Category Archives: Musings

Portable Potables

I wanted to make a portable, compact bar unit to help my son entertain in his small apartment. The designs I came across reminded me of the media cabinets my generation used to organize VCR tapes. And I found one.

Outdated storage units tend to be inexpensive. I like inexpensive.

The cardboard back needed to be replaced with sturdier particle board, and for ease of painting, I took the doors off too.

It was so much easier to paint everything separately. If I had nailed the panel to the back and then painted, I would have had a lot more pesky corners to deal with.

The colors of choice were Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk and Graphite.

For the bottom and exterior I wanted a deeper black. For this I used Artisan Enhancements Scumble and General Finishes Glaze Effects in Pitch Black, making long even strokes over the paint with a chip brush.  Scumble keeps the glaze wet longer so there’s more time to “play” with it. (You can read more about this glazing technique in Backgammon Anyone?)

Exterior of the cabinet doors. One door with black glaze and the other without.

To give the interior some shine, I sealed the red paint with Satin-finish General Finishes Topcoat.

After letting the black glaze dry overnight, I was pleased with the dark, textured look.

Fortunately I was able to put the whole thing back together again.

Two additions I made were casters and handles. The handles (large cabinet pulls) help maneuver the rolling bar, and they also make a convenient place to drape a towel.

I included a fifth caster in the front to keep the unit from tipping forward when the doors are open. To keep the glasses from sliding around, I cut up some gray rubber shelf liner to fit the shelves on the doors.

A fun addition was motion sensor lights.  Double-sided tape adheres a metal strip to the surface (one under the top and one under the shelf). The metal attracts and holds the magnetized light. The lights can easily be taken out and put back in. Instead of batteries, they recharge with a USB port.

Setting the lights to motion-activation means the lights will go on when the doors were opened. Fun!

I’m sure my (very) responsible son will enjoy the storage and versatility of his rolling bar cart. And I know exactly what he’s going to ask when he reads this. The answer is, “Sorry, David, the liquor is not included.” (He’ll get a chuckle out of that.)


(P. S. Not that I wouldn’t mind, but I’m not paid to endorse any of the products.)

Backgammon Anyone?

Thrift store find, $16.99!

The top told me it needed to be a backgammon table. (Furniture talks to me. Don’t ask.)

My backgammon idea challenged me for quite a while. I’d run through all kinds of color and design options in my head but none of them seemed right. It wasn’t until I took a General Finishes class at Suite Pieces that I knew glazing was the answer.

First, two coats of Annie Sloan Country Grey.

With a light distressing and some clear wax, I could have stopped there, but of course I didn’t.

For a two-tone look, I taped the edges of the top and the sides to get them ready for a glaze finish. The first step was a coat of Artisan Enhancements Scumble. Scumble is a water-based extender. It keeps the glaze wet longer so the glaze goes on smooth and there’s more time to “play” with it.

The Scumble has a sheen when it goes on. I tilted the table in the light to find the sheen and make sure it covered the entire surface that would be glazed.

I brushed on the glaze, a 1:1 mixture of General Finishes Water Based Glaze Effect colors Van Dyke Brown and Winter White. I used a chip brush to move the glaze in straight(ish) lines along the top …

… and across the drawer, and the sides.

I let the glaze dry overnight, then taped off the glaze I’d already applied. On went the Scumble and the glaze in Van Dyke Brown. Again, I used a chip brush to move the glaze in the direction I wanted. On the top, I followed the shape of the rim. On the bottom, I brushed downward and followed the line of the legs.

I changed the drawer pull and could have stopped then, but of course I didn’t.

I mapped out the backgammon triangles in Photoshop. I had a few different options to apply them. I could decoupage paper triangles, transfer images that had a triangle shape, make my own triangle stencil, or tape and glaze. I decided to tape and glaze.

I taped the table top and used graphite paper, pencil and ruler to trace my triangles onto the tape.

(I should buy stock in FrogTape Brand painter’s tape. I think I’m keeping them in business.)

I used a ruler and exacto knife to cut the tape around every other triangle.

I applied Scumble and Van Dyke Brown glaze. This time I brushed a cross hatch pattern, stroking the glaze first along the triangles and then across them.

In the photo above, you can see a little smudge on the bottom where I forgot to tape. I caught it while it was still wet, and wiped it off with a damp paper towel. The advantage to glaze is that it leaves a nonporous topcoat. Bare chalk paint would have absorbed that little goof and I would have had to paint over it.

The following day, I used my ruler and exacto knife to cut out the triangles that would receive a lighter glaze. I applied a fairly heavy coat of Winter White and with a damp paper towel, carefully wiped the glaze from each dark triangle.

Photo bomb by my “helper,” Charlie

Because the coat of white glaze was heavier, I removed the tape right away so that I could catch and wipe away any glaze that had seeped through the tape.

There were a few times during the process I could have stopped and still had a nice looking table, but I’m glad I kept going.

Backgammon anyone?

From New York to London

I’d been on a suitcase kick and I wanted to try a trunk. As it happened, there was one waiting for me at a thrift store! I decided on a fantasy excursion to the birthplace of the Beatles.

I gave the whole trunk a light sanding and filled in some nicks with spackle.

I used a foam brush to apply black gel stain to the trim and hardware, and while I was at it, I went ahead and coated the whole exterior. Gel stain doesn’t cover metal completely. It leaves a bit of a distressed finished that I like. The trick always, when using gel stain, is to give it plenty of time to dry.

On Pinterest, I found a guide to painting the Union Jack.

To prevent painting over my treated trim and hardware, I had to tape it. I used an exacto knife to trim the tape so that the tape only covered the metal. This had to be done in two steps: once for the lid, and then again for the base.

I started with a coat of Annie Sloan Napoleonic Blue on the lid. For the red and white stripes, I chose Emperor’s Silk and Old Ochre.

It sure was easier pulling the tape off the trim than it had been applying it. And that was just for the lid. I still had to tape up the trim before I painted the base!

When the trim on the base had been taped, I continued the stripes down the front, back and sides, even painting the front handle.

I decided on bun feet for my British box. I purchased the mounting plates and the feet at a home improvement store. The mounting plates are designed to be used with different styles of “quick mount” feet or table legs.

Since the wood bottom of the trunk wasn’t thick enough to hold the mounting plates, I cut triangles of scrap wood and glued them to the corners with wood glue. (The paint cans pressed the wood together while the glue dried.)

From the bottom, I screwed the mounting plates into the trunk and through the wood triangles glued inside the bottom.

I gave the bun feet two coats of Emperor’s silk and screwed them into the plates.

I coated all of the painted surfaces on the outside with clear wax. The Emperor’s Silk on the interior pressboard didn’t need a sealer.

Closed, the trunk is a fun coffee table or linen chest.

Open, it’s a display and storage piece for an entryway or mudroom. Either way, it’s a treat for anyone who loves Great Britain or the Beatles!

From New York to London, “With Love From Me to You.”

Love Grows Here

This chair needed some love. And maybe some flowers. I imagined an outdoor planter for a certain house already filled with love.

I brightened it with Annie Sloan Burgundy. During the month I purchased the paint, Suite Pieces donated a portion to breast cancer research. I was already off to a loving start.

Because this chair would spread the love outdoors, I added two coats of polyurethane to the paint and the cane, sanding between coats. With all that detail, these steps took some patience. I knew that polyurethane could yellow, but even if it did, I decided it wouldn’t diminish the integrity of the color.

Dressing up the cane back was easy with pieces of a cranberry garland glued inside a twist-tie burlap bow.

My plan had been to cut a hole in the seat and insert a flower pot, but the cane was so sturdy I hated to break it. Because this could end up being used as a chair, I tightened some creaks with Krazy Glue. Letting drops of this glue seep into the joints isn’t the most professional finish, but it works for minor creaking, and I felt a quick fix was adequate for this chair.

I didn’t give up on the planter idea. I broke up a drawer ottoman I wasn’t using…

…and painted the drawer to match the chair. I drilled holes in the bottom of the polyurethaned drawer for drainage and glued strips of rubber shelf liner to the bottom so the planter wouldn’t scrape the seat.

The front section is a chalkboard created with three coats of Graphite with a light sanding between coats. I wrote a message that truly describes the home of my youngest brother and his family.

The chair and the planter could be used together or separately.

It was a gift from the heart and I loved my sister-in-law’s reaction when, during the big hug she always greeted me with, she spied the chair over my shoulder. Her jaw dropped and her eyes lit up. My brother’s reaction was just as positive but, as usual, more low-key. I knew they both loved it.

Lynda has changed the flowers with the seasons but she’s never changed the original message. Love really does grow there.

Travel Buddy

What’s better than having a travel buddy who shares a love of history, antiques, flea markets, and four-legged friends?

Camilla and I live 400 miles apart, which means there’s a good deal of traveling that has to happen before we get together and shake up some dust. A great surprise for my BFF would be a funky update to a vintage train case I’d bought on one of our jaunts.

Out came the insides, including the mirror.

The fabric inspired the paint colors: Annie Sloan Florence and a pink concoction left over from Just In Case.

At first, I cut the fabric in the shape of the old liner, but I lost patience trying to glue a lightweight fabric into a cramped space. I took a different route.

I painted the interior, then cut pieces of fabric and thin foam to fit the bottom. (I thought it would be nice to have a little bit of cushion, especially if the case might hold a fragile flea market find.) I sandwiched the layers with spray adhesive.

I measured a length of fabric to wrap around the inside walls and cut the top of the strip in a wave, leaving only whole, jumping dogs at the top.

Honestly, because it didn’t have to line it up with top edge, the wavy cut made it a whole lot easier to position the strip and adhere it with Mod Podge.

Painted clothesline, also left over from Just in Case, neatened up the inside. I coated the whole interior with Heirloom Traditions 1Gel. [A note about 1Gel: It’s expensive. I only choose it over Mod Podge when I want a tougher topcoat. It’s also a good transfer medium.]

I created paper versions of the dogs by scanning and printing the fabric. I decoupaged the doggies with 1Gel and let it dry. To seal the paint and and create a uniform sheen, I gave the whole exterior a coat of (you guessed it) 1Gel.

I stuck on an oval mirror from Michaels with thick, double-sided tape. The clips in the corners are Gorilla-glued clothespins disguised by decoupaged doggies.

For reasons too silly to explain, I sometimes call Camilla, “Rosie.”  Behold a doggie train case a la Rosie the Riveter. The whole mish-mash kind of says it all.

Love ya, Rosie! Where are we going next?





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!

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.


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.


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.


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.

img_4221-1 img_4224

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.


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



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.


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


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.


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


…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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


What I learned:

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