Archive for August, 2011

The Dastardly Rocking Chair (Part One)

That’s right. I broke out the word dastardly. And I know we should be hard at work on our office cabinets, but that’s a big job (aka: a weekend job – maybe even a two-weekend job) and I have been giving this rocker the stink eye since November (yes, even before we moved). For anyone who can’t even remember that far back (me), here’s a recap: I originally picked it up off of Craigslist for $25 because I really liked the simple lines of it. Then it sat untouched for over nine months until this weekend.

Why? Well, no sooner had I gotten it home than I realized I had no earthly idea how to reupholster it. At all. I mean I knew how to do the bottom (I’ve redone seats before) but the hole at the top completely confounded me because it had to look finished on both sides. Le yikes.

But I posted this call for help a while back and a bunch of you guys were awesome! I definitely learned that there were probably about ten ways to skin that cat (gross expression, sorry – but it was comforting to hear that even some very experienced folks described many different ways I could “go”). So it gave me the confidence to tackle it right away put it off for nine months and begrudgingly give it the old college try over the last few days.

I will disclaimer this entire process much like when aliens took over my body and I made a quilt for Clara, which is to say: I went rogue. I took in all the advice from you guys along with some google tips and some suggestions from a reupholstering-fiend friend of mine… and just played it by ear and did what seemed to work as I went along. So with that out of the way, allow me to share the madness that is Me vs. Rocker. Which is not to be confused with Man vs. Wild (Bear Grylls I’m not).

Oh and because this process was so involved, it actually took me a few days of work. Which meant it was a multi-phase thing involving lots o’ pics. So I broke it right down the middle for ya (since 40 pics in one long rambling post = madness that even we can’t endorse). So here’s the first half. And the second half is in the hopper for tomorrow (still have to snap some after pics for ya, but it’s almost all set).

Anyway, here’s how it all went down: First I gave my rocker the stink eye one last time. You know for old time’s sake. Then I got to work pulling staples and nails out of the frame along with the ratty old upholstery to see what I was dealing with.

Oh and my tip would be to use a small channel lock pliers to pull things out. It was much easier than the back of a hammer or a needle-nosed pliers for me (although I still had to pull like crazy, this gripped better so I didn’t go flying backwards after tool slippage).

After about an hour I had a nice little pile going on. But I was only about 30% done.

So I kept pulling old nails and tacks for a few more hours, and then removed the two wood seat slats and was left with this:

It was a pretty ugly sight for three-ish hours of work. And I knew I had some serious wood puttying and sanding to do when it came to the frame (to get it ready for some rich dark stain). But I was tired. So I decided to move onto a less strenuous step that I figured I couldn’t mess up. Upholstering the weird little two-pieces-of-wood seat. First I decided to tape them together so I could upholster it as all one thing (as opposed to two with a weird little seam). I just used some delicate surface painting tape because it didn’t need to be super heavy duty stuff (like sticky duct tape) because I knew once the batting and fabric were in place they’d hold it together for the long haul.

Then it was time for a bunch of layers of extra-loft batting. I used “Soft N Crafty” from JoAnn, which I purchased back in November when I thought I was going to tackle my chair (kind of embarrassing that I then just packed it up and moved it and it continued to sit around untouched for 8+ months, but whatever). I knew I could have used a big piece of foam for the seat, but I actually prefer wood seated rockers like this (John’s mom has the most comfortable one ever) so I decided I didn’t want too much cushion goin’ on. But I also knew that staple gunning one layer of extra loft batting around the back wasn’t going to do much…

… so I applied a second layer…

… and then a third, fourth, and fifth. By the end it was plush without being super sink-in squishy, which I liked. Nice and firm with a bit of softness.

Here’s the point where I wanted to throw everything out the window. Yup, after five layers of batting applied staple by staple, I realized that the seat needed to be able to bend to fit past the arms and legs and actually lay flat on the base.

So I nearly broke down with visions of having to restaple five layers o’ batting after separating the two pieces of wood so they could hinge forward for just a second to be slid into place. Thankfully my sweet husband (who I always describe as the brains of this operation) pointed out that I didn’t have to unstaple anything and could just turn the seat over and cut the yellow tape that was running across the back and the batting should be flexible enough to fold forward (it wasn’t like I was trying to stretch it backwards or anything).

Worked like a charm. And apparently I was so excited I took this completely crooked picture in celebration:

Then it was time to reupholster my seat. I was super excited about the “Kravet Design” remnant fabric that I found on clearance at JoAnn for… wait for it… $2 a yard (I got two yards for $4). At the time that I grabbed it I had no idea what I’d use it for, but after woefully glancing up at my biggest failure (Mr Rocker, sitting untouched in the sunroom for nearly a year) I realized that the fabric would look really pretty on it (with some rich dark stain to set it off). The pattern of my fabric meant that I would have to take the time to center it before stapling anything, so here I am roughly folding it around the seat to try to find a center line and see how it might look in place:

Then I flipped everything over and just shot one staple into the top middle and one staple into the bottom middle (while pulling things tight). This way I could flip it back over and ensure that I was indeed still centered (and if I wasn’t I just had two staples to pop out with a flat head screwdriver.

Happily, I was right on track, so I pulled things tight and shot another staple through the middle of each side of the seat, just so it was being held firmly at the noon, three o’ clock, six o’ clock, and nine o’ clock positions. Then I kept the fabric firmly pulled and continued to staple all around the rest of the perimeter. When it came to the carved-out corners, I just folded the fabric like I was wrapping a present – again being sure to pull things taut and use a few staples to hold my folds in place (so it would look nice and smooth from the front).

Here’s what it looked like from the back when I was all done with my staple job:

And here’s what it looked like from the front. Purty, right?

Then I shoved it back into the seat to make sure the batting and fabric still allowed the seat to hinge forward a little bit to squeeze in. Whew, it still worked. And in the distance I heard angels singing.

Then it was time for the strenuous frame-readying step. I used wood putty to fill some of the holes that might be visible (like the ones under the seat along the front of the chair’s framing) and sanded everything to rough it up and ready it for some rich dark stain. Since I had some liquid deglosser on hand I gently swiped that over the entire chair after some rigorous sanding (I used low grit paper followed by higher grit paper to smooth everything out).

This is when I was forced to face the music: stain, even dark stain, wouldn’t make this chair look as flawless and something opaque like a rich deep coat of paint. Because even after all that putty, sanding, and deglossing, it was looking so inconsistent in certain areas that I knew it wouldn’t soak up stain evenly. Boo. And although some folks wouldn’t dream of painting wood, we’re definitely ok with it (especially since this is just a $25 cragislist find and not a family heirloom). So I threw my rich dark stain idea out the window and ran to the arms of an old friend. You guessed it: ORB.

I’m telling you, my name is Sherry and I’m addicted to oil-rubbed bronze spray paint. But thanks to having a nice built-in primer and applying three very thin and even coats, it actually took on the look of a rich dark wood (and had more dimension than plain old chocolate paint thanks to the subtle metallic quality of the finish). Here’s a picture that I snapped after two coats (you can see that it’s not completely seamless and even yet- but the third coat did the trick).

Oh and you can find more general spray painting tips here (lightly misting it while keeping your arm moving all the time is key).

And because I hate to end on that poorly shot, blown out, two-coats-out-of-three spray painting pic, I thought I’d fast forward a little to give you a glance at Part Two of The Glee Project The Rocker Project. Here she is (not completely finished, but getting there). I’ll be back with more details of that whole shebang (and some final after shots) for ya tomorrow.

Update: A sweet commenter (thanks Laura!) just told us that our chair fabric was actually on the cover of the Ballard Designs catalog, so we hopped over there and learned they actually sell a chair that’s upholstered in exactly the same fabric for $600-800 (depending on the finish of the chair) and the fabric is being sold on its own for $32 a yard!

What about you guys. Do you have any projects that you’ve put off for an epically long time? Is there something that intimidates you, like two-sided upholstery does to me? Are you completely unsurprised that I basically try to solve every problem in my life with ORB? Can you believe that darn seat wouldn’t fit on the chair after five layers of batting-stapling? At that point I truly wanted to set the entire thing on fire.

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Cabinet Hunting (No Store Left Unturned)

First of all- holy cow. We just had a crazy earthquake a few minutes ago. Very strong! It was completely unexpected for our area (we’ve never had a strong one before). The epicenter was right outside of Richmond (only about 35 miles from our house) and it registered about a 5.9! We’ve even heard from friends up in NY who felt it. Miraculously nothing fell off the walls or broke, but the whole house shook violently and it was insanely loud (we all gathered under a steel-enforced doorway and stared at each other). So yes, we were all shaken up by it but very thankful that we’re ok and hope that everyone else who experienced it is too.

Now for the cabinets. We promised to share all of the other places we hunted/solutions we considered when it came to the office built-ins (mentioned here) – because our thrift store cabinets definitely weren’t the first things we found. And we figure since not everyone can stumble upon six cabs for six bucks (uh, we never even thought that was possible until this recent discovery) we hoped that detailing a few other options that we considered might help anyone else who can’t find secondhand cabinets that work for them. So here we go, on a virtual cabinet-hunting whirlwind of sorts…

Our first stop was actually the Richmond Habitat for Humanity ReStore, but we didn’t find much in the way of cabinets. We did find that Clara loves the breeze from a big industrial fan.

And that they had this crazy big leather / zebra-print lounger thing if anyone’s interested. Tres practical for storytime, no?

The cabinet situation though was almost enough to make us give up on the ReStore entirely (everything was too tall or too wide and we couldn’t find six identical cabinets (or three identical double-wide-ones) that would work to make our wall of built-ins look related enough (and not like a mismatched secondhand cabinet sale). They did put us on a notification list in case anything that matched our needs came in, which was nice (never knew they did that).

So next we dragged the kiddos (yes, Burger included) to Lowe’s and Home Depot to see if their stock cabinets could do the trick. They had a lot of affordable-ish options for unfinished cabinets in a slew of shapes and sizes. Our rough math put us at about a $300 investment for three double-wide cabinets (to create left, middle, and right cabinets with two open spaces for our chairs along the built-in wall like this). Then we could have just painted them and topped them with a wood counter, which wouldn’t have been too bad for a wall of built-ins and a nice long two-person desk (around $400 for two desks or something custom built-in along an entire wall sounded about right I guess).

The only hitch in our plan were the cabinet sizes. Base cabinets were the perfect depth for a standard counter (24″) but their toe-kick made them too high (35″) for our chairs (27″). We contemplated adding casters to our chairs to make them higher, but weren’t sold on the idea (especially because 2″ casters might be cool, but 4″ casters would be a bit much for our chairs). So we looked at 30″ upper cabinets instead, but at only 12″ deep it’d make for either a super narrow desk or cabinets that floated a foot away from the wall. Definitely something we could remedy by buying additional lumber, but again, not ideal.

Then it was time to do some Craigslist surfing, but nothing turned up in the way of cabinets that would be the right depth or height off the bat (and we worried about sacrificing stability and making things look a little – uh, shady- by trying to cut something down or build it out). If we had found something super cheap or almost perfect (like our much-shorter-than-average $6 ReStore cabinets) we would definitely have pounced on them. Even for around $100 for the set. But nothing with the right dimensions came up after a few consecutive weeks of checking back.

Then we turned to Ana-White.com to see if we could find any awesome plans to build something ourselves (like the plans that inspired our giant console table build). There were definitely a few workable options, but we realized that a lot of the plans would cost more than $30 per cabinet (thanks to lumber, hardware, hinges, and interior fittings) – and because we noticed that many secondhand cabinets on craigslist and in thrift stores were under $30 (and some were priced waaaay under that), it made us wonder if we’d actually spend more building something than retrofitting something existing.

Next we checked out Ikea. From their website, it looked like we could build their cabinets without a toe-kick, making them the perfect height (around 28-30″ instead of 35″+, which would be too tall for our existing chairs (even if we added casters to them). Score! And we all know Ikea has tons of customization options, so it was starting to feel like a perfect solution… even if it was a bit pricier – roughly about $500 if I did my math right, since we definitely wanted doored cabinets over open shelving (for Clara reasons along with the general desire to very roughly mimic the look of the base cabinets from our built-ins – though not exactly). We were actually pretty invested in this being a good solution, so I started mapping it out using their online planner tool (technically for kitchens) since we were planning a stop there after our visit with Cat, Travis, Elsa and their new son Edison.

But that trip to Ikea never happened, thanks to our decision to give the Alexandria Habitat For Humanity ReStore a chance while out of town. Though even that trip started off somewhat discouraging. They certainly had more cabinets than our ReStore in Richmond…

…but the prices weren’t necessarily screaming “take me home” at first. Yowsa.

Of course, that was until we came across the ones in the very back with $1 stickers on them that screamed “You’d be an idiot not to take us home. We’re six friggin dollars!” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, not totally history – there’s still lots to do to these puppies. But that’s a story (and a project) for another day. Someday soon hopefully. You know Sherry and her propensity to paint anything that doesn’t move…

So in summary, it was harder than we thought to find cabinets that were deep enough (24″) and not too tall (over 30″) and we ended up checking two thrift stores, two home improvement stores, an online build-it-yourself website, a Swedish warehouse, and the list of a man named Craig. The cost of the project ranged from around $300-$500 at most places that actually had things that might work (not including a countertop), which was definitely making us sweat a little. Custom built-ins can obviously add function and value to a house, but unlike adding a patio to a monkey-grass-riddled side yard, it somehow felt a bit more like a rushed gamble to spend half of 1K on a desk, at least for cheap-os like us (who built our current desk from an old bathroom door). So we’re glad we took our time and eventually came across something around 95% cheaper. The lesson: hold out if you can, and leave no stone (or store) unturned (unvisited?). Whenever we dive in too soon we get all nervous and twitchy and sometimes even lay awake wondering if we rushed into something that might not be the best thing for our house/lifestyle in the long run. So there you go.

What have you hunted down after visiting a bunch of stores or googling a ton of options? Is there some sort of magic number (like five places) that usually results in a major score? Have you been searching for something for months or even years that continues to allude you? Isn’t it funny how the perfect thing is always in the last place you look? Probably because once you find it you finally stop looking.

Psst- The lady wife did a fun little interview about how our blog has grown and revealed a lot of behind the scenes blogging and book-writing info for anyone interested right here (it’s long, but full of tons of juicy stuff, at least in my humble husband opinion). We’re also over on BabyCenter talking about a sweet little boy’s nursery that we crashed (coolest light fixture we’ve seen in a long time).

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