I must have been an aristocrat in a past life (except for the politics) because I love traditional touches of silver around my home, like coffee sets, candlesticks, and a set of Revere bowls I collected on ebay years ago before my wedding. Apparently, however, I must have also had a household staff in that life (or at least a couple of footmen) because I loathe polishing silver. The cloths don’t work, the paste is smelly and disgusting, and the entire process is one I’d prefer to avoid.
Until I discovered this method of cleaning silver, which I have dubbed the “No muss, no fuss way to polish silver.” No special tools, no expensive pastes, and best of all NO elbow grease involved. The method follows:
Continue reading Polishing Silver
As I detailed in Part 1 of my kitchen saga, when we moved into Stratford House, we had a perfectly functional but not to our taste kitchen. While it’s not in the budget for a while to change the dark wood cabinets, the brass hardware, and the green silestone countertops (Green? WHY?) I could take a little time to fix up the eating area, make it more to our taste, and lighten the entire feel of the room.
As a refresher, here’s the less pathetic before picture:
I’ve already gone into details about the kitchen table, so this post is about everything else. At least, everything else in that corner of the kitchen. Except the blinds. Which aren’t my favorite, but are useful. But I digress.
First, the Cushions. There were existing cushions, covered with a black floral tapestry fabric, which had the following advantages: it showed no stains and … well, that’s about it. Oh wait, it was durable. At first I toyed with having new cushions made (OUCH — this is a LONG bench, and we are talking beaucoup de $$), then I considered having them reupholstered (again, very spendy, not to mention the trouble I’d have finding an upholsterer to take such a small job.) So I decided to forgo piping and turn to the trusty singer sewing machine and $40 of fabric from fabric.com. I chose a black and off white striped ticking (the off white was a little more subdued than a bright white would have been, and I think there’s enough green in the kitchen as is), measured and pinned around the existing cushion stuffing, then sewed three sides with the machine. THEN (and this is the REALLY fun part), I closed the back seam by hand (with the entire (awesome) season of Downton Abbey on TV as I went. No, I can’t remove it to wash, but if I REALLY need to I can cut open the stitching, and you can’t see the hand sewing as it is in the back, facing the wall.
Not being totally insane, I only did the bottom cushions, since the back ones kept flopping down anyway, and who really lounges around a kitchen table? I did decide to make a couple of matching throw pillows (I had extra fabric) with feather pillow forms from Ikea. Being totally insane, I decided to make them in a chevron pattern. And while I like the way it looks, it was way more work than necessary. (Also insane, my “styling” with all the lumpiness at the bottom.) The final step (and this is key): A generous application of scotchgard spray on all of the cushions.
The lighting also had to go. The previous owners of our house (who are great people, and we should know, because we’re still getting their mail), had an inexplicable fondness for Tiffany Style lamps, which are not Kate-style, as they remind me of a TGI Fridays. And while I drank many a Brazilian Monk in college (some crazy “cocktail” which involved Frangelico, Kahlua and Vanilla Ice cream) I do not in fact want to live in a TGI Fridays. I just don’t have enough flair. Also, the kitchen one was a particularly egregious uplight style, which I detest because it looks like a nipple. Hanging from the ceiling. So the Tiffany lamp had to go. I found this lovely Barn style pendant at Lighting Universe, which is nice and big enough to hide the fact that it doesn’t appear to be centered over anything rational in the kitchen. And I got Ken to install it (with my help) in about 20 minutes one afternoon. (Installing light fixtures is usually one of the simplest DIY home repairs. My good friend Mrs. Limestone has a great tutorial on how to do it here and since I’m too lazy to take pictures of the whole process, I’ll just link to hers.) The light has an exposed bulb, so I got a globe light that’s intended for bathrooms. It doesn’t give a ton of light, but the pendant is mostly for atmosphere anyway (there’s overcabinet, undercabinet and canister lights in the kitchen) so at this point I can live with it.
Remember the incredibly sad and pathetic before?
Here’s the after:
(And yes, you can still see our overflowing recycling bin. We’ve gotten the biggest bin from the city and we fill it up and then some every week. If you have a more elegant solution, I’m all ears.)
And there you have it. One tiny budget, one tiny bit of my kitchen made over. But I have to say, we use the space a ton now. We have weekend breakfast and weekday dinners around the kitchen table all the time. The nuni likes to draw there while I’m cooking dinner, and the dog likes to climb on it (hey, we keep it real around these parts).
One of the things I did during my hiatus was do a mini-redo of our kitchen. When we moved into Stratford House, the kitchen was fine. Perfectly functional and relatively new, but not exactly to our tastes. Of course, the problem with a kitchen like that is that it doesn’t make sense to redo it (especially when you find another roof leak, as we did last night in the Nuni’s room. Arrgh. This winter has been tough. And apparently our roof has no flashing.)
Here is the saddest, most pathetic “Before” ever – nighttime, and a total mess (Included mostly to enhance the after!)
Not much I can do about the dark wood cabinets at this stage, or the green countertops (I think they’re silestone, which is actually totally functional. I just wouldn’t have chosen green.)
Here’s another, slightly less pathetic “before” — allows you to see the built in banquette, and the Tiffany style hanging light (Yuck — both the stained glass and the shape) and the floral tapestry cushions. Most of all, you can see the completely inappropriate kitchen table we had in there. We inherited a bunch of furniture, and we put that antique game table in the kitchen as a place holder. It was exactly the wrong size, and shape, and function.
The first thing I wanted to tackle was our kitchen table. I wanted a table where we could sit and eat for informal meals, and one that could function as an extra work surface, and make the room feel more “me.”
Initially, I had my eye on this beauty, from Crate and Barrel, and I still LOVE it. But really, I have a three year old who likes playdough. And a puppy who likes to climb on the table. And I’m not the neatest cook. I’m not sure a marble table really fits my lifestyle, you know?
My next thoughts were an antique farmhouse table, like this beauty. (Actually, I drool over this entire kitchen. LOVE it.)
Sadly, I live in California, where something is “antique” if it’s 10 years old. And these things cost an arm and a leg to ship (and to buy in the first place). I looked at some of the big box stores, but I wasn’t digging the shiny finishes and fake distressing. We also needed a specific size to fit the built in banquette, and it proved difficult to find.
So I decided to make my own. Now, theoretically, I could build my own, but I wanted the table to be a) flat and b) sturdy, so I didn’t think that was the BEST idea. Enter the unpainted furniture store. I ordered a table (luckily in the perfect size) made from alder (technically a hardwood, but a soft one, so not as soft as pine), chose the leg style I wanted, and to boxes arrived at my house.
I wanted that antique feel, and I also wanted my table to be food safe, so I decided to finish the top with tung oil. Pure tung oil is food safe, environmentally friendly, and relatively durable as a finish. It will protect the table from water damage, and can be renewed. It’s also cool because it penetrates the wood, so an errant knife slip won’t ruin your table’s finish forever. And the kicker? Easy to apply and no fumes. I used a citrus based solvent to thin the oil for application, which was also food safe. And made my house REEK of oranges for a week.
I turned the guest bedroom into a workshop, and got to work. (The Tung Oil is easy to apply, but requires several coats, each of which requires overnight drying time. I couldn’t work outside, given all the rain we were having.) The first coat was 50% solvent, 50% tung oil, and I applied it with a rag (from an old tee shirt). I had to apply about 6-7 “coats”, letting each coat dry about 30 minutes to let the wood absorb the oil, and then reapplying until the wood wouldn’t absorb any more oil. That was the first coat (and took ALL DAY). Subsequent coats went on with the same rag, using a slightly higher proportion of oil to solvent. I applied 6 full coats to maximize water resistance.
The apron and legs were easy — those I painted with milk paint. An environmentally friendly paint that lends a touch of historical authenticity (milk paint has been in use for hundreds of years) and looks a bit “distressed” from the get go. Best of all? It’s designed to go on bare wood — no primer is needed (or desirable). You mix the powdered paint (I used the “Pearl” color) with water, let it sit for about half an hour, and apply with an inexpensive natural bristle brush. It went on quickly and dried fast. I applied two coats, and the paint dried flat with some lovely streakiness and a light distressing. You can apply polyurethane over milk paint to “seal” it, but I wanted my table to “age”, and the finish becomes sturdier and more water resistant as time goes on.
The result? A kitchen table that’s functional, and even beautiful. Now we eat more meals in the kitchen, sit around the kitchen table to chat, and even though we have a bigger table, it really opens up the space.
Stay tuned for more in my mini kitchen renovation!
This weekend it was gorgeous in Los Angeles. Here in the land of seventy degrees and sunny, we get spoiled by lovely weather, but this weekend was truly spectacular – flowers, birds, sunshine – springtime spilling forth in all of its glory. A perfect time to dye Easter eggs.
Now, I’m not talking about Paas, though there is a certain nostalgic joy in dropping those little tablets in the liquid, and the smell of vinegar, and those completely useless wire rings for holding the eggs. These eggs are evocative of springtime – of nature and fertility and new beginnings, and you have to go outside to make them. I call them craftsman eggs not only because they embody the spirit of the craftsman design movement – handmade, rather than industrial, and taking the materials and design inspiration from nature, but also remind me of the gorgeous stained glass you see in craftsman houses:
Continue reading Natural Easter Eggs