, it was meant to be, ma cherie (wait, is door a feminine or masculine noun? La porte, right - feminine. Of course).
  12. And, added the second of our two knockers.

I think it's done and ready for snow to pile up.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fall fantastic weekend

Fall is in the air. It's been chilly. You know it's getting cold when the dog breaks out the hoodie! How cute is Ed?

Anyways, this weekend was a very varied and productive one. After I returned from Boston late Friday night (thanks for the accommodations, C, A, and Gus!), we got down to business. Well, after sleeping late on Saturday.

First, we wrapped up the garden and grabbed a harvest. This time of year, you worry that every night will be the last for some of these guys - so we've been grabbing tomatoes, flowers, herbs - everything we can freeze, dry, put up, or at least enjoy for a few more moments. Here was Saturday's harvest. We LOVE fall snap peas! Yum.

Did I mention my chinese lanterns (physalis - the common name is either Chinese or Japanese lantern, how gauche to use them interchangeably! Eek)? I love these guys, we had them at the farm and they're just so neat. I've been working on a very small patch I started from just a few teeny plants when we first moved in - this year we had a respectable crop with many, many lanterns. Last year - only 2 lanterns. I even cut some this year! The leaves get eaten by the damn harlequin beetles, but the plants look great otherwise and the flowers are fine. I kill all those beetles all the time, but this is the only thing they eat and I can't seem to keep up. Plants are doing great so I guess I won't worry. (Right?)

p.s. - seen the new Motawi tile of these flowers? Love it.

And we worked on El Decko. Almost, almost done. Really, it's functionally done. We put on all the last steps - so the temporary ones aren't falling all over any more - and cut all the boards that were still straggly. We still need to treat it and build that large planter that will cover all our mistakes (you can't see the area in this picture - but it's rough looking!)

And then today I had to go to work at the paying job, at a really terrible place. I know you'll feel really sorry for me when you see the photo below. One of the absolute treasures of the Great State of Maine, Baxter State Park. Baxter was a gift of a former governor of the state, who gave the lands to the people of the state - so we all own it. Rock on, Percival Baxter! I hope you were reincarnated as a giant tree at the top of Katahdin. Where it snowed this week! Ah, nothing like a whitecap mountain to make you remember that not only is fall here, winter is right around the corner. Which is a great thing for those of us who love snow season.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blue Velvet

I'm obsessed with chairs. Some of my first restoration projects were chairs, and I've had a thing with them ever since. I just see them, staring at me at the antique shops and yard sales, looking up with their little oak rockers and partly-damaged seats and awful paint jobs - and I can't resist.
I found another one a couple weeks ago, and I left it behind. Last weekend I went to look again, and I said to myself, if I can talk them down to $40 or less, I'll take it (half the original price). I walked in, and there it was - with a sign that said 'Take me home today for $40'. Is that a sign or what? I asked if they could go any lower (just on principle), and took him home for $40.

So, he's oak, from the Peirce Furniture Company of Boston, No. 0153-1 (number hand written in pencil), and the finish is almost all gone - which is fantastic news. No major stripping, just a clean-up. No paint either - score! The main problems are a couple minor dings (I'm cool with those) and the seat. Ugh, horrible seat.

The seat cushion was all lumpy and weird looking, and was crappily re-covered in - you guessed it - blue velvet. Eek. Almost as gross and creepy as the movie. And the recovering job simply stapled it over the top - they never removed all 4 screws (like 4 screws is a daunting task) and covered it properly. Sad.

So I pulled the seat off tonight to see what was up. I pulled off the blue velvet to reveal - gasp - a dingy old red & gold pillow under the velvet that was adding the lumpiness to the middle of the seat. Yuck. Instead of fixing the upholstery straps, they just filled in the void. Ah well, this all leads to the cheap price, so I'm not complaining. It's actually somewhat entertaining.
Turns out, the seat was originally nice leather (too badly damaged to fix, I think). So, off to learn how to reupholster. Now this should be fun...