Furniture Fridays: Back in Black!

We’re back in black, baby.  Or rather, the bookcase is.  About a month ago, we mentioned the idea of painting this antique bookcase with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, here:


At the time, we had no idea whether or not the current  coat of black lacquer contained lead, which was problematic because it was chipping…and our cats like to scratch against it (and recline on the top, looking down on all of us lesser mortals with disdain, pity, or something).  Our plan was to check for lead, and if we had lead, proceed with abatement and painting ASAP since we will be moving the furniture for floor demo and installation anyway.

Recently, at Sherwin Williams’ 40% off sale in April, I picked up a lead paint test kit. After both of us returned from our various work-related travels that have consumed most of May, we tested our bookcase for lead.  With our kit, you were supposed to squeeze and crush a vial containing a reagent that when rubbed against the potentially lead containing surface for 30 seconds would turn pink/red for lead.  The kit also included a false negative test patch so that if you had a negative result you could double check that the vial was not faulty.  Of course, the test patch has to contain lead for the false negative test to be valid, so following all precautions was essential to minimize exposure to hazardous materials. Chris performed the test, while I hovered over him to make sure he did it correctly observed at a safe distance.

We are excited to report that we are lead-free, baby! Now we don’t have to worry about fur babies ingesting lead from the chipping paint and can take our time deciding what to do paint-wise. We also now have the possibility of being able to strip the bookcase down and restore it to its original beauty, which we are also considering.  Another decision delayed, at least for a little while.  Plus, we won’t have to start another DIY project while trying to fence, paint, and tear up floors. Whew! For now, our bookcase is going to stay black, and we’re okay with that.


Happy Friday, folks!


Chalk Paint Possibilities and Questions

We have quite a few paint projects planned for the next few months so that we can finally kiss our brushes goodbye.  Of course, as DIYers know, painting is a never ending activity. Just as you ‘finish’ painting, inspiration strikes somewhere else, and you find yourself standing in the checkout line for paint and rollers again. One of the projects that we need to tackle in the very near future before work travel and summer fun take precedence is this bookcase:


My parents gave us this bookcase because we are book hoarders avid readers and they no longer had need/room for it.  We read widely, so the set of books in this bookcase is not representative of our taste.   The children’s and adolescent literature collections fill the guest bedrooms on Target bookcases (not our best investment) and Cubeicals (surprising longevity), my professional literature sits on other shelves in the living room,and our classics collection is our bedroom. This bookcase is actually more representative of the need to part with some books, like outdated college texts.  Getting there. Slowly.

This bookcase has a history.  My dad used to work as the managing engineer for a plant owned by a company headquartered in Austria, and he acquired this bookcase when the plant closed its doors and liquidated its assets.  It used to sit in his office, so I suppose he was a bit attached to it.  The bookcase is solid mahogany, but you wouldn’t know because it was lacquered black to hide its beauty from the pilfering Nazis during the war, according to the story passed down through the company.  The bookcase was later brought to the states from the original factory in Austria.

Regardless of whether or not the story is true, it has character. And it is indeed solid. And industrial, but not in the expected way.  As shown above, the glass panels slide to allow access to the shelves and also reveal drawers at the bottom.  The glass panels are fitted so precisely that they only fit in one order of installation, and no hardware was used to hang them.  This is the same way with the drawers–these drawers use ZERO hardware for mounting/sliding; instead they have an interesting wood sliding puzzle configuration allowing you to open them and take them out. We aren’t jumping on the brass bandwagon throughout our house like some people are, but the brass hardware on this bookcase looks so perfect with the glossy black coat. The brass plates on the sliding doors (differentiate left and right from center panels) have a bit of a patina, whereas the brass hardware on the drawers has been relatively well protected despite having lived in factories for generations.  #brassisback

We aren’t sure if the paint contains lead or not. I read somewhere that furniture painted in the early 1900s to 1950 is at risk for lead despite evidence that lead paint risks were known by this time, but the only way to know for sure is a test (you can buy lead paint test kits from your local hardware store supposedly).  If we find that the furniture was painting with lead paint, we would need to encapsulate it with a paint product designed to bond to the lead paint, which is likely the most viable abatement method for us. We always err on the side of caution when it comes to health hazards since we have furry family members, hopes for wee children, and allergies. #operationrespirationpurification

On a more fun note, we thought we would like to try using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for the first time to paint the bookcase (either as the top coat(s) over the encapsulating product or, if no lead hazard exists, just as the paint of choice).  We are debating different color choices, and having never used ASCP before, we are having a tough time deciding what to do.  A conservative Graphite or Old White? A bold Antibes Green or Emperor’s Silk with clear and dark wax? Or a layering of different colors…or a custom mix of different colors? Oh, the possibilities.  The bookcase sits along the long wall we recently painted in our living room between our baby grand piano (also a high gloss black lacquer) and our new dining table.


We like having neutral pieces along with fun, bright colors (note the bright paint above!), so we aren’t sure which direction to go.  Normally we would use bright colors on smaller pieces and neutrals on larger pieces, but we don’t want all of our larger painted furniture to end up white (and the lack of a true black in the ASCP collection has given us pause for this guy).  Then there’s the possibility of foregoing ASCP and just refreshing its black lacquer to maintain the look it has had for 65+ years (at least).  If it isn’t painted with lead paint, we might even consider the tedious process of stripping it down to the wood and restoring its original beauty.   If you have any experience with painting furniture, especially with chalk paint, what would you try? What about stripping and restoring pieces? De-lacquering? Lead paint nightmares? Any ideas or tips would be appreciated!

Furniture Fridays: Fine Dining

Furniture Fridays are back! Last time we posted a whole house update, our dining area looked like this, complete with hand-me-down light fixture and furniture from my parents:

IMG_3061Seemingly functional, but looks can be deceiving:  The china cabinet’s glass shelves were overly bendy, groaning from the weight of four modest place settings, and their jagged edges resulted in chipped china and hand lacerations. The table had the usual surface damage from years of use, and two of the legs had started to split.  It was still useable, but we knew it needed replacing. The chairs had some stains, the upholstery was coming apart at the seams, and two of them had been wallowed out by sleeping animals in multiple households.

The light fixture  from my parents was a replacement for the sad, single glass upside down bowl-like light that came with the house.  The bowl had been splattered with white paint from when the former owners/tenants/property managers’ workers must have neglected to cover or take down the light fixture when they spray painted the whole house renter white.  The light from my parents worked, but our CFL bulbs stuck out of it weirdly (look carefully in the picture above and you’ll see them!).  Plus, it hurt like crazy when you bumped your head on it, as we did regularly when getting up from the table, thanks to the typical builder placement of the light in the center of the room (not accounting for table length and china cabinet/buffet/sideboard placement in a house with only 1 eating area).

Well, those days of woe are behind us, because our dining area now looks like this:


We donated the table and chairs to a local charity, moved the rug to the front bedroom, and plan to sell the china cabinet on Craigslist or at our upcoming neighborhood spring garage sale.  This really opened up the space horizontally and vertically.  We also rented scaffolding to be able to paint the two tall walls (Shake, Splatter, and Roll), replaced the light fixture, and got a new CUSTOM dining set from a local business.


The turquoise paint on the south wall is Sherwin Williams Drizzle, the pale blue-gray paint on the west wall is Sherwin Williams Comfort Gray, and the chandy is the Hampton Bay Menlo Park 5-light Chandelier from Home Depot.

I had originally planned to DIY a Mason Jar light fixture, but we decided that we didn’t want to go over-the-top with the farmhouse style.  The Hampton Bay Menlo Park fixture came with the two-story length of chain/wire we needed and had clean lines. The first one we got was a lemon (faulty wiring in one of the arms it seemed), but we took a risk and ordered a replacement with which we’ve been satisfied.  It’s not amazing by most lighting standards, but this is the best we could find in the < $200 price range at different retailers.  We just can’t justify spending $$$ for a light we don’t use that often, given that we mostly eat dinner by candlelight and get enough sun from the southern exposure to not need it during the day, even on cloudy days.  We will eventually replace the shades because the yellowish-beige is the only thing we don’t like about it, but chandy shades (especially the ones we want from Shades of Light) aren’t cheap.

IMG_4366-1We ordered the farmhouse table, bench, and chairs from a local business, Tide Life Southern Coastal Living, run by a husband and wife team.  Their work was recently featured on HGTV and the DiY network! They can make any wood furniture you want in any size and style you like, although they specialize in farmhouse styles similar to what Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Restoration Hardware offer (but for MUCH MUCH less!).  We were also able to get a 7 foot table and bench to match, which is not a standard size offered by most retailers.  The 7 foot table allows us to seat 8 people comfortably without making our smallish dining space feel cramped.  In Goldilocks parlance, the 6 foot would have been too small, the 8 foot too large, but the 7 foot is juuuuust right.  They offer all kinds of paint, stain, wash, and distress options.  We chose to do an espresso stained top for the table and bench, with white legs and chairs painted Bistro White in semi-gloss by Valspar.  They have used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in the past but typically use Valspar so that their customers can easily find paint for touch-ups as needed.  There is only one ASCP retailer in our area, and it isn’t conveniently located for most of Tide Life’s customers.  They do local deliveries but have recently traveled to other states in the Southeastern US to deliver, as their business has greatly expanded in the last few months.  Isn’t it amazing how a different table totally changes the look of this space?


We love how the dark table top makes our china (Kate Spade Library Lane Aqua) pop, and the blue ridge of our china ties in nicely with our wall colors.  The napkins are from this post.  Now our dining area is a better reflection of our style and is more compatible with our beach lifestyle.  Next up is centering the chandelier, replacing the flooring with wood look tile, and adding some art.

As a final comparison:

                             Before                                                                           After


And doesn’t a bowl of oranges just make it look that much more amazing? Now that’s more like it.


Not Feeling Hemmed-in Anymore

Have you ever found a pair of pants that fit you perfectly, bought five pairs of them (in different colors, of course), and lived happily for several years, only to later discover that the store no longer carries the perfect pant for you anymore?  Feeling “hemmed-in” by “standard” sizes that supposedly fit the average person and actually fit no one? I feel your pain.  About seven years ago, Banana Republic made a regularly sized pant with a shorter inseam (denoted “S”) that was the best fit ever. I bought almost every color of that pant available and literally wore them out.  When I returned to buy replacements a few years later, I discovered that they had replaced their “short” pants with a petite collection that was not a 1:1 substitution.  Complete and utter disappointment.  When I tried on a pair of their petite pants to find a small enough waist and inseam, the distance from the waist to the crotch was too short, and there was barely enough room in the thighs for my former gymnast/dancer/cheerleader legs (read: NOT TOOTHPICKS, FASHION INDUSTRY! Grr!).  When I tried on a regular pair of pants, the situation reversed.  Banana Republic was literally the ONLY store that carried a dress pant that fit me, but not anymore.  Now, my shopping experience at BR was like every other shopping experience at every other store =  feelings of self-loathing and bitter frustration.

Since this was back in my “newlywed educator with zero income to spend on tailored clothes and zero sewing ability” days, I did what any normal girl would do: I bought a buffet of differently-fitting (read: ill-fitting) pants.  On days where I needed to look “professional,” I suffered through the pants with the tighter crotch and legs (suffer being an understatement), while on casual days, I tripped over the long legs of the baggier, bigger pants (nothing says “put together” like tripping on your pants at a job interview, right?).  After tearing through a mile-long hem with a stiletto heel and experiencing petechial bleeding across my hips from the tight-fitting pants, I resorted to wearing yoga pants and “outdoorsy” pants to work–the kind with the expandable waist and zip-off legs that you buy at places like REI. Seriously.  Now granted, I work in the freer world of graduate student/academia, where you can get away with a more eclectic (translates: casual) wardrobe, but nothing says poor graduate student like ill-fitting pants. Or yoga/hiking pants.  Since most of the other female doc students have become pregnant in the last couple of years or so, I knew it was a matter of time before people naturally assumed I was wearing stretchy and expand-a-waist pants because I was carrying a bundle of joy.  I was desperate for a solution.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just wear skirts instead of pants to work.  Reasons: Overworked women do not have time to shave their legs daily. I am an overworked woman. You can fill in the rest. Also, I work best with my feet propped on top of my desk.  Again, you can fill in the rest.

That’s when I realized I had started sewing again.  If I could repair a zipper on an old skirt and sew some pillow covers, surely I could hem some of those baggy dress pants, right?  I could make MY OWN “short” pants (Take that, BR!).  Of course, the thought of sewing mismatching leg lengths was intimidating, which is why I didn’t cut off the extra material.  That way, if I screwed up, I could undo the disaster and give them to someone else to fix. At some point. In the distant future. When I am not a poor grad student.  (Correction: In the near future.  I hope. Please.)

I started with a pair of Gap khaki pants, thinking that I would save my nicer dress pants for post-practice sessions.  I put on the too-long pants, and rolled up the pant legs to the desired length, making sure they appeared even. foldinghemsup Since the pants are made of a relatively thick khaki material, the cuffs stayed rolled up long enough for me to take them off, match up the legs to ensure they were the same length, and reverse the cuffs by rolling them under.


I realize this isn’t exactly how most people do this, but we’re talking amateur tactics that actually worked. Miracle. Feel free to ignore the weird black grunge on the edge of my desk–years of sweaty wrists, methinks? #FurnitureHandMeDowns It’s clean.  It’s just permanently stained.  But don’t worry.  It’s getting painted with Annie Sloan Chalk paint as soon as we move out of #Rentervilletuckingunderhem

I selected a stitch that looked like the original hem, then sewed each leg, starting and stopping at the interior seam (This probably seems obvious to most of you, but I took the attachment base off my machine so that I could sew in a circle around the pant leg, rather than sewing the leg hole shut!).   I used a cotton, khaki-colored thread from Coats and Clark that my husband actually bought to sew some buttons on his own pants.  After witnessing his attempt at button-sewing, I graciously offered to sew the rest for him. 🙂hemming I backstitched the beginning and end of my hem and across the interior seam to reinforce it because this was a fairly heavy weight khaki.  backstitchseamPlus, I wanted my work to last–at least for one wear and wash, anyway. Long enough to prove I could actually hem a pair of pants. Yeah, something like that.2legsfinished

I tried on my pants post-sewing and was amazed that they actually seemed to fit for the first time ever. Yay!  Now I’m no longer “hemmed-in” by store sizes.finishedNow on to the trickier dress pants.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to wear my yoga pants for yoga and my hiking pants for hiking soon!