Thursday, 30 May 2019

Cabinet reshuffle.....

You know that thing when you start on a project with great enthusiasm, determined to enjoy every creative moment.... then a few days in, you end up hating it with a brightly burning passion.

That's me that is.

I have fallen dramatically out of love with the bureau cabinet and no amount of pictures on Pinterest of beautifully executed upcycled cabinets have been able to reignite it.

Admittedly, there have been a series of unfortunate events, which have added to my malaise, not least the fact that I haven't been able to take a proper run at it.  Then there's all the advice I've garnered on painting dark mahogany furniture, which basically boils down to "DON'T"!!!! 

I've used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint on all of my previous upcycling projects, which have been various shades of organgey pine, and despite applying several coats, I did experience some 'bleed through', either from the varnish, or sap in the wood.  According to knowledgeable sources, experienced in such things, dark mahogany is an absolute bugger, with almost inevitable pink stains appearing after painting.  This rather invalidates the 'negligible prep' feature of chalk paint, so I'm resigned to doing some rather unedifying work, prior to getting to the fun bits.

If there are ever going to be any actual fun bits.
Which I'm beginning to seriously doubt.

Anyway..... choice of paint aside, I have come to the conclusion that irrespective of claims of 'maximum coverage' they are all going to struggle with mahogany.  Also taking into account the complicated nature of the painting, I really want to avoid having to apply multiple top coats.

So I've bought a pot of this....

.... which according to upcycling aficionados is the 'gold standard' so hopefully it will do what it says on the tin.
Which is that it's a 'high performance, white pigmented,  shellac based primer/sealer/stain killer/bond coat that combines the convenience of lightning-fast drying time with outstanding adhesion and the best stain killing power available'.
Bold claims indeed......

However, before I can take the plunge and start priming, I first have to strip the cabinet of decades of grime.  It's not just a bit dusty... it's positively filthy!

I found a slip of paper down the back of one of the drawers with a name and address, which I looked up online, to find that its previous home was a pub in north Kent.  Looking at the photos, I'm assuming that my cabinet may have been in the 'olde worlde' area of the bar, neglected and unloved, with only a passing acquaintance with a duster.

I've had a go at it, using a wood cleaning sugar soap solution, which rapidly turned to a sludge coloured greeny-brown soup as I washed away years of dirt and grease.  I had to attack the dentil moulding along the top with a screwdriver, to prise out an accumulation of some sort of hardened paste, which might have been furniture wax but probably wasn't.
The glazed doors were a nightmare.  I was tempted to leave them till after I'd painted but they were almost opaque and I didn't want to smear the dirt over newly painted glazing bars so I tackled them with a glass cleaning solution and they've come up not too bad.
However, I'll need to go over all the wooden surfaces again, just to make sure it's thoroughly clean.

Then there was the leather inset in the drop-down desk flap.


Scuffed, scratched and dented, it had to come off.....


It took me FOUR hours, during which time I invented a whole new lexicon of swear words, as the ones I already knew just weren't sweary enough.
I wasn't naive enough to think that it would come off all in one piece but I was unprepared for its stubborn resistance and dogged refusal to yield to any number of scraping/scribing/stripping tools so I eventually gave up and attacked it with a small screwdriver which proved marginally more effective.  When I eventually got the top layer off, I viewed the bottom layer with suspicion.  No amount of scraping or poking seemed to affect it so I decided to try a range of solvents, which I hoped would soak through and dissolve the glue underneath.


White spirit/turpentine had no effect at all, and neither did Isopropyl Alcohol, although they did join forces to create interestingly potent fumes.
Eventually, having run through my entire arsenal of solutions, in desperation I tried nail varnish remover.  While it didn't miraculously loosen the remaining leather, it did dissolve it just enough that I could finally scrape and scrub it off.  The resulting surface is still, over a week later, slightly tacky, so it will need more cleaning.  

No surprise there then.....

Back to the subject of which paint to use.....

I've heard good things about Fusion Mineral Paint, which apparently is superior to chalk paint as it doesn't scuff and doesn't require a wax finish.  It claims to be easy to apply and self-levelling (so hopefully no brush strokes!)  It's also available in small tester pots, which means I can use several different colours inside the desk area without having to buy a whole litre.  It's also the only one with all the colours I want.  Still not fully decided but I'm a week or so away from being able to do the colourful stuff so there's no rush to purchase.

However.... remember I said I'd found a wonderful paper to decorate the drawer fronts and inside the glazed doors?  
Sadly, no.  
It arrived last week, and it is lovely, but the design is much bigger than I'd anticipated, and just won't work for the cabinet.


So I've been trawling the internet, looking for something in the right colours/pattern and drawing a complete blank.  You would think, wouldn't you, that with the papers of the entire world at my fingertips I could find something perfect?
I've tried looking at wallpapers, wrapping papers, decoupage papers, scrapbooking papers and many more, but nothing is quite right.
I've even toyed with the idea of designing my own and having it printed, but can't face the many hours entailed in making sure it was suitable.  Not to mention the cost.

However, I'm exploring a possible alternative and am waiting to hear if what I want is cost effective.  *fingers crossed*   I'm mindful of the fact that although the cabinet itself only cost £25, I'm in danger of spending an unconscionable amount on upcycling it!

However, until I've settled on the paint and paper I can't decide on the replacement handles for the drawers, but I have found the website I'll be buying them from.... the amazing Knobbles & Bobbles.  

And..... d'you know what?  Writing all this down has revealed that far from being stalled, the project IS progressing, and ideas are coalescing.  I might even have fallen just a little bit in love with it again.....  *sigh*

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Battle of the Bulge.....

I've had another dalliance with 'Shapewear' today, in advance of attending a wedding at the weekend.

This month has been a bit of a bugger in terms of waistline management, with a string of social events, a family wedding a few weeks ago and the last six days were spent on a mini-break in our little caravan, during which all dietary/calorie restrictions were suspended.

As a result, a few pounds have sneaked on and taken up residence around what I laughingly call 'my middle' meaning that my spring wedding outfit, which fitted just fine a few weeks ago, is now definitely on the 'snug' side.

My existing shapewear is black, which will be no good under white trousers, so I reluctantly concluded that I would need to spring for white underpinnings, and set off in search of same this morning.

Predictably, it didn't quite go according to plan.

For a start, there seems to be no such thing as white shapewear.  The only choice, other than black, is a sort of flesh colour, although it's not a flesh tone I've ever seen on a living person.
Alternatively, the same pinky/beige shade is also called 'nude', although again, it's not a colour I would ever associate with any unclothed human body.

While I completely understand that making  'one flesh colour suits all'  would be a challenge, it is one which the designers of shapewear have spectacularly failed to meet.

Anyway, like it or lump it, 'flesh' it had to be.

Then there was the choice of which problem area I wanted to address.  Apparently, shapewear is incapable of dealing with more than one...or perhaps the designers think that women only ever suffer from one 'out of control' body area at any one time.

This is blatantly bollocks.

As a pear-shaped woman, while I do have a discernible waist, I also have a stomach, hips, thighs and buttocks, all of which will require considerable restraint in order to fit into my figure-skimming trousers.

However, it is clearly beyond the wit of man (I'm making a wild guess that shapewear designers are probably men) to construct a garment which will slim and shape the whole torso from waist to thighs.

As such I was faced with the following choices.....

1.  A rather flimsy-looking garment which claimed to eliminate VPL.  To be brutally honest, visible panty line is the LEAST of my worries.

2. Medium control thigh slimmer.  No mention of tum or bum.... but I'll wager that any woman who needs dramatically slimmer thighs, might also have some problem areas slightly higher up, in which case gazelle-like thighs might draw further attention to those. 

3. Firm control waist cincher.  Fairly hefty support round the middle but very flimsy around the nether regions.

4. Shape & Sculpt.... basically a buttock lifter, but with precious little support infrastructure round the front.

5. Firm control tummy tamer.  Highly structured deep waistband, extending down to the top of the hips where it appeared to give up the ghost and revert to being simply stretchy.

By this time I was seriously considering buying all five in order to adequately cover all bases but thankfully I realised that trying to disentangle myself for toileting purposes would be flirting with disaster.  So in the end I plumped (no pun intended) for the tummy tamer, on the basis that whatever's happening round the back can look after itself.

I haven't tried it on yet as I don't want to give myself a hernia before the big day but it's currently lying fleshily on the bed, taunting me with its tautness.

As I have said before, on countless occasions.... what could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 13 May 2019

Descent into chaos.....

On Friday, we travelled 40 miles to look at the bureau bookcase, decided to have it, loaded it into the car (it fitted with millimetres to spare!) and drove 90 minutes back home again.

It's going to need a fair bit of TLC.... starting with a really good clean.  I've hoovered all the surface dust and cobwebs *shudder* and am currently getting to know it and working out a plan of attack for the upcycling.

Then, on Sunday morning, a lovely lady came and bought every single one of my 500+ collection of doll's house and minatures magazines from the past 30 years.
They had all been stored on top of the big display unit, so having cleared the top, I advertised the unit on FB Marketplace and someone is coming this afternoon to look at it, with another three people interested., so I'm hopeful it will go today. *fingers crossed*

So, this morning I've cleared out all the boxes and stacked them on the worktop at the far end of the workroom.....

Blimey.... looks a lot more of them  when they're stacked like this!

...leaving the display unit empty

If the unit goes this afternoon, that will be the point of no return *gulp*

Back to the bureau bookcase, and a wonderful stroke of serendipity....

There are four drawers in the base, in three different sizes.  The top drawer is quite shallow, so I'll use that for bits and bobs, as yet unspecified.

The second drawer is deeper and will hold exactly three of my A4 storage boxes with lids.  Perfect!

The bottom two drawers are even deeper, and will hold six of these boxes, making a total of 15.  

So far so good.

The bookcase section at the top has three adjustable shelves, and will fit 3 of my A5 storage boxes across the width.  I've had a play around with various permutations and I can fit 41 A5 boxes in the top.  I only have 31 of those, but if I use box bases and lids separately in the cupboard, I'll have enough to fill it completely.

Then the latest bit of serendipity..... my larger stripey storage boxes fit perfectly, two abreast on top of the bookcase section.

Happy days.

Of course I'll need to completely re-organise all of the A4 and A5 boxes to consolidate the contents, but that's a task I have to undertake no matter what happens.

So.... plan of attack..... sell the display unit and use the liberated space to start work on the bookcase bureau.  First step will be to clean it thoroughly with sugar soap/wood cleaner....

I've a lot on this week, right through till next Monday so I won't have much time to work on it, aside from cleaning it section by section.

Extensive googling has revealed that painting over mahogany is fraught with issues, because pink stains tend to bleed through almost all paints.  So I've decided to seal it with a shellac-based primer, which will act as a stain block and provide a good surface for the subsequent coats of chalk paint.  It should also give good coverage so hopefully I won't need repeated coats of paint to cover the dark wood.

I'm in two minds about the drawer handles.... they're not very nice and would need several coats of metal paint, which I'm keen to avoid, so I'm looking for 8 shabby chic drawer handles and 4 small knobs.

I know that the glazed doors will be an absolute pain to paint.  From bitter experience, masking tape is unlikely to be 100% successful, especially as the glazing bars pattern is quite complicated, with lots of odd angles.  So I'm going to smear the glass with a thin film of Vaseline, then scrape off the paint afterwards with a blade scraper.  I've watched several video tutorials using different techniques and it does seem the quickest and easiest with the best finish.  Obviously I'll have to try a test sample first.

Inside the desk it's a bit of a mess.... 

The inset leather writing surface is beyond salvaging, so I'll remove it and fill in the gap with some thin plywood and paint over the whole of the inside.

Every inch of space has to perform, so I'm going to make bespoke storage boxes for those little cubby holes, to hold sewing tools and equipment, glue etc.  I'm also thinking about installing a strip of LED lights along the top, hiding the wiring behind the front panel.  I definitely need an electric double socket which will have to go in one of the side cubbies.... perhaps fixed onto the back panel or inside the top if possible.  Need to do more googling on that one.

I've ordered a gorgeous vintage botanical paper, which will go on the front of the drawers and line the inside of the glazed cabinet doors.  Still considering using foamboard inside the doors so that I can pin small lightweight tools etc.  

I'm sure that the design will be organic, changing and adapting as I go along, but I'm wildly optimistic that when complete it will have the WOW factor.

Let's hope my enthusiasm and optimism don't suffer too many setbacks.....

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The best bit.....6 days and counting

Often, by far the best bit of any project, are the halcyon hours spent planning.  The options seem endless and the hours spend on Pinterest and watching You Tube how-to videos are all time well spent.

With a view to upcycling my shabby chic work station I've been making lists, setting out a plan of attack, saving links to potential candidates for new drawer handles, papers for decoupage, paint for the exterior etc, right down to the minutiae of finding a small old key to use with a flamboyant key tassel in the bookcase doors.  Needless to say the original key is long gone, but since I don't need to lock the doors I'm sure I can find a pretty, purely decorative key. 

Actually,  thinking about it, I'm going to need two, one for the door and one for the bureau lid. *carefully adds to list*

Hmmm...having looked again at the photos (bearing in mind I haven't actually seen it in the flesh yet!!!) I can see that there is another keyhole in the top drawer of the base.
*amends list*

I've set up a Pinterest board onto which I can pin inspirational upcycled bookcase bureau ideas and I have a file on my laptop devoted to hints and tips I've gleaned from trawling the internet.  

In addition, I've started sorting through and consolidating my storage boxes in the big wall unit, which will have to go in order to make room for the bureau.

Here it is a few days ago before I got stuck in....

There are already several gaps but I need to lose quite a few more in the coming week then pile all the remaining boxes on the worktop at the end of the room so that I can sell the display unit *fingers crossed*   

I'll be trying to do as much of the work on the bureau as possible in the space left by the display unit.... apart from the messy sanding, which I'll do outside so as to avoid clouds of dust in my workroom.  However, the painting, decorating etc will be done in situ, on plastic sheeting.  It's quite a big project so I'm anticipating it will take several weeks, especially as I also have to work in the meantime.  However I'll be itching to get it finished, so that I can restore a sense of normality, and relocate all the boxes etc.

I'm in two minds about what to do with the surface of the drop down writing surface.  The leather insert is quite badly scratched and damaged and needs to be replaced.  But with what.....?

I could replace it with a new leather insert, but all the places who make them to size only seem to have very dark shades of leather in rather dull and uninspiring colours, suitable for antique reproduction desks etc.  Ideally I'd like a cornflower blue.... not really pale, but not too dark either.

Alternatively, I could completely replace the leather with a large pale blue cutting mat, fixed in place on the surface with little clips, so that I could easily remove it to clean it.  This would be much cheaper than a leather insert, and much more practical.  However, until I get the bureau back here and measure it accurately I can't make any irrevocable decisions just yet.

Right, back to it then... those Pinterest pins won't pin themselves.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Quart into a pint pot....?

You already know the backstory.....

Downsizing, blah, blah, de blah.... de-cluttering, blah, de blah, blah, clearing out the workroom, blah, de, blah, de blah.

If it feels like it's never-ending to you, just take a minute to think how it feels to me.
Groundhog Day doesn't even come close.

You'll know that I've been salivating over potential 'workstations' for when we eventually move house, and I've blogged before about converting wardrobes into craft armoires, or doing a cunning hack on Ikea units.

But most of the stuff I've been looking at has simply been too big.  Not in terms of all the stuff I have to fit inside, but in terms of taking up too much space in what will almost certainly be a multi-function room, as I will be giving up the luxury of an entire workroom.

Quite how this is to be achieved is a moot point, both from a practical and logistical point of view.

For example, I could wait until we have actually moved, then see how much space I can allocate to a work station, in the meantime, carrying on with the eternal emptying of my workroom, whittling down what I have, to only what I will need.

While eminently sensible, this solution does have a number of drawbacks, the foremost being that it is by far the least exciting.

So I'm going all out for Plan B, which is to buy and 'upcycle' a piece of furniture which will accommodate my streamlined work materials.  This will have the advantage of being both exciting and organic, as I can actually tailor it to my needs while still having my existing workroom to work from.

To this end I've been scouring Ebay and a range of second-hand furniture websites for some time, looking for a suitable candidate for my project.

Needless to say, Pinterest has a lot to answer for, as I've abandoned the idea of an eminently practical, utilitarian, slab-shaped cupboard, in favour of something rather more aesthetically pleasing, along these lines.....

This is an 18th century Italian bureau cabinet, and I think you'll agree it is a thing of beauty.  Personally I don't like the mirrored doors, which were a later addition, but the overall concept and execution is one which appeals to me.

Sadly I can't justify spending the £38,000 commanded by this genuine antique, but it got me thinking... so I've been looking for something broadly similar in function and style which I could customise to my heart's content.

Lovely yet affordable bureau bookcases are relatively thin on the ground and it feels barbaric to 'upcycle' a genuinely good piece.  
Ugly and affordable bureau bookcases are more readily available, but have generally been in really bad condition, with bits broken off, glass doors cracked, and drawers falling apart.
What I've been looking for is something in reasonably good condition, relatively cheap, and which wouldn't break my heart to customise.

Dear reader.... I think I've found it! 

Now.... admittedly, at the moment, a thing of beauty it is not.  It's definitely showing its age and has been knocked about a bit it, resulting in several scratches and marks.  It also has some knobs missing and is very grubby and in need of a good clean. The inset leather writing pad has definitely seen better days too.  However, as I'm going to have clean it thoroughly, prior to sanding then painting, there isn't anything which couldn't be fixed with a spot of wood filler.

I'll be changing the handles on the drawers, and replacing the knobs on the pull-out desk supports and the two little internal drawers.

I'm still pondering exactly what to do with it decor wise.  I don't want to be able to see through the top doors so I was thinking of removing the glass and replacing it with thin board, but instead I might leave the glass in situ and use either pieces of fabric or decorative paper behind the panes.  My A5 plastic boxes will fit inside perfectly, and if PP's calculations are correct I will be able to store 45 of them in the top section.  In addition, there will be a few inches spare space inside, so I can line the doors with decorated foamboard, onto which I could pin small bags for additional storage of very lightweight supplies.
I also have some sensational wallpaper I which might use to line the back of the top section.

For the base, I quite like the idea of facing the drawer fronts with a vintage botanical style paper.... similar to this

I'll make bespoke compartments for inside the drawers, depending on what will be stored. 
Also thinking of adding some LED strip lighting in the opening desk section... I'll be able to drill holes through the back to make provision for an electricity supply for the lights and hopefully a few power sockets.

I can't actually go to pick it up till the end of next week, which allows time to give more thought to what to do, as well as trying to clear a space in the workroom for me to work on it in situ over the coming months.  This will mean getting rid of the large, open-fronted display unit which currently holds all of my plastic storage boxes.  

So watch this space.....!