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:

I always choose matte.

Remember when people actually printed out their photographs? I used to take photos with my dad's old Yashica, shoot a roll of 24, and send it away IN THE MAIL to be developed. By the time my prints showed up in the mailbox a few weeks later, I usually forgot what I'd shot, and it was a fun surprise to see the results.

When filling out a form to send my photos away, I always chose "matte" -- never "glossy". Matte just fit better with the images I was taking: irises blowing in the breeze on the side of a dirt road; a close-up of clothespins on a dewy morning clothesline; a cat walking along a weathered fencepost. Living outside of the city, my eyes absorbed the effortless beauty of humble objects in nature. Nothing was contrived, primped or polished. An interesting shadow on a wall or an unusual texture was enough to draw me in. Beauty settled around me in dust motes, like nature sharing a secret.

I never took it lightly, checking off that "matte" checkbox. It seemed a vital aesthetic choice to me, even at the age of twelve. And, 20+ years later, I still choose matte, in all its various forms, whatever the word stands for in my mind.

Photo taken at a farm in Maine, on an analog camera.