How to buy furniture at auction Friday, Mar 25 2011 

Auctions are a fun and very cheap way to buy furniture.  But they can be daunting to a newcomer.  So here are some tips that I wish I’d known!

1. The prices are a guide

Things can go for a lot more (or a lot less).

So you may discount something that has an estimate of $3000, and then no-one bids $100.  Or you may set your heart on an item with a low estimate.  The ‘bird cage’ below had an estimate of $25.  I determined to have it (I had visions of it as a fabulous light above a table), and was prepared to pay $300.  It went for $650.

In another auction, when we lost out on a pair of antique french chairs that went more than five times the estimate of $600, a pair of baronial chairs, with a many thousand dollar estimate wasn’t bid on at all.  In a rash moment, the man stuck his hand up and we got them for $100.  The look of horror on his face when he realised that we had them was priceless.  We hadn’t even examined them!

However – they are glorious now: check out the story of their transformation here.

2. Buy what you want and need (not what is going for a song)

Linked to my advice above – it is very easy to get carried away with items that are unbelievably reasonable. You may well end up with two dining sets, four sofas and a bed.  What are you going to do with them?

These are the things I ask myself.  I try to ask them BEFORE I’ve purchased.

3. Research your item so you know if it’s a good price

Don’t get so carried away that you pay more than retail price at an auction.  It pays (literally) to know what things are selling for in the shops.

Generally, it horrifies me that an antique mahogany dining set (table and chairs) costs less than an IKEA pine equivalent.  Mahogany just isn’t fashionable at the moment.

But check to be certain – it also gives you something by which to set your upper price limit.

4. Auction fees

Once you know how much you’re prepared to pay, don’t forget to factor in the auctioneer’s fee.  These vary from 15% to 20% and higher.

If you’re prepared to pay $600 for something.  Does that include the additional fee?  Because if you bid $600, you may end up paying $720 when it includes the fee. 

5. Different styles and ways of bidding

The best way to bid is in person at the auction.  You can see the other people bidding, catch the mood, see how serious others are and when they hesitate.  Sometimes you can tell when one more bid on your part will clinch it, and when the other party is prepared to pay whatever it takes.

You can usually also leave absentee bids, where you leave you maximum on a form and the auctioneer bids on your behalf.  If you really want an item, you risk losing it. 

Finally, you can often bid by telephone (some auction houses have rules about minimum bids if you do this).  Which means that you can bid even while at a friend’s party.  Dangerous if you have a drink in hand…

In terms of bidding strategy, you can either wait and see what others do, gauge the level of interest and then bid towards the end.  Or you can bid so firmly and strongly from the start that you put others off with your determination.  You won’t fool the seasoned players, but you might fool novices. 

6. Getting it home

If you are buying large items, you usually have to take them very quickly – usually within 24 hours.  So be prepared to organised trucks or removalists at short notice and at inconvenient times.  Remember to factor these costs into the true cost of buying the item.

7. If it’s not what you want after all?

Finally – if you get it home and you realise that it really isn’t what you hoped it would be?  Don’t just live with it.  Either sell it at the following auction (where you bought it).  You may lose the auctioneer’s fee, but you shouldn’t be too much out-of-pocket. 

Or, sell it on Ebay.  Sometimes, I’ve made a substantial profit doing this.

And there of course, lies a business opportunity.  But that’s another story…

Organised wardrobe shelves and drawers: declutter, tidy and beautify Wednesday, Mar 9 2011 

One of the easiest ways to live a life that Doesn’t Cost the Earth, is to reduce consumption.  And one of the easiest ways to reduce consumption is to actually use what you have.  So many of us have so much stuff.

But can you actually find any of it?

earrings drawer divider organiser storage tidy wardrobe interiors

I love nothing more than a good sort out.  I thrill to the idea of going through things, chucking out, tidying and organising.  I’m not so hot on weekly cleaning, but an annual sort through ‘stuff’ really rocks my boat.

So here are some ideas if you’re not so keen (pity the poor man…).

Firstly, don’t attempt to tackle more than one area at a time.  This is supposed to be fun, not forced labour.  Either do the garage, your wardrobe, the spare room – not all of them.  That would be exhausting!

When you’ve decided on an area, take everything out that you want to sort through (either in total, or in sections) and be brutal.  If you haven’t worn it or used it for a year why are you keeping it?  If it is sentimental, create a treasure chest for those items that really mean something to you.

If you are unsure, put those items in a separate box.  Leave it for six months and if you haven’t missed them – you don’t need them.

shelving organised wardrobe jumper storage interiors tidy

Those things you are keeping, should be kept beautifully.  Shops know how to display things in a way that ensures you desire them.  Your wardrobe should do the same.  Shelves and spaces are better designed to fit, with small compartments.  Larger shelves means piles of clothes that topple when you try to remove something, and a resulting disorder that is too exhausting to continually tidy.

The shelves above show jumpers and sweaters stacked one or two deep.  Any more and it’s hard to keep it tidy.  The shelves are the width of each item – as two piles next to each other always get messy. 

shelving organised wardrobe jumper storage interiors tidy hanging

Arrange items by type first: jumpers together, shirts hanging together, trousers etc.  Then organise by colour.  This makes it very fast and easy to find things.  If you want a blue top – all your blue tops will be hanging together.

Use every inch of your space – here high heels are stacked along the top shelf beneath the sloping ceiling.

And just as shelves are best arranged to fit – so are drawers.

tidy drawer ties organised wardrobe interior

You can purchase (or make) so many fabulous drawer dividers – and they really do make all the difference in the world.  You’ll be able to find things.  Everything will be better preserved (no ironing) as you’re not permanently rummaging through hunting for the one thing that evades you.

Ties can be hung – but (above) are arranged like flowers in a drawer – making it easy to find the right colour.

Rolling items (such as the ties above) means no creases.

Drawer dividers work for small items such as underwear, socks, ties and belts.  But a simple strip down the centre of a large drawer makes it easy to store T-shirts and the like as well.

tidy drawer jewelry organised wardrobe interior

Jewelry is lovely when you can find it easily.  Lots of sections, each with colour-coded earrings, make accessorizing an outfit fun, rather than stressful.

Overhauling of an area of your house, giving (or selling) the unwanted items to a charity shop, cleaning and tidying the remaining goodies – is definitely a very rewarding thing to do.  You can sit down with a large cocktail and be certain that you deserve it.  And what’s more – you can wear matching earrings while you’re drinking it!

How to create a colour scheme for interiors Thursday, Feb 17 2011 

Over the years I’ve tried various colour schemes in my home.  I’ve painted my hallway a vibrant fuchsia pink, to see whether I found that an energising welcome.  My study has been a moody midnight blue, a sepia, antique khaki colour and a colour thrown by the clouds over the English sea….  I found my pink hall jarred.  It didn’t feel like me.  It felt brash.  I would have loved it in someone else’s house for an evening, but not after a hard day’s work.

I do think you only discover what you like by trying different things, and hopefully over time, you settle into your own style.

Colour is key.

The eye sees colour first.

How immediately the eye is drawn to the two red ‘o’s.  And that’s exactly what colour in a room will do for you.

Developing a colour scheme can seem daunting, but in fact there are number of easy ways to do this. 

The first way involves taking something that you like (a rug or a piece of fabric) and using that as the basis for your scheme.

blue red fabric colour scheme interior

This luscious fabric offers either a neutral oatmeal, or a sun-bleached blue as a base.  The base should make up around 50 – 70% of the room’s colour.  Then add 20-30% of the other colour.  The remaining accents will uplift the room as a contrast that picks up the fabric.  Using this fabric somewhere in the room means that it all looks pulled together, rather than random.

green pink fabric colour scheme interiors

Abundant greens, from sage to olive are a fabulous basis for a room, with rose-pink accents.  As these colours are on opposite sides of the colour wheel, they create a more energising look.  This is kept from being overwhelming by the muted shades.  however, bright pink together with bright green can really shout!   More on that, and how it reflects your personality here.

patchwork fabric colour scheme green pink sage

This patchwork offers a similar colour palette, but even more muted.  Whereas the fabric below takes the green shade over the border into blue – a soothing aqua colour.

A fabulous painting can provide a wonderful basis for a colour scheme, especially if that painting is a focal point of the room.

Henri Rousseau painting interior colour scheme

If you’re lucky enough to posses an Aubusson rug – the colours woven into those designs could inspire myriad rooms.  (whether or not you cut it up, as I did here…)

vegetable dye blue rug interiors colour scheme

If you don’t have some fabric, a rug, a painting, or something that is inspiring you… choose a colour that you like – really like.

Then you can either work with its opposites, or its cousins, depending on whether you want a soothing room, or one with a bit more visual impact.  Even strong colours, when paired with similar, are more restful than opposites.

 Another place to start (if you’re still struggling) is to decide on the mood you’d like to create and then work on colours that compliment that mood.  If you’re aiming for beachy and coastal – stick to a colour palette of aquas and sands.  A moorish, Moroccan look will rely on rich spice colours of nutmeg, scarlets and cinnamons.

The $4000 shelves, three years of misery, and cutting my losses…or …What to do if you make an expensive mistake Tuesday, Feb 15 2011 

So – you’ve bought the house (or apartment) and it needs work.

Where do you start?  How much do you spend?  And how do you avoid expensive errors of judgement?

New research shows the average woman has 22 items in her wardrobe that she has never worn (but feels too guilty to throw out).  Sadly, purchases for the home are not immune from such lapses in judgment either.  And rather than languish unseen in the back of the wardrobe, they stare at us daily from whichever room we have thrust them into, unable to face the ignominy of admitting our mistake.

This is what I’ve learned….

Firstly, don’t rush into things. 

Oh, that’s so rich coming from me. 

I’m a complete rusher.  I’m brim-full of ideas and enthusiasm, can see lots of potential and I want to do it all now now now!!  I’m also very decisive and rarely change my mind, so this isn’t usually a problem.  Except that houses are different.

Ancient library leather bound books

Take, for example, the 42 boxes of books that were stacked up when I moved in here.  (I’m  a voracious reader…)  I couldn’t bear to have them boxed.  I love books in a room.  So, straight away, I had book shelves built in the living room.  Before (I can’t believe I’m telling you this)… BEFORE I had a plan for the room as a whole.  Which is the kiss of death to any space. 

To add insult to injury, the carpenters (I had too much to get done, so hired someone) had very firm ideas of what they thought should happen.  And I took their advice.  So I ended up with something that not only didn’t fit into an overall designplan, I ended up with something that wasn’t really my plan at all.  It was some carpenter’s idea.

I lived with it, resentfully, grudgingly, disappointedly for three years.  Unable to bear ripping out something that had cost so much.

Until I realise that I was adding to the dollar cost, with the cost of my unhappiness.  The offending shelves have long gone and taking them out was the best things I could have done.

What could be so wrong with them, I hear you ask?  Firstly, they were not built up to ceiling height (which I had asked for) – but to the top of the windows, some 30cm lower.  This had the effect of lowering an already low ceiling and making the room feel oppressive.  Secondly, they were not built from wood (again my first preference) but from laminate.  The carpenters insisted this would be better.  And although laminate these days is far superior than that of a couple of decades ago, it looked cheap and ‘fake’.  I should have stuck to my guns and had wood, which would have taken more time as it needed priming and painting.

So:

1. Don’t rush.  Books can sit in boxes.  Guests and friends can visit half-done homes. 

2. Make sure you know what you want, and don’t let tradespeople talk you into a different design unless there is a structural reason for it (such as an extra $5,000 to move the plumbing). 

3. If you make a mistake, don’t punish yourself by living with it.  Accept you got it wrong and change it.

4. Have a complete plan for the room before you start spending.

5. Investigate all alternatives to get the best price.  The carpenters were competitively priced (yes – even at $4000).  But I didn’t realise, at that time, that shelves could be purchased from antique auctions for a pittance, and then remodelled.  I could have had wood cheaper than laminate, and antique wood at that.  These experiences are one of the reasons why I now do so much myself.

So – if you are sitting with an expensive mistake in your home…. be kind to yourself.  Admit you were wrong and recycle the damn thing!

Throwing a party without headaches or hangovers Sunday, Feb 13 2011 

Bellini cocktail party planning

The last few days have been a bit of a blur as the man has had a significant birthday and I have been in the throes of throwing a party.  I love having masses of people over for a fabulous evening – so here are the tips I’ve picked up to make the night memorable….

Firstly, as with interior decor, think about the atmosphere.  Visually you want people to walk in and feel immediately that they are at a party.  So get the lights down low, and throw in a few fairy lights, candles, coloured lights or anything to create the ambience…

Move furniture and rugs either out of the room, or to the edges to give people room to circulate.  Leave enough chairs that people can sit in little groups, and enough tables that guests have somewhere to pop their drinks.

Generous flower arrangements help create a sense of festivity.  I went to the local florist and got four bunches of lilies for $10 because they were at their peak and would only last a day.  This is the perfect time to seize a bargain with flowers that the florist needs to move (not so nice to give as a gift when they are limp the next day).  I’ve talked about flower arrangements here, so I stuck to one flower, and built height by splitting them between vases of varying sizes.

white lilies flower arrangement how to

Whether you’re doing food or drink, make the table look generous by filling it: with food, glasses, vases… whatever.  Think of it as a display.  Cake stands are useful as they add height – which is the secret to a fabulous-looking banquet.  Make sure some plates (at the back) are higher than those at the front and you have instant drama.

party food table arrangement interiors

Welcome guests with a signature cocktail.  I did the classic Bellini, from Harry’s Bar in Venice: peach puree and Champagne.  It’s summery, delicious and glamorous.  This gets people in the mood straight away.  For those who are driving and not drinking, have a supply of classic Mineral Water.  We got through a whole case of San Pelligrino…

Many wine shops will lend you glasses if you buy your booze from them – a cheap and easy way of catering to the masses.

Ensure you have great music playing (we had the most fabulous band: Deejay Gosper) so that all sense are stimulated.  Plan your playlist prior to the event so that you have the music ready to roll, without the need for decisions on the night.

party food table arrangement interiors lilies

Even if you’re not serving a meal, ensure there is some food to mop up the alcohol.  Large serves of a few simple items is best: salmon and cream cheese on rye bread, rosemary and garlic flatbread: easy finger food.

Dress fabulously as the hostess (or host) and welcome everyone with a huge smile, a drink and an introduction to someone else.

Finally, when it’s all over…. get the man to clear up…..

Tradespeople quotes: getting ripped off and getting even. Monday, Jan 31 2011 

You’ll have got the drift, by now, that I like doing most things myself, if I can.  But there are occasions when even my enthusiasm and energy flag.  Such as rendering the outside of my house, re-wiring it, replacing an entire window, and so on.  So there are always times when you need to call in the trades: builders, plumbers, electricians….

As a woman (I hate to say, this, but it’s true), particularly as a woman, I feel I can get bamboozled by guys coming to quote.

It’s kind of like taking my car in.  All kinds of technical issues suddenly arise.  Complicated-sounding jargon makes me feel ignorant.  Large problems seem to be isolated to my particular case, which, of course, is going to increase the price.

I start feeling overwhelmed, confused and out-of-my depth.  And more than anything, I start feeling that they are pulling the wool over my eyes.

I hate getting ripped off.  Don’t you?  So girls (and guys if you’re reading this) – here’s how to get even….

Rutherford quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Firstly, ask lots of questions.  As the quote above so aptly summarises – if you want to save money, you have to use your brain. 

When an electrician/builder/plumber uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, ask!  What does that mean?  Is that isolated to my case only?  Do you come across that often?  Is there a way around it?

If you don’t ask, you’re going to get more lost as the tradeperson continues.  And he knows that.  And he’ll charge you.

If you DO ask, when the next person that comes to quote (because you ARE getting at least three quotes, aren’t you?) you will be very well-informed.  It also means that when the work is underway, you’ll know what’s going on.

quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Secondly, be very clear what you do and don’t want done.  It might be easier with that wall knocked out, or with the light hung a metre to the left of centre, but is that what you want?  Stick to your guns.  Ask why they want to do something different.  Ask if there is an easier way.

Thirdly, GET THREE QUOTES.  It’s a hassle isn’t it?  Half the people I call don’t even turn up.  That’s how easy business is here in Australia….  Here are some of my stories as to why you should get three quotes.

When I wanted to get my house rendered on the outside, I asked a reliable building company to quote.  Their figure was $72,000!!!  Well – for that price, I couldn’t afford to have it done.  So I got more quotes.  They came in at $32,000 $14,000 and $7,000.  I was staggered.  I had no idea that quotes could vary so widely.

I discovered why later, when I was going through the debacle with my garden that I wrote about here.  One landscape contractor (who I pummelled with questions) eventually relaxed and admitted that he was really busy, and had more work than he needed.  I’d asked how much a whole swimming pool would cost, as a small garden pond was being quoted at $50,000.  He said,yes, you could do a whole pool for that price, although last week, he hadn’t really wanted a job, so had quoted $500,000 ( yes you read that right – half a million dollars).  He’d been staggered when the client accepted.  He was pleased as punch, and said he’d be happy to squeeze that job into his diary.  I felt for that poor, foolish (rich) client.

So – be warned.  Sometimes the quote is high as they don’t need the work.

Four – if you think the quote sounds good (I liked the $14,000 render quote), but you feel anxious, ask to speak to former clients or to see former work.  I drove round addresses where Mick and his team had rendered houses.  They looked fabulous and my mind was at rest.  I also asked why his quote was less.  It was based around scaffolding (he had his own) – something which costs a lot to hire.

Five – if you don’t like the chap, don’t hire him, even if he’s cheap.  I did this once, and man oh man, I regretted it.  The carpenter (who was building a car port on a house 12 years ago) moaned all day, turned up late, and generally made a meal of the job.  I didn’t like having him around, and that meant the working relationship was never as good as it could have been.

Six – if you have a complex project that involves more than one trade, get a recommendation from the primary hire.  My renderer recommended a painter to paint the render.  My kitchen fitter recommended the sparky he’d prefer to work with.  If strangers work together, one will blame the other for things that go wrong.  Using people who like each other, and work together regularly, means that the painter won’t blame the renderer for a poor surface.   Makes your life a lot easier.

Finally, if your gut tells you it’s not right.  Don’t do it.  There are plenty more tradespeople out there.

women quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

(and if you’re wondering why I’ve put quotes and not pics – it’s because I’m writing about quotes….)

Painting a mural: the agony and the ecstacy Friday, Jan 28 2011 

I am quite obsessed with murals, especially the ones that look to be real.

And, as I’ve written about before here, I love the forbidden delight of painting on your own walls.  I’ve painted a red marbled staircase but here I really went to town….

There was a blank wall in the laundry (ideal for a trompe l’oeil mural) and a blank week in my diary.  What better thing to do, than to spend 18 obsessive, rapturous and agonised hours a day painting ‘Muriel’ – as she is now called?

I confess I do become obsessed – thinking about the next step, wondering if something is going to turn out alright, marvelling when something does. 

mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

I don’t have a before photo because I become completely sure of my inability to create a decent mural (despite this being my fourth or fifth), and my certainty I will jinx it.  And it just looks so HIDEOUS for the first two or three days.  Really.   That is the tough bit, where after sleepless nights and hours painting, I’ve created something that a 5 year-old would be embarrassed about.  I have to motivate myself to carry on.

It inevitably gets better.  After the mid-point crisis, it starts to gel, and I start to think that maybe I won’t have to paint it all out before anyone can see.

I’ve been asked several times where I learned to paint murals, and the honest answer is – from a book.  Just like following a recipe.  There are several tricks.  Perspective is the main one.  Hundreds of tiny illusions convince the eye that the image is 3D: strong light, clear shadows, looking through an archway, curtain or window, lines pointing towards the vanishing point.  After that, technique is a secondary issue (thank god, as I don’t really have any).  You can see below the strong shadows (and the poor technique!)

light shadow mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

I wanted an image reminiscent of England (my mother country).   So I played around with some hills, woods, irises and a walled garden.  The perspective is only right from when you’re about to walk into the room (which is where I thought most people would see it).

light shadow mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

There are many fabulous books on murals, and how to do it, but my favourite is “Painting Murals” by Patricia Seligman.  There are step-by-step instructions and pictures.  As you rough it out in paint first, and build up layers, it does look very amateurish until you reach the final layers.  The suggested additions of highlights and shadow transform a roughed out image beyond belief.

So, if you did some art at school, or do some hobby painting now – you can definitely do this.  And if you’ve done one already – send me a photo – I’d love to publish it!

finished mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

How to make a roman blind Monday, Jan 24 2011 

A few days ago I posted about what curtains and blinds work for which windows and which colours and fabrics to use.  As promised, here is the first ‘how-to’ – for a roman blind.

You can make a roman blinds starkly modern with a crisp strong fabric, blousily Victorian with a floral print, or even moodily historic – it all depends on the fabric.  And these are so easy to make, it really doesn’t cost the earth (although a curtain maker will ensure that it does…).  So have a go – all you need is a basic sewing machine, and the courage to give it a try.

The first step is to measure your window.  Decide whether your blind will hang inside the frame, or up to the ceiling.  Add 10cm to the width for hemming and/or attaching the lining.  You’ll need to add 20cm to the length (for attaching and hemming).

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Once you have cut out the fabric, sew the lining and the blind fabric together, ensuring that about 2cm of the blind fabric folds round the back (that way if it flaps open in the breeze you don’t see the lining).  Press the seam flat.  Yes really – this is important.  I always skip steps if I can, but this will make it look neat.

Above you can see the blackout fabric as lining, with a toile-de-jouy turned over.

Then work out where you want the folds in the blind when it is pulled up.  If you want a 10cm drop when it is closed, you will need to sew the blind tape at 20cm intervals, so it folds in half to a 10cm drop.  Take time to do this calculation several times.  There is nothing worse than sewing the tapes on and then realising they are all in the wrong place and you have to unpick them all and start again.

Actually, there is something worse – spilling red wine over your nearly complete blinds.  But we won’t go into that here.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains blind tape

Sew your blind tape horizontally across the blind.  This is a very easy way of ensuring your blind is horizontal and even when folded.  All you do is tie your blind string to the lowest tape and feed it up through the others until you get to the top of the blind.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Hem your blind.  Iron the hem.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Then cut a length of timber to the size of the top of the blind, less about 5cm (so that the wood doesn’t show).  Staple the blind to the wood, ensuring that the drop length at the front is the right measurement (you can make it longer or shorter at this stage).

Once it is attached, screw in small loops to the underside of the wood (as shown in the photo above) and thread your string up through the lines of tape to the loop (this should all be in a straight vertical line) at the top, and then feed it along the loops until the end.  This will be where you pull it up and down.

You can then attach the blind to the wall by drilling two holes through the wood, and putting it up with rawl plugs and screws.

It will take a week or so before it ‘settles down’ and starts hanging naturally in the folds that it is designed to.  For the first few times you take it up and down you may have to straighten the folds by hand.

If you want stiffer folds, you can make pockets in the lining (just 1cm wide) and use long steel dowels about 2mm thick to stiffen it.  I only do this for very wide windows.

Salvaged mantlepiece: create a fireplace focal point Friday, Jan 21 2011 

mantlepiece interior renovation

Maybe you’ve got a fireplace and you’re thinking about changing it?  Or maybe (like me) you have a room without a focal point, and you’ve decided that a fireplace is the answer.

I’ve covered the new fireplace briefly in the sitting-room makeover, but this fireplace has a secret.  It isn’t real.  It houses the stereo and the CDs. 

(I realise that CDs are a soon to be outdated technology, but I’m sure I’ll find another use for the storage then.  Books perhaps?)

stripped mantlepiece

Firstly, you can buy the wood surrounds new.  However, for less than 10% of the price, you can buy one from a salvage yard.  It’s a bit more work, but worth it.  This one I stripped using a heat gun.  You can read how addicted I got to that blistering and peeling paint (SO SO satisfying) just from the application of a very hot hairdryer here.

You can see it above when I was propping it up, working it all out.

I did like the look of it stripped, but I needed to build it in, and I just couldn’t get wood to match and look seamless unless I painted it white again.

Also – the corbels were white plaster (as you can see) and I thought they looked a little odd.

build fireplace mantel mantlepiece white wood

I propped the wood fire surround about a foot out from the wall.  I used another piece of wood the same thickness, and screwed that on, to extend the top to the wall.  Some builders bog filled in any gaps between the two.

Then I built plywood sides so that it started to look like a proper fireplace.  These are now painted grey (above) – as the inside of a fire is darker.

hidden shelves fireplace mantlepiece whiteThen I built shelves in behind.  one massive one ran the length of the mantlepiece, forming both the shelf for the stereo, and also the top of the firebox to be painted grey.  Beneath that I build individual shelves just wide enough to hold CDs.  I trimmed them with beading to make them look beautiful.

fireplace wood white mantel storage stereo CDs interiors

If you look carefully in the photo above you can see the join between the mantle surround and the extra wood I attached to extend it to the wall.  Admittedly a professional could do better, but no-one has ever noticed – or at least been rude enough to comment!

 white mantlepiece fireplace after

The room not only has a focal point, it has now has storage for the stereo and CDs – all hidden from view.

Nifty?

Until someone tries to light a fire and our stereo goes up in smoke….

fireplace wood white mantel storage stereo CDs interiors

The other secret of a good-looking fireplace is not to leave it empty.  This wonderful copper urn (secondhand of course!) fills it beautifully.  And the Elk Antler (obviously secondhand – the Elk had it first) adds interest to the top.

If you notice, there is also a tiny carved figure from Papua New Guinea – I love the way she stands guard there.

Have you found a great way to conceal storage?

How to make a gorgeous vintage map box (before and after) Wednesday, Jan 5 2011 

I think I mentioned that I got a load of old filing boxes from a deceased estate.  I crackled glazed the first one (here), and have been thinking about the next project.

My post on maps decided me – it had to be….

Old filing box vintage before

I cleaned the old labels off and gave this a bit of a scrub.  And then I got to work on this divine wrapping paper I found!  It has an old map of Rome printed on it – but the paper itself is high quality and robust.  I’m sure you could use an actual map – but this beautiful paper just spoke to me.

map covered Old filing box vintage before

I made sure that the nicest bit was on the lid (in this case I wanted the Colosseum, and the Forum).  Whilst you could cut each side separately, I wanted the box to look seamless, so I wrapped the paper round and cut a cross shape to fit the top and all sides.

map covered box recycled vintage

I painted PVA glue evening onto each surface, starting with the top, and smoothed the paper over it.  As I covered each edge, I used a scalpel to cut the map where the top and the bottom join – as you can see below.

map covered box recycled vintage interiors2

This way the map will be continuous and the join between the lid and the base will be invisible.

I also cut around the hinges.  I did think about taking them off and re-attaching them – but I thought this would be easier and neater.  Again I used a scalpel, cutting the hole once the top was glued but before gluing the back, so that it would sit completely flat.

map hinges covered box recycled vintage interiors

They are rather cute brass hinges, so I don’t mind seeing them.  Then I waited (impatiently) for the glue to dry.  Whilst you can leave it unvarnished – it will get torn and dirty with time.  I thought I’d take a leaf out of the decoupage book – and varnish the paper.  By the way – I just don’t get the appeal of decoupage – it always looks chintzy and frilly to me – cut-outs of flowers glued onto wood.  Why would you?

varnishing map decoupage covered box recycled vintage interiors

I wasn’t quite sure how the varnish was going to take to the paper.  (sometimes glue or varnish can react badly with the printing and make it run).  I suppose if I were a different kind of person I would have done a test.  But as I only had $6 invested in the paper, I thought I’d live dangerously…  If it didn’t work, I could start again.

Luckily it did work.  And three coats of varnish later it looks amazing!  I used wood varnish in a satin finish.

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled

The varnish really makes it tough.  Dirt and oil from fingers won’t mark it.  Dust won’t permanently settle into the paper.

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled2

Wrapping the paper seamlessly over the top and sides creates a sense of flow over the box and allows you to find your way through parts of Rome…

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled3

The colours in this go with so many decor styles and colour schemes.

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled books

And for total maptastic overload….

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled books

mmm – time to plan the next holiday I think…..

recovered vintage map box interiors recycled books3

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