This set of six Mid Century Thonet dining chairs have been patiently awaiting an overhaul. Luckily for them it was sunny in Seattle last week so I had a good excuse to finally get this project started. In addition to the great weather I was also fortunate to have help in the form of my brother-in-law, Zach. He wanted to learn how to refinish wood and I needed a second set of hands.
Many of our pieces can get by with a small bit of touchup; removing a spot of paint or sanding out and oiling a scuff. Not this set. The vinyl was splitting and peeling, the finish had worn through, and the stain was splotchy. These chairs needed to be fully sanded, restained and reupholstered.
This project, although extensive, was worth it for us because these are iconic chairs with a classic silhouette. I feel great giving them at least another 50 years of life.
Here's what I used for this project:Lint Free Rags (Old t-shirts work great)
After I had all of my supplies together we disassembled the chairs. This made sanding quicker and in this case it allowed us to send off the cushions to be reupholstered while we worked on the wood.
Next we sanded every piece down by hand. Here's Zach being a hero and taking on the bulk of the sanding. We started with 80 grit sandpaper and sanded with the grain until the finish and stain came off completely. Then we went over it again with 220 grit sandpaper. The 220 smoothed out the surface and allowed the stain to apply more evenly.
I have learned to never be lazy about sanding. It feels terrible to sand away for hours only to have the stain go on poorly and then be stuck sanding everything over again. Don't skimp on sanding.
Once we had the first leg sanded we tested out a few different shades and types of stains and settled on a gel stain in dark walnut. Oil-based stains are great for bringing out the highlights and natural colors of wood grain but they're harder to work with than gel stains. Gel stain applies much more evenly than oil-based and it is easier to clean up . Since I was looking to keep the color as even as possible and because I was working with Zach on his first project, gel stain was the best option.
Before and after the first coat of stain.
I'm nearly done staining the chairs and the frames should be ready by the time we get the cushions back from our upholsterer. These two plaids were our top choices. Michele decided on the vintage blue Pendleton plaid fabric because the teal stripe feels more summery than the burgundy. Everything should be finished in a week or two. I can't wait to see it all come together.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of writing a blog post that was chosen to be featured on Assemble Shop & Studio's blog. It was a response to a post of theirs about "failing up". You should read it, it's a good one.
Assemble is a small business based in Seattle and run by the charming duo, Andie Powers and Emily Grosse. They have an online shop that sells housewares, books, stationary, art, crafting kits and all sorts of great gifts and accessories. They also have online tutorials that go hand in hand with their crafting kits and keep an eye out for their next pop-up shop or craft + chat! I feel lucky to have been chosen and that the post got such a positive response.
As many of you know Ryan and I had quite the year. I suppose I should have done a better job writing about it but it seems like such a buzz kill. The whole not wanting to be a downer aspect is most likely why it took me so long to re-post this super personal story about the whole thing. For a look at the full post with images check it out on their blog.
Here goes nothing.
Photo by Kristen Marie Photography
"Andie's post about "failing up"
really struck a cord with me. Being a small business owner comes with
perks and drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is isolation. When you work
with a big team you have an opportunity to bounce ideas off of each
other, give encouragement and also commiserate when things aren't their
best. Aside from Ryan I don't get a chance to hear from other small
business owners about the challenges that we all face trying to make our
way alongside big corporations and established businesses. It's easy to
get stuck on all the things that we could be doing better. It's easy
see every little setback as a failure. Andie's post helped remind me
that I'm not in this alone and how important it is to use what may seem
like failures to learn and improve.
My last corporate job was as a Store Manager of an Urban Outfitters. I ran a 7mil a year store and had 50+ employees. At 24 I had achieved something in my life that I was very proud of. When I left Urban I knew I was on to bigger and better things but I was having a hard time giving up "my store." Every time I walked into the store I felt respected. I felt empowered. This tangible, enormous, beautiful, well oiled machine was run by me. I felt proud explaining where I worked and what I did. I felt accomplished in my life. My friends and parents were skeptical about me leaving a great job that I was very good at.
After Urban I started running an unnamed vintage furniture business out of my house while I went back to school. I wanted to sell furniture so that I could buy more furniture (and not be a hoarder). I ended up loving the job but I needed an extra set of hands to grow the business, so I asked my husband for help. With Ryan's photography and muscles we were able to buy more furniture, move furniture around easily and take more professional looking pictures. I was selling exclusively on Craigslist and my price point was super low, but I still made almost as much money as I was making at Urban. I could see the potential in my business but I needed to make it more real. I felt embarrassed telling people my job was selling used furniture on Craigslist. It's definitely not the same feeling as telling someone you run a well known, successful store. My new goal was to pick a brand name and create a website. That was in July of 2011.
After the launch of the website something great happened. I was extremely lucky that photos of our home, from our wedding, were featured all over the internet with a link to our photographer who linked to my website. Because of those amazing wedding photos our home was featured on Apartment Therapy (a life goal of mine) which also linked to my website and gave a lot of credibility to the business. It was the first time that I felt really proud of the new career path I was on.
Business was going great, but I needed Ryan full time. He was exhausted
from essentially working two jobs and I couldn't continue to grow
without him. In November of 2011, after some very forceful persuasion
from me (and a severe lack of support from our friends and families)
Ryan finally decided to quit his job. Just as I had felt sad and like a
bit of a failure leaving my fancy corporate job, Ryan was in the same
funk. However, in general we were feeling pretty confident and still
getting featured frequently which was encouraging. We were starting to
build the business that I dreamed of. We were really proud. Then we had
I don't want to go into lengthy details, but we had an electrical fire (on Dec 28, 2011) in the middle of the night that destroyed the second story of our home. Luckily we and our pets were safe along with our inventory, but we couldn't live at our house and we had to find a place to run our business. Less than two months after Ryan gave up his steady income. A few months after we had finally finished making our fixer-up of a home beautiful enough to be featured on Apartment Therapy. Never have I felt so down and so hopeless. This was a perfect time to just quit, get regular jobs and try to bounce back from this tragedy. I was a depressed shell of a person. My house was gone, but I refused to give up on our business.
For the first month we showed furniture out of our friend's 800 sq ft house while living there with four adults, three large dogs and two cats. In February we moved into a rental that we picked to best house our business. We had relied heavily on our customers' excitement to see our home, so not being there was an adjustment. We had to explain why we weren't there over and over again. I couldn't tell the story at all. I had to stop dealing with customers, it was too much for me. Ryan was happy to start working directly with customers. He is a rock. He also moved all of our product from our house to the rental. I physically couldn't go to the house, I was in tears the entire time, even driving by was too hard for me.
Everything seemed terrible but we kept going. Ryan worked on his furniture refinishing skills and I worked more with fabrics and our upholsterer. Ryan learned more about photography and photo editing. I learned more about writing copy and what product to buy. We had to go though the first year of our business (and marriage) living in a rental while overseeing a massive ($130K) renovation of our home that we didn't even want to renovate or have the life experience to deal with! We also lost both of our dogs to cancer - trying to motivate yourself to work thought that is impossible.
We didn't have our fancy corporate job titles, we didn't have our beautiful home and we didn't even have our dogs. It was hard not to feel like we failed, but we had this business and we had each other. When we felt stifled by selling solely on Craigslist we made an Etsy shop and then learned everything we could about shipping furniture. When we felt like our name wasn't really us we re-branded, had a couple of slow months because of it, but came out happier and more proud of what we had created. We learned more about furniture designers and the value of what we were selling, then got better product. We spent weeks looking though online shops that inspired us and then upgraded our logos, improved photography even more and launched a new website. We took what seemed like the ultimate fail and used it to motivate us to improve.
We are back in our house and the contractors were gone as of last week. We still have a lot of work to do to get the house staged and really feel proud of it again but we can finally focus on getting settled. We are happy, our business is doing better than ever and we have a new dog. Life goes on.
Even though things are going so well I still beat myself up over not being good enough. I cringe looking at the vendors on competitors' sites and seeing the exact things we sell priced 2-10 times higher than we can price them. My initial reaction is, "what am I doing wrong!?" Instead of getting down on myself for all the things I'm not doing I ask, "how do we get from where we are to there?" and focus instead on how far we've come. Maybe one day that will be a good fit for us, but right now I am thankful for where we are with our business and all of the progress we've made despite the odds being majorly stacked against us. We could have given up so many times, but thankfully we didn't let ourselves fail, we grew."
As many of you know we had to completely renovate our second story because of an electrical fire. Before the fire it was a cozy attic bedroom with dark eggplant walls and a low ceiling. Our bathroom was a golden yellow with white beadboard and a single sky light.
This was how it looked when we were featured on Apartment Therapy.
Up to this point I had pretty much only received positive feedback from friends and family on the house. I was proud of my work in general, but I knew there was room for improvement.
Before our house tour went live I was warned to under no circumstances read the comments left about it. People leave negative comments just because they can. Don't let them get to you. I couldn't help myself, I was really interested to see what my peers (other people who read Apartment Therapy regularly) thought.
Almost all of the comments were positive. It felt nice to hear that other people (people that didn't know me) thought I did a great job on our home. It felt "warm, cozy, perfectly Seattle." Maybe I should have stopped there. Of course I didn't.
The comment that stuck with me, and that actually made me cry, was something to the tune of, 'This is all just junk. Get rid of everything and start over.' Why did I hang on to this instead of focusing on all the compliments? I think it's because we occasionally need that kind of feedback to improve. Tough love. It hurts, but without it we would just flat line. At least I would.
It's safe to say that 99% of the things we own were not purchased brand new, but those things are not junk. I'm very sensitive to not letting my house look like a yard sale. I want to be a shining example for buying vintage by having a clean, stand out home that looks better than any cut-and-paste house filled with all Restoration Hardware pieces. I don't want people to think that vintage means out-dated upholstery, jars of buttons and dusty bowls of dried flower petals. Vintage for me is thick well-worn leather, solid wood, fine craftsmanship, classic metals, natural fibers, timeless patterns, and re-purposing (but not in the DIY kind of way) old pieces to fill current needs.
For example, we use this trunk as a laundry hamper. The only thing we did was clean it.
I want to continually grow as a decorator and push myself out of my comfort zone. That can be a challenge in your own home. When it comes to your personal things it's hard to see your stuff and your space with fresh eyes. I needed a clean slate. Luckily, that's exactly what I got.
When we moved back into our home our goal for the master suite was to make it feel like an escape from the rest of the house. Our main floor and basement are filled with Homestead Seattle things. The upstairs is our space. We wanted it to be clean and relaxing. I wanted to get rid of the majority of the tiny knick-knacks and highlight the pieces that were really stars. I wanted to lessen the heavy burden of all of our stuff.
Here's the first step of that transformation.
Good boy, Jake.
My brass animal collection.
I'm not crazy about the painted vanity but it was badly damaged in the fire and this rescued it.
That old wood container used to store nails and now it holds dog food.
The ottoman is for sale in our shop. We were borrowing it for size and color.
We lovingly named this guy Franken-Chair. He may be too distressed for some but he's not junk. We had the springs restored and frame re-glued so he is structurally sound and very comfortable.
There's still too much stuff on the bookcase.
The view from our loft.
The biggest changes upstairs are the vaulted ceiling, wood beams, loft, darker floors, new windows, additional skylight, painted vanity, glossy black doors and white walls everywhere. If you would've asked me the day of our Apartment Therapy shoot what I thought about white walls I would have told you, 'I don't live in a sterile apartment. I own my home.' What a snob. Also, what an idiot.
White walls, especially in an attic, are amazing. Talk to anybody that lives in Amsterdam.
While I still have strong negative feelings towards primer-white, there are thousands off warm whites out there that really make a room feel fresh and let the furniture and the things stand out. We used Benjamin Moore White Dove, semi gloss on the trim and eggshell on the walls. Part of me wishes I had used semi-gloss everywhere but I'm not going to beat myself up over it.
I am in love with our room. I think it does need a little work though.
My current design style is practical and need-based. I like to figure out what I (or the person who lives there) actually needs in a room and then to use that to dictate everything. The struggle here is I don't know what our exact needs are for this room.
This is our current list, these things can stay:
Ralph Lauren, Winter Rose. So good.
The best thing about our master suite is that no matter how crazy our day was, when we get in bed at night we feel stable, calm and proud. When we wake up in the morning we get to start the day fresh with a clean palate and clean mind.
I haven't given up on color, it will definitely be re-introduced thoughout the house, but the white gives our eyes and mind a break and some time to actually see our things and simplify our lives.
First off, no I have not finished the hall. Actually, it is pretty crazy right now. But there's the marble table and bamboo chairs.
It's a start.
I'll get to it soon, I promise.
The problem is I've been really distracted by our newly refinished basement. It was the final part of our renovation and we have been dying without it since we moved back into our house in September. Our house is big, but not big enough for us and all of the furniture that lives here.
The stairs were a nightmare and you hit your head on the ceiling every time you went up or down them. There were awkward useless rooms separated by rotting drywall. An enormous ancient heating system took up a majority of the space. The windows were old and didn't open. And the floor was something that no person should walk on with bare feet. Ever.
I'm obsessed with this rug though. On the other side of that wall was this eyesore. The soon to be top of our dining table. It was super creepy, and this is after a ton of work.
The goal is to live out our industrial warehouse dreams down here.
We don't have the insane natural light or square footage of this place. Which of course happens to be in Barcelona (adding insult to injury). But we do have exposed ceilings, new windows, waxed concrete floors, a 1903 brick chimney, vintage doors with original hardware and a loft. Not bad.
We plan on using our basement for shop related projects, to organize upcoming product and for general hang out during the day while we work. Essentially this will be our office and we want it to look dope.
So, we started with this chesterfield sofa that we found on Craigslist.
Read it and weep.
Super distressed Argentinian leather, original horse hair fill and a sprung front rail. I have been searching for this sofa for years and now I have it.
MY JOB IS AMAZING.
Back to the basement. It's a work in progress but here's what it looks like right now.
Ignore the dining room chandelier. Behind that tapestry is a huge loft that is currently filled with projects but some day will have a guest bed. This is our first crack at a layout. I'm sure as we spend more time down here things will change. And yes, we still have a ton of work to do.
BUT IT'S GOING TO BE INCREDIBLE.
I'm having trouble deciding if I want to keep the ceiling the way it is with the dark wood and stain all the newer beams to match or just paint everything white. I think a white ceiling would brighten up the space and give it a really clean look, but I hate painting wood that has such great character.
I guess we'll just have to start using the space and see how it makes us feel. Rooms have a way of telling you what they need.
Yes, my house communicates with me. It's only weird if you make it weird.
So, it's finally time.
We don't have the threat of drywall dust covering everything at any moment. We don't have to move our belongings from room to room so contractors can finish their never-ending work. Today is the day that all of our things can find homes and we can figure out the best way to use each room in our house. Hallelujah. It's been over a year. I think I need a drink. Maybe two.
No better place to start than this awkward space. It used to look like this before the fire. Yep, a real fire. It destroyed our second story. Old wiring + attic insulation, not a good mix.
Those chairs. I will mourn you forever.Now it looks like this.
What the hell is this room?
One day that angled wall with one sad skylight will have a whole row of skylights and this will be my indoor greenhouse. How urban farmer of me.
As is, it's an unused space where the cats eat. The only usable-for-human things in here are a secretary desk and my favorite plaid chair.
When I set up the room like this I had the best intentions of doing work here in this light-filled plant heaven.
Reality: Why would I do work here when just a few feet away is my bed... covered in pets? I can do everything I could at that desk but better with three sleeping creatures next to me.
Sorry little desk, it's not you - it's me.
So the desk has to go. And maybe the portraits. Don't worry, I'm sure we can find them a better home. The plants can stay. Actually they can multiply. More plants and pictures of plants everywhere please.
We need a table. With two chairs. Let's start there.
I have a marble French bistro table with a cast iron base similar to this guy.I was going to use it on our deck but whatever, it just got upgraded. So great, done and done.
I have a pair of vintage dark bamboo chairs (similar to this one) that I've been waiting to reupholster until I find them the right home. I looked for more inspiration pictures on pinterest but my god, everyone is painting their bamboo chairs crazy colors. STOP THAT. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. I guess I understand the look but it's not for me.
Or maybe I should go with the expected Tolix chairs. I do have a set of six in silver. I mean, if they're good enough for the Eiffel Tower.
Mid Century Kodawood gems for contrast? In plaid of course.
I guess if we plan on sitting there for long periods of time we might want leather wingbacks.
I can't believe I sold these wingbacks. Why?
Too many options. I'm working on it today. I'll let you know how it goes.
Here's hoping that I can make this weird hall feel like an outdoor patio. In Europe. With tons of plants. Plants, marble, plaid, leather, cheese and baguettes.