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Chalk Paint | Re-finished Dresser

A client had found this mid-century modern dresser through an online buy and sell website, at a great price. The dresser offered a great look and fit her space perfectly. Though the original owner had attempted to refinish the dresser themselves, there were some distinguished characteristics that did not make it quite as desirable as she had hoped.

Though the condition of the dresser was perfectly fine, and functionally it works well. You can see in the before photo above that the top is very high gloss, of which also included many drip marks from the varathane – we collectively felt that it took away from the vintage look this dresser was intended. We also wanted to modernize the dresser in a fun way. After contemplating a back-painted glass top, we decided ultimately to do through a more economic, and custom route.

Katherine and I love chalk paint, and we have done a few projects via this route. Our client also loved this idea, so we took on yet another project!

We had to start by really sanding down the original surface (and I mean really sanding it down!). We had decided to paint just the box, leaving the drawer fronts (which were still in its original condition) and legs. Chalk paint doesn’t require you to sand, but you do get a better result when you do.

Having extremely curious supervisors (my cats) lurking around the project made it a little difficult to work, but we managed. Gandalf loves our dropcloth… hopefully it stays that way!

It required about 3 coats, I think we did 4 on the top. We did a 1/3 mix of pure white and an off white, creating a really soft and warm white. We then did 2 layers of clear wax on the side panels, and 3 layers on the top. We loved the way it turned out because it balanced out their side tables perfectly!

Above is to show the side table, notice how we’ve created an inverted version of it. After delivering the dresser back, there were some last touches needed, including a good buffing from the wax finish.

Final photos! What a difference! : ) It stands out, creating a modern touch on a reclaimed piece.

Bringing the Past to the Future

What does modernism mean? We have been blessed here at Nested Green Inc. with a couple of fabulous design projects that have had me thinking deeply about designs of the past.  Those techniques, shapes and materials that are considered “old fashioned” to some are really the base for the what many would consider “modern” design.  When I’m asked by clients “Do you do modern?”… I have to ask what they mean by “modern”.  Technically, with tools, materials and techniques, unless we are building a space the way the hardcore Amish society can, then it will always be “modern”… our building code insists on it.  As for aesthetically, modern design has an impressive history that is subjective to each persons reality and perception of what “modern” means. One of our projects is a renovation of a 70’s high-ranch on a lake in an up-scale community.  There are many directions we could take this lovely back split bungalow with a sliver of a view of the lake… embrace it’s 70’s roots? … reproduce a Hampton’s upscale vacation home?… or take it back to it’s origins of the 70’s style and go for Craftsman. The client chooses the direction, we follow the direction to make the dream a reality. Large windows, posts & beams, river-stone fireplace, sweeping lake-side decks… I’m thinking (hoping for) Craftsman. Craftsman Style The Craftsman style we know today has many inspirations at it’s roots. William Morris of England at the turn of the 20th century promoted a philosophy of “have only what is beautiful and useful in your home”… an idea abused by modern day mega-mass furniture co. Ikea.   Arts and crafts for the masses back in the day, ironically were mostly afforded only by the upper classes.  Then there are the American sources like Gustav Stickley for his furniture and later Frank Lloyd Wright’s stylized version of Arts & Crafts with his Prairie School of designs and philosophies.

“A craftsman is an artist or artisan who practices a trade or handicraft and creates beautiful (decorative) or practical (useful) objects and structures from natural materials with skill and dexterity using his or her hands.”(1)

A recent visit to a commercial furniture dealer who sell Herman Miller furniture (thank you Ben at OBI Environments in Ottawa) had me contemplating the effect that mid-century designers have had the industry.  Companies like Herman Miller and Knoll have been influencing the designs of interiors for 75 years… furniture and textiles with designers such as Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry, Marcel Breuer.  Suzanne Tick, whom I met in San Francisco almost 15 years ago is a talented textile designer whose work is very  much up-holds the philosophies as such designing with textiles. (2)

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

So we ponder the term “modern design”.  What does it mean?  It is a subjective term but there is more to it.  Is it about idealism or is about acquisition?  What does it mean to be a modern person?  Is it about the ownership of technology and how we use it?  Isn’t everything that happens is in the future considered modern?  What if our future selves are left without our much depended technologies and luxuries?  If we embrace the lifestyle of our ancestors can we still be “modern”?  Well, we know there is no going back completely to the ways of the past unless that much advertised Zombie Apocalypse actually happens… But we know too much to return completely to the way things were long ago. Evolution is a much desired trait by all species.  Adapt, grow and pass it on… that’s how nature does it.  So one is compelled to giggle just a little when asked “Do you do modern? Smile… pass it on.

Saarinen's revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

Saarinen’s revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

(1) http://www.arts-and-crafts-style.com/craftsman-style.html (2) http://www.knoll.com/shop/by-designer/suzanne-tick http://www.knoll.com/discover-knoll/timeline Photo credit: http://www.knoll.com/designer/Eero-Saarinen

Locavore your Living Spaces… Sourcing Design Products & Services Locally

The name “Locavore” is a popular name tag of Foodies who support food production as close as possible to thier community.  Where you live and what major centres that are near by may influence your decision of how far you are willing to have your home building and decorating products shipped.  I live near a city center that has New York, Toronto and Montreal within a 500 kilometers distance.  I am fortunate in that way but you may live in a prairie or mountain state or province where city centers, having a greater abundance of design sources, are at a much further distance.  We must remember that we are doing the best that we can to achieve our personal standards. There are many products such as textiles, door hardware and plumbing fixtures that are scarcely produced in North America anymore.  Unless you have an unlimited budget, you may have to forgive yourself for having to purchase items produced overseas.  I’m always on the lookout for artisans to fill the void of locally produced products. How does your local purchasing affect your community?  Most importanly, your money stays in your community.  As well, you are supporting the development of artisans skills and building a resource for quality of products.  Your support of local artisans may possibly increase the notoriety of specialized products in your region… think “Shetland” wool and “Waterford” crystal.

Where do you go to find what you are looking for?

  • Search on-line first!!  The easiest research and shopping you can do from the comfort of your sofa!!
  • Furniture – new, hand-made … the Amish community for example is prized for thier furniture production – includes the ability to custom order to fit your design criteria.
  • Thrift shops – especially if you’re handy and ready for a DIY project.
  • Up-cyclers – they’ll do the DIY and dumpster-diving for you!!
  • Recyclers of building products and architectural elements.
  • Crafters – whether on-line or at your local Farmers’ Market – beautiful products such as naturally dyed cotton t-shirts recycled into braided rag rugs, not just for country decor anymore… again, Amish quilts are highly coveted!!  Knitted blankets using local wools would be an investiment your grand-children could inherit!!
  • Artisans of textiles such as weavers, quilters… wood and glass works for vessels, dishes, pottery, plates and windows… metal works for items made from iron, steel, tin and aluminum especially for hardware and decorative items.
  • Antique dealers, estate sales and auctions – Antiques (and thier modern mass-produced look-a-likes) can be edited to fit into desired design styles… paint, change hardware or leave original finishes and hardware to maintain the future historical value.
  • Curb-side pick-ups (aka dumpster diving!!) – free treasures to be found, but you should take care thof yourself and be very discriminating about what you touch… avoid upholstered items (bugs, molds, disintegrating toxic materials).
  • Local College or Art Schools – up and coming artists, craftsmen and women are always looking for a way to make a living from the craft they studied… furniture, textiles, decorative household items, art… You benefit by obtaining less expensive products, unique ideas and untainted creativity.  Schools that specialize in historic artisan crafts such as stonework and millwork (cabinets, trim, etc) for example are a great source for new professionals to add unique details to your home.

What to look for…

  • always go for quality … it lasts longer
  • recyled … organic …. natural materials
  • non-toxic finishing ethical production (no harm to animals or people)
  • ask yourself if you really “need” it… and how do I feel about it!!??

Can’t find what you are looking for in your neighbourhood… think about supporting craftsmen and women working with sustainable development projects, home-base businesses, fair trade and community collective businesses… the money from your purchase goes directly into the community where the artisans are located.  Not only would you have a well crafted and unique product but you will also have a warm feeling that you are part of building productive and healthy communities world-wide.  Look for these traditional types of products (especially locally traditional products) as well as the term “social responsibility”… bonus for organic products too!!  Although the product list is endless… third party certification from NGO bodies such as:  “Fairtrade” ( http://www.fairtrade.net) … “The Fair World Project” (http://fairworldproject.org/) and “Fair for Life” (http://www.imo.ch ).

  • textiles, weaving, knitting, sewing
  • pottery & ceramics
  • metal work
  • woodwork, carving
  • glass work
  • woven grasses (baskets, rugs, wall coverings)

Your wallet is a powerful tool and “Big Business” is very concerned about how you use it.  How we spend our money sends a huge message to the marketplace… one that says “make me happy and I may spend more money with you… and so may my friends!!”  That message to industry is strong and can be relentless.  The Locavore mentality can help you to: reduce your personal carbon footprint by purchasing less travelled and packaged products; be conscious to avoid so many of the toxic chemicals used in the mass production of furniture and textiles; reduce the amount of plastics and synthetic materials used in household items and thier packaging; when your items have long out-lived their use and can no longer be repaired or renewed, the disposal of your item will return to the earth with less of the usual toxic residue; and benefit personally by obtaining unique and quality products that last longer than the mass-produced and become heirlooms to many generations. make a difference to your or someone’s community by building local economies. Embrace the emerging “Locavore” tradition and feel good about your consumerism… but please be kind to your friends and family if they don’t understand yet… they will someday, just by your example.  Happy Locavore Shopping!!