Dining table: from revolting to quite nice actually Thursday, Aug 19 2010 

The ‘man’ is in India for ten days, and I did say to him, that if he wanted to know how I was (or how his home was looking) to check my blog.  Poor chap – every time he goes away he comes back to a completely different look.  I think I go slightly manic without his calming influence.  Plus there is no reason to wind down at night so I get through a crazy amount of transformation…

Dining table before

This sad little patient came from eBay.  See the following post to see why (together with some notes on how not to sand the bejeezus out of a beautiful old table top).

The top has been sanded into the next millennium (and boy that’s a long way off) and the base was one of the most ghastly shades of green – a kind of dirty avocado.  It just looked drab.  But it had good bones, some nice carving round the edges and a sturdiness that I like.  It also doesn’t have any legs on which to bang your knees (or snag your expensive stockings).

unstripped table edge

So it had everything I love – potential with some sad injury.  Time for some TLC.

First I stripped the edges with the carving (see next post on how to do this) – I did this as I was worried that if I painted over it again, it would be lost, as the layers of paint gradually filled in the beautiful detailing.

Then I started with gesso on the top.  This is the first time I’ve used this and supposedly it’s good for priming and filling wood surfaces simultaneously (artists use it to prime their canvases).  Plus it’s completely non-toxic.

The first coat of gesso on recycled table

Every time I put on a layer, I allowed it to dry (another benefit of gesso – only about 40 minutes), sanded it back and applied another.

gesso first coat

I wish I could do time-lapse photography here – but you get the idea…

second coat gesso

third coat gesso

And eventually I got round to painting the thing!  The paint is still wet here.

wet paint on table

After the first coat of paint I had hope – it was going to look stunning.  In the end it took three coats to cover up the green paint.

Dining table doesnt cost the earth

Originally I was going to inscribe words around the edge of the top.  I do like elegant script:


Maybe words to provoke interesting conversations around the table…  But at the moment the sheer pure white is energising and uplifting.  So I may live with that for a little first.

recycled dining table after

I had been wondering about emphasising the carving by rubbing a slightly darker shade into it, so it catches in the grooves and brings up the relief.  But I’m not sure it needs it?

Carved edge of table

I think it’s looking rather smashing as it is.

Sorry the final photos aren’t yet ultra glam – but the whole room is still undergoing its transformation.  I’m hoping to try the paint wash on the wall behind this weekend…

Dining table after


How to: paint words on furniture Thursday, Aug 5 2010 

Success!  I’ve managed to get the words onto the chairs.  I’ll tell you how in a moment – as there are several ways that would have worked:

how to paint words on furniture

1. Stencil.

I’ve stencilled before, and it’s effective.  however, it’s most effective when you want to repeat a design, as the cutting of the stencil is very arduous and time-consuming.  Worth it if you’re then going to use it multiple times.  But for me in this project, every word was different.  And I also know that cutting beautiful curves in a stencil is difficult – and this font relies on its curves.

2. Overhead Projector

This technique is usually used for getting words onto walls, but could also work on furniture.  You need to photocopy your word onto acetate and then project it onto your piece and paint around the projected outline.  This just seemed overkill for six words.

3. Prick and pounce

This does sound like a game my cats would play, but it is actually a technique.  Print out your words, and then prick around the outline.  Then ‘pounce’ or dab dark pigment over the holes, keeping your paper still.  When you pull your paper away you should have the outline

4. Cheating Charcoal

This is what I did and I woke up in the morning with this idea.  I couldn’t be bothered to prick and pounce.  This idea entered my mind inspired by transfers – remember playing with thos as a kid?

So instead of more othodox methods, I printed my words out, in word, onto A4 paper, at the size I would need.  I turned the paper over, and because the words were large and dark, I could see them through the back of the paper.

word ready to transfer to chair

 I then drew over this with willow charcoal (it’s weird as it’s the reflection of the word), then straight away, before it smudges, hold your paper against the furniture and rub over it (I just rubbed it with my hand) remove it, and… Voila!

word on recycled chair

I felt quite smug at this point. ( I realise in the photo it looks as though the word has magically changed from Sage to Thyme!  Well – I’m just showing you various examples of the words I did.)

The smugness wore off slightly as I realised that the white paint I was using was going to be grey for the first coat, as it picked up the charcoal.

painted word on vintage furniture

I then tried using chalk, so this wouldn’t happen, but chalk doesn’t work.  Anyway – once your paint has dried, a damp cloth removes final traces of charcoal.  I then went over the writing with a second coat.

painting words on furniture

It’s starting to look OK…

Bit more work and soon these chairs will be ready to show you!

Painted words on furniture Monday, Aug 2 2010 

I love words on furniture and walls.  They just look interesting and atmospheric.

I want to add words to these chairs – along the back.  I have been thinking of words that are both edible and colours.  But both the food and the colour have to be soft, comforting and associated with country cooking or idyllic living.  Even if your conscious mind only makes one association, the other meanings will permeate your mood.  The words I’m liking are:






But then I liked nutmeg, cinnamon – although I think these conjure up exotic spicy locations.  I started playing: why not use beachy words like oyster, pearl, sand?  Or english country garden words like thistle, lavender, slate.  The ‘man’ wants to use french words, because he speaks french, but I fear this will be pretentious.

I’ve been playing around with different fonts, as fonts alone create a world of images and connections in our head.  So I’ve started to mock them up to look at size, type-face and so on.

painted words on furniture

I know – it’s hardly a great mock-up, but the paint isn’t quite dry and if I stick anything to it, it’s likely to ruin the finish in a way that will distress both me and the chairs.

Here is another font:

sustainable furniture

This one is actually called ‘french script’.  I think this simpler one looks better when it’s on the chair.  I’m planning at this stage to paint the word in off white, so it’s not too garish, and also to paint the trim beneath the back (with the holes in) off white too.  I’m also planning to do this free hand.  I thought about using an overhead projector, but I’ve decided to give it a shot myself first.

This may all go horribly wrong.  And I need to do this bit before I finalise the finish, as whatever is done, needs to be done over the whole piece including any typeface.

Any suggestions on words (I have six chairs), font, size or colours?

Mid-project decisions and changes Monday, Aug 2 2010 

I’m working on some chairs at the moment and have reached a point where I’m going to need to change my approach in order to get the effect that I’m envisaging.  I always have a crystal clear picture of what I’m aiming for, and I don’t always get it first go….

These chairs were bought for a more cottagey, beachy look – they were always going to be either painted, limed or stripped.  In their original state they have a kind of mid-century Danish look.  In fact, one of my friends loves them just as they are.  They can always go back to this in another life, but currently they are destined for a new incarnation.

dining chair before recycling

The first unexpected issue was the difficulty I had in unscrewing the rush seats.  WOW – those screws were tight.  42 screws, and over 2 hours later… and a very sore hand.

I decided on a paint finish – the room they are going in already has quite a bit of wood, and stripping them wouldn’t get the country look I’m going for.  I thought white with the rush seats might be a bit predictable, so a soft french grey seemed the best choice.  I sanded well – very well – and put on a first coat.

As these are dining chairs, and take a lot of bashing, all advice says go for enamel paint.  This is higher VOC, so generally I don’t like it.  But I have had issues in the past with emulsion chipping off much-used chairs – and not chipping in a delightful shabby-chic way – chipping in a large piece of wood showing underneath way.

SO here is the first coat.

doesn't cost the earth part painted chair

While the first coat has gone on well, I can see I’m not going to get the soft look I’m wanting.  It’s going to take more work.  I’m going to need to add layers to get the depth and variation I need.  Because I’ve used an enamel paint, it really limits my options for distressing – I can only use oil glazes – which while beautiful – do take a long time to dry.  They are also very messy. 

I’m thinking I might need some raw umber or payne’s grey in a glaze, rubbed back, to give the softness I’m looking for.  Alternatively, I could do a wash with a dilution of the enamel paint, mixed a bit darker.  I’ve also read that you can use shoe polish!!  I’m going to need to paint a test piece of wood and try these out for size.

This was one of the images that is calling to me:

grey rush chair

It’s a bit more silvered, but has lovely tonal variety.  Any suggestions on how you might achieve this?

I’ll share my success or otherwise tomorrow.  I also have other thoughts about painting words on these chairs, but more of that later…

Organic recycled End-of-bed Bench Wednesday, Jul 28 2010 

I’m really excited about this project – converting a somewhat dilapidated bench into the ultimate in organic chic….

Here it is ‘before’.  The padding and the fabric had pretty much disintegrated.

Bench before

The first thing to do is strip it right back.  As I took the fabric off, it became apparent that all the padding underneath was absolutely shot.  (revolting actually!)

Recycling furniture

So I took it right back to its bare bones – which are very beautiful.

Stool ready to be reupholstered

Then I needed to prepare some more padding.   In a stool like this, horsehair was the old-fashioned filling.  I’m not really a purist (in case you haven’t guessed) so I’m happy to use modern technology where it suits – and high quality foam inserts work beautifully here.

The tricky part is actually cutting this stuff.  The best way I’ve found is to use an electric carving knife!  Most places that you buy this will cut it to size – but I have a stash of it, so needed to cut it myself.  I wanted to make this a more luxurious piece, so I used a thicker foam than was in the original (about three times times thicker!).

Cutting furniture foam

This is then placed on the stool, and wadding added to soften the edges.  Usually you’d put a calico cover on, but I prefer to use up material left over from previous projects (re-use etc) so this lucky stool got it’s ‘calico’ coat made out of beautiful gold stripe!

Partly reupholstered bench

Putting this layer on will make the top fabric sit much better.  Although when I went to find what I wanted to use, I thought – maybe I’d better come back later?

Cat on recycled fabric

Then I remembered it is ‘Let sleeping DOGS lie’ and it doesn’t say anything about cats….  Poor Diesel.

A carefully sourced vintage (organic!) coffee sack is to be the final cover.  I’m sure I’m just going to love the texture of the bag against the smooth polished mahogany of the antique legs.  Incidentally – don’t you just love those ball and claw feet?  (the stool – not the cat!)

Organic coffee stool

The edges were trimmed with studs to finish it off.

Recycled reupholstered bench

With this type of very thick fabric, the only way to get the corners really crisp is to hand sew them. It’s worth it – they sit much better for some stitching.

recycled end of bed stool

This stool has a storage compartment inside – the lid lifts up on hinges – which makes it even more handy.doesnt cost the earth bench stool

This item will be for sale, when I get around to that.

Do send in before and after photos of your recycled furniture – and share your experiences.

Heavy baronial chairs get a Scandinavian make-over Thursday, Jul 15 2010 

There is a real trend at the moment for pale furniture, upholstered in natural linen.  But some of these pieces come with an astronomical price tag.  And it also means that all those darker, heavier pieces are left, unloved, out in the cold.  Or out by the road side…  And really, it’s just a case of cosmetics.  Much of the darker wood furniture has beautiful bones and just needs a fresh look in order to be desirable again.

These two baronial chairs were two such pieces.

Baronial chairs before

The wood is dark and carved, and the dark tapestry upholstery is very dated.  however, they are very well-made, expensive (originally) piece of furniture and have lots of life left in them.

I stripped back the upholstery and recovered them in a natural linen, with a stone colour trim.  Then I stripped back the varnished wood and painted it chalk white, picking out some of the detailing in the carving in a deeper colour.

re-upholstered baronial chairs

The look of these chairs can be changed quite dramatically with a different cushion and a new setting.  For winter they look sumptuous with a silk velvet cushion and full dark curtains behind.  Whereas they work equally well in a summery-look room, with a white painted floor and a beaded linen cushion.


Baronial chair after

These gorgeous chairs could have had a range of treatments: black gloss paint with red leather upholstery would have created an exotic oriental look; stripped back wood with a chintz and you’ve got a lovely English country look.  For the time being, they can live in a Scandinavian costume…. until next time.

Neil’s rescued Charles Eames (reproduction) chair Monday, Jul 12 2010 

Neil's world cup chairNeil in London says:

“My weekend involved the mending of a Charles Eames reproduction lounger. I picked it up from a neighbour for nothing who was taking it to the dump. I now have a perfect lounger and ottoman for the princely sum of £2.99 (cost of bolts from Homebase) and 2 hours work. You can probably tell I’m quite pleased with myself.
It was a relatively simple re-attach of the back to the seat using bolts which you can barely see at all.  It’s a pleasure to sit in knowing it cost so little and has come in extremely handy for World Cup watching.

Neil's Charles Eames chair

A Chinese altar table becomes a desk Monday, Jun 21 2010 

Sometimes the solution you’re looking for isn’t the one you first think of.  On the hunt for a new desk, nothing was quite cutting it.  The requirements were that it must be able to seat two people simultaneously to work at their own computers.  But must not take over the whole room.

A lot of desks were either pedestal style – which are very heavy looking and take up lots of room, or were just glorified tables, and were generally very wide.  Purpose-built options were very prohibitively expensive and weren’t guaranteed to look great.

The solution appeared in the form of an antique Chinese altar table over two metres long.  It took some tarting up, and making fit for purpose, but it ended up being perfect.

First I stripped off the black lacquer that covered it.  It made it look too heavy for the room, and was also uneven and starting to look unattractive.

black lacquer table before

It took some work to get all the layers of lacquer and varnish off, but it was worth it. The beautiful wood was revealed, with a lovely honey glow.

Then I took a saw to it.  This is the nerve-wracking bit, but also the fun part!  Altar tables are quite high, far too high to act as a desk, so first I had to take about 15cm off each of the four legs.  Then, there was a cross bar on all four sides, so I had to remove the one at the ‘front’ of the desk so that you could actually sit at it.  I wasn’t sure if this would affect its stability, but with the other three bars still in place, it was fine.  No wobbles.

long expanse of desk

The top of the altar table/desk looked gorgeous after stripping.  The grain of the wood was pronounced and the wear and tear of the years had left fabulous marks and colours.  I decided not to varnish or seal the wood, but just to condition it with an oil mixture that I’ve used on other benchtops.  That way, hot mugs of tea don’t burn white rings into it, but leave it unmarked.

Once it was in place, at over 2.3m long, two people could work at it comfortably.  But at only 60cm wide, it didn’t take up too much floor space.

Altar table as desk

How to tell if your refurbished piece has worked Thursday, May 13 2010 

Sometimes you might wonder whether your revamped furniture is a success?  Does it really look better?  Will anyone like it?

I find there is an easy way to tell (well, if you have pets).

Cat on foot stool

“This old thing? I’ve had it for ages…”  Diesel (cat) definitely approves of this one….

It’s actually an existing (refurbished, of course!)  footstool for which I made a ‘winter coat’.  The white wood and silk velvet felt a little too beachy as the nights draw in.

Silk foot stool

So I made a little cover for it out of a remnant of silk and some leftover bullion trim.  Its new incarnation definitely won Diesel’s immediate approval.  Having ignored the stool for the past year, he made a beeline for it and claimed it.  I guess then, I can call this one a success….

Hope he’s not too disappointed when it transforms back in summer.

Chairs reupholstered Thursday, Apr 29 2010 

I fell in love with this handsome and unusual pair of chairs with their twisted wood and grand shape.  They had almost completely lost their upholstery.  The fabric was worn, torn and in places completely gone.  the underlying foam was severely deteriorated.

But with some care, a slick of varnish and a quick sand on the worn wood, we were able to get them smart enough to recover with a stunning silk taffeta stripe.

Here you can see the job half done.

The stripe in the silk picks up the carving that extends throughout the arms, legs and back.

They just look wonderful now!  As the area was small, it was possible to use a very expensive fabric without it costing a fortune. 

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