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6 posts from July 2011

July 29, 2011

A Quick and Lasting Faux Bois

Lucianna Samu


Avid thrift shoppers, garage sale hunters and curbside collectors alike have yet to put a crimp in the availability of solid wood finds worthy of up-cycling.  I like that word, up-cycling--it has a certain poetic ring to it that blurs the fact that really what we're all doing is passing our discards around.  Doors are probably my greatest obsession, and a solid cherry or, better yet, walnut door is a hard thing to find by the curb.  So when they do turn up, I strap them onto the roof of my old Volvo and add them to my pile of "someday someone will need this beauty."  Someday may come sooner than I thought for my tall pile of rescued wood furniture, thanks to the greatest invention an up-cycler could ever hope for--a reliable waterborne wood stain called Arborcoat.


When a thrift shopper, who is also an up-cycler, sets out to resurrect an old wood furniture piece a familiar lament generally follows and all interested parties take up sides.  I am firmly entrenched on the "faux it" side of this debate, while others enjoy the toils of stripping and staining wood.  Surely I won't win over the purists among us, whose intent is always a fine restoration.  To those of you who are in my busy camp, where there's more to fix than hands to fix with, learning to rejuvenate these pieces quickly, inexpensively and effectively, softens the talking to you'll surely get, from the stripping and staining crowd.  I like to indulge myself in the folly of believing that someday I'll have time to refinish all of my fine wood finds, too.  But in the meantime, and often before lunch, I treat them to a faux bois painted and stained finish, which leaves the wood looking old and salvaged but loved.

Job one is to get the piece clean.  I've taken a liking to Benjamin Moore’s wood cleaner for this, REMOVE Finish Remover 315, which solves the dilemma of figuring out if I'm cleaning mildew, mold, dirt, grease--you name it.  Once the wood is entirely dry, sand it lightly with a 220 grit garnet sandpaper, wash it again, and let it dry again.  Wear gloves and a mask for this part, and if your project is large, you may prefer to work outdoors in a cool, shady and relatively dust-free place.


Ever the contrarian, I worked on my door in the house and hanging in place.  Because the door weighs a ton, I figured it was safer to chance using an exterior product inside than it was to risk having the door fall on me, outside.   Either option beats an all-out refinishing project, and that's my pat answer on that part of the debate.  No matter where you're working, you'll need to get the surface of the wood to appear consistent, and that part of this technique is done with paint.  Every wood will vary in color considerably, so work toward identifying a color that looks logical on your wood.  I choose to use Blanched Almond 1060 and Buckhorn 987. The transparent finish coat of Arborcoat Stain, was mixed in Weathered Oak 1050.


To begin, I applied the lightest color, Blanched Almond, with a brush to conceal the shadow left by the hardware.  As I went over the entire door, the idea was to leave most of the wood revealed, and cover up the surface imperfections with the fresh paint.  Scratching through the wet paint using 0000 steel wool, added graininess and authenticity to the coloration.  Wear your gloves!


Next, I added the darker paint color in the same open grain technique, meaning the wood surface below is always being made to show through the paint.  I scratched that color in with the steel wool too, and fussed in the suggestion of more grain on the rail with a small brush.


For the final stroke of up-cycling beautification, I applied one coat of Benjamin Moore's Arborcoat transparent wood stain over the entire door and rail. The stain had everything appearing woody and matching in no time. The stain cleaned up the corners, evened the color overall, and balanced the difference in the door and rail color. Plus, it didn't smell and cleans up in a jiffy with soap and water.  Arborcoat is the most forgiving stain product I've ever had the pleasure of using for this kind of faux bois technique.  It is beautifully transparent, sands nicely, and didn't raise the grain in my dry old door at all.  The advantages of Arborcoat go well beyond my small faux bois project.


I chose not to put a finish of any kind on my door.  I didn't want to entirely obliterate the wear a hundred years hanging in a horse barn had made, and the dead flat matte Aura finish helps to preserve the intrinsically dry and powdery look, as does the Arborcoat's transparency.  The leather strap I fitted onto a black metal back plate, made quick work of concealing the hole left behind from the original door pull.  If I were to ever leave my home here at the Peabody farm, you can be sure this door would be going with me.  Maybe, on that someday I'll get around refinishing it, but then again, why bother? 

If you've ever thought twice about rescuing a wood door or furniture piece, thinking it's just too much work to have it looking fabulous, maybe your someday has arrived?  Happy thrift hunting, and Faux Bois the Bois!


before and after

Stay colorful!

July 26, 2011

Colors Every Man Will Love

Lucianna Samu

Now that you have all had a chance to process the construction details of my tiny storage cabinet, I'd like to share the inspiration for this unusual color solution.  I'm not opposed to a solid color accent wall in general, but with a little ingenuity it's possible to take the ubiquitous solid color accent wall to new heights.  Surrounding yourself with color references that recall a time in your life you fondly remember has the same effect on your well being as tuning into a radio station that just happens to be playing your favorite song.  It's subtle, it makes us smile, and it makes us feel happy and safe, all at the same time. Reaching back in my memory for a collection of colors I feel best about got me half way there.  I'm giving myself some extra credit on the pattern.


My father wore Argyle socks.  Another fond memory is of his well-polished wing tip shoe teetering over the crook of his knee while he sipped his afternoon Manhattan on the rocks.  I can't say I set out to emulate my father's afternoon arrangement with Jim Beam when I decided to outfit my living room with a storage cabinet for liquor.  But, as is so often the case when we personalize the design decisions we make around the house, color & pattern references culled from the "memory file" entitled Happiness happen naturally when we let it.  While this design could better be described as a repetitive diamond pattern, to me it's my father's argyle socks and his favorite drink, all realized on a wall.


It was easier to get an impression of how the twelve colors would work as a group once I put the paint into cups.  For those of you who prefer to think through your designs and color arrangements, re-arranging the cups is a reliable method to organize the palette.  Here's my happy color collection . . .


Grant Beige HC 83, Muslin, OC 12, Sugar Cookie OC 93, Rosewood 2082-40, Branch Brook Green 572, Mozart Blue 1665, Foggy Morning 2106-70, Blanched Almond 1060, Mystical Blue 792, Coastal Fog 976, Buckhorn 987, Inner Balance 1522

I did use a stencil for this project, which I mention not as an apology but rather because it was a stroke of luck that I had one that fit.  If your ability to calculate a hypotenuse is clear in your mind, it's not difficult to lay this design out and tape each diamond as you go.  A check, large grid, stripe, or any easy-to-render pattern you have an affinity for would be just as interesting.  There are a number of reliable on-line sources for custom stencils--maybe you have a fondness for madras or toile?


After painting out each diamond with my signature random obliviousness, I noticed a pattern in my pattern and thought the distribution of color was a little unsettling.  (I suppose I should have played around with the cups some more!)  It would have been easy enough to change a few of the colors I had already painted, but I've learned such remedies can make me crazy in no time.  Instead, I popped the top off a gallon of latex glazing liquid and got busy.


I mixed some brown paint from my cups with some matte black Aura paint, and added in one part Benjamin Moore's latex glazing liquid.  Thinning this oddball color mixture with just a drop of water made what pro finishers call "dirt."  Heavy dark glaze mixtures age and diffuse painted effects nicely.  The small amount of water allowed plenty of time to play around before the glaze dries.  I made this toning layer look somewhat linear with the help of a big brush to soften the glaze.  The final effect is diffused, making the visual bounce in my busy pattern less jarring.  If you try this "dirt" formula and it appears too dark or too overpowering, the glaze can be removed almost entirely with a wet rag.  So, by all means, soften your paint techniques with a glaze.


Although I don't share my father's affinity for bourbon, I know this tiny storage cabinet could also be useful for napkins, stemware, or wine bottles.  Would you agree the interest the cabinet adds to the room nearly trumps its use by any measure?

There was some question about the rail, which projects off to the side, serving as a guide for the door as it opens.  It has turned out to be an excellent picture ledge, which frankly was just a happy accident.  Maybe the rail would appear more well thought out if it were made to match the wood door?


The wood door needs some fixing and I'll explain the easiest and most efficient technique I know to clean up salvaged wood surfaces next time.  A super easy rendition of a Faux Bois technique will make it look cleaner and be easy to keep clean.  I have a way to go before I can report in on the efficiency of the tiny 28 square ft. storage cabinet, but for now I'm happy enough to have a destination for friends who share my father's affinity for a cocktail before dinner.  Good design, great colors and making everyone feel right at home--all we need now is to find some Sinatra on the radio.

Stay colorful!

July 22, 2011

Accentuating Tiny Storage Spaces

Lucianna Samu

In order to realize the endless stream of hyper functional storage solutions I dream up, I've come to rely on the expertise of more than a few fine carpenters.  It's a help to my renovating exploits that I can paint and it's a plus that I have an expertise when it comes to picking colors.  At the other end of my personal design skill continuum, is my poor drafting skill and non-existent ability to accurately read a tape measure without replacing sixteenths and eights with the word "tinys."  My shortcomings are never reflected in the work, thanks to my gifted carpenters, who can both speak and fabricate in sixteenths of an inch.  It's a gift to be sure to turn a lowly door into 28 square feet of storage.


I'll post this project in two parts because I believe superior storage space is something we all covet.  A five-inch deep storage space can be difficult enough to process, let alone the twelve color argyle design, which turned a utilitarian liquor storage cabinet into an artful focal point.


It all began with a salvaged barn door, one of many from a collection of doors I've accumulated over the past twenty years.  The provenance of the door is less relevant to the project than how the door is hung.  I've found doors worthy of this endeavor for as little as $2.00 at auction, but in a pinch a brand new flat panel slab door, painted an especially exciting color, decked out in a color-driven pattern like mine or even treated to a swanky high gloss finish, will do the trick.



The hardware is a by-pass mechanism.  All by-pass door hardware is rated for how much weight it can safely bear.  On the lightweight end is a closet door by-pass set-up and on the super heavyweight end of the spectrum, a barn door mechanism.  The depth of the storage you choose to place behind whatever door you choose, is entirely open to your design style and the skill of your carpenter.  The beauty of the design is simple--the door doesn't swing but travels, or by-passes, the opening. Here's Andy, showing us how it works!


Carpenter Dan followed the design layout I drew directly on the wall.  Each 41-inch wide shelf he built is adjustable and sits on pins set into the two upright sides.  According to Dan, the finished cabinet dimension is 5-1/8 inch deep and the door adds another 1-9/16 inch.  Even now, I can't say what all that adds up to, but it's less than seven inches, which is a boon to my narrow room.  To be sure, the shallow shelving would withstand the perils of spilled gin or wet glasses--Andy primed the raw poplar with a coat of Benjamin Moore's Fresh Start, and then added two coats of Aura in a satin finish, matching all the other trim in the room.  My living/dining room does not have crown molding, so I took advantage of an opportunity to sneak in a bit, adding height to the long narrow space.  Transforming proportions while adding storage is a good day's work in my book!


Whenever you're of a mind to add a great deal of color or a great deal of pattern to a large space, it's best of find yourself a small place to do it in.  Big patterns, especially colorful ones, can overpower a room in no time.  Here, the small recessed area was begging for something special, and a menswear inspired argyle, creates references and an interesting backdrop for the neutral hound’s-tooth upholstery.  In time, when I link my color palette together with pillows and accessories on the opposite end of the room, this small but artful collection of color will lend balance overall.  The wall color, Grant Beige HC-80, makes a serene backdrop for this new storage solution.


Thinking about other interpretations of simply executed storage solutions, I would remove the glass from a door if safety is an issue and reveal the interior through poultry screening or decorative hardware cloth, similar to my Wild Pink cabinet across from this area.

Any freestanding cabinet you can find could be treated to a similar paint technique on the back--think found breakfront, a simple bookcase, or tall display cabinet.  Next time, I'll list the colors I used for the painted argyle.  Hope I got you thinking up colorful patterns now, and measuring every bottle and box you can't find a place for in your house.


Stay colorful!

July 19, 2011

Glazing New Wood Cabinets: Finding the Right Formula

Lucianna Samu

Those of us who know our way around the paint store really well will invariably make a pit stop in the glazing liquid aisle.  I know I'm not alone in this as I've consulted a legion of glazing liquid aficionados on the subject.  We all agree--one can never have enough, so we buy it often whether we need it or not.  As I edge closer to the thirty years of professional painting mile marker, I've started to wonder how many gallons of glazing liquid I've gone through.  Accused of being obsessed with this factoid, I've settled on a best guess and believe I've made my way through around 1,080 gallons of glaze.  What I can't figure out is how many times this single product has bailed me out of a color or paint durability jam.


Glazing liquid is the equivalent of alchemy in a can.  It can be made or manipulated into a painted finish so unusual or rare or perfect it's sometimes hard to figure out how, what happened, happened.  This is why you need to follow one rule when working with glazing liquid--keep good notes.  Yes, it is like baking--just as any measuring deviation will affect how high your cupcakes rise, the proportions of any glaze/paint/water combination will affect the color and finish of your glaze.


To adjust or "kill" the vibrance of my freshly painted Wild Pink 2080-40 painted wood cabinet I experimented with four separate glaze colors.  I mixed one part glaze into one part latex paint and thinned that combination with water by half.


I ran each potential glaze mixture over a primed and Wild Pink-painted piece of oak tag.  Separating each glaze into it's own section on the board with a piece of tape, I forced myself to make a note of exactly what color I used and if it was a thin glaze or a thick glaze.  I wrote down which brush I dragged through the glaze, which rag I ran over it, and so on.  I'm not kidding--thirty years and I'm finally writing it down, not because I can't remember or hope for the same result, but because sometimes, something unexpectedly spectacular happens.  And when it does, it's maddening if you can't figure out how to make it happen again.


My careful sample making made it a breeze for me to get the soft and dusty appearance I was after, which mellowed out the Wild Pink just enough, and made the entire piece look old and just a tiny bit dirty.


If you experiment with mixing glaze, you'll discover it can be difficult to predict how the transparency of the glaze color will affect the base coat color underneath.  When using two glazes simultaneously, which color you apply first matters, the condition of the tool you use will matter, how weak or how strong you're feeling that day will matter.  It's a technique that involves a special blend of random predictability.  To help ensure you apply the same amount of glaze evenly over a base coat and take it off or manipulate it in the same way everywhere, it's helpful to tape the surface into small sections, allowing each to dry before you tape and blend the adjoining area.  It's a little by little, everything’s the same, but not, kind of operation!


As a substitute for polyurethane over painted furniture, glazing liquid has no equal.  It can be applied clear and in layers, or patted off with well wrung out cheesecloth to obliterate the brush stokes.  It can be thinned or applied directly from the can.  Each result will vary.  Take notes.  In multiple layers it can be wet-sanded once dry to a soft and lustrous finish.  I've mentioned repeatedly my penchant for waxing painted furniture.  Painted and glazed and waxed furniture has the same soft glow you'd expect in a fine furniture piece, so it's unlikely anyone will figure out that my hand-rubbed, glazed and waxed cabinet was constructed of birch plywood.  The cabinet feels as old and solid as it looks.  The salvaged porcelain doorknobs and wire doors add some age as well, suggesting an era when glass was costly, and carpenters were not.


before glaze


after glaze

My love for glazing liquid is as strong as ever, and made it possible for me to transform a modestly constructed built-in into a functional and furniture-grade storage system for the dining area.  Where a completely impossible-to-furnish corner once languished, I've made a place to store china, silverware, tablecloths, and all my ditzy salt and pepper shakers, too.  Next time, I'll show you what's been happening on the other side of my long narrow living room, where things keep getting better, gallon by gallon.


Stay colorful!

July 11, 2011

Choosing a Wall Color for All Seasons

Lucianna Samu

If you were to take a poll, asking design professionals where to begin when planning a color makeover for a room as large as my living room, chances are nine out of ten would say start with the rug.  I would agree.  And I have a rug; in fact, I have a lot of rugs.  All are strategically stowed away, patiently waiting to someday make an appearance.  My problem is, in addition to a lot of rugs, I also have a husband.  For the most part, my husband is a good sport about my design aesthetic.  His good-natured agreeable demeanor ends, however, with my garden inspired needlepoint rug.



I like to quote Elise de Wolfe whenever the subject of my favorite rug comes up.  I'm not certain of the year on this, but I try to garner some design leverage by repeating it just the same.  She states:

"It is the personality of the mistress that the home expresses.  Men are forever guests in our homes, no matter how much happiness they may find there."

--Elsie de Wolfe

Still no deal on the floral rug.  I love this rug because it reminds me of summers spent at my grandmother's.  In grandma's living room, I would step, heel to toe, along the pale blue and raspberry border of her similar floral rug, clicking my cordovan Buster Brown shoes together as I progressed.  My mission was to make it around the entire perimeter of the rug, without missing a step.  I'd then trace out the shapes of the leaves, name all the colors, and guess at the name of the flowers.  The cacophony of delphinium, peony, rose and marigold, sits deep in my color memory, still influencing my every color choice today, as the colors we associate with our youth so often do.  Think about you first bike; can you still remember the color?  Mine was Pink Ladies 1347!


Diplomacy is important when we're choosing colors, no matter how fixed our likes and dislikes may be.  On the other hand, asking for too many opinions when choosing colors will always turn an otherwise exhilarating endeavor into an arduous task.  Whenever we need to compromise, it's a wise color sentimentalist who can fashion a way to make good use of the colors they truly love.  So if it turns out I don't unfold my treasured rug just yet, until opinions change, I'll add something similar in feeling instead.  I have a few vintage crewel drapery panels and a nostalgic art piece to frame--either just might do the trick?


My objective is to make a room that evokes an easy, countrified casualness irrespective of what's under foot.  So, if I can sit quietly and reminisce about my days spent teetering around Grandma's rug in my Buster Browns whenever my husband walks though the room with his boots on, I'll know I got it right.  That is, assuming I work my "wow" colors into the mix.

Pan for Gold 181, Rosewood 2082-40, Jet Stream 814, Wild Pink 2080-40, Paradise Hills Green 550

Wow color dollops

Over the next three weeks you'll see how I problem solve in this room, always looking to the fan deck first for color driven solutions.  I mean to "tighten up" the perimeter, form a tighter collaboration between my irreverent mix of materials and better define the function of each specific area within the space.  I think you'll agree it's a difficult room to furnish, being so long and narrow.  I'd appreciate any tips for an old house furniture arrangement since I'm officially worn out from pushing the sofa around!


Another old house plus, sometimes minus, is that my room has more windows than wall.  I'll need to really get the "wow" colors just right if I'm to succeed at modulating the seasonal color and lighting disparity my lovely views create.  If you have a room with two or more daylight exposures, or lots and lots of doors+windows, you know how dizzying it can be to land a color that feels as great as it looks all year round.


For the walls, an honest to goodness dead-on-neutral gray-beige, is exactly what my living room needs.  I think you'll appreciate seeing how architecturally supportive a neutral gray can be as you watch this room come together.  Here are just a few options worthy of serious consideration for any room you may have where uneven lighting and shadow conspire to make so many truly beautiful colors appear drab.


The lack of agreement over the rug is feeling like a small impediment to the changes I'm planning to make, and just between us I'm not quite ready to surrender on the rug thing just yet.  Would you put this rug back in the attic?  It's a rare opportunity to have a room that's just waiting to receive a tapestry of accent color, and that's an opportunity this color expert is ready to exploit.  So pass the word and grab your color chips, it's going to be a colorful ride.

Stay colorful!