Sunday, December 4, 2016

So I Made a Wreath

What would the holidays be without a bit of unnecessary crafting angst! Crafting angst is actually one of the four primary pillars of the classic American Christmas, which, of course, are as follows:

1. Twitchy Forced Conversation with Distant Relations
2. Crafting Angst
3. Fighting to Get the Damn Christmas Tree to Stand Straight
4. Burning the Stuffing

Crafting angst is so important to the holidays that several companies have built entire empires on its hot glued sequined back (looking at you Michaels and AC Moore).

       I was feeling far far behind the holly jolly power curve this morning, we haven't even gotten our tree yet! We've only watched Elf once so far this year! And thusly to do appropriate holiday penance, I made a wreath with which to stage a lovely vintage tea table for a photo shoot, and then to hang on the front door, as a Proclamation of Crafting Prowess, for all who pass by.

         I've always admired wreaths made from magnolia leaves, both in their natural green, when they dry and fade to a soft olive green, and painted gold. There's a vast array of wreath-y triumphs on Pinterest, so I started with some inspiration there-
 I was shooting for something about like this:

About mid morning I put another coat of poly on three projects I'm slogging away on and evacuated the workshop so as not to pass out from the fumes, with an hour to kill, the wreath seemed a perfect time filler.

        Now as with any good craft project, it is absolutely essential that you have many many chores that you really should be doing, but are instead ignoring in favor of uselessness. I had both a sink full of dirty dishes and an entire house that desperately needs to be swept and dusted.
Perfect craft timing, then.

        I grabbed my pruning sheers and stalked towards one of the two towering magnolias in the front yard.  It was then, shivering in the yard that I remembered that I have rhododendron not magnolia. Close enough? Close enough. I cut huge armfuls of the branches- the things haven't actually been pruned since we moved here eight years ago. Two birds with one crafting stone!!

          If you don't own a magnolia OR a rhododendron to harvest, you're going to have to sneak into one of your neighbor's yards to get your supplies. If they catch you, you can always pretend to be searching for your missing cat, Mr. Mittens. OR if the neighbors spot you ravaging their shrubbery just beat your chest, make aggressive eye contact, and assert your dominance. It is now your shrubbery, annexed for all future wreath making ventures. Well done.

Other than stolen greenery, here's what else you'll need
-green florist wire
- pruning sheers or scissors, a butcher knife? Something sharp for the cutting.
- a glue gun
- a martini
- a metal ring or embroidery hoop, or wreath backer- any of those will work fine as your base.

        To start I picked all the very best looking leaves off my rhododendron branches. I think about every sixth one was good enough. I made a pile. It turned out that pile was too small by more than half. Bear this in mind if you're stealing from your now annexed neighbor's shrub, you'll want way way more than you thought, best to get it all at once to avoid multiple trips...and confrontations.

        Once I had a healthy pile of leaves, I cut the green wire into 3 or 4 inch lengths and made an equally big stack, again grossly underestimating just how much I would need, and just what I was getting myself into.

          With the tip of the wire, I poked a hole in the base of the leaf, about 1/4 of an inch from the top of the stem, and to the side of the center vein. I threaded it through until there was about a 1 inch "tail" on the back of the leaf. I wrapped the "tail" around the stem a few times, I wrapped the longer front section of the wire around the stem a few times. The leaf was then fully attached to the wire. I then wrapped the long section of the wire around and around my metal ring base. I did this over and over and over again.

            By about half way (or approximately 324,000) leaves in, I realized this was not going to be the quick one hour jaunt down crafting lane that I had foolishly anticipated. It was a slog. About 30,000 leaves further in the Christmas music was no longer pleasantly diverting and my mind began to wander. Interesting things to consider in the doldrums of leaf application-

      - Did ancient aliens actually build the pyramids?
      - What actually happened at the end of Inception?! I'm still so very unsure
      - Will Eddie Redmayne be impressed by my wreath-making skills? (Obviously yes.)

Somewhere around this point I had to go back out for more leaves. In retrospect I really should have been nicely tipsy for the whole process, would have been much more pleasant, even at 11am. That's why booze is on your supply list. Highly recommended, very boring work, the solitary confinement of crafting projects.

Still I continued on, a champion of holiday spirit, the hero Pinterest deserves. I poked my fingers with the wire quite a few times, so also you should factor that in when calculating your crafting holiday angst score.

           The last bit was fiddly, trying to tuck the wire around without mussing the other leaves up too much. When I was finally done I first checked to see if man had invented flying cars or self washing dishes while I'd been buried in rhododendron leaves, then I tried hanging my wreath up. The leaves shifted all over the place like bastards. It was a dark moment. So I hot glued a thin strip of fabric on the back of the metal ring, thereby securing all the wirework and wholly solving the problem, which was a good thing because I was about to cancel Christmas forever.

         As a recap:

Cost - literally nothing...except what I could have been making by doing actual work rather than this silliness.
Duration - Several hopeless empty eons.
Enjoyment Level - Abysmal (insert martini here)
Holiday Crafting Angst Score - 12/10. Would do again.

Bonus- The madhouse mess I made of the kitchen island. Yay Christmas.

A Queen Anne Tea Table in Green

Now here's a form you don't see everyday. In all the years I've been refinishing furniture, this is, in fact, the first tea table I've had the privilege to work on, and it was given to me!

      A lovely blog follower brought this sweet vintage Queen Anne mahogany tray top tea table to me last week. He'd planned on working on it himself, but in the end didn't have the space. I desperately wanted to keep this beauty for myself, but sadly I just don't have a spot in my home. Irregardless I indulged myself and finished it in one of my favorite pale greens- a soft warm tone that's equal parts playful and elegant and (I think) suits the table perfectly.

       These tables were popular in American and English design from about 1730-1770, and then again during the Colonial revival of the 1920s. An original 18th century tray top tea table can bring big BIG bucks. When I worked at Liverant Antiques we had a Salem Massachusetts one in an early black paint surface that was priced at almost as much as my house is worth. It, just like this 20th century version, was a symphony of design, a masterclass of lean luscious cyma curves, perfectly balanced, perfectly built, as leggy as a gazelle and as graceful as a prima ballerina. In my humble opinion, furniture form does not get much more sophisticated than a tray top tea table.

      Here's one made in Boston c.1730-1750 that sold at Christie's auction three years ago and realized $290,500. Yes you read that right, just under 300k FOR A TABLE.

Pleasingly, my vintage one is almost exactly the same dimensions as that original 18th century one, even has fully functional candle slides on each side. Excellent attention to detail by whomever built this sweet piece. And blasphemous as it is, I prefer the form of my 20th century one. Though the Christie's table has a thinner ankle, I find both the apron and the curve of the cabriole leg to be a bit underwhelming. Plus mine's got those cheeky big foot pads underneath. None of that is surprising, though; 20th century reproductions almost always turned the design element dial up by about 75%. Over. The. Top.
           I'll only be asking $165 for this solid mahogany table, and compared to $290,500, that's a hell of a bargain.
P.S.- Do you like the wreath? I made it this morning, I'll be posting a how-to to make your own this evening!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Vintage Cherry Hutch in Buff

Two for one today! Like I said, we're gonna start December off with a bang!
        I purchased this cherry hutch a while ago but hadn't had a chance to refinish it as I was buried in custom work. This past weekend I finally got the chance to get it started.
         The hutch is mid 20th century, made by Temple Stuart, and 100% solid cherry. It's absolutely immaculate and really fantastically built. Cherry is always such a pleasure to work with. It's such rich and dense. I refinished the top with a mix of Ebony and Provincial minwax stain for warmth and a fairly dark tone without pulling the color all the way to red the way cherry tends to tilt.
         The case is another custom mixed shade named "Buff Vest" which I personally love love love. It's just the kind of color I put in my own home. The backboard is Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter. The drawer pulls are part of a big group I bought last summer. I recolor these four in a hammered nickel. I kept the original knobs but recolored them to match the new hardware. I distressed the case and sealed it with dark wax. Perfect for a farmhouse kitchen dining room, or entryway!

An Antique Cherry Dresser

Let get's December off to a swinging start. How much do you love this c.1890 solid cherry dresser? All the love, am I right?? It's my new favorite, too. I thought it might be when I bought it at the flea market more than a month ago from Carl the Furniture Guy.
         Some damn fool had messed around with the feet and sloppily added casters during the early 20th century, and the backboard had come lose, giving the case a bad wobble. The drawers needed some work to slide smoothly again and the top had a few ring stains on it. But none of that mattered, it's an absolutely superb piece of furniture. The carving across the top of the massive mirror is exceptional, as are the original cast brass drawer pulls that have oxidized to the loveliest soft green.
         After battling through all the repair work, which was quite a slog, I refinished the top, several shades darker, and mixed up a fresh custom blue green that I've named 'Alpine Deep'. I distressed the paint, and sealed it with dark wax. Today was the first time I'd actually seen the piece with the mirror attached and it absolutely took my breath away.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nine Antique Holiday Gift Ideas That Are Way Better Than Whatever You Were About to Buy on Amazon

Tis the season ladies and gentlemen. We have to cover our houses with tacky decorations, scroll past every single one of our friend's 'Elf on the Shelf' Facebook posts, and we need to give each other thoughtful gifts to prove our affections.
       So you can be basic and buy your stuff at Target or on Amazon, or you can be a gift giving genius and give beautifully unique, one of a kind antique objects that are sure to make your gift-target swoon with amazement and delight. I know the idea of antiquing seems daunting, but you can do it from the comfort of your favorite squashy chair just by sifting through ebay or etsy, or online auction catalogs *or* you can go spend a delightful day out perusing your local thrift shops and antiques stores. I can wholly guarantee that either option will be far more holly jolly than trudging through an overcrowded shopping mall.

        Antique and vintage objects are far more personal and possess far more soul than any mass produced object you're gonna snag off the rack at Old Navy, or Nordstroms, and often they're far more budget friendly as well. Here are some of my favorite antique-y gift ideas. I have given every single one of these as a gift in the past, cause I'm awesome like that, and now you can be too.

1. Candlesticks
       Literally the only person for whom this is not an appropriate gift is your college attending cousin, who isn't allowed fire in her dorm. Everyone else likes fire; we're all pyros at heart, now's the time to elegantly say, "Here, now you can have classy fire, right at your dining table!". Candlesticks range in price. I've never been to the goodwill and not seen at least three sets, usually for under $5, often handsome mid 20th century brass or cut glass ones. Or you can shop antique stores or online for fancier versions. They come in all shapes and sizes so it's quite easy to pick a pair for your uptown modern sophisticated friend, and your friend who lives in a converted barn and lusts for the rustic. Up the ante by including a couple pairs of nice beeswax tapers in the package.


I especially adore this pair!
2. Lithographs, Prints, Maps and more
              This is a TOP SHELF gift that costs soooooo little. Printed goods, ephemera, and maps are an outstanding and gorgeous gifty option. When I shop for a print to give as a gift I think about my target, what do they like? Do they have a hobby like golf, gardening, cooking, or crafting. Whatever that interest is, just climb up to that 'Ebay' search bar, and enter that interest "horses antique print" and you'll have mountains of options. Or maybe your friend has zero hobbies, but do they have a favorite vacation destination? Then enter "Florence antique map", or perhaps they love farmhouse decor, there's loads of fun 19th century prints of animals that look incredibly sharp when framed.

Here's a set of late 19th century prints that were originally book illustrations.
How divine would they look framed and hung together!
via via via 

For your New Yorker friend (we've all got one) here's a wonderful 1861 print of Central Park!

OR for the Fashionista, how bout an incredible set of original 1950s fashion prints from major fashion houses like Dior and Balenciaga.
3. Silk Scarves
           Another category where you can get big impact for little investment. Silk scarves have been popular accessories for more than two centuries, though they really hit their stride in the second quarter of the 20th century. Because they're small, sweet, and easy to store, millions of them survive today in perfect condition. Since millions of them survive, they're quite affordable. As with prints, you can easily use a search term online to find a specific and personalized scarf, or visit a clothing consignment or thrift shop, where there's often cascading mountains of them, and put together a stunning color spectrum group of six or a dozen.




4. Signs
           Probably my personal favorite thing to collect, antique signs are handsome and intriguing and suit all decor from an urban industrial loft to a quaint cottage kitchen. Many are quite delightful and cheeky too! I found both these signs in about thirty seconds of searching ebay- under the "architectural and garden" category of the antiques tab. Auctions such as Garth's, Skinners, Cowan's, and Pook and Pook also have loads and loads of amazing authentic antique signage.

perfect for a man-cave.

I mean, come on, this is to die for!!
5. Jewelry
      I hardly ever wear jewelry, but when I do, you're damn right it's antique stuff I bought for a song. It boggles the mind that anyone buys new jewelry when there's so many spectacular options to be found at every single antique store in the country. You can either purchase something elegant and refined, or give a funky set of costume baubles in crazy colors! For the dapper man there's an incredible array of antique cufflinks to be had.

I LOVE this early 20th century Art Deco gold locket it, BE STILL MY HEART
This is what I want for Christmas!

Take no prisoners drop dead gorgeous

Sophisticated and delicate and perfect for the office or a night out

Antique cufflinks to add a bit of character to any gentleman's suit game
6. Mixing Bowls
          For a cozy, homey hostess gift, why not an antique mixing bowl! They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors to suit any kitchen, and are chunky, durable, functional, and endearing. Take the gift to the next level by filling it with yummy treats, or a cookie mix kit!

Deep blue add a healthy dash of color to any kitchen

The perfect popcorn bowl EVER!

Just picture this stunning pair on a shelf in a farmhouse kitchen!

7. Bookends
             The perfect gift for the bibliophile in your life, vintage and antique bookends usually cost $50 and under, are small, easy to ship, and will last a lifetime. There's bookends to meet every taste from reclining nudes to busts of Abraham Lincoln. They're simple to find at antique shops, thrift stores, and of course on ebay and etsy.

This solid brass Art Deco option is collapsible! How clever is that!
Would be great in a kitchen to hold cookbooks.

I have a dear friend who has a Scottie, I bet she'd love these.

For the Harry Potter fan, the bird lover, or anyone who (rightly) thinks owls are super cool
8. Boxes
          There's a never-ending supply of nifty storage vessels out there in the world of antiques. I personally love a beautiful antique wood document box, but there's also tea caddies, trunks, tool chests, and sweet little sliding lid boxes. Everyone has something that would be better off cunningly stored away in a wonderful antique box. Perfect for recipes or playing cards, collections of wee small interesting things, or jewelry.
19th century walnut document box. I'm reeaaaaally thinking about bidding on this one for myself.
Love the taped in mirror.

Known as a "tantalus" this is the 19th century version of a mini bar, meant to hold bottles of booze and other drink-y accessories. Would be great with several bottles of fine liquor, or could make the perfect desk top accessory organizer

The stenciled numbers make it for me, SO CUTE.
9. Decanters
       And while we're on the topic of holiday "spirits" what's an easier gift than a stunning antique decanter! Fill it with booze, or package it up with a bottle of your giftee's drink of choice, or just leave it as is. Most thrift shops will have multiple options, many of which cost a small fortune when new and are now are $10 or under. Just a couple months ago I scored a flawless Bacarat crystal decanter at the goodwill for $4! You can also armchair shop from a pool of thousands on etsy and ebay.
The absurdly elongated stopper on this Georgian option is fabulous

The perfect pair!

And some wonderful silver detailing on this early 20th century option!