27 Dec 2011

tracking down a family heirloom

This Christmas, there was a mysterious parcel from Portland, Oregon under our tree. No one in our family knows anyone from Portland, and my dad was being quite secretive about it. He wouldn't let anyone open it until my sister and her family arrived for the day.

Inside the box was a faded old rug that I'd never seen or heard about before. My dad explained that my grandmother hooked the rug in the early 1960s. He remembers her giving the rug to the Nelson's, the family who sold them the farm in rural Alberta. As a Christmas surprise to our family, my father tracked down the rug. It was with one of the Nelson children in Portland.

It's quite a bit more faded than my dad remembers it, and it's a bit shabby, but the handiwork is impressive. The rug is my grandmother's artistic interpretation of the property itself, which was called "Stonewall Farm", named after the stone wall that was built around the farmyard. As is common in this region, the rocks were pulled from the field to create more arable land. Stonewall Farm was one of the few places in the area to repurpose these rocks by creating a wall -- an early example of upcycling, before the term existed.

So now the question is, what will my parents do with the rug? I think they'll likely get it framed and find a nice place to display it. Any other ideas?

22 Dec 2011

homage to matte living

I received my first Christmas gift this past weekend from my best friend, LS.  It's so beautiful that I felt it deserved some mention on my blog.

I was originally going to call my vintage furniture business "Matte Living", and this blog was going to be called "Unglossy: The Art of Matte Living" -- a nod to my preference for the humble beauty of hand-crafted, non-glitzy furniture and houseware. Several incarnations later, here I am as Kipkoo, but I still possess a fondness for all things matte. So the gift -- a porcelain maple syrup dispenser with a decorative wood grain -- is a welcome addition to my home.

maple syrup container by www.mariannechenard.com

20 Dec 2011

beyond fun fur - designer cat beds

Maybe (that's my cat's name) told me what she wants for Christmas this year: a pEi Pod, or pet egg pod. It's made from high density, fully recyclable polyethylene. Though I try not to buy much plastic, it's still fun to imagine her lounging around in such a stylish cat bed. The beds and pillows come in several different colour options, all of which remind me of Cadbury mini eggs -- a favourable comparison, I think.

Read more about this pEi Pod animal bed at www.peipod.com

A little wizardry in Photoshop and -- poof! -- my cat has her own pEi Pod!
The original photo (without cat) can be found at www.peipod.com

Perhaps a more eco-friendly choice would be the "wingdream supa plush" by kittypod. Their site is filled with designer cat accessories that aren't harmful to the planet.

The "wingdream" is patterned after a bug's wing and made of soft organic cotton
sherpa on one side, woven hemp on the other.

And if money were no concern whatsoever (and I had the space for such a thing) I'd buy this coffee table designed by Koichi Futatsumata for Japanese design firm Case-Real.

Sleek and sophisticated glass and steel table with rattan kitty hammock.

Okay, to be honest, Maybe didn't tell me she wants a pEi Pod for Christmas. She really just wants me to buy her a knapsack and leave it lying on the floor all the time. That's her idea of the perfect cat bed.

Sometimes there's no accounting for taste.

18 Dec 2011

What to do with a collection of art glass vessels?

It's funny how something you don't see right away as particularly beautiful can really grow on you. 

I bought a lot (I mean a LOT, as in a set of articles for sale at an auction) of art glass recently.  In general, I've been feeling rather ambivalent towards it. But once I put the pieces in front of the camera, I changed my mind. Now that I've become better acquainted, I admire their graceful curves and playful colours.

four of my favourite glass beauties

I'm still wondering what to do with them, how to sell them. In some ways, I don't think they belong on my store site "as is". I feel I need to devise a purpose for them first. As a collection, they'd make an amazing light fixture. Definitely a project for someone much handier than I am. Or maybe they'd look good displayed on a light table, with light pouring in from underneath them.

Coincidentally, that same day, I found this magazine clipping taped to the wall of my workshop. It's from the home of British interior designer Tara Bernerd. I'm pretty sure I originally clipped it because of that amazing orange couch and reverential pigeon photos, but this time around I found myself taking in the table full of bubble glass ashtrays. Now, if the table had a lower level lit up with candles in the evening, wouldn't that be splendid?

from Elle Deco (Dec 04)

14 Dec 2011

a year in the making

I spied this awesome vintage chair at the market about a year ago, but the dealer didn't want to part with it. He wouldn't even give me a price on it. He said he had to do some research on it first.

Then about a month ago, he was selling off everything in his store and my friend arranged for us to have a visit before the general public ascended.

"I still have that chair you wanted," he told me. At first I didn't know which chair he meant, but then I remembered and was pretty excited! The chair has beautiful curves and a lovely profile, but unfortunately, it needs an overhaul.

Here's my to-do list:
1. web the base with Pirelli rubber (crazy, high-quality webbing that's hard to find)
2. sand down to the wood
3. varnish/finish
4. buy soy-based foam
5. sew box cushions

So I've just completed step 2, and I've got my work cut out for me, but when I'm done, it's going to be beautiful.

Last week, I was in the middle of a photo shoot of some product shots, and felt inspired to create a little vignette. The chair took centre stage:

Chair draped in a deer tapestry, with 3 wooden bowls +  vintage trouble lamp cage.

12 Dec 2011

setting up shop

As some of you may know, I'm opening an online vintage furniture consignment shop! I've been very secretive about it online because I don't want to give too much away before it's up and running. For one thing, I've gone through about four name changes. I moved pretty far into the set-up process with the last name, only to drop it at the last minute, due to a potential trademark infringement. It's been quite the process, finding a name -- and quite the process switching over the domain name, business license, bank account, etc etc. I advise any future business owners to do a LOT of research before settling on a name. Otherwise, it just makes more hassle for you later. (Tip: if in doubt, make up a word!)

Anyway, here's a sneak peek at a few things happening behind the scenes. This photo shoot took place at the storage area where I keep most of the larger items. Unheated and uninspiring, we had to dress in our jackets and toques and bring along my iPod deck to provide some musical motivation.

A big THANK YOU to S for helping me with the photo shoot, and for suggesting we take off our shoes so as not to ruin the seamless backdrop.

S, incongruously, in winter coat and stocking feet, setting up the Wassily knock-off.

Of course, when we turned our backs on the chartreuse twins, there was some horseplay.

This sofa was too long for the backdrop. Will be calling on my pal, Photoshop, to help later.

2 Dec 2011

broken things

I have an ongoing list in my head: Items That Have Been Broken. It's a pretty long list – I think. You see, I also (luckily?) have a bad memory, so I'm only able to recall the last 3 items on the list:

Item #245: a spherical hand-blown glass oil lamp (I broke it the first time I used it.)
Item #246: an animal horn cuff bracelet (The vendor at the market swore it was stronger than it looked. She was wrong.)
Item #247: my favourite little potted plant.

The last one, #247, happened today. It was hand-painted by someone who clearly knew how to paint. I marvelled every time I looked at it. Honestly. It was a special piece.

I found both pot and plant on the bathroom floor, in pieces, apparently knocked over by my cat, Maybe. (That's her name – Maybe. I'm not questioning whether she did it or not!)

1. The planter, while it was still in one piece.  2. The furry culprit.
3. Check out the artist's mysterious monogram.

16 Nov 2011

little discs of whimsy

I love buttons. I even love the word "buttons" -- I like how it sounds when you pronounce the T's, like you're saying the word for the first time.

I've amassed a small collection of vintage metal buttons, and I haven't decided what to do with them yet. If I could eat them, I would, but they're obviously inedible. That's why when I came upon these peppermint candy buttons by Andie's Specialty Sweets, I thought, Now there's a shop that understands. Sometimes you just want to bite a button!

28 Oct 2011

spin it

It's been so long since I blogged that I just have to break the silence with this quick little post.

First of all, please check out the work of Tadashi Koizumi, a metalsmith on etsy.com who creates tiny metal sculptures that give you the feeling that you've stepped into a magical world in full swing. It's up to you to catch up and figure out the whole story.

On the site, there was this postcard that also captured my imagination. I'm not sure how it's related to Koizumi's work, but I love it nonetheless. It makes me think, What's the other part of the story? Why do we have to accept things as they are presented to us? How can we spin it on its head?

27 Sep 2011

PLEASE, drop the "s"!

I'm a part-time graphic designer. I used to be full-time, but times, they are a-changin'. And so when I stumbled on this mousepad by w+k studio, I had a good chuckle.

Mousepad by W+K Studio

Where did the term "graphics design" ever come from? Sorry if I come across as nit-picky, but if I may speak on behalf of graphic designers everywhere: the "s" really bugs us. Grammatically, it also irritates me. It takes a noun (graphics) and uses it as if it were an adjective. I've never heard anyone say, graphics arts, so why do they think it's okay to say graphics design?

Who added the unwarranted "s", I've often wondered? One thing is clear: it's a term coined by people who probably don't understand graphic design.

I envision a conversation that probably went something like this:

Accountant: "So, you're a designer, huh? What exactly do you do?"
Designer: "I'm a graphic designer. You know: websites, logos, illustration, brochures... graphics in general, really."
Accountant: "Oh, so graphics?"
Designer: "Yep."
 Accountant (inside his head): "Uh huh. I get it. A graphics designer."

22 Sep 2011

turn action figures into great decor?

Can someone hand me a can of spray paint? I want to turn my Barbie dolls into a designer bespoke lamp!

But seriously. Have you seen what the guys from Evil Robot Designs are doing? They're creating lamps out of old plastic toys. You can even commission them to take your very own playthings and turn them into a quirky (but somehow strangely serene) lamp that will celebrate your own childhood. So instead of letting those old action figures wither away in a dusty corner, immortalize them forever in a piece of one-of-a-kind home decor!

All photos from www.evilrobotdesigns.com

16 Sep 2011

trompe l'oeil of a trompe l'oeil

Much media fuss has been made about British designer Deborah Bowness and her trompe l'oeil wallpaper. Her unique hand-screened papers have adorned the walls of New York Soho House and Phillip Stark’s Yoo-Aldelgade in Copenhagen. Deborah's collections create a sense of dual reality, where 2-D images of life-sized, everyday objects nestle alongside yours.

After examining the images inside her "picture wall" wallpaper (above, in this page from Elle Decoration, October 2007), I thought it would be fun to create a trompe l'oeil of a trompe l'oeil!  So I searched the internet to find real art pieces to replicate the look. Most of the pieces were found through esty, which offers some very attractive and affordable art.

1. "Runna" by tushtush on etsy.com  2. "Forest Print" by debbie-carlos on etsy.com  3.  Paint by number piece by Morningtide on ebay.com  4. "Alida" -- an original acrylic paint on MDF for only $65! -- by tushtush on etsy.com  5. Keane painting from MeadowViewVintage on etsy  6. mid-century sailboat painting from packratsrus on etsy  7. From a vintage 1943 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo tour program from EclecticArtifacts on etsy.com  8. "Zelda", a vintage oil painting from dixielarue on etsy.com  9. Paint by number by Morningtide on ebay.com

1. "Antelopes" print by debbiecarlos on etsy.com  2. A piece by famous pin-up artist, Fritz Willis 3. Still life oil painting by Esch, from wyoupcucler on etsy.com  4. 50s ballerina print from apricotvintage on etsy.com  5. oil painting by P. Wong from RareEarthProducts on etsy.com  6. botanical print from NaturalistCollection on etsy.com  7. a botanical print from my own collection  8. original sailboat painting from DermalPro on ebay.com  9. vintage paint-by-number from mightyfinds on etsy.com  10. an original drawing by "Steph" from Herefordshire on BBC's blast.co.uk.

3 Sep 2011

l'art brut

People often ask about the massive poster that hits you upon first entering our house. It’s a gigantic poster that I picked up at a gallery in Lausanne, Switzerland. Even though several people have called it ugly and/or frightening, it’s always found a place in my home (and my heart) since I first dragged the poster back from Switzerland, where I’d been living and working for eight months.

Here it is:
Entrance, featuring a poster by August Walla, a self-taught Austrian artist who painted his environment (walls, furniture, trees + roads) to reflect his own self-invented personal mythology.

Leaving our little village outside of Geneva, my friend and I took a short trip by train to Lausanne, a city noted for its cultural appeal and impressive heritage sites. After stopping in at a typically Swiss museum of contemporary art (tidy, flawless, ahead of the trend) we continued on to another gallery, “La Collection de l’Art Brut”, an experience that still reverberates in my mind.

Literally translated from French, “art brut” means "raw art". The term was coined by Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s to describe art created outside the boundaries of society and official culture.

The gallery offers up a collection of drawing, painting, and sculpture created mostly by people marginalized from society, artists who created their work within the confines of mental institutions or prisons. 

Here are the images that have stuck in my mind from that gallery visit:

  • wild, manic ballpoint pen sketches that stretched across a two-storey wall
  • lurid paintings that buzzed with life and authenticity
  • intricately carved sections of a concrete prison wall
Some pieces were quite technically proficient; some seemed to jab at your eyes, so raw and full of emotion. Others were child-like and fanciful, created by delicate souls in a perpetual state of innocence. Many were indeed the manual ramblings of the possessed. All the works had one thing in common: generated out of the artist’s fierce need to create, they were bold and challenging examples of self-expression without pretense or inhibition. In many cases, the artist him or herself was completely absorbed in the process of creating art, often indifferent to the final result.

Jean Dubuffet was the first person to recognize the significance of such pieces. He praised them as “pure and authentic creative impulses”. In a quote that I’ve since memorized and even used in my own art, Jean Buffet said this:
L’art ne vient pas coucher dans les lits qu’on a faits pour lui; il se sauve aussitôt qu’on pronounce son nom. Ce qu’il aime c’est l’incognito. Ses meillurs moments sont quand il oublie comment il s’appelle.
My [very rough and infinitely less poetic] translation:
Art does not sleep in beds we prepare for him; he disappears as soon as we utter his name. He craves secrecy and anonymity. His best moments happen when he forgets his own name.

Here are some examples of Art Brut (or Outsider Art, as it was later called by art critic Roger Cardinal):

Adolf Wolfli, Swiss artist first associated with Art Brut.
He suffered from psychosis and intense hallucinations.

Judith Scott,  deaf textile artist with Down's Syndrome, mistakenly labeled in childhood as "profoundly retarded" . Judith's twin sister, Joyce, intervened to release her from institutional custody.

Eugene Andolsek created ink drawings on graph paper at his kitchen table. Once completed, the pictures held no interest for him and were put away in a trunk, later found by a caregiver.
Martin Ramirez, self-taught artist and diagnosed catatonic schizophrenic.
Ted Gordon, known for his compulsive doodles of the human face.

30 Aug 2011

Who says filing can't be fun?

My sister and brother-in-law are both teachers, so the words "back to school" are pretty much banned from family conversation. But I can't help it; even if I'm not going back to school, I always get that feeling at the end of August, the sense that I have to get organized, gear up for the coming season.

I've started going through my desk files, deciding what I can toss, making room for change. I seem to be running out of room -- something I thought would never happen in my ample tanker desk. The desk was an excellent vintage find that I picked up several years ago in a thrift store. The raspberry paint job was done professionally, in an auto body shop. Here's a photo of the desk in my old condo, in its glory days:

A little back story on this desk: It took four burly movers to lug this desk from my condo to my house. Upon arriving, we discovered it couldn't fit through the main door, so for months, my desk lived in the entryway of our new home. Eventually, my boyfriend discovered that the desk could be taken apart (yay!) so we brought, piecemeal, upstairs to the study and put it back together. So happy we made it work!

Anyway, back to my discussion about filing... I have mixed feelings about filing cabinets. They are a necessary item in some cases, but how do you pick one that doesn't dominate your space and make it look to "officy"? So I did a search today to find some alternatives to the bulky grey filing cabinet. Here's what I found:

1. Desk and file cabinet from the administrative offices at the Centre Georges Pompidou. $7,013.
2. Bieffe Filing Cabinet, a lovely horizontal filing system for fancy architects. Price unknown.

3. Cognita Storage Bench by Herman Miller. $999.
4. "Leggy" Vintage Filing Cabinet. $160. FOR SALE - ask me about it if you're in the Toronto area!

5. Aluminum Filing Cabinet, Bonhams & Butterfields. Estimated value: $2,000 to 3,0000
6. "Rengaver" Filing Cabinet, OMC Industrial Design Studios. Price unknown.

My favourite is #3 by Herman Miller -- I love its versatility.Which one is your favourite? If you said #4, I just might be able to hook you up!

25 Aug 2011

my wooden bead obsession

Does anyone out there share my obsession with wooden beads? I don't know what it is about them, but when I see them, everything around me blurs out of focus and a wave of happiness engulfs me. Seriously. Wooden beads. What could be simpler? I'm thinking I should surround myself with them, hang wooden beads in every room perhaps.

I got the thumbs up to hang some beads in the living room, of all places. I thought S would object, but he thinks they look rather sculptural hanging off the Found Object (ie: piano innards) above our sofa.

Let's take a quiet moment and gaze at these photos. Do you see what I see in these modest, unassuming little beads? I think they're amazing.

sewing pillowcases

The other week, my friend (let's call her Barbara, to protect her identity) was searching for vintage sheets. She wanted to create a cheerful mix-and-match collection of bedding from thrift store finds. At Value Village, we found a surprising number of cute designs that looked quite charming together. B's favourite pattern was a sweet, hand-screened flower pattern on a lemon yellow background. Unfortunately, it was a fitted sheet for a twin bed, so she couldn't use it.

"I'll just make it into pillowcases for you!" I offered. And so I did.

Did you know that you can learn how to do just about anything from YouTube? If you do a search for sew your own pillowcase you will find about 60 videos.

This is the one I used:

I ran into some trouble with the so called "French Seams" and eventually had to tear them out and do a regular seam, only because I was working with a smaller amount of material.

To create a bit of visual interest, I added a strip of gingham fabric between the border and the main pocket of the pillowcase. I took a bit of artistic license, but think B will approve!

8 Aug 2011

Making a couch -- from SCRATCH.

I think it was the sofa I saw in the April 2010 Elle Decoration (UK) that made me want to pick up a few upholstery skills in the first place. One day in August of last year, we were leafing through the magazine when I stopped at this page:

Me: "How difficult would it be to make this sofa?"
Him: "Easy."

I agreed to do the cushions, even though at the time I didn't have a proper sewing machine and hadn't sewn much beyond an easy pillow case.

Jump ahead a year later. S constructed a similar sofa, only he added his own special touches; the jute webbing used to support the cushions makes a gorgeous visual element along the front, sides and back.

The cushions themselves don't quite live up to the level of excellence S achieved, but  I did learn as I went along. The first two box cushions were a bit too large and wonky, but the third one looks pretty decent. Overall, I think my year-ago self would be impressed.

Two of the wonky box pillows...

The most successful of the three box cushions -- and the gorgeous jute detailing beneath!
in situ (I couldn't shoot the close-up pics on this wall – the room is too narrow.)

3 Aug 2011

My first upholstery project!

This spring I took an upholstery class, offered through the local school board. We were asked to bring in a chair we'd like to re-upholster. I scoured Craigslist and found this rough-looking, occasional chair with good bones.

To "get ahead", I sanded down and oiled the wooden arms/legs, ripped all the stuffing out and stripped the piece back to the bones. I learned this wasn't a great idea, because if the stuffing still looks good, it can often be reused. It helps preserve the integrity of the original piece. And, as I learned later it's tough to re-stuff a chair evenly without any lumps and bumps. I'll know better for next time.

So, the course was eight weeks long, but my chair took probably 12 weeks in total before it was actually ready for my living room. I'm not going to lie, it was a frustrating project. Our instructor didn't have the knack for teaching one might expect from a course offered through a school board, and I wasn't able to finish it within class hours. Luckily my boyfriend is a furniture-maker, so he stepped in at the end and re-attached the arms and back section.

So how am I enjoying the chair, you ask? Sadly, our cat's the only one who uses it. And, because she's such a furball, I ended up covering it with an old pillowcase. So you can't even admire how nice it looks.

Too bad I didn't choose to re-cover it in vinyl. I can now see vinyl's merits for cat-owners!

BEFORE: a tired old chair with an awkward "smile".

AFTER: A few too many lumps (the camera adds 10 pounds), but much better!
I sanded for hours to renove scrapes and sticky old varnish.

Ta daaa!

2 Aug 2011

Make your own textile art!

My boyfriend, (let's call him S), and I spent many months scouring flea markets and second-hand stores, looking for a large-scale piece of artwork for our dining room. We needed something to hang on a wall that was once a fireplace mantle (the previous owners filled in the fireplace, but someday I hope to bring it back!).

Because we're on a tight budget, we needed to think outside the "frame" a bit. (Frames themselves can be very costly, not to mention the piece inside it!). Should we hang something  unconventional, like a weathered old piece of wood, like that funky old piano part we found on a neighbourhood walk? Should we just clad the raised mantle area in wallpaper? Nothing seemed quite right, until...

A few weeks ago, we came across this lovely piece of crewel fabric at the flea market. It was very reasonably priced, and both S and I enjoyed the earthy tones and embroidered texture of the piece. At first I thought S would find it a little too "hippy", but he said he liked the stylized, graphic quality of the flowers.

So after measuring the dimensions of the wall and the fabric, S constructed a 42" x 42" wooden stretcher frame. From there, we used a staple gun to staple the fabric to the back of the frame. Easy stuff — anyone can do this!

The only tip I'd give you if you're going to try stretching canvas or fabric is to make sure you staple in an alternating pattern. In other words, staple in this order:

1. Top middle
2. Bottom middle
3. Left middle
4. Right middle
5. Top right-of-middle
6. Bottom left-of-middle
7. Left above-middle
8. Right below-middle
9. etc.

Hope this will make sense when you see the diagram at the end of this post. Keep alternating staple placement until the frame is complete. At the very end, you can just fold your corners neatly and staple them down a few times.

I was very happy with how it turned out! Have a look: