Category Archives: Musings

Better Than Watching Paint Dry

I usually tackle two projects at once so I can work on one while the paint dries on the other. In the middle of transforming a side table, I emptied an old laminate bookcase. Before dumping it curbside, I decided to see if it could be saved.

One coat of Annie Sloan Graphite covered the fake wood. Just that little bit of transformation put my creative wheels in motion.

I slid over the can of paint I had out for the side table and dipped a brush already wet with Annie Sloan Burgundy. I guess I’d call it “wet brushing” because all I did was brush it on. I kept my strokes light and straight and didn’t fill it in where the Graphite showed through. Where I thought the paint was too heavy, I wiped it back with a wet rag.

To be sure the paint stayed wet enough, I painted one section at a time.

I thought this bookcase still might end up on the curb…

…but the more the paint dried, the more I liked my quick little experiment. The muted color combo had sort of a mahogany look.

I didn’t think the cardboard back panel would survive the pressure I’d need to add a coat of wax. I left it alone and applied clear wax to the stronger surfaces.

(Two of my books are on the bottom shelf. You can learn more about them here. Read the story of the storage cubby on the left in Ode to My Favorite Veteran.)

The bookcase wasn’t the best piece of furniture I owned but it was a quick and easy job to hide the just-plain-ugliness of the “who are you kidding?” wood-look laminate.

Instead of tossing the bookcase, I’d used it to experiment with a paint technique. Not only did I save a useful piece of furniture, I applied what I learned to the more complicated cover-up of a project already in progress. (Stay tuned!)

What I learned;

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, especially on pieces that couldn’t possibly look worse.
  • What you learn from experiments, successful or not, can be applied to another project.
  • Some people think that creative exercise is as exciting as watching paint dry — but I’m not one of them!

www.karenraelevine.com

Rock on!

An antique dealer told me rocking chairs were dead. Dead??? It seems as a society we’re more prone to hunch over a computer then sit back and relax.

But not all of us! When a friend spied my old rocker, she sank into it and closed her eyes. What was her favorite color? Blue. Old rocker, new paint, happy friend. Done deal!

First I tried Aubusson Blue but I felt it was too light. The nicks and scratches would remain part of the character of the chair but wouldn’t be as prominent with a darker color. I chose Napoleonic Blue.

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It turned out the rocker needed more glue than paint. It was obvious that it had already been glued a few times in the past. I used wood glue where I could and squeezed Gorilla Glue Original (like Krazy Glue) into the smaller joint crevices. It wasn’t always pretty but it held the joints well enough to quiet the creaking.

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I somehow managed not to glue my fingers together.

A girl scout song helped me choose the accent color. “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” After two coats of Napoleonic Blue, I gave my old friend a wink with touches of gold.

First up, a gold stripe on the spindles. I positioned two long strips of Frog Tape (my favorite painter’s tape) in nice even lines across the bars, then cut in between so that I could wrap the tape around each spindle.

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The gold paint of choice was Modern Masters Metallic Paint, Olympic Gold. At Suite Pieces, I got a little friendly advice about this paint.  It works well over chalk paint but direct application to wood requires more prep work. It’s oil-based and needs mineral spirits or paint thinner for clean-up.

I stenciled a leaf design on the left and then flipped the stencil for a mirror-image on the right. Positioning was trial and error but as you can see in later photos, I think I got it pretty close.

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I used the same stencil for gold leaves on the arms. I made my own design using two different leaf shapes on the stencil, and cut a paper template to make positioning them easier.

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Another long strip of painter’s tape helped align the template and the (flipped) stencil on the opposite arm.

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How did a picture of my mother’s hand get in there? Oh, that’s my hand.

I hand-painted some gold lines in the grooves of the legs and crossbar and gave the whole chair a coat of Clear Wax.

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I gave the rocking chair a long and luxurious test run by the fireplace.

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Maybe I can give the rocking chair a new life by calling it a meditation device. Batteries not required.

What I learned:

  • Gorilla (or Krazy) glue helps bond furniture joints that can’t be removed.
  • Modern Masters Metallic Paints are oil-based and are easily applied to chalk painted surfaces.
  • When combining stencil elements to create a unique design, cut out a paper template to help position them.
  • Take some time to sit back and relax.

 

Tic Toc Table

I had just enough time for a quick visit to an estate sale at a beautiful old home, but for me, of course, the best find was a castaway coffee table in the garage.

I loved the lines on the legs and decided to try something new. Instead of painting inside the lines after the final coat, I used a reverse method.

First coat was Annie Sloan Graphite.

When that dried, I applied Old Linen. While the paint was still wet I wiped the it away in the grooves using cotton swabs, which exposed the Graphite. I repeated the swabbing method after the second coat of Old Linen.

I guess I was a little heavy-handed because I wiped down to the wood in spots. Not exactly what I had imagined, but I liked it.

The top also had some interesting grooves and I used the same method.

  

The next step was a little tricky. I used Adobe Illustrator to make a large clock face, printed it out on multiple sheets of paper, and taped them together. I included an outer circle as a guide to help me trim it.

Alternatively, you can find an image of a clock face you like and blow it up to the right size, and print it out. Either way it takes a little bit of computer savviness.

I slid graphite paper under sections of the paper to transfer the image to the table.

You have to be careful with graphite paper. It’s almost impossible to erase if you make a mistake, covering goofs with a lighter color (like Old Linen) is challenging and tedious. You can see that I must have shifted the paper while tracing the number XII. Fixing it was frustrating but not impossible. I should have checked my transfer process more often.

Finally, I was able to use a small brush to fill in the numbers with Graphite (paint, not paper). I was careful but not  worried about perfection because I knew I would be sanding them for a distressed look.

“One must work with time and not against it.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Same goes for the grain of the wood when you’re sanding. This is one of the legs after I started sanding back the paint on the edges.

And here’s the top, distressed. I used light curved strokes over the numbers and put a little more muscle in it around the edges, sanding down to the wood in random spots.

Then came a fun time with my Facebook friends. I posted a picture and asked for opinions: Should add working clock hands, paint them on, or leave it blank? Here’s the tally:

  • 7: Leave it as is.
  • 2: Add a working clock to the table face.
  • 2: Paint the hands at 5:00 (Happy hour!)
  • 3: Make a sundial. (Vetoed. I recognized the grave danger of a table with a pointy top.)
  • 2: Add a lazy susan in the middle.
  • 1: Paint hands on the lazy susan to “play with time.” (Extra credit for making me laugh.)
  • 3: Make a working clock on the table face and add a raised glass surface. (Time-consuming.)

I appreciated all the input but after pondering the ideas into the wee hours, I decided to go back in time to my first inclination and leave it the way it was.

The bottom portion of each of the four legs must have capped at one time. To make the table appear a little more grounded, I painted them with Graphite and sanded them back about the same amount as the numbers.

A coat of clear wax and there she is! One of the dishes holds thyme. Get it?

What I learned:

  • You can wipe wet paint with brushes, rags or, in this case, cotton swabs to expose the color (or even unpainted wood or metal) underneath.
  • Sand with the grain or shape and not against it.
  • Graphite paper transfers are unforgiving and should be used carefully and with caution.
  • Other people’s ideas are alway useful. Even if you don’t use them, they help guide you to what you really want.
  • “Time is on my side, yes it is.” – The Rolling Stones

 

An Old Soul

I found this chair on the curb in front of a barber shop. I thought of all the people who must have sat in it and all the stories they had to tell. Maybe I was being romantic, but I felt that under its shabby exterior, there was an old soul.

I freshened the chair with a bright coral I created by mixing two parts Annie Sloan English Yellow and one part Emperor’s Silk. You really get to know a piece with the first coat of paint. Sometimes I’ll start with a coat of Pure White just to get a better idea of my “canvas.”

This time the paint highlighted an area where the rattan had begun to separate.

I removed the damaged back with a utility knife and was surprised to find yellowed batting underneath. It left me with  with an area that had to be filled in and covered.

 

I cut out paper templates for the back and the seat.

What followed was a series of “failures” that I prefer to think of as “learning experiences.” First of all, don’t upholster with carpet padding. Hey, I was trying to be thrifty. The foam rubber was too thin but at least it helped me make a sturdier template. (I used duct tape around the edges and used the utility knife to trim away the excess.)

The one and only winner, of course, was batting. And to cover the batting? Hmm, those are very nice curtains, aren’t they?

Confident that I could succeed with the upholstery, I added clear and then dark wax to the wood. There was the depth I knew was hiding in that chair!

I was careful not to wax the area to be covered because I knew from experience that wax resisted glue. (Wake Up Little Dresser!)

Time for the fabric.

“The moss-green velvet curtains felt prickly and soft beneath her cheek and she rubbed her face against them gratefully, like a cat. And then suddenly she looked at them.” – Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind

Sorry about the book reference but it gives me a chuckle: Scarlet O’Hara made a dress from her curtains. I used mine to cover a chair.

I used spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the batting and the batting to the chair.

What followed was another “learning experience.” I learned that my talents do not include sewing chair cushions. I did, however, come upon a rattan-ish seat cushion at Bed Bath & Beyond.

By then I was spray-adhesive-happy. I traced the cushion outline onto my curtain panel fabric and cut around it with a good three inches to spare. Because I only wanted to cover one side of the cushion, I used painter’s tape to keep the spray adhesive off of the bottom half of the cushion.

Once the fabric was stuck in place, I trimmed the excess to the edge of the painter’s tape.

I rolled a bead of Unique Stitch (Time to Play Dress-up) under the fabric where it was a little loose on the edges.

All it needed was a bit of trim to pull it all together. I had some twine and used Unique Stitch to glue it along the curves on the back and also around the edge of the seat cushion.

I’m glad I was able to see beyond the surface of this time-worn chair. It already had a long and interesting life before I came along. That’s the beauty of it.

Bones, depth, character, soul…

What I learned:

  • When upholstering, use upholstering materials.
  • Curtain panels are a terrific source for fabric.
  • Art rejuvenates the soul.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Betty and I had both grown up in the same Long Island town and stayed to raise our kids there too. Betty was as settled as a flower in her backyard garden. I almost fell off my chair when she told me she and her husband were going to empty-nest in an apartment in DC. That was a whole lifestyle away.  I wanted to add a little bit of garden to her terrace.

Because every garden needs a picket fence, I started with a wall hanging I wasn’t using.

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It was cute but not used, so off came the birds and the hooks, to be saved for a future project…

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…and on when two coats of Annie Sloan Pure White and two coats of clear matte polyurethane.

I’ve always been a fan of Mary Engelbreit and I knew it was Betty’s style too. I ordered fabric from Ebay adorned with Engelbreit’s artwork.

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I cut designs from the fabric and decoupaged them onto the “garden fence.” The fabric worked very well on the uneven surface of the wood. Ann Estelle, one of Engelbreit’s recurring characters, reminded me of Betty.

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The quote I chose suited the situation perfectly: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

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But there was more to my wish for Betty to bloom where she was planted. I wanted her to plant where she bloomed! I wasn’t “hung up” on a solution for long.

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I purchased a wall planter, spray-painted it white, and add some touches of Antibes Green.

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I screwed the planter onto the faux fence. It was removable so that, if need be, the planter and the fence could be used (or not used) separately.

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I had in mind that her gift should be compact, not only for use on a terrace but, as Betty downsized a house full of memories, easy to pack. I hope this mini hanging garden will help Betty grow new roots, and also remind her that she’ll never lose her hometown friends.

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What I learned:

  • Fabric works well for decoupage on uneven surfaces
  • Bloom where you’re planted!

Time to Play Dress-up

Here’s the second step in my plan to liven up a corner in my living room. You can see the first part in If At First You Don’t Succeed.

I’m not a fashionista but sometimes a new dress with matching shoes makes me feel good about myself. It’s the same with furniture. This old chair I inherited needed a pick-me-up. The slipcover, like an old bathrobe, had to go.

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The best thing about an old chair with a slipcover is what you might find underneath. Say for instance, perfectly preserved ivory silk upholstery. Instant new dress!

Matching shoes would come in the form of a coordinating footstool. I found the one in the size and shape I wanted  but the owner was stubborn about selling the pair.

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I relented but in the end I was happy. It gave me a chance to try on two different outfits. The process of changing the look for each footrest was the same: replace the fabric and paint the legs.

Replacing the fabric:

  • Flip it over, remove the screws (keep them handy), and pop off the top.
  • Remove the nails or staples holding the old fabric in place with pliers and/or a flat-head screwdriver.
  • Reuse or replace the batting, depending on its condition.
  • Position the batting and backboard over a strategic area of your fabric
  • Cut the fabric wide around board, leaving plenty for the wrapping process.
  • Pull the fabric tight across the backboard and use a staple gun all around to secure it. Play with the corners to get the look you want.
  • Paint the legs
  • Re-screw the bottom to the top.

In this case, the footrest is painted with Antoinette over a coat of Paris Grey with the pink sanded down to reveal the grey. Then a coat of clear wax.

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Leftover fabric became matching pillows. I cut two identical rectangles, about 2 inches all around larger than the dimensions of the ottoman. I glued the pieces together, good sides facing each other, with a uniform line about a half inch inside the cut. I used Unique Stitch fabric glue, (but if you can sew, go for it. Don’t forget to leave an opening unsewn or unglued to leave room to add the filling. Turn it inside out, stuff it, and close up the opening.

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Chair legs can be painted to match the legs of the footrest. (A little Photoshop magic on the legs here.)

Now for the main ensemble, suitable for an elegant evening. First, on the legs of the chair and the footrest : two coats of Graphite and one coat of Black Wax.

A new dress (upholstery), accessories (a blue velvet pillow), sleek hose (painted legs), and matching shoes (a footrest), will help make this chair a stunner in the corner of an eclectic/contemporary living room.

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Like the clothes we pick for a mood or occasion, the basic elements of shape, color and accessories define the “look.”

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What I learned:

  • Furniture style boils down to shape, color and accessories.
  • For seating, accessorizing can be as simple as a new pillow.
  • To bring an ensemble together, coordinate the colors.
  • Two new outfits are better than one!

karenraelevine.com

If At First You Don’t Succeed

This little table is the first of a three-part plan to decorate a corner in an “eclectic contemporary” living room.

I knew right away the side table would be Napoleonic Blue because it would share a room with a dresser in the same color (The Tale of the Ugly Green Dresser).

I loved the Napoleonic Blue with clear and black wax.

I didn’t love the rubbed bronze metal on the legs and knob. I decided to paint them Old White and highlight the paint with wax. “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

Try number 1: Because it was metal I decided on a first coat of primer. In the end, it didn’t matter and I didn’t need it. But how do you like my high-tech method of letting the paint dry on a knob?

Try number 2 (below left): Old White. Boring.

Try number 3 (below right): Old White with clear wax and then black wax. Not bad. I could have applied even more black wax but I wanted to try another method.

 

Try number 4 (below left): Old White rubbed directly with black wax (no clear coat in between). Black wax on its own is more of a stain. It did have an interesting look, almost a silver tone on the white, but it still wasn’t what I was looking for. I took out the mineral spirits to clean off the wax .

Try number 5 (below right): This is what it looks like when you grab the wrong can and, instead of mineral spirits, dump a glob of paint remover on the paint you had so carefully applied. When I was done cleaning this toxic product off of my unprotected skin and calling myself all sorts of names, I took a look. This might be a method to catalog for another time. But not this time.

 

Try number 6: I gave up on the Old White and went to Graphite. This is the first coat.

Two coats of Graphite and an application of black wax gave me what I was looking for. What I really wanted was so much easier than what I thought I wanted!

The table, by the way, was one of a set of three I bought together. This is Charlie checking out my work. Charlie is the reason I have to watch out for dog hair in my paint.

Try number 7: Since the knob had been painted Old White and then Graphite, I sanded down some of the Graphite to reveal the white. I liked it. Finally, success.

What I learned:

  • Pay attention to the product label before you open it!
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Mistakes are a learning experience.
  • Sometimes simple is best.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

karenraelevine.com

Pure White, Pure Love

I was sitting on my living room couch one day, looking up and back between my computer and the TV console. After we painted the walls and trim, the country console didn’t match anymore, and I was shopping online for a new one.

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Funny thing was, all the consoles I liked were pretty much the same as the one I had, only in white. What was I thinking? All the console needed was a coat or two of white paint: Annie Sloan Pure White, of course.

My husband kept careful watch because his sound system was involved. I wasn’t allowed to touch it.

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I gave it two coats of white, buffed on coat of clear wax, and stuck to the the original hardware.

This is my dog, Charlie, not caring.

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The final touch was fresh family photos in white frames. Even though the frames didn’t match , they looked more uniform in the same color. Any frame I had that wasn’t white to begin with, was white by the time I finished.

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What a difference.

I didn’t love the wires and speakers but, as I said, I wasn’t allowed to touch them. A small price to pay for family harmony.

I think Charlie was on to something. He cared more about snuggling up with us when we watched a  movie than he did about the color of the furniture. I loved my white console but it wasn’t nearly the kind of love I felt for my family.

What I learned:

  • Reimagine your furniture before you shop for more.
  • Paint a collection of picture frames the same color to make to make a uniform arrangement.
  • Love is more important than furniture.

www.karenraelevine.com

Highchair Highway and Memory Lane

I snagged a scratched and wobbly toy high chair for five dollars. Solid wood and all I needed to do was tighten the screws. I forgot to take a before picture but this is what a new one looks like.

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Annie Sloan Antoinette is a very pretty pink and while I was looking for a sample at Suite Pieces, someone introduced me to a new color, Old Violet. I had to go home with a sample of that too.

I was assured by Google and knowledgeable shopkeepers that Annie Sloan paint and wax were nontoxic. Not that I expected the next owner to take a bite, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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Soft cotton light weight gloves (usually for archivists and coin collectors) worked very well to buff the wax in those little hard-to-get areas. You can find them on Amazon for about eight dollars a dozen.

I loved the two-toned version. I used clear wax on most of it but remembering how messy the dolls of my childhood could be, I used a nontoxic rub-on varnish for the tray.

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On my journey down memory lane, I shuffled through a box of vintage hankies I inherited from Grandma Sylvia and found two that were perfect for a reversible seat cushion.

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I sewed them together. I am not a sewer, but I held my own. As I stitched, I was reminded of Grandma Charlotte, who made magic with needle and thread. I’m sure both of my grandmothers were looking down and smiling as I sewed.

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I also have to give a little credit to my seventh grade Home Economics class, where, even though I wished I could take Shop with the boys, I learned some sewing basics. That was back in the day. Girls couldn’t take Shop until I was in the ninth grade. It was also the time when all sewing baskets contained a tomato pin cushion and a metal Band-Aid box for buttons. When I dug it out, mine still did.

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So there I had it: the perfect gift for my friend’s granddaughter. I hope it will give her as many happy “grandma memories” as I had when I refurbished it.

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What I learned:

  • Annie Sloan paint and wax are nontoxic
  • Using light cotton gloves is a great way to wax small or round areas.
  • I can still thread a needle.

http://karenraelevine.com/

Let’s Hear it For the Girls

I wanted to make a special gift for my brother and his awesome family. My nieces are talented softball players and my brother and sister-in-law spend countless hours at ball fields watching their girls play.

I looked for inspiration for softball themed make-overs and I found some interesting baseball ideas but they all looked very boyish. Not that I was going to paint something pink and frilly, but really, these girls needed a shout-out.

I owned four benches, which is about three too many. A bench would suit the purpose very well because I’ve watched my nieces play and witnessed the whole family drag themselves, satisfied and exhausted, back home. And when you feel that way, there’s really no place like home. Are catching on to the theme here?

I forgot to take a “before” picture of the bench but I managed to catch it after I sanded the top.

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I stained the top, let it dry, and and then flipped it over to drill four holes in the cross bar at the bottom. I made sure they were spaced equally. I can be finicky about things like that. I’ll save the reason for holes for later. I’m sure the suspense is killing you.

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I designed my plan for the top, which included resizing the exact dimensions of home plate. This is another example of how finicky I can be. Now for my brilliant double entendre (stolen from a photo of a doormat). I had mapped it out in Photoshop. Note the guidelines I included.

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I transfered the image with graphite paper.

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I decided on a paint pen to outline the smaller lettering. The pen was red but on the stained wood it came out kind of pinkish. That wasn’t bad. A little girly, but not too much. I taped around home plate, loving all those straight lines, and painted it Old Ochre. I even “dirtied” it  by dry-brushing a mixture of Old Ochre and Graphite.

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After I was finished patting myself on the back, I painted the H, M and E with Graphite, trying to resist perfection as I swung my calligraphy brush along the curves of the lettering.

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I applied two coats of Old Ochre to the base.

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Then I had a sinking feeling, as if I was stealing second and the outfielder was on the ball.

I’d read on the internet that chalk paint would hold up in the great outdoors. You can’t always count on the internet, but you can always count on your coach. I messaged Amanda Peppard, the owner of Suite Pieces. She explained that untreated chalk paint was good-to-go outdoors BUT it wouldn’t protect whatever was underneath. The wood I’d painted was already ready for weather. A hip-thumping slide and safe on second! Thanks Coach!

Remember those four holes I drilled? Are you still dying of suspense? That’s where I screwed four softballs. (NOT baseballs.) I’d pre-drilled the softballs and used a nice long wood screw to attach them from the bottom.

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Back in the dugout, my pinkish lettering wasn’t standing out as much as I wanted it to. I took out my paint pens for another pass.

The thing about paint pens is that you have to shake them once in awhile and, like banging the dirt off your cleats with a bat, the stuff flies everywhere. I tried removing a few but the stained wood had absorbed those little paint bombs. A swing and a miss. Pass the Gatorade.

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I gave up and sealed the top with two coats of polyurethane, paint bombs and all.

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I surprised my brother and his family with their bench after a double header. They were thrilled and amazed. Thrilled and amazed always gives me a good feeling, especially when it comes from my sports idols.

I pointed out my imperfect pink dots to my sister-in-law. She asked me the most amazing question. “Do you know what the enemy of “good’ is?” My 15-year-old niece chimed in before I could even begin to think of an answer. “Better!”

Go team!

What I learned:

  • Do not shake a paint pen anywhere near your project.
  • Untreated Chalk-painted surfaces will hold up outdoors but will not protect the surface underneath.
  • “The enemy of good is better” – Voltaire.

P.S. Did you know that before Judy Garland stamped “There’s no place like home.” on our hearts in The Wizard of Oz,  the chart-topping song in the 1800’s was “Home Sweet Home”, which includes the same phrase–over and over again?

www.karenraelevine.com