Monday, July 31, 2017

High Country Style

Believe it or not, I don't love entire rooms filled with dark wood furniture (I know! The cat's finally out of the bag). That doesn't mean I don't like dark wood, I certainly do. I'm not much of a fan of rooms packed with painted pieces either. I firmly believe there should be a balance in every space, bit of wood, bit of color.
       Now I suspect this red might be a wee bit scary for some of you. Red is certainly a divisive color when it comes to design. Whatever your response to crimson shades, it's generally a strong one, as opposed to say, dove gray, which is lovely, but kind of meh. So safe, and where's the fun in safe design?! No, my dear friend, I have faith you can be an intrepid furniture-ista. You have vision, and you have confidence. Or maybe you don't, but that's ok because I am aaaaaalways happy to be your design Sherpa. Allow me to escort you up the 'red furniture is not as scary as you might think' Everest.

         This c.1950 solid cherry triple dresser was originally meant for a bedroom, but I envision it in a dining room. I've been dying to do a piece for a dining space in this shade- Benjamin Moore's Autumn Apples- for eons. Picture the dining room walls in a pale gray, so soft it's almost white, perhaps Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl (Benny Moore should really put me on the payroll at this point!).
          Gray Owl has this wonderful opalescent underbody that allows it to shift with the lighting, perfect for creating atmosphere in a dining space. I would stage the sideboard baaaaasically as it is, though I suppose an ever refreshing basket of limelight hydrangea might not be feasible come February. I love the antique brass candlesticks with it, and a big antique gilt gesso frame mirror would be ah-mazing above it, playfully reflecting the light from your pair of candles.


         The dining table should be chunky and raw. A time bleached pine harvest table would be absolutely ideal. I know stacking wood tones is another thing that can get scary, but trust me, everyone's doing it, you're totally good. That rule died along with the "no white after labor day" business, and rightly so.
       Here's about what I have in mind-

Next we'll need dining chairs. I think a vintage set of Queen Anne chairs, painted in taupe would be tremendous. Again we're dancing with that high meets low aesthetic, the essence of High Country design, and ideal for giving a space a natural, gathered feel.

So a chair like this:
                   But in a color like Benjamin Moore Flax
    To add a bit more vertical oomph to the space, we'll need a tall storage piece. I'd love to see something in a charcoal so deep it's almost black, but not quite.
Something like this- and now I really reallllllly want to do a piece in this color!
We'll need some lighting in the room. I've found this amazing website that sells refurbished antique fixtures, and after drooling over every single one, I think a pair of these c.1900 wacky chandeliers would be perfect for the space. But seriously, check out their website- holy cow all the lighting envy.

Drapes are essential, can't let the neighbors know all the fun that goes on, and also an excellent opportunity to layer in some texture and yet another shade of color in the palette we're stacking like Jenga. I like something about this shade, and hey! They're Bed Bath and Beyond, so no one's breaking the bank!
And finally we need a bit more art on the walls. Spaces aren't much fun if they're predictable, so if it were my room, I'd like a big antique sign like this:
Another piece of artwork to add more color and movement to the space. This piece, recently sold by Skinner's auction house, is particularly arresting.

Or at least, if I had a second house, and the ability to keep this darling cherry chest, that's what I would do.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Risky Business

"Do one thing every day that scares you"
Oh, that's some lofty advice. When I worked at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, we sold that on magnets AND bumper stickers. It's the advice of rich women. I'm sorry, can I be bitchy just a bit? Maybe, maybe not, but the truth is, adventuring out into the great unknown, be it backpacking through Europe on a gap year, or branching out from the safe and saleable havens of one's wheelhouse, is a leisure of the securely situated set. I am very much not securely situated.
        Risks are scary as hell when failure is a good slice of your weekly income; you want to advance the ball, a challenge sounds sexy as hell, but at the cost of the electricity bill? That's a 3am Fret, a fine art I inherited from my mother, but rather think I've refined.
         A 3am Fret is essentially a sleep sucking banshee, it dwells in the shadows, patiently counting the hours until a hapless victim gets up to pee at 3am, thereby gaining the level of vivid lonely consciousness it requires to ruin any otherwise pleasant night's rest.
        The poppy cabinet was my most recent 3am Fret. You'd think I'd given it enough fretting during the daytime, worrying over how the hell to fix it's battered feet (I ended up adding new ones entirely!), and how on earth I could make it lovely- low and squat as it was. I've wanted to paint big bold flowers on a case piece for ages, but it's such a personal design, would it sell? And where's the balance between following my heart on these pieces, and making a living. Ya'll can't imagine how much I angst over stupid shit.
        After five hours of sleepless niggling from my 3am Fret, I gave in, got up, and developed a plan. Big flowers- HUUUUUUUUUGE flowers. As with all my hand painted projects, I started by fully finishing the piece. The case is in Benjamin Moore's Chatsworth Cream. The interior solid mahogany drawers are chalk paint, cause what the hell, if we're having fun, let's have ALL the fun. I sanded and stained the mahogany top, and then got to planning.
        I'm not creative, and particularly inventive, so my first step was googling "Big flowers". That let nowhere, as did many other searches. I looked for maybe an hour total, allowing the search to be a sporadic pause between sanding and painting other projects. Finally I found the perfect source material. I won't mislead you, I'm nowhere near an actual artist with actual skill. I need to hard eyeball someone else's masterpiece in order to jot this business onto a cabinet. Riom's c.1890 lithograph, Etudes De Fleurs was entirely perfect. Riom probably has a first name, but despite my googling I couldn't find it.
So here's the inspiration artwork:
After I was done furnituring last night I sat with my notebook and tried to translate the artwork to the actual piece:

The rough sketch completed, I spent a wonderful night second guessing myself, and I finally committed the I started penciling in the design:

Then I set to work with acrylic craft paint, filling in the sketch on the stained top and painted front, holding my breath essentially the entire time.
I love how it turned out. Every time I've walked by it, it's caught my eye. Probably a risk worth taking?

A Pine Hutch Base Turned Island

A couple years ago, all I did was kitchen islands. I must have refinished twenty sundry furniture pieces into islands- workbenches and store counters, dressers, and rolling carts. Last year was definitely the summer of the hutch. I'm not sure how many hutches I re-did, maybe around four thousand? Surely too many.
      This year it's been a more mixed bag, dining sets to night stands, and everything in between. So it seems fitting that halfway through the summer I show you a project I've been working on for most of the summer, a vintage pine hutch base turned kitchen island. It's a blending of so many forms, but I think we can all agree, handsome as jazz. The base is from about 1965. The top is a slab of butcher block from Lumber Liquidators- who I must give a little (wholly unsolicited) shout out to:
      When I got home from LL I enlisted the help of my husband and his pal to help me cut the butcher block. Generally I'm as solitary as a cross hornet when working, but these pieces of wood weigh almost as much as I do- no solo slicing and dicing. I measured the first cut three times- 56.5 inches, the perfect amount of lip on the sides. The second cut would be the long one, to take it from three feet to thirty inches, allowing a generous ten inch overhang on the back to accommodate bar stools.
        Halfway through the first cut, I looked at the piece I was sitting on (serving as a counterweight), and had a dim, distant thought- "boy that width looks nowhere near 36 inches". The raw realization rattled around for a further three numb seconds, offending several synapses, that thusly shrieked at my consciousness- "Houston, how big a problem can you handle??". This butcher block, that was now 3/4 cut through at length was not the 6ft by 3ft that I had ordered. Oh god, no. It was something far longer, and more narrow.
         My general inclination is to now desperately defend my side of things, but for your benefit, I'll tell you everything I did wrong.
        When the lovely gentlemen at lumber liquidators helped me load the piece of butcher block into my truck, I should have noted that it extended significantly farther than my six foot bed. And before I begged my reluctant husband and his reluctant friend to help, I should certainly have measured the length AND width, and not taken for granted that the width was what I'd ordered.
        All my useless amateur assholery aside, Lumber Liquidators rose to the occasions magnificently. I immediately called the store (nearly in tears- this was a $200 piece of wood!). I offered to bring the pieces back, but fully expected them to tell me to take a hike for not having noticed at word go that the wrong size slab had been loaded. Instead, the gracious man told me to keep the pieces, and they'd have the correct sized slab ready in a week. I was blown away. If ever you need a company with corporate selection, but small town service, Lumber Liquidators in Waterford, CT is it.
         I must also say a brief thank you to the client, Meg, who waited patiently through all these trials and tribulations for her island.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Oak Dining Set in White

I am not a patient woman. I think, when you boil the kettle right down to the base, where it scorches and mineral stains the inside and it's a devil to scrub clean, right there- that's my real problem. You've patiently listened to me bemoan  my workload this summer, and who's fault was that? (Kate tentatively raises her hand). Mhmm. And it's not because I really love making my saintlike clients wait for their furniture, it's because I am just so freaking excited for each new project, and I want it now Now NOW!! Remember Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory? She's my spirit animal.

          Also currently on my "why is this taking so damn long?!" list, I'm on a diet. For years and years I tiptoed around 105lbs. Then three years ago I hit 30 and whiz-bang! I gained 20lbs. I've had quite enough with nothing fitting, so I'm trying to edge my way back, and by "edge", I mean charge headlong into fainting from hunger, which is obviously a sick Victorian fantasy of mine.

          Supposedly you shouldn't have less than 1200 calories a day, but pffffffff, I've read enough books about starvation situations (See: Miracle in the Andes, and The Indifferent Stars Above- both excellent reads, though Andes can get a bit self indulgent), to know that's silly. I've got this handy little calorie counter on my phone, I'm staying well below that 1200 mark, but good gravy I'm hungry. Also, the wine is on steroids when you're so hungry you'd chew a shoe. Yes I hear you shouting "But, Kate if you just drank less, you could EAT so much more each day". You can pry my wine glass from my cold dead, tipsy hands. Anyway, I've been dieting and exercising for three weeks, and I've only lost six pounds. Why is this taking SO damn long.
         While dieting I've also been working on this wonderful oak dining set. The client actually brought me a different table that originally went with the set, but it had a laminate top, such a shame considering the set is otherwise so very nicely built. Cochrane, the maker, is generally a scrupulous brand who rarely cut corners, but a laminate top is a big, glaring, un-refinishable corner to cut. Being that we couldn't have a wood table top, I began searching for a new (vintage) dining table that might as well suit the chair set. After several false alarms, I finally found this wonderful c.1970 oak dining table. It's killer. The legs of the base gentle reach away from center, as gracefully as a stretching ballerina, and the wrought iron brace that arches up from the legs is a lyrical counterpoint to the otherwise stout frame. I refinished the seats of the two captain's chairs to match the table top, and painted the remainder in Benjamin Moore's Linen White, my very favorite and perennial 'go-to'. The pair of vintage vases are from my dear friends, Ben and Emily, who are antiques dealers in Ohio, and always find the coolest stuff!


Monday, July 24, 2017

A Vintage Mahogany Breakfront in Gray

I love a rainy day like this. After almost a week straight of nauseously humid days, with the temperatures squatting in the low 90s, today is a blessed respite. Often this time of year in Connecticut, the air will cling to that humidity for weeks on end, like a toddler with a security blanket, it gets to the point you forget entirely what it's like to breath air that's not the texture of velvet, or walk up the stairs without breaking into a sticky sweat. Then one day, like divine magic, the humidity will be gone in an instant, and there's something of Autumn around the crisp cool edges of dusk and dawn. These are the perfect days to hole up on a faded vintage settee, on an enclosed porch, at some lonely lake house, or moldering summer estate in Sag Harbor, listen to the whispering drizzle, and read a good ghost story or ten.
        Who has time to sit around reading all day, though? Not me, I'll be painting dining chairs in the basement as soon as I finish this blog post. But maybe you've got the time, if so, here's a ghost story for your rainy Monday morning (settee and Sag Harbor estate not required but highly recommended).
         Before I worked at Liverant Antiques, I spent three years and some change as the Visitor Services Manager at the Harriet Beecher Store Center in Hartford, Connecticut. It's a classic historic house museum; Stowe's Victorian Gothic cottage was built in 1871, the carriage house cum Visitor Center, my domain, was built in 1873, and on the corner of the property stands the massive Katherine Seymour Day house, built in the mid 1880s.

          It was a chilly, damp weekday in mid March, the kind that makes your knuckles and knees ache. All told, I think we'd sent a whopping total of one tour with one visitor through Harriet's house.  It was before the clocks 'spring forward' for the season so it was nearing dark before closing and the deep cloud cover and persistent drizzle didn't improve the ambient lighting. Seated at the front desk in the gift shop, surrounded by stacks and shelves of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe magnets, and commemorative spoons, I made the best use of the remaining few minutes of the work day by staring off into the middle distance, eyes glazed, and dreaming of summer, or the weekend, or Robert Pattinson (this was ten years ago, my tastes have since improved). I'd sent my two remaining tour guides in to close Harriet's house for the night, which involved switching off lights, switching others on, shutting some doors, and opening yet others, apparently all to ensure the house burned in a particular manner were that a blaze took it in the night... or to set up some specifically encouraged path for robbers who managed to ninja sneak past the security system to steal tired velvet upholstered settees and ugly foxed lithographs.

         With the tour guides in the house, I was now alone in the 1872 carriage house. Directly above me was a lofty attic space used as merchandise and junk storage of the type only museums seem to accumulate, because everyone should save the posters from the 1994 mother daughter tea fundraiser...just in case. Above me and to the right was the guide break room complete with crappy folding table and chairs, microwave and multiple boxes and crates of books, educational material, and related. Downstairs, in the giftshop, on my desk was an old handset landline phone that could dial out but could also, with the press of an aptly labeled 'guide room' button reach the room above on speakerphone, so that I might call up and announce a pending tour, or yell at them, or sing, though I don't think I ever did sing to the guides up there.

     My steely concentration on absolutely nothing was suddenly broken by the most disconcerting racket coming from the guide break room. It sounded very much like a person of considerable girth lifting heavy objects carrying them to the other side of the room, and then unceremoniously dumping them out, stomping the entire time. This continued for perhaps thirty seconds and I recall the thought that drifted up through my confusion and irritation was "that sounds URGENT" as if the person was doing whatever it was they were doing as fast as possible. Anyway I was pissed, and no one should have been up there.

        I called up, on speaker phone, and said something like "What the hell are you doing?!" and no one answered so I went with the classic fall back of "Hello? HelllOOO?! Helloooo.....?.....hello?" And then my voice died in my throat as I listened. I could hear him/her/it moving clearly through the speaker phone, picking things up, shoving things, dropping things, then I heard it come up to the desk where the phone sat. I could hear it breathing, breathing hard and moving things on the desk, papers, maybe even the phone base. It was at that moment that I realized that not only had I seen both my tour guides leave to close the adjacent house, confirming that I was indeed alone in the building, but that I could see all unlocked doors from my seat, and no one had come in since their departure.

         I immediately radioed our aged but well meaning security guard Rod, who happened to be standing just outside the front door of the carriage house in the misty yuckness of the evening (God knows why he wasn't inside where it was much warmer). He went straight up the stairs upon my call. I watched him march up the first set of stairs and then listened as he turned at the landing and tentatively crept up the remaining half dozen. I held my breath, waiting for him to open the door at the top, and then heard no more sounds. "Rod? whats up there? Rod WHO's up there????"

        But there was no one. He came back down the stairs looking at me a bit owlishly as I had insisted there was SOMEONE up there. The room had been empty and nothing had been touched, save a pile of freshly crumpled paper in the center of the table. At this point my guides, having heard the ruckus on the radio, returned from closing the house. They swore up and down that when they'd left nothing had been amiss, that they had not crumpled the paper. There had been a stack of neat new paper on the center of the table when they'd gone to close up.  I won't lie. I was shaken by it. I grew up in old houses and have worked in the historical field my entire adult life, so I've encountered a few odd and inexplicable things over the years... but this was much scarier.

        After we'd finished closing up the Visitor Center for the day, I knew I would be returning to an empty house and that thought was too much to bear. I instead sat in the parking lot of the local Stop n Shop until my husband Brian finished work. I have no idea what I heard up in that room, who walked up to the phone and was so frantically moving unseen objects, but I know with absolute certainty that it was not good and that is was angry. The oral history that had passed down from guide to guide for generations of museum employees spoke of a young man, a stable hand, who had hanged himself in the building at the end of 19th century... but most museums have a story like that, and it's likely not true. Whatever it was, I sincerely hope I don't meet it again.

And on to the furniture- I scored this amazing, if a bit tattered, vintage mahogany breakfront from the Newington Goodwill about a month ago.  I adore the arched top, and the hidden fitted desk in the top drawer. It had been used and abused, but still had some mileage left in her yet, and at $15, how could I say no!
      I refinished the piece custom for a client, and she opted for Benjamin Moore's Silver Mink for the exterior and Linen White for the interior. We, of course, kept the original hardware, which is beyond perfect for the piece, and left it in its current state, gently patinated after seventy or so years.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Ethan Allen Cherry Dresser in Green

Little moments of bliss.
Life is a shit-show of absurdity dusted faintly with blessed weensy moments of wonder, so needed and so beautiful you want to scream at the sky, or just take a deep breath, reset, and step forward into yet another scene in La Vie Bizarre (off broadway!). I think- and don't quote me on this because A. I've had a martini, and B. I'm a cynical New Englander far enough into her thirties to have given up on most whimsical notions not related to vodka- that happiness is about recognizing those moments, pausing for them... and taking seven pics you can carefully edit later and post to instagram. Hilarity aside, are we allowing ourselves enough time to be happy?
       I had an oddly happy moment today because of this Ethan Allen dresser. I spend so much of my life about six inches from furniture, either painting, sanding, waxing, or trying as hard as humanly possible to move it by myself, that the inner workings of these hulks all start to look a bit the same. As I hunched on the lava-hot paint splotched pavement of my driveway today I gazed on the interior of this dresser and had an oddly placed but none the less much needed moment of nirvana. This dresser was so beautifully put together. Solid cherry. As in, even the secondary wood, the drawer bottoms, the drawer blades, all of it, cherry. It's a silly esoteric thing, but it was lovely to see. I've heard that Ethan Allen no longer makes furniture of this caliber, which is a shame, but I can understand it. You can't make massive pieces like this of solid cherry and remain price competitive to the likes of Raymour and Flanigan. This piece will have the staying power that modern furniture, mostly made of MDF or worse, will not.
           The color is a custom mixed shade of sage green. The original hardware had oxidized to an intoxicating shade of moss green, so I of course kept it. I refinished the top but stained it darker than the original honey tone to give it a bit more heft. Cherry on the bliss moment sundae, I'm very happy with how the photos of this gal turned out!