Greenhouse Sneak Peek

Sunglo lean-to

We have a new feature in our garden:  A portal to the tropics.  This morning the temperature outside was under 30 degrees, and when I walked through the portal it was 62 degrees, heated by the sun.  By noon it was over 70.

If you read my post Greenhouse on the Brain, you already know that I’m talking about the little Sunglo lean-to greenhouse that we bought used and disassembled on Craigslist.

My husband, Chris, and our talented friend, Bruce, who also worked on our master bathroom remodel and kitchen remodel, worked for over a week in rain and freezing temperatures to prepare the site and assemble the greenhouse.

It’s not quite finished, but I’m already so happy with it that I wanted to give you a sneak peek and show you the process.

Making it Fit

A lean-to greenhouse is basically one-half of a greenhouse that attaches to the side of a building.  Ours would be attached to the south side of our garage, where our vegetable garden was.

Site of future greenhouse
SIte of future greenhouse

The greenhouse we bought on Craigslist would measure about 5′ X 10′ when assembled.  But that wasn’t long enough to cover both of the windows on the south side of the garage, and the greenhouse would have to be placed off-center on the garage wall, which wouldn’t look right.

Going Shopping  at Sunglo

Luckily Sunglo is located in Kent, Washington – a short drive from our house.   So we arranged to pick up a 2.5 foot extension kit.  This would bring the length of the greenhouse to 12.5 feet, which would cover both garage windows.

I have to add here that Sunglo greenhouses are over 90% made in America and many of its components are actually manufactured right there in Kent.  So we felt pretty good about buying this product and supporting the local economy.

Of course while we were there we had to add a few upgrades to our greenhouse, like a nice little cedar shelf to replace a wire shelf.  We needed a few other parts, and most of them were machined while we waited.

Preparing the Site

Chris and I removed all the plants, part of the walkway, and much of the soil next to the garage to level the site.

Site prepared for Greenhouse
Space prepared for construction.

Next, Chris and Bruce measured out the foundation area of the greenhouse and sunk concrete pillars with brackets to hold the foundation.

For the foundation, they used pressure-treated 4X12 lumber.  The 12″ foundation would add the height needed so that the greenhouse would be tall enough to cover the top of the garage windows.

 

Greenhouse foundation
Chris and Bruce working on the foundation

Framing was added to the garage wall so the greenhouse could attach to it.  Attaching framing to an 80-plus year old stucco structure was tricky because nothing was level, so Bruce had to pull a few magic tricks out his hat to make this work.

Next they brought in lots of sand as the subfloor and placed concrete pavers over the side that would get foot traffic and gravel over the side where the potting bench would be located.

Flooring for greenhouse
Chris stops to take a break after installing pavers

They brought in two sources of water: a wall faucet for a small hose, and a stub for a future drip irrigation system.  They also  brought in electricity.

They even installed a small patio outside the greenhouse door.

Assembling the Greenhouse

Finally, they could start assembling the greenhouse and we could see it taking shape.  I just love the curved roof design.  It gives it so much character.

Greenhouse walls installed

Chris and Bruce got lots of advice and information about the assembly process from the helpful folks at Sunglo.  Things were getting very interesting as each panel was installed and the greenhouse came together.

Sunglo greenhouse being assembled
Teamwork!

It still needs some work around the door frame and a few finishing touches.  It will have a built-in cedar potting bench with a soil basin and small cedar shelf above that.  But here is the interior at this point.

Sunglo greenhouse interior

It also has automatic heating and cooling.  If it gets too warm, a fan on the west side automatically comes on and a vent on the east side opens.  Pretty nifty!  There are also a couple of manual vents.

Sunglo greenhouse control panel
Command central

Chris couldn’t resist wrapping his creation in Christmas lights.

Sunglo greenhouse with Christmas lights

I just can’t wait to find the right interior lighting for this adorable little greenhouse, something industrial yet attractive.

In spring we will be carving out a new vegetable garden around the greenhouse to blend it into the landscaping.   We might also do some kind of façade over the wood foundation, or paint it.

Sunglo greenhouse

I have already put a few plants in there and they seem very happy.  But warm as it was in there on this cold day, I’m tempted to kick them out and put in a couple of comfy chairs, a coffee maker and a wine cooler.

Is that so wrong?


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Button Up These Pretty Jewelry Organizers

My Vintage Button Obsession

A while back, I was at an antique show not feeling very inspired when I came across a jar of old assorted buttons.

For some reason it caught my attention and since then I have been a bit obsessed with old buttons.  If you buy the right jar, you could wind up with a little treasure trove of tiny works of art – mother of pearl, Bakelite, wood, glass.

DIY holiday gift idea using vintage buttons

Each one holds a secret as to what great old garment it might have been on.  An Edwardian wedding gown?  A flapper’s little black dress?

A Great DIY Gift Idea – Or to Keep!

Of course if you had some really cool old buttons you would want to display them.  But how about displaying them on an attractive piece of décor that takes up only wall space and also helps you organize your jewelry?

Something so pretty and practical that it would also make a great gift – that is if you can bring yourself to give it away?

You only need a few supplies and a little time to make this fun earring hanger.

DIY holidat gift idea - earring hanger
Earring hanger

 

Or a necklace hanger.

DIY holiday gift idea - necklace hangers
Necklace hangers

Round Up The Supplies

First you’ll need a frame.  Not a fancy frame, but something very plain with a good flat surface that you can easily glue buttons to.

You will need craft paint or spray paint if you want to paint your frame.

If you’re painting over wood or over a dark color, you might have to prime the frame before painting.

You will also need craft glue.

If you’re making an earring hanger, you will need a medium to heavy-duty staple gun, wire cutters, and some quarter-inch mesh screen (found in hardware stores).

For the necklace hanger, use small hooks instead of the mesh screen.  You might also need to drill holes for the hooks if they don’t screw easily into the frame.

And of course you will need buttons.  Some vintage buttons are highly collectible and you can spend a pretty penny on them if you are so inclined.  But you can also find jars or bags of old buttons at thrift stores and antique stores at bargain prices.

Sometimes jars of buttons are sorted by color, so think about an overall color scheme and the look you would like to achieve for your frame.  This is the fun part!  Just keep in mind you can only use buttons with flat backs or they won’t adhere to the frame very well.

The How-To

You have probably already guessed that this project is very easy.  It’s also lots of fun.

First, paint the frame and let it dry.

For the earring hanger, you will need to use the wire cutters to cut the mesh screen to size so that it fits inside the frame.  If you look at the back of the frame, there should be about a half-inch recessed rim around the inside and this is the area you want your screen to fit into.

Attach your screen to the frame by stapling it to this rim.

DIY holiday gift idea
Back of earring hanger

If you’re making the necklace hanger, get small hooks from the hardware store in a finish you like and screw them into the frame from the back, as shown in this photo.

DIY holiday gift idea
Back of necklace hanger – note the location of the hooks.

You want to be able to hang necklaces on the hooks, so make sure you get hooks large enough if you will be hanging bulkier necklaces like pearls.

Then the creativity starts:  Then lay the buttons out on the frame in a pattern that you like and glue them on.

DIY holiday gift idea - button art
A wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors of buttons were used for this necklace hanger.

Attach a picture hook or hanger to the back of the frame if it doesn’t have one.

I love projects that repurpose used materials in unique ways.  These hangers were made using second-hand frames from the thrift store and of course the old buttons.

They are a great way to display collections of vintage jewelry.

Not as hooked on buttons as I am?  Skip them and just use a pretty little frame.


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Setting a Formal Table: Lessons from an English Manor House

One of the reasons I love holiday meals is that they are a great excuse to bring out the fine china, crystal, and silverware and set a beautiful formal table.  Why not enjoy a little old-world elegance once in a while?  And there are many great sources on setting a formal table – Martha Stewart, Emily Post, plus dozens of online templates.

But my favorite source on formal table settings is someone who actually worked in the dining room of an English manor house in the 1950s – my own mom, Erika.

One Less Mouth to Feed

Food was still scarce in Germany in the mid-1950s so, without knowing a word of English, Mom left home to work in England.  She figured this would give her parents one less mouth to feed.

Of course Mom was not a British citizen, so the only jobs available to her were in domestic service. She arranged to take a position working in a manor house for an elderly lady.

Mom has some very amusing stories to tell about working in such a formal environment, and she has agreed to share with us a few of her recollections.

Life in a Manor House

The impressive manor house was intimidating. I thought I would be one of many servants — something like Downton Abbey.  But except for a cook who hated Germans, I was the only help.

Mrs. Bostock needed a lot of attention and most of the  time I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  Once in a while her son, who spoke German, came to visit and explained her wishes to me .  There was no doubt that she expected to be treated like royalty.

I had two uniforms.  One was a gray dress with a full white-and-gray striped apron for doing morning chores. The cook brought Mrs. Bostock her breakfast in bed while I did the daily cleaning.

At noon I changed into a black dress with a little white apron to serve her lunch and high tea at five. I always had to be on call as she often wanted an assortment of cheeses later, again with formal place settings.

Arranging the silverware was confusing at first—some of the pieces I had never heard of or seen before.  But I quickly realized there is a proper tool for every food served.  Once I learned which tool went with which food, I had no problem. 

Mrs. Bostock’s meals consisted of many different courses.  Each course required a different spoon, fork, or knife—at least ten inches of elegant silverware on each side of her plate.  All for an old lady who lived alone.

The cook would give me the menu so I could match the appropriate silverware. It became easier once I remembered the order in which the food was served, starting with a melon spoon and little knife set on the extreme right and left of her plate.  Each course thereafter, the corresponding silverware was on the far outside of the place setting as she worked her way in. 

But no matter what was served, a little spoon came along with the palate cleanser between each course—the only spoon not set out ahead of time.

Numerous crystal glasses, each for a different wine or beverage, were also placed in a certain sequence. A different wine was served with each course.

Food was never set on the table, but served from the left and used plates were taken from the right, most of them still half-filled.

When Mrs. Bostock had enough of one course, she sat back and raised her eyebrows, a signal for me to take the used plate and silverware.  No words were ever spoken. This went on all through the lengthy meals, taking all of two hours each.

Thank God I didn’t have to do the dishes.


I hope you enjoyed reading a little about Mom’s manor house days.  She is in the process of developing her own blog with many more stories about her life in England.  I will be sharing the link to her blog once it goes live.


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A Simple and Pretty Thanksgiving Table Setting

Do You Ever Feel Like Bringing The Outdoors In?

Maybe it’s because I recently reupholstered my dining chairs, but this year I felt like going in a different direction with my Thanksgiving table setting.

I was already craving the soothing colors of nature, and I always want to blur the line between indoors and outdoors – without sacrificing comfort, of course.

But I also started thinking about how a contrast of different textures – rough natural textures with polished manmade materials – is so interesting and brings balance to any design.

Budget-Friendly Ideas

I got a plain, inexpensive jute table runner – just the natural texture and color that I was looking for.

The tablecloth is discounted fabric yardage that I hemmed.  You can’t tell from the photos, but the fabric is very smooth and has just a touch of shimmer.  So now I have my polish.

For the napkins, I scored some 99-cent bandanas in chartreuse green – a pop of color to wake up the soothing earth-toned palette, but still itself a color found in nature.

Old School Elegance

My dining table is a bit small, so for dinner parties I have to be sure not to over-clutter it with decorations.  Instead I have to make every piece count.

So I am using our antique china, crystal, and silverware to lend some elegance to the setting.  The antique plates are also slightly smaller than modern-day plates, so the spacing between place settings doesn’t look crowded.

The Centerpiece

For the centerpiece, I took a small fishbowl I got at a thrift store and lined it with florist moss.  Then I tucked reindeer moss in where there were any holes or gaps in the florist moss.

Then I set a small vase inside the fishbowl, hidden by the moss.  The vase will hold the flowers.

Then to continue contrasting natural texture to polished materials, I used long-stemmed roses, always so buttoned-up and formal-looking, as the main flower.  I used millet seed heads and wild iris seed pods from the garden as the rough natural contrast.

Thanksgiving table setting - ingredients for floral arrangement

 

Thanksgiving Table Setting: Centerpiece

 A Relaxing Feast

The result is an uncluttered, elegant Thanksgiving table setting.

Thanksgiving Table Setting - Closeup

Be sure to check out my companion post about formal table settings, where we will hear from an expert who worked in “domestic service” at a manor house in England.  She has some very entertaining stories!

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Growing Paperwhites for a Beautiful Holiday Centerpiece

A Holiday Tradition

Growing paperwhite bulbs for the holiday season is one of my traditions.  Paperwhites are so fragrant, and they are so easy to grow.  Best of all, they can be grown in all kinds of fun containers, so the creative possibility are endless.

Paperwhites are a bulb, a variety of narcissus, and they can be forced to bloom indoors during winter.  If timed right, they can be blooming gloriously in your home just in time for the holidays.

Think Outside the Box

I’m sure you have seen the paperwhite kits in home and garden stores.  They come in a box and include some bulbs, a container, and planting medium.

But if you want to get more creative, it’s easy to learn how to pot paperwhites using your own container.

Potting Up Your Customized Paperwhite Container

First, pick a container that you love.  The only requirement is that it is water tight and a couple of inches deep.

With such limited requirements, you can have all kinds of fun with this.  Use a vase, a teacup, a gravy boat, a trifle bowl.

Here are just a few containers that I have used to pot up paperwhite bulbs.

Growing paperwhites - choosing a container
Paperwhite containers – the possibilities are endless

Growing paperwhites

You don’t need soil for paperwhites.  They grow best in just pebbles and water.

You can find a wide variety of decorative natural or glass pebbles in the floral department of most hobby stores.

Is your container all glass?  Then choose a highly decorative pebble since it will be seen.

If the container is not glass, then in some cases you can just use unglamorous walkway gravel (example to follow).

Next you will need the paperwhite bulbs.  For just the bulb and not the whole boxed kit, the best place to go is a garden center or nursery.

Make sure the bulbs you buy are for indoor forcing.  Ask if you have any doubt.  There are many new varieties of paperwhites for indoor forcing.  I  have always had the most reliable luck with the most common one, Paperwhite ‘Ziva.’

Plan on spacing the bulbs at last a half-inch apart in the container, so buy your bulbs accordingly. I have found that as long as they are not touching each other, the bulbs don’t mind being crowded in a container, and it makes for a fuller display.

So now that you have what you need, let’s start potting.

Just put the potting medium (pebbles, gravel, or glass beads) into your container at least a couple of inches deep and space the bulbs on top of the medium.

Then add just a little more medium to hold the bulbs in place.  Most of the bulb should still be above the surface.

Here are two examples:

Growing paperwhites. Starting in amber bowl
Starting paperwhite bulbs in amber bowl.
Growing paperwhites: Starting bulbs in green vintage bowl
Paperwhite bulbs in vintage container

You can see how the bulbs are spaced.  The bulbs in the green container are in plain old walkway gravel because I intend to put decorative moss over the gravel later to finish the look.

Once the bulbs are set in, just fill the container with water until it reaches the bottom of the bulbs.  They need to have access to the water but not be  submerged in it.

Nap Time

Once your paperwhites are potted and watered, you can put them in a cool, dark place for a week to take a nap.  But I have skipped this step entirely and it didn’t really impact the bulbs that much.

Once they have been in the dark for week, bring them into the light, somewhere in your house not too warm but near a window.  By now you should see that the bulbs have started to sprout.  Make sure the roots always have water.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

Once the growth on the bulbs gets about four inches tall, your paperwhites are of drinking age and can have a cocktail.  Seriously.

This step isn’t for everyone and feel free to skip it if you like.  But feeding your paperwhites a little alcohol will stunt the root growth making the plant less gangly and less likely to lean over, yet not impacting how nicely it will bloom.

Give them the hard stuff – 40-proof clear, uncolored booze, diluted with water.  Cheap vodka is a good choice.

Mix one part booze to seven parts water.  If they still have water in their container and you are just topping off, then their first drink can be one part booze to five parts water.

A Little Support

Even with the booze, the paperwhites might lean toward the light so you might have to stake them.  I use decorative artificial berry sprigs (found at craft stores) for stakes since they add a little color to the arrangement.

Potting paperwhite bulbs - using florist berrie as stakes
Most hobby or craft shops carry these decorative berries around the holidays.
Potting paperwhite bulbs - craft berries as stakes - closeup
The berries have wired stems so you can bend them around any leaf or blossom that is leaning.

Finally in Bloom

Here are is my amber glass paperwhite container four and a half weeks after the bulbs were potted.

 

Growing bulbs - after 4.5 weeks

 

And here is the green vintage container where I used plain old walkway gravel.  Now the gravel is covered with moss and other natural accents.

 

Bulbs at 3-5 weeks closeup of moss

I wanted the arrangement to look like something growing naturally on the forest floor.

Paperwhites usually boom four to six weeks after they are potted, and continue to bloom for at least a week and usually much longer.

After they are done blooming, they won’t bloom again so you can throw them in the compost bin with no guilt.

I plant several paperwhite containers at intervals during the winter so I always have them booming.

But then again, I am a little obsessed with them.


Get The Look

Bulb kits also make wonderful hostess gifts, and here are a couple of especially nice choices.  Plus, for DIY arrangements, extra-large bulbs in bulk (the larger the bulb, the more flowers!) and some sweet containers for one-of-a-kind arrangements.

paperwhites-get-the-look

Clockwise from center:  Paperwhite Bulbs, 20 Count, Largest Commercially Available | Netherland Paperwhite Growing Kit in Blue Ceramic Planter (green also shown here) | Vintage Green Jug | Glass Flower Vase | Milk Glass Tear Drop Design Footed Bowl | Bamboo Flower Pot Self-Contained Garden Kit


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Arts and Crafts Dining Chairs Get a Wild Makeover

Earlier this year, we bought six antique quarter sawn oak dining chairs and an antique oak dining table at a moving sale.

We have not been able to attribute the chairs to a particular manufacturer, but as close as we can tell they are a fine example from the Arts and Crafts Movement that influenced design from around 1880 until 1910.

This movement was a reaction to the decorative excesses and the mass production of Victorian furniture and décor.  The Arts and Crafts Movement featured simple, honest designs and focused on the quality of the materials and the workmanship.

Lesson Learned

We made the mistake of not sitting in the chairs before we bought them.  But that probably wouldn’t have change our minds anyway.

The chairs had been recently reupholstered with a nice neutral fabric that went with just about everything.

Reupholster dining chairs before reupholster
Chair with neutral fabric

But there really wasn’t much cush there.  Sitting in them for any length of time hurt the old tailbone.

The chair seats had sturdy oak frames, and they were holding up wonderfully.  But the thin, flimsy wooden seat inserts inside the frames were failing on most of the chairs.

reupholster Dining Chairs - insert
Cracked seat insert

I could just imagine, at our next dinner party,  guests sitting uncomfortably in their chairs until someone (probably me) fell through their seat.  A memorable dinner for all the wrong reasons!

We decided to reupholster our dining chairs with thicker foam and new seat inserts.

Chris started cutting the inserts and I headed to the fabric store.

Tired of Playing it Safe

Once at the fabric store, I realized I was tired of playing it safe.  None of the tidy geometric designs that a sensible person would choose for dining chair upholstery appealed to me.  I had done all that before.

I was drawn to a Waverly print called ‘Santa Maria Adobe.’  The print is really too large for a dining chair and is definitely not for everyone.  But for these chairs, I loved it.

The Makeover Begins

The chair seats were the kind that are easy to reupholster.  Basically, you fold the fabric under and staple.  But we decided to go with 2-inch high-density foam, so I would have to have the right tool to cut foam that thick.

I stumbled on a YouTube video where someone had built a table saw for cutting foam and the saw blade turned out to be an electric carving knife.

Luckily we had one sitting forgotten in a kitchen drawer.

Reupholster dining chairs - foam cutter
My foam cutter

But before I went through the trouble of building the “table” part of the table saw, I thought I would try cutting the foam with the electric knife by simply holding the foam vertically and cutting downward following an outline I had drawn on the foam.

It worked like a charm, like I was cutting through butter.  What a time saver.

It was hard to get the seat corners to look right with foam that thick under the fabric.  It took me a while to find the best way to fold the fabric at the corners.

But the oversized fabric pattern was easy to center.  In order not to waste fabric, I made a couple of different looks for the chairs by centering different parts of the fabric – something I had never tried before.

Reupholster Dining Chairs upholstery 1

Reupholster Dining Chairs upholstery 2

Double Duty

When we have parties, we sometimes bring some dining chairs into the living room for extra seating.  Now with the thicker pads and the crazy upholstery, each chair can stand on its own as an interesting piece that looks good wherever we put it.

Reupholster Dining Chairs with side table
Chair with antique side table

And no one will fall through their chair.


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Fall Dinner Party: Setting a Festive Table

When my mom, Erika, invited me to her dinner party, I knew I should bring my camera.  Mom always sets such a pretty table.

Fall Dinner Party Table Setting

Mom has had many careers and artistic interests, but her first career in Germany was as a florist.  She got her start at 14, working as an apprentice in a nursery/florist shop.

At first they had Mom pulling weeds but quickly realized her talents were being wasted.

Soon she was working on large floral installations for hotels, for festivals, and for special events.

She still can’t resist turning her parties into an opportunity for a little creative fun.

The Centerpiece

For this fall-themed party, Mom made sure the centerpiece was  large enough to be interesting but small enough to be kept on the table when the food arrived.

Fall Dinner Party centerpiece
Fall Centerpiece

Dinner party table setting

How She Did It

Mom used an ornamental pumpkin and two small gourds.

First, she cut the pumpkin in half horizontally and hollowed it out.  The bottom of the pumpkin would be the bowl to set the flowers in.

Dinner party centerpiece pumpkin

Then she lined the bowl with plastic* and placed florist oasis foam in the center.

Dinner party centerpiece construction

*Mom advises using a small plastic bowl instead of the plastic lining if you can find one that would fit inside the pumpkin.  If you do use plastic lining, it’s also a good idea to have a small plate under the pumpkin in case it leaks.

The lid of the pumpkin is then re-attached off-center with wire, so that there is still an opening to arrange the flowers.  The small gourds are set on either side.

Dinner party centerpiece

All of the flowers and greenery came from her own garden except for the orange Gerbera daisy.  She used sedum, hydrangea, maple leaves, and other garden greens.

I’m standing by to see what she does for Christmas!


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Heidi’s November Plant Pick: Cyclamen

Cyclamen

The Caged Tiger

The Florists Cylamen (Cyclamen persicum) is like the tiger that someone is keeping in their apartment as a pet.  It is trapped inside, but it really wants out.

Although often marketed as an indoor plant, a cyclamen will slowly wither away in a warm indoor environment as it craves coolness.

But like the apartment tiger, it needs to be saved from itself.  It needs to be cool, but also protected from rain, wind, and freezing temperatures.

Location, Location

It needs a covered, protected porch.  And the person who can provide this will be rewarded with continuous blooms for several months.

With this plant, location is everything.  Last year I had a potted cyclamen on my covered porch next to the front door (in Seattle, hardiness zone 8a) that bloomed from early fall until late spring.

I had another cyclamen on the opposite side of my front door, the side that is less protected and gets more wind, and that plant lasted less than a month.

A Great Container Plant

Cyclamen come in some striking colors – white, pink, red, and lavender.  The foliage is also very attractive.  They bloom pretty prolifically and continuously in the right environment, and they do well in containers.

They make a beautiful floral accent next to your front door to welcome visitors at a time of year when nothing else is really blooming.

 

Cyclamen with Golden Spikemoss
Cyclamen with Golden Spikemoss

This year I planted my cyclamen with just a little Golden Spikemoss as a contrast, but they can be used with a wide variety of other plants for an attractive container garden.  Try them with small evergreens, winterberry, or miniature ferns.

Care and Feeding

Cyclamen that are sold as indoor plants are usually still happier outside in a protected environment as long as the temperature stays above 40 degrees.

Cyclamen sold in a nursery as an outdoor plant usually can tolerate even cooler temperatures.  Be sure to read the plant tag.

Cyclamen do best in pots with excellent drainage, and when the soil is consistently moist.  But be careful not to overwater them.  It’s best to deliver the water close to the base of the plant and not get the leaves wet or they might start to rot.

They like dappled sunlight or light shade.  So indirect light or a little morning sun works better than heavy shade.

They need occasional fertilizer,  but not more than once a month.

After blooming like mad for several months, a cyclamen may hit a dormant period, especially when temperatures begin to climb.  With the right care (discontinue watering for a while, keep out of sunlight, repot and resume watering, put back into the light) you can get the cyclamen to come back for a repeat performance, but honestly I have always found it easier to just get a new one every year.

Call me lazy.  But at least the tiger was free from his cage while it lasted.


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Mid Century Modern Chair Revamp

Midcentury chair revamp

Chris had this little chair in his bedroom when he was a kid.  He remembers his mother, Betty, reupholstering it with the striped fabric.

Mid century modern chair before revamp
The chair with Betty’s 1960s upholstery work

For some reason, he held onto it.  We would use it sometimes as extra seating at garage sales, or as a stool for reaching high places.

For the last decade, it’s been buried under empty boxes in our basement.  Recently I decided to organize the basement, and I brought the chair upstairs into the light of day.

We’d just been to an exhibit featuring the work of Danish modern furniture designers – the best of the best from the Mad Men era.  Those chairs certainly outclassed our chair, but this cute little guy was sure trying.

Proud Origins

After a little research, we learned that we had a “tubular cantilever chair.”  The back and seat are attached to a continuous steel frame that then sweeps beautifully to an L-shaped base.

This simple and ingenious design has been around for a surprisingly long time and was actually once the center of controversy.

An early version of the cantilever chair was designed in 1925 by Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian modernist designer and architect.  But it is said that his design was inspired by the work of Dutch designer Mart Stam.  The two designers wound up  in a patent lawsuit in a German court, which Stam won.

Contemporary furniture designers of the time embraced the cantilever concept and were inspired to create all sorts of variations.

Better Than New

With the recent renewed interest in mid century modern design, these chairs are popular once again.  So Chris decided to give his chair a little facelift.

First he removed the upholstery his mother had added to the seat, and the yellow bathrug that she had cut to fit as padding.  As a child of the Great Depression, Betty never wasted anything.

Mid Century modern chair cushion taken apart
Unpeeling the layers on the chair seat

Then he dealt with the chair back.  It still had the original upholstery but had been painted several times.  The little steel tacks, a nice decorative detail, had been painted over.

old tacks
Removing the tacks from the chair back

He stripped paint splatter from the steel frame and polished it.

Mid Century modern cantilever chair frame

You can see in this photo how the entire frame of the chair is one continuous piece of steel tubing.  So with the back and the seat, the chair is made up of only three pieces.

Chris reupholstered the back and seat with a red leatherette fabric.  I love his choice of the red – such a versatile color.  Now the chair can work in either a whimsical retro setting or in a more serious classic contemporary environment.

Mid Century modern chair reupholstered
Cantilever chair after new upholstery.
Midcentury modern chair closeup
Close-up of steel tacks after being stripped of paint.

The original upholstery fabric was nothing special and there were no maker’s marks on the chair, leading us to conclude that it is not a high-end piece.  I suspect it looks better now than when it was new.

I don’t think it’s going back in the basement.

 


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