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 This bookcase is actually more representative of the need to part with some books, like outdated college texts.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!

Was blind but now I see…curtains!

When we moved into the ‘Zoo, all of the windows (except in the bathrooms) had these lovely faux wood, wood-tone blinds.  If they were a rich espresso or even a pale maple, we probably could have lived with them.  But they weren’t.  They also were the older kind with the pull-cords rather than the turning rod for opening and closing them, and the cords had these unfortunate wooden beads on the end that were practically calling the cats to come play  strangle themselves.  We donated the blinds to a local rescue mission that accepts these kinds of items.


My mom changed all of her draperies to the blackout kind, so she gave us some curtain panels that she had purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond a few years back.  They are a nice thick weave and a good neutral that will work until I have the time/money to make some that are more “us.”  I love that they have grommets–easy to open and close.  A tad industrial.  Perfect for these:

I really loved these rods best, but they weren’t in the budget.  We decided, in the interest of saving money, to make our own industrial-look curtain rods with the help of the blogosphere and Pinterest, rather than buy them from West Elm.

Aspiring DIYers, beware.  We encountered some difficulties making our rods, and you may, too.  Before we get to the how-to, here’s an overview of the biggest problems we encountered when completing this project:

1.  Hardware Hardships
We couldn’t find the hardware we needed to be able to follow some bloggers’ tutorials, and the big box employees weren’t really able to help us much either since we were using materials in unconventional ways.  We tried following this tutorial so that we could easily take our curtains down to wash/change, but the wing nuts wouldn’t actually tighten despite our best efforts. This resulted in a round #1 DIY fail for us.

On our more successful round #2, the tutorial we followed gave clearer information about what to purchase, but we still could not find the hardware we needed to mount the floor flanges to the wall, which meant we had to improvise a bit.  A well-meaning Lowe’s employee recommended a small screw and washer combo, but we weren’t very confident that his solution would hold anything up, let alone galvanized pipe + heavy curtain panels.  Then I found this pack of awesomeness that looked strong enough for the job (and also fit our flanges):

2.  Paint Problems
Don’t expect to spray paint galvanized metal with typical available-to-homeowners paint and get lasting results.  Some bloggers make note of this; others blithely spray paint their pipe and say “You can, too!”  Because we were aware of this thanks to the more realistic bloggers, we ORBed a scrap piece of conduit leftover from our cuts.  With the wear and tear of curtains being pulled back and forth, we didn’t want to have weird grey streaks where the grommets or curtain clips were rubbing paint off.  When we simulated the grommets sliding back and forth on our test piece, the ORB finish did indeed start coming off.  You could probably spray paint pipe fittings for shelving or something that won’t be subjected to constant motion that would rub the paint off, but we decided to leave our rods in their galvanized state.

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Note: After galvanized metal has been exposed to the elements (about a year’s time outside, multiple years inside), the zinc oxidizes enough that other bloggers say you can paint the metal at that point.  If, in a few years, we decided to paint our rods, we can; otherwise, we may decided to continue leaving them as is or save up money to purchase “forever” rods.

3.  Manufacturing Mishaps
Not all pipe fittings are exactly alike, even from the same store.  The thread pattern on some of our galvanized elbows was a perfect fit for our conduit, but on others, we had to wrap tape around the ends of the conduit to “thicken it up” so that the fit inside the elbow would be tight enough to stay put.  The elbows were the same size, in the same bin, from the same store, but different manufacturers.  Be careful when sanding the edges of your conduit so that you don’t overly thin the conduit and make this even more of an issue.

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Enacting Operation Curtain Rod:

The Plan
We  needed rods for 5 standard-ish windows (about 35″ +/- a few eighths), 1 smaller window over the kitchen sink, and 2 extra wide windows (about 70″, again +/- a few eighths).  We made our materials list and went to two different Lowe’s, because neither had enough of the materials we needed.

The Tools
Phillips screwdriver

The Materials
(5) 10′ pieces of galvanized EMT conduit
(2) 3/8″ galvanized floor flanges per window x 8 windows = 16
(2) 3″ x 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe nipples x 8 windows= 16*
(2) 1/2″ to 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe elbows x 8 windows = 16

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Note: The tutorial we were following called for 1/2″ flanges, pipe nipples, and elbows, but we ended up going with 3/8″ (and a 1/2″ to 3/8″ elbow so the 1/2″ conduit would go in the 1/2″ side) because (a) there weren’t enough 1/2″ flanges and (b) the 3/8″ flanges were a lot cheaper.

*We went to two different Lowe’s and could not find enough of the same size pipe nipples to make all of our rods the same size, so some of our curtain rods have pipe nipples that are 2″ long, while others are 3″ long.  We thought this could be a good experiment to test what worked best to share, so we went ahead with purchasing some 2″ and some 3″ ones (we did make sure that we had two matching ones for each window, though!). At first we thought the 2″ would look better because they would be more like a standard curtain rod, but the 3″ makes it much easier to open and close the curtains, and the panels look more crisp and less bunched because they have more room. We would recommend the 3″ if you are using curtains with grommets, but you could probably get away with the 2″ if you are using curtain clips instead.

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The Sawing and Sanding
We marked our conduit with a Sharpie at the right measurements for our respective windows, allowing 6″ on either side of the windows so that we could hang them “high and wide.” This isn’t as wide as some people go, but we have a small house, so some of our walls don’t really allow for super-wide hanging.  We used a hacksaw to cut through the conduit, with Chris cutting and me holding the pipe to add sufficient tension for the hacksaw to work.  We could have bought/used a conduit cutter, but a hacksaw is a more universal tool and thus a better buy for us.

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We just propped the conduit in the ridges of our recycling bins to help hold the conduit in place during the cutting process.  After cutting, Chris gently sanded the edges smooth.

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The Assembly
We fitted the elbows, nipples, and flanges together as shown here.
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Then we screwed the elbows onto the conduit, making sure that they were sufficiently tight and oriented so that they would be flush against the wall.  Testing them against the floor is the easiest thing to do.  As mentioned earlier, we had to add tape to some of the ends of the conduit to account for the variability in size of the elbows.  We didn’t put our grommet panels on just yet because we needed to hold the rods up to the wall to mark the positions of the flanges, and holding up heavy galvanized pipe plus heavy draperies would be even worse.  However, before you screw the flanges into the wall, you will want to put the grommet panels on the rods.  If you are using curtain clips, no worries–you can wait until the end.

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The Installation
We measured and made a mark at six inches wide on each side of the window by six inches high to achieve a relatively balanced look.  We then centered the flanges on those marks, checked if the rod was level, and traced the screw holes.  We experimented by orienting the flange holes in the T position shown here for some sets of curtains and an X position for other sets.  We thought the T looked better aesthetically, but the X position was easier for drilling/using the screwdriver.  Note: The galvanized flanges leave dingy marks on the wall, but these marks were hidden once the flanges are mounted. photo 2 

We then placed our rods back over the traced holes to doublecheck that everything was still level.  This was not the easiest thing to do, and we had to retrace holes a couple of times.  I tend to be able to spot when things aren’t level by a hair, so this would really drive me nuts if they weren’t exactly spot on.  In fact, I would recommend three people for this phase–two to hold the ends in place, and one person to check the level so that the skewed vantage point of one of the holders doesn’t result in a tilted rod.  Unless you like that sort of look. I probably won’t come to your house, though.  Just sayin’.

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We drilled holes for the anchors and hammered them in. Then we put our curtain panels on the rods and screwed in the flanges.  The rods were ridiculously heavy to hold up while affixing the flanges to the wall; our arms kept going numb from holding heavy things above our head while also trying to use a screwdriver.  The T position prevents you from using a power tool for screwing the flanges to the wall, hence why we recommend the X position if you can stand it.  This was definitely a two-person gig and would have been better with a third person, as I’ve already mentioned.

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Since we had some curtains with 2-inch pipe nipples and others with 3-inch pipe nipples, we made sure that rooms with multiple windows got the same kinds of pipe nipples so that one curtain wouldn’t jut out more than another.  It took FOREVER to install these babies, but it’s nice to have window treatments that allow for more natural light, are easier to open/close, and aren’t deathtraps for our cats, which is the most important thing, after all.

Note: We apologize for the horribly dark picture.  We’ll break out the real camera soon. Promise.

Getting a Handle on Things

We aren’t quite finished with the range hood situation, so today we’re sharing a smaller yet satisfying kitchen upgrade: cabinet hardware.

One of the most annoying things about moving into this house was how difficult it was to open our kitchen cabinets (and bathroom cabinets) without hardware of any kind.  Although the doors and drawers technically had that weird routed out part of “wood” you could grab to pull, the cabinets had been repainted at some point before our time with semi-gloss paint (when the humidity in the house was relatively high), so we had to play tug-of-war to counteract the gloss-on-gloss stickiness.  IMG_0512

After a few months of this, we were ready for some hardware.  We prefer pulls to knobs, so while we were at Lowe’s using our other 10% off coupon, we grabbed a couple of contractor packs of simple brushed nickel pulls.  We thought these would best complement our growing collection of stainless appliances but not draw too much attention to the cheapness of the existing cabinets.

My dad offered to install the first drawer pull as a test-run of what we would need to do for the rest.  I helped him measure and mark the locations of the holes we would need to drill.  The distance from the center of one pull leg to the other (leg = where it attaches to cabinet) was 3 inches, so we measured the length of the drawer to find its midpoint and then measured 1 1/2 inches to the left and to the right to mark the holes.  We decided to place the handles at a 2/3 height from the bottom of the drawer face rather than exactly halfway because they looked a bit low at the halfway point.  Although playing with thirds can be tricky, the 2/3 height turned out to be right at 3.5 inches from the bottom of the drawer front.


As you can see in the picture above, we had to drill through the interior wall of the drawer and then into the drawer face, but the screws included in the hardware pack would not be long enough to go through both and stick out enough on the front to screw into the pull.


My dad suggested a drilling sequence of (1) pilot hole, (2) large hole in interior wall for screw head to pass through it, (3) small hole for screw to pass through drawer face. It worked like a charm.



After my dad left, I measured and marked all the remaining drawers and doors on the lower kitchen cabinets. For the doors, I just found the midpoint of the flat face on the opening side of the cabinet to center the pull and then used a level to mark a tiny line across the top of the recessed panel on that same flat part for the height of the pull.  Once Chris got home from work, we installed all the remaining hardware.  We didn’t put any pulls on the uppers since we knew those were going to be coming down anyway to make room for the range hood.






Now that we’ve had pulls for a few weeks, we both agree that they are a small upgrade that makes a big difference in our kitchen’s functionality.  We plan to reuse the pulls when we eventually upgrade our cabinets (plus a few extra we have in reserve for adding more cabinets at that point), which also makes it a worthwhile investment that we can continue to enjoy down the road.  If we were going with special order fancy pants pulls, we would not have bought hardware in advance of our major upgrade down the road in case of running out of pulls and not being able to re-order more, but since we went with the plain Jane pulls, we were able to buy enough at a decent price to have plenty for the upgrade later…and they are likely to stay in stock if we did run out for some reason.  For the time being, it’s nice to have a handle on the kitchen (and everything in it).