November 10, 2010

Evolution of A Table and Chairs

I'm on a roll with all the before-and-afters, can you tell?  Here is a project that taught us both a lot.  We both learned to do things we'd never done before.  We'll start with the very first before.  Well - ok, not true.  The very first before would be a six-year-old picture of a big cross-section of a tree.  I don't have the real picture, but it was honestly not far from this:

It came from - you got it - a yard sale.  Only I think it was more like $10.  It was the same yard sale where Dustan found the aforementioned checkered mirror (and the Paul Revere teapot we've used ever since).

The cross section of the tree was laquered a really tacky honey-colored and shellacked like a million times.  Why would you spend good yard sale cash on something like that?  It looked like something that might hang in a hunting lodge donned with moose antlers.  Or something a hillbilly gift store would stick clock hands on and sell for $59.99 right beside the clocks made of out skillsaw blades that have been airbrushed with Bob Ross cabin scenes.  Is anyone following this?  It was bad.  It was reeeeal bad, and I couldn't see the value of it.  But I'm pretty sure I'm the one who came up with the idea to not only sand the junks out of it until the real wood returned, but to also cut it into a rectangle for a dining tabletop.  So Dustan did, and that's how we ate for the first years of marriage.  He built white legs onto it and I added some white chairs.  It looked like this:

Then when our friends Tee and Christoph moved, they sold everything at a....yeah.  And we scored three tall bar chairs for a total of $30.  (We are serious furniture magnets.  We have never gone to a furniture store and paid full price for anything).  Ever since we moved here, I've been determined to use these bar chairs.  I know they're not the most comfortable, or the most conducive to huge banquet dinners, but when will we ever have another chance in life to make a pub table our dining table? 

So I convinced Dust to build some sweet tall legs for what I now appreciate as a gorgeous, hefty piece of wood with a charming crack, a zillion rings and an old old story to tell.  Who even knows how old.  I mean, you can't buy that at Target!  That's really what I love about all this furniture stuff I've been posting lately.  Underneath the trendiness of paint color and graphics, these are really sturdy pieces that will be in our life forever.  Maybe one day they will have different colors or hardware or whatever, but they're not cheap pieces of crap that we can wear out in five years.  The mirror on that entry piece?  Weighs a freaking TON, and has sweet beveled edges and the original stamp with the name of the guy who made it on the back.  (I painted around it).  I love that!  But these pieces definitely aren't my great-grandfather's hand-carved mahogany china cabinet that's so revered no one will go near it with a paint brush, because that wouldn't really be us either. 

Sweet tall legs:

I was unspeakably impressed with these legs.  I don't really understand what went on to get them like that, but I know that Dust learned to use a tapered jig to accomplish that sweet slant.  And I know that when it was all said and done, this table did not look homemade.  At all.  It kind of looked like...woodworking.  The early stages.

I primed all the wood.  Yes, it's getting painted next.  I don't like white pine.  It looks naked to me.

I'm never sure if priming is necessary, but in this case I didn't have loads of extra paint, so I wanted to stretch it as far as I could and not let the bare wood soak up tons of precious pigment.  But it's such an exhausting, unrewarding step.  And I didn't learn about tinted primer until much later, which is definitely what I would have used in retrospect, and what I reeeeeally wish I had known about when I set out to paint black cabinets over white primer!

Anyway - I knew I wanted my chairs to be bold, vibrant colors, but I had to manage to make them "dirty" enough to not look like they were waiting for a room full of preschoolers.  I knew how to paint something black or white and distress it, letting natural wood show through on the edges, but I'd never done the opposite - painted something a color and then had the distressed part show through darker than the color.  I thought this was the solution:

On the green chair, I experimented by first painting every angle black, thinking that after I painted the entire chair green, I would distress it lightly and the black would show through.  That totally failed.  Instead, even the finest sandpaper took off paint right down to the primer.  If I kept going, it just went to the natural white pine wood and was also too light.

In the end, I figured out the trick.

1) paint your chair whatever color and distress it, like this:

I distressed it heartily (I just use rough grade sandpaper because it gives me more artistic control than a sander, even though it's probably slower and caused my palm to catch fire).

2) Use stain to make your piece come alive.  I used whatever was leftover from the desk project and an old tee shirt.  I'm sure there is stain out there that cleans up with soap and water, but mine was oil-based.  This means a few things.  One, be prepared to clean up your brush with mineral spirits or gas or paint thinner, not just soap - or it won't come clean and you will ruin your brush.  (I'm pretty loyal to my brushes.  They are good to me).  Two, be prepared that your fingernails will also be stained whether you have mineral spirits or not, and you will go to work looking like a mechanic.  And three - yes.  Even though I did this project months and months before I got pregnant, my unborn child is probably still breathing the fumes.

All that to say, the stain is what took my preschool colors and made them robust and jewel-toned, gave them dimension and a little grit.  Really, it made these colors sing.  I let a lot of stain soak into the raw corners and angles I had distressed bare, and it had this effect:

Ok, but wait - that's not all stain.  The last step is

3) dip your brush in black paint, shake it off really good until it's almost like dry-brush, and knock all the edges gently.  I also used this generously all over the chair.  I used it to make a sort of "butt print" in the seat of the chair, and to give the rest of the flat surfaces some character.  Fake, instant character. 

You could definitely go overboard on this kind of finish, but these chairs are all I have in my house like it.  For now.  :)

And I'm okay to stick with just this because IT TOOK FOREVER to do.  Pretty much all of it.  All of it took forever...


You wanna know what's my last step for the "dining room?"  Painting a version of this:

on that empty squash-colored canvas in the corner.

Now I'm beginning to know what it's like to update your blog regularly and have a life, too.  You go to bed when the house is dark and depressing.  You're still up, hunched over your laptop, while the dog and the man are tucked down cosy, and will wake up happier than you.

It's okay because this isn't regular for me.  I hate staring at a computer all day and then coming home to keep staring at it some more.  Besides, tonight I went with Linds and Nikki to a real salon and had my hair cut.  It was called The Vine.  Their logo is a girl with crazy hair sprouting from her head, and the place is overgrown in vines on the outside and painted green with cool art and lots of buzz on the inside.  We all three took the same picture and got radically different cuts.  It was a blast.  I don't look quite so Amish anymore.  She styled it with a curling iron and her fingers, and told me I looked "sultry."  Somehow that word doesn't quite fit with the massive belly/heavy saddled walk I've got going on.  But I'll take it.

I'm sultry AND I finally got around to posting about my beloved kitchen table and chairs!

My Favorite Before & After

This is one of my faves.  Why?  Because I still remember the day Dust brought this heinous checkered mirror home.  Another $5 yard sale find.  It sat and sat and sat in our storage room.  It survived the move.  And finally the lightbulb went off.  Dustan built a bench with storage onto the mirror, and I added the hooks from another piece and gave it some painterly love.  Seriously, what would we do without this big guy greeting us every time we walk in the door?


Also included in this before and after is our door.  I could do a whole post on the stages it went through as well - but I will spare you the details.  Just know there was much decision making, until it finally ended up this color, what Ben Moore calls Sorrell.  Love it!

November 8, 2010

My Revamped Desk and Chair

It's been a while since I've shared some projects, so I decided to dip into my "moving in" archives and pull up some of the stuff I did when we first got to Wisconsin.

We'll start with our desk that weighs 700 pounds.  Take the drawers out and it might be 650.  Anything so solid just cannot be abandoned in a move.  And isn't that the maddening part of moving?  When you show up to help someone move in or out, you should go ahead and prepare your heart that all the pre-fab IKEA shelves have been tossed, but the family hand-carved piano organ will need your attention.  Along with the 400-pound leather couch that your neighbors have had for years that you put on top of your Passat wagon and then hoist to the upstairs loft using come-alongs made out of webbing.

But hey, it worked out, didn't it? you read my blog?

This 700-pound desk cost us $5 at a yard sale.

I stained it.  It took eleven days to dry.

This is exactly how this project went down (and I know because I just found the email thanks to Gmail's insane search engine):  I emailed my sis a picture of this desk and said WHAT TO DO.  She wrote back "My first reaction to the desk is to leave the wood dark and paint the drawers grass green with a white bird sitting on a branch on one of the drawers."

I don't really come up with anything.  I just poke around in creative places and then imitate.

My first green was wrong.  It was anemic and minty and I hated it. 

These 2 photos were my bird-on-branch inspiration.  Thanks, internet.

I got the color of the drawers right the second time around with a rich, seventies kind of green.  Also, I wanted my bird a little fatter.

To find a chair like this, poke around in a rich neighborhood with bricked streets on trash day.

At first, I was sorta almost kinda tempted to sand this guy and stain him and leave him wood.  Then I looked again at that tedious scrolling harp.  And I thought again of my infatuation with Ben Moore's Venetian Gold.

I love you, Venetian Gold.

It's really not a sunshine yellow, contrary to the wet-paint kind of flash my camera gives off.  It's more old.  Like this:

The End!



November 1, 2010

The Most Intimidating Box in the World

This year Dustan and I bought a CSA share at a local farm in Oak Creek.  You can read about it here, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

It was a funny thing, that white box.

Most people would love a box of organic vegetables spilling onto their counter. 

We dreaded this white box like The Plague.  First of all, pickup was every Wednesday before 7pm at a house near us in Racine.  It was the biggest feat of the week.  We could not get that box.  If it's any indication of how we'll be as parents, little Bearcub Balkcom will be that kid after school making small talk with the teacher, sneakers on concrete, waiting on his ride.

Me: Hey wait, isn't it Wednesday?
Dustan: Ahhhh dangit.

When we first talked this decision over, we were both on board, because we have hoped to start our own CSA at some point in the future.  Not just a passing whim, but a LOT of late nights in bed talking over what it would mean to have our own farm as a job.  We've thought through everything, from the coolest root cellar to the design of the garden to the massive harvest parties we would throw every year under lanterns with guitars and dogs and babies and butternut squash soup in thick mugs.  It was only logical that before we could start a CSA, we should test out the other end - the customer end.  So it was a no-brainer.

Theeeeeeen, I got pregnant, and the veggies started coming right in the middle of the first trimester.  The first trimester was like one of those cats that rub up around your ankle all coy and calm, and you think 'Hey, I might actually like this cat!'  And then right when you reach out to pet it, it turns around and sinks its claws into the fatty part of your palm, and suddenly you hate all cats everywhere.  Yeah, that's what the beginning of pregnancy was for me.  Except what I suddenly hated was vegetables.  All I could imagine eating when I got pregnant was trailer trash food, to mitigate the "morning" sickness that hit worst at night.  Pizza, corn dogs, cheeseburgers, sausage biscuits from McDonald's, frozen stuff that gets greasy when you cook it.  All the worst, artery-clogging, immune system-destroying goodness on the planet.  Bacon, doughnuts, italian sausage, cheese cheese cheese.

Not only did I not want vegetables, I didn't cook.  Period.  This was not the time for me to Google "kohlrabi" and figure out how to use it before it went bad in my crisper (which it did).  I can't even tell you how much money I spent grabbing takeout and random slices of mushroom pizza at 3pm in downtown Milwaukee (but it was a lot). So these boxes would come, and Dustan would pull out the little sheet of recipes they came with and he'd make something.  And at first, this worked.

Confetti Potatoes

That is quite beautiful, isn't it?

Roasted chicken with beets, red onion, summer squash, apples, carrots and turnips

Penne lisce with summer squash, some other squash, carrot and tomato marinara and parm
But after a bit, the endless mystery vegetables became quite a burden.  I gave a lot of them away.  Some of them wilted and I threw them away.  What a dismal, wasteful failure I was!  We both were!  It was a good lesson learned.  I don't think we have any business starting a farm.  We paid a lot of money to give away turnips this year, and it left a really bad taste in our mouth.  CSA's are awesome, but this one just kind of slapped us around and we didn't do with it what we should have.

Now I'm in the glory days of being prego, looking round but feeling great.  I eat vegetables now, don't worry.  I actually prefer fresh cooking, because all that crap I ate at first is now associated with the rolling nausea I thankfully don't have at all anymore.  But that very last veggie pickup?  Was aaaawesome.  We're both so glad that White Box isn't here to sit in judgement of us anymore.  (Even though there are 3 lingering turnips in my fridge...does anybody want them?)

P.s.  I'm blogging again because I'm back to work 3 days a week instead of full-time.  I have no idea how people keep up (quality) blogging while working and having a balanced life.  It totally eludes me.