Monday, June 27, 2011

KnittyMagic in the Dining Room; and a product recommendation

My dining room was a Big Deal to me when I bought my house. I wanted so badly to have beautiful formal dinners. I was going to wow everyone with my fabulous china, antiquated serving pieces, and amazingly huge Queen Anne table.

It's funny to write that now. About 6 years after purchasing the dining room set and getting my dining room "perfect" I had had approximately 4 dinners in there. I found I didn't actually enjoy hauling out (and washing) all those layers upon layers of dishes for formal settings. I began looking for excuses to hold parties outdoors or buffet style.

I tried to figure out why I didn't much enjoy the dining room. After all, I had just what I wanted. What was wrong? I tried a new tablecloth, some new dishes, new curtains...I even spent two weekends recovering the dining room chairs. And once I did that, I realized what the problem was. It wasn't that I didn't like holding dinner parties (although the superfluous china really was kind of silly). It wasn't that the dining room was unwelcoming or awful.

The table was too big. I never realized it. It looked great with the chairs assembled around it. But in order to sit down, you had to carefully pull out the chair (without hitting the wall) and then thread your body in. The chairs were heavy and poofy and the legs were curved out in the way. Could it be that the perfect dining room wasn't so perfect?

Time for KnittyMagic.

1. The curtains I had in there were sheer purple voile ones from Ikea. I had made them into a sort of Roman shade style. The layers of fabric ended up blocking out all the light. I had a beautiful picture window and it was completely blocked off. I decided a simple scarf valance would look nice. I found, however, that Ikea no longer carried the scarf valance in purple. I really liked the fabric of those curtains. Then I realized, what is a scarf valance but two panels sewn together? I ripped out the seams that made them Roman shades, trimmed the rod pockets, and stitched two of them together end to end. I purchased a set of curtain tiebacks from Ikea ($3.99) to hang them. Cost: $4 for tiebacks.

2. Accent wall. This is my new favorite way to decorate. I'm drawn to deep, exciting colors, but often those are just too much for a whole room. I have an open floor plan which means it's hard to tell where one room ends and the next begins. I have dark furniture in the dining room, so I picked a dark mustard color. I painted the wall with the window (it only took a couple of hours) to set off that great purple scarf valance. Cost: $15 for paint. I bought the good stuff that is paint and primer in one. It's worth the extra cost. Cheap paint is no bargain.

3. Rearrange. It's that simple. I took everything out of my china cabinet, set some things aside to sell, and rearranged the rest. Cost: free, although if I can sell a few things I may end up making money on the deal!

4. Table. I needed a new table. At first I thought I'd build one. Then I thought I'd buy one. Then I couldn't decide. I took down the old table and dragged my kitchen table in there. I thought it would look pretty silly, because it was awfully small compared to the old one. Oddly enough, we discovered we rather liked it in there. It opened up the room a lot, leaving plenty of room to walk around the table. It is so nice to walk around the table to open the china cabinet, and not have to thread your body around the chairs. However, that kitchen table, while a good size for the three of us, was in no way big enough for guests. I needed something that could expand a little.

I had planned to buy something, but when I balanced the checkbook I decided there was currently not enough for a new dining room table, at least until I sold the old table. I couldn't really find anything that was the right size that I liked anyway. I decided to scavenge from my grandpa's house. Kitchen tables now are typically 36" wide, whereas the size I was looking for was 32" wide. I took a tape measure over to Grandpa's and voila! 20 minutes later I was hauling that sucker down the attic stairs. It didn't sell at the estate sale---so it was meant to be with me.

There was only one problem. It looked old. The finish was worn in spots and the legs were scratched like crazy. I did a little googling and discovered a product called Howard's Restor-a-Finish. It says that in one easy step you wipe it on, let it dry, and it renews the luster and beauty of the original finish, blends away scratches, and permanently removes water rings. Yeah right I said, but I'm always down for an easy one step makeover.

This stuff is magic in a can!!! I was squealing as I wiped my rag over the surface of the 50 year old table and scratches, rings, and scuffs disappeared. After about an hour's drying time, my table looked great. The finish is shiny and hard. It doesn't look like it just came off the showroom floor, but it looks like its best self. Scuffs and scratches are, to some extent, the charm and character of vintage furniture. This keeps the overall vintage look while minimizing those scratches and blemishes. In one easy step. Highly, highly recommended.

Total costs:
Curtains: $3.99 for tiebacks
Paint: $15
Table: $8.00 for Howard's Restor-a-Finish

That's less than $30. And everyone at last weekend's party marveled at how much the dining room seemed opened up and more welcoming!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

KnittyMagic How-Tos: Outside

My porch was sure looking shabby. When I bought my house and my things, I misunderstood how "outdoor furniture" worked. I figured you stuck it outside and used it when you felt like it. I never even considered bringing it in over the winter or covering it up in the rain, or taking down the umbrella. Why? It was *OUTDOOR* furniture.

Within a few weeks, the umbrella snapped, the cushions on the chairs molded, and it wasn't even winter yet. After a couple of Midwestern winters, the name of the game became "throw out everything that didn't survive the winter".

Outdoor furniture, for something you leave to the elements, is rather damned expensive. This quickly became cost prohibitive, so I gave up on the "outside" thing. I couldn't just throw some food on the grill and sit down at the table like Martha Stewart; I had to set up the table, clean it, find a chair that wasn't wet, or dry one off, round up the umbrella---eff that. We just hung out in our handily temperature-controlled house.

Then I had a kid. Kids, they like to play outside. Which translates to "time I don't have to amuse the kid". Unfortunately, my porch was not terribly pleasant. The grill was showing its age from living uncovered all winter. The chairs were a disaster. We had one sturdy chair (but the resin was disintegrating so it left green marks on anyone sitting in it), 2 adorable motel chairs (with giant rust patches), and 1 folding chair (that had seen better days), and 1 table with no umbrella.

When I fell through the folding chair (that was an adventure) I decided to build a bench instead of chairs. Even the cheap plastic chairs cost around $15-20, multiply that and it's a fair investment (for something that typically lasts only one summer). Using the scraps left over from the cedar dining table I made for my mom, I built a nice little bench for two people. Cost: one box of screws (didn't have the right length). If not using wood I already had, the cost would be about $25.

The green resin chair was still sturdy, it was just---getting green everywhere. So I decided to try this new spray paint by Rust Oleum that's formulated for plastics. It's pretty hard to use effectively, and you'd probably need two cans to properly cover a chair, but we managed to make it so the chair doesn't get green everywhere--so that's surely a bonus, right? Note to self; do not choose red paint for a green chair. Cost: $5

I was not yet done with my adventures in spray paint. I figured those motel chairs HAD to be salvageable. My mother tells me that the old ones at actual, y'know, *motels* sometimes had layers upon layers of paint. I purchased a couple of wire brushes to brush off some of the rust, used coarse sandpaper to rough up the surface, and painted 2 chairs and 1 little table with candy pink paint! If you get up close to them, you'll see I wouldn't have made a very good graffiti artist, but from the street, they look great ;-) Cost: $20 for spray paint and wire brushes.

Ah, that grill wasn't looking so good. But heck, paint had worked miracles on those motel chairs, hadn't it? I rummaged around in the garage and found a can of Rust Oleum classic black flat paint. It was leftover from painting the mailbox, which we don't exactly take in every winter, and it still looks great after 6 years. The actual grill itself wasn't looking bad, because the paint for that is heat-resistant (read: higher quality) than the paint on the cabinet that holds it. Well, now they match, because I painted the cabinet (I didn't even need to rough that up, just wipe it off) with my flat black Rust Oleum, and while it won't fool anyone into thinking we have a brand new grill, it looks a hell of a lot better than it did. Cost: $0, because I had the paint, $4 if I had to buy it.

When there's a little paint left in the can KnittyMagic dictates we find something else to paint, since we're already in painting mode. That outdoor dining table had long outlived its umbrella and chairs. The glass wasn't cracked, the legs were faded but not rusted, and it was just the right size. So I painted the metal frame. Cost: $0 because I had the paint.

The one expensive part of the porch redo was, alas, a new umbrella. Why are those things so damn expensive? They give away regular umbrellas for free! I found a mid-quality green umbrella at Target for $70, and that was actually a really good price. Don't worry, I'm taking this one down each time I use it! Cost $75 with tax.

Then for a bit of "window dressing", so to speak, I found a vinyl tablecloth (vintage orange!) and cut a hole in the middle for the umbrella hole. That was free for me (scavenged from Grandpa's) but they are easily found for $5 or less. The ones with the hole already in them are sometimes twice as much or more, but cutting a hole isn't exactly tough, and vinyl doesn't fray. Cost $0-5 depending on your scavenging opportunities.

The final piece will be a weighted base for the umbrella to sit in. These are not terribly pricey, but I happen to have some materials lying around that will make a decent, functional base.

1. Wash an empty plastic detergent bottle. Cut off the top half.
2. Mix up a batch of cement from one of those "stepping stone" kits. (I don't need a stepping stone. I do need an umbrella base).
3. Pour the cement into the bottle. *BEFORE IT DRIES* do step 4:
4. Find a piece of PVC pipe that will accommodate the umbrella's pole, and will stick up at least an inch from the top of the cement. Cover the end with duct tape to keep it from filling the tube, then submerge the tube in the center of the cement in the bottle.
5. Allow to set. Place under table. This is weatherproof and inexpensive!

Cost: $0 if you have the stuff, about $10 for a stepping stone kit and a piece of PVC if you don't.

Total cost of porch fix-up for me: $108
Total cost of porch fix-up if I had to buy everything: $144 Still not bad!!!

And just for giggles; I looked at some of the prices for new things, had I decided to purchase rather than create.
New Martha Stewart table + 4 chairs: ~$250 on sale
New "motel chair" set (1 table & 2 chairs) ~$89 on sale
New "cheap" umbrella table + 4 chairs ~$130 on sale
New lower-end gas grill ~$200

Nope, I didn't do too bad at all!

Monday, June 06, 2011

KnittyMagic Series Part 1

When I bought my house, I had too much money and not enough sense. Despite cautions to shop slowly, I wanted to make a HOME so badly that I went out and bought what I thought would look good, with little heed to its true place in my life.

I always loved the look of a round oak kitchen table ($500). I always wanted a Big Girl Dining Room ($3000). And Big Girl Matching Furniture ($1500).

So I got all that, and filled my house with it, and thought that was it. In Fight Club, remember how once you have that sofa thing figured out, you're set? I thought so too.

Well, the cream colored camel back sofas with the rolled arms were not only Not My Style but they were rather uncomfortable. They also didn't REALLY fit the living room.

That round oak table? Where Mom said we'd be cursing that pedestal? Yeah, we hated the pedestal.

And that dining room set. Oh, the dining room set. For a few years straight I could just look at my dining room set and feel happy. Granted, I never really enjoyed holding dinner parties in there. My friends weren't really suited to dinner parties, and my family expected a certain type of dinner parties (just like mom's) and I was never really comfy sitting in there. It was perfectly beautiful and yet....not me.


6 years later I now have more sense than money. Money was blown on things like siding and windows, a lot was wasted on senseless bullshit, and more than a little was spent on that whole having-a-baby-thing. Now instead of going "I want it and I have a big savings account so I'll get whatever I choose!" I am more going "I want THIS and I have...oh....well....$36."

So, I have had to rely on a heavy dose of KnittyMagic. No longer do I have the luxury of simply replacing all the things that I change my mind about with a trip to the furniture store. No, now I have to really figure and plan, and make sure that, this time, I'm spending my money where it counts.