Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Target Bargains: Pillows

I made a quick run to Target last weekend. Don't get excited. It wasn't one of those fun trips. It was one of those "I need toilet paper, shampoo, and a multi-pack of little boys' socks, and how in the world did I walk out of here $75 poorer just buying routine stuff?"

Even when I'm there for the boring stuff, I'm a clearance end-cap prowler. This time I found these: 

My old sofa cushions were looking tired. They have a right to be, because they get thrown on the floor and used as footballs on a daily basis. These have some of the colors in my living room (greens, ivory, and brown) with some extra thrown in (terra cotta and sky blue). They look nice and cozy on my super dark brown sofa, which tends to suck all the light out of the living room (its only down side).

The best part? They were $5 each. No kidding.

To be honest, I'm not sure if they will stay in the living room. I'm not sure if they completely "work." But $5 is way less than most uncovered pillow inserts cost, so really I couldn't go wrong with these, even if  I end up recovering them.

And they do pick up the same colors as items I have planned for the basement recreation room for the boys:

They "go" with these retro lamps and fabric remnant as well. So if they don't stay in the living room long term, there are other options. Two pillows for $10. Now I wish I could get toilet paper, shampoo, and boys' socks for just a Hamilton. But even then it wouldn't be as much fun.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kitchen Revamp: Part I

I can't honestly call this kitchen project a renovation. That would assume some major amounts of drywall dust and construction that really just didn't happen. It is really a kitchen spiff-up, which took mostly paint, stain, and elbow grease. It also took a lot of time, but mostly because my life is a little insane right now. 

I've decided I'm going to do this kitchen reveal in a series of smaller posts, because I don't have the attention span or stamina right now for a monster post. Also, I'm still trying to figure out a curtain for a window that's just to the left of the photo above. I'm going to work my way around the room until I've cussed that into submission. Right now it just looks stupid, and I'm trying to find a way to un-stupid it. There's no reason why we can't start the tour while I do that.

For those who are just tuning in:

My house dates from 1939, but the kitchen was redone somewhere between 1968 to mid-1970s. The owners at that time changed the layout by taking down a wall, expanding into a mudroom entry area and turning it into an eat-in, and moving the stove to the other side of the room, creating what I call a "wide galley" layout. Since the cabinets are good quality and budget was a concern, I decided to work with what I had. That involved making choices that would fit in with the 1960s-70s style of cabinets. 

What I have done since purchasing the house in June 2011: 
  • Purchased new appliances (except for dishwasher)
  • Refinished cabinets and cleaned hardware (All credit goes to my mother, who put HOURS into this, one door at a time)
  • Replaced a yellow and hacked-to-pieces laminate counter top with a new one
  • Painted
  • Replaced a huge and hugely ugly ceiling fan with a vintage fixture
  • Added wall art and decorative items
  • Made curtains to replace tired beige tab-top panels. 
Here's a slight before below: 

Here the countertop had been replaced and the cabinets were mid-refinishing, though it's impossible to tell in this photo. The previous color of the kitchen was a medium dark blue, which was painted over switch plates, spattered onto the baseboard trim, and was finger-printed, gashed, and greasy. Ew. 

The container set on the countertop is one that I still like because of the kitschy chickens, but took up too much counter space. Ditto the stand mixer. The container set is still in use but stashed in the pantry cupboard on the left. The stand mixer went into the cabinet underneath, and just gets hauled out for the big baking marathons. 

Now, back to 1968:

The corner you see with the oven above in 1968 is where the tall pantry cabinet is in 2011 in the most recent photo, below. The stovetop is now counter space: 

(I also need to interrupt this entire post to note the tulips, which are an After-Valentine's Day gift from Mr. Man. He is a man of great discernment, takes into consideration the fact that his lady truly hates the V-Day, and follows up with flowers the day after. The fact they are a great prop for the photo shoot is just bonus.)

This particular spread of counter space is where the baking happens: 

I love this corner because three items hold great personal meaning for me: 

The lazy-susan container set is exactly like one my grandmother had. I love the Pennsylvania Dutch design, and the fact that I remember Grandma's kitchen and her fried chicken dinners every time I cook for my own boys: 

I purchased the recipe box on a whim about two years ago, feeling drawn to it but not realizing why. My Aunt Karen has the same one in brown in her own kitchen, where I spent a large portion of my childhood. 

The rooster bookend was a bargain at a junk shop many years ago, because his mate was long lost. He's holding up two cookbooks that are in heavy use in my house: A 1950s community cookbook from Shenandoah, Iowa, called "Kitchen Klatter,"and a Hershey's Cocoa cookbook from mail order. Neither are very pretty and the Kitchen Klatter cookbook is downright ragged, but it's real life around here. 

The frame on the backsplash, which doesn't show up well in the photos because of reflected light, is holding a paper bag from a grocery store that my Grandad worked at when he was a young man. I have no idea how this paper bag survived 60-plus years, but there it is. I sometimes marvel at its existence. Greenley's Market, sadly, is like many small town main street grocers-- long gone. 

By next week, I should be parading you down to the other side of the sink, and some territories over by the stove. By that time I hope to have the last curtain looking significantly less stupid, and more fun stuff to share. Stay tuned! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thrift Shop Valentine

For a person who hates Valentine's Day, I sure got a good one.

It was not red or pink or chocolate. But it was shiny. And floral.

I got butter knives in the mail. 

Yep. You read that right. Butter knives. Yes. I am a weirdo. 

When I scored this green Art Deco cream pitcher that I love, I bought it more out of that love than "I have a use for it." 

But I decided it would hold butter knives in the area of the kitchen where we make toast and sandwiches. With four hungry boys, there is a sandwich being made in my house at any given time. It's like I'm running a deli up in here. My butter knives are always dirty in the dishwasher, and I decided to stock up on extra and have them handy and ready to go. 

Thrift shop finds are the obvious bargain way to go, but I have to share a shameful secret: the thrift shop in my town is lame. It is lame because we are in a university town, so the Goodwill here is 90 percent crapped-out Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts. In the case of butter knives, all that stuff is institutional flatware that college students cadged from the campus dining room. It's all very depressing. 

Thrift shops in my sister's neck of the woods, the greater Atlanta area, are AWESOME. I would call them "effing" awesome, but I'm trying to pretend that I don't swear that much. I'll leave that for Macklemore and Ryan, the hip-hop artists who have been mentioned by nearly every single blogger on the planet in the last three months for their song "Thrift Shop." The link to the music video is here, and consider yourself warned if you have delicate sensibilities. But the reason it's so popular? It's hilarious. If you thrift, you're part of the biggest inside joke ever with this song. 

There are 12 of these, and they are heavy and good quality. They were a couple of bucks, and Dyan took them home, scrubbed and boiled them and ran them through the dishwasher. She mailed them to me last week. I ran them through the dishwasher again when they came here, not because I don't trust my sister's cleaning but because I don't trust the ookiness that is Other People's Dirt. 

So to review: 
Butter knives: awesome
Atlanta thrift shop scene: awesome
Macklemore and Ryan: f(    )ing awesome
My sister: awesome

This is exactly the sort of Valentine I can stand. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kitchen Before: 1968

I'm chugging away toward my final kitchen reveal-- sewing curtains, hanging stuff on the walls, rearranging the countertops-- but I'll be honest with you, I need another weekend (Yes. This has been going on since August).

So, in the interest of a) not endlessly leading my readers on with excuses, and b) entertaining you while I stitch and bitch (I'm not a patient sewer), I thought I'd give you some "before" shots of the kitchen.

I did not take any before photos of the kitchen in 2011. Or not many. The idea for the blog hadn't hatched yet, and I wasn't thinking I needed to document what was a depressingly typical 30-year-old neglected kitchen: yellow formica counters that had bleach spots in some places, stains in others, and chunks out of the edges like someone tested their knives on it regularly; rust and smelly appliances; cupboards thick with decades of grime and dirt; limp curtains.

By the time I started paying attention to making a record of progress, my mother had already put hours into refinishing cupboards (for which I'm deeply and eternally grateful) and I had replaced the countertops with a somewhat retro-appropriate flecky laminate in earth tones. A crummy cell phone picture from those early days:

But I've got something better than "before" photos from 2011. I've got ones from....1968!

Take a look at this cute little kitchen window:

Notable details here:

The cute carved window fascia above the sink, and the quarter-round side shelves. Orange laminate! The plate rack above, and the collection of iron trivets on the wall. The dishwasher was a top loader-- that's what that appliance lid is to the right of the sink. The distant wall of the kitchen that you see here to the left, with the cupboards and refrigerator, doesn't exist in my kitchen anymore. That wall is gone, and it is now open to the present day eat-in area. What was was on the other side of that wall before?

A porch:

The photo above is from an older set of pictures, the New Year's Day snow storm of 1942. But the back door and window combo you see on the left led into a mudroom/cold-air porch area. The window to the right is the kitchen window shown in the interior 1968 shot above. The kitchen was a much cosier little place in 1942....and 1968.

The other end of the kitchen looked like this:

While I am not personally a fan of yellow, this yellow and gray scheme looks cheery and clean, doesn't it? I'm dying to know what color is on the floor. It looks like white and some color in a grid pattern. Dark Green? Dark Gray? I'd also love to get a closer look at those curtains. I think the fabric pattern is of teapots, but I'm not sure. Notice the trivet on the side of the oven? A "W"? Is that a clue? 

I adore the little bake center on the left--the cookbooks and the spice rack on the handy little shelf above the work area. Notice the stand mixer (covered with appliance cozy), the aluminum kitchen container set, and the decorative plates. 

The stove top on the far right is to the left of the sink in the previous photo, and there couldn't have been very much room between them. I also notice the air-conditioning unit permanently mounted under the window. That explains a patch in the siding on the exterior of the house! 

As a bonus, I also have a picture of the basement appliances: 

These are in the same place as my present day laundry room. I'm surprised by how simple and modern the washer and dryer look! The stove is not a surprise. Based on some other clues left around the house, I believe the lady of the house did her canning in the basement. This wasn't an uncommon way to beat the heat for this hot and steamy chore before there was central air conditioning. Believe me, there's nothing like canning 50 quarts of green beans on a 90 degree day in July in the Midwest. 

I'm not sure why these photos were taken-- possibly to sell the house, just like we do today? Perhaps the lady of the home was house proud, and just wanted to record her beautiful home for posterity? I don't know for sure, but I'm glad these came down through all the former owners to me. They've been fun, but also a great resource. I'll be sharing more as the year progresses. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vintage Living: How Authentic Are You?

I love vintage things, otherwise known variously as antiques, my grandmother's things, junk, and old stuff. I don't think about it that much. I'm hardly unique, judging from the number of vintage and retro-themed blogs out there. Most of the time, I'm just an enthusiastic disciple of the whole vintagey, retro thang, working on fixing up my old house and hitting up my next thrift shop.

My oldest son had his wisdom teeth out recently, and for some reason, that got me thinking about what we think about when we embrace the past to the degree some of us do. I know that his oral surgery in 2013 was a great deal different than it would have been in 1939 (the year my house was built). And I'm profoundly grateful for that. 

Vintage lovers seem to fall on a spectrum ranging from those who try to emulate a certain era right down to the last detail--the house, the furniture, the housewares, the cooking, the hair and makeup, the clothes, the music-- to those that collect a few favorite items, but don't trouble themselves much over creating the whole "look" or any level of "authenticity."

You run into the word "authentic" a lot when you're talking vintage. This particular color is "authentic" to 1950s bathrooms. This model of refrigerator is "authentic" to a 1940s kitchen. This clock is "authentic" 1960s. In some retro and vintage fan circles, the closer you can place yourself to an exacting replica of these past eras, the more "authentically" vintage you are. Time capsule houses, ones almost completely unchanged in 30, 40, or even 50 years, are seen as the perfection ideal of vintage appreciation. 

In my own life, this is a non-starter for a variety of reasons. Practicality is one. For example, I have read of people's vintage-style kitchens that are so "authentic" they don't have a microwave. I appreciate that they have committed to a certain look and era so completely that they don't want modern conveniences to intrude. I think, in general, these kitchens look fantastic. But, 

My microwave is there, above my stove, very post-1990s style, up in my 1960-70s kitchen cupboards. I need the appliance, and I need the counter space. In a home with four constantly eating children, this isn't negotiable.

I'm unapologetic about my love of modern appliances in general, not just my microwave. My own mother, who is not at all elderly, remembers heating water in a copper washboiler in a farm shed and using a wringer washer to get clothes clean, starting with the dainty whites and ending with the farm coveralls to keep the water as clean possible as it progressed through the week's soil. 

It claims to be "easy." Easier than beating your clothes on a rock down by the river, sure. 
I'm sorry, but I wouldn't go back to that if you paid me. 

Let's continue to unpack that idea of "authentic" vintage living a little more, shall we? 

Do you even know where your iron is? 

Documentary photo of a commercial laundry, 1920, U.S. Dept. of Labor. Wikimedia Commons public domain photo. 
Perhaps it is because I am only the first generation in my mother's family not to be raised on the farm, but I can think of hundreds of menial tasks of the past I'm glad I'm free of today. Ironing may be from choice. But there are plenty of others that weren't optional for our grandparents and great-grandparents, everything from chicken manure to unheated houses to pages torn from an old catalog for toilet paper. 

Would you really wear this on purpose, just to be "authentic?"

A catalog illustration from 1933. A Wikimedia Commons public domain image
There are undoubtedly those out there who would. But most of us like to breathe, thank you very much, and don't much care for garter buckles jabbing us in the backs of our thighs. There's a REASON why we moved on from such things. See also: sliced bread, automatic coffee pots, zippers, internal combustion engines, and elastic. 

The past wasn't always better for a lot of much, much less funny reasons. 

Everyone who wishes they'd been around for the dawn of the Jazz Era will say they would have loved the music, the flapper dresses, the Art Deco design.

Influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital, 1919. A Wikimedia Commons public domain photo. 
Nobody talks about how they want to travel back in time to be an influenza victim. There are other, even less charming aspects of almost any era. See also: Jim Crow, Little Bighorn, polio outbreaks, insane asylums, and the Great Depression. 

I'm not trying to be buzz kill or a moralist. I think most people who are enthusiastic fans and collectors of any era are good enough students of history to understand and appreciate these considerations. I am just struggling to properly frame why we do what we do when we drag home old aprons from flea markets and bid frantically on Ebay for kitschy ashtrays. 

The truth is we're all being highly selective in what we choose from the past to accompany us into the present day, whether we are striving for a perfectly "authentic" time capsule of a 1950s living room, or just a few pieces that hint at an era we feel special affinity for. I find it hard to use the word "authentic" when we're talking about what is really that highly selective process.

My personal category is for old, green things.
I think we choose to include vintage items in our life to varying degrees for these reasons, any of which could be a sociological term paper on their own: 

1. Home restoration: many become drawn into a certain time period in the process of renovating an old house. 
2. Nostalgia: Good memories of our childhood, or shared memories of a grandparent's childhood, become the basis for vintage collecting.
3. Personal identifiers: Sometimes people have affinity with a certain time in history, viewing it as more socially stable, artistically vibrant, full of rugged individualism, or some other value that they appreciate, more so than our current time. 
4. History: Many are interested in collecting vintage in the more academic sense.
5. Aesthetics: The colors, design, architecture, and fashion of an era appeal to certain tastes. 
6. Budget: This one can play both ways. Some end up with vintage pieces because they can only afford older pieces rather than brand new retail. Conversely, some people's vintage collecting is limited because certain vintage items are rare, coveted, or trendy, and prices are high.

I believe that I am most heavily influenced by aesthetics, budget, and nostalgia. Being driven by what I like and what I can afford regardless of the era, means that my approach is pretty free-wheeling. For instance, I don't dig the pastels of the 1950s, but instead prefer the clear, rich colors of the 1930s or the earth tones of the 1970s, both of which you'll find in my home. I think pinch-pleats look prissy and uptight, yet I love a starchy ironed apron. I have Gothic Revival chairs from the 1920s sitting around a late 19th century table in my dining room. At one end of my sofa I have a 1940s end table and at the other a 1950s end table, partnered with a 1970s mediterranean style credenza. And all of it is anchored by a modern sofa and rug.

The lamps range from the 1930s to the 1970s, and I'm more interested in the shape and color than having them all match or fit a time capsule theme. I think it's more fun that way. And to tell you the truth, I'm a bit of a rebel. If I was told that I "must" have this and this and this to have a perfectly "authentic" midcentury bathroom, for example, I'd probably just shrug and do what I wanted, anyway. I'm a homeowner, not a set manager.

And contrary to what a lot of vintage fans out there may believe, I think this type of collecting and interior design more "authentic" than the strict time capsule interpretation. Or perhaps what I really mean is "more realistic." And this is why:

Time capsule homes are not the norm, but the rare exception. Only a few survive, and that is because most people simply just didn't, and don't, live that way. If you could send yourself back to May of 1920, or September of 1942, or November of 1974, and walk into any middle class American home, the belongings would be a mixture. Possessions with a shorter life span-- clothes, small household items--would be newer, and other more durable things--appliances, furniture, hand-me-downs, family heirlooms, paint and wallpaper-- would be in a range spanning multiple eras of the current and perhaps former century.

Time capsule rooms or homes are really only the product of a very narrow and specific set of circumstances: few or one owner who are a combination of conscientious caretakers, uncomfortable with change, extremely frugal, and disinterested in trends. They are sort of like inheriting a museum, or creating one. Most of us who own an older home instead own the multiple layers of an archeological dig, a time sandwich of many ingredients.

That isn't to say I'm bashing time capsule homes or their owners. The fact that I find time capsule homes less realistic representations than the wider norm doesn't mean they are worth less; in fact it makes them even more special and unique. They are wonderful, awesome overloads of patterned wall paper and blue toilets and paneled family rooms, and they provide us with invaluable information about the history of our domestic life. I admire people who seek them out or create them, own and maintain them --they carry a special responsibility to the past and what the future will know about it. I just know that for my own lifestyle and my own tastes, the mixed up layers of the archeological dig are more where I am comfortable. I am glad the vintage love spectrum is wide and accommodating for all our separate versions of crazy-about-the-past.

Where to you fall on the vintage spectrum? Only what finds its way home through yard sales? Vintage fashion but not furniture? The whole giant retro enchilada, right down to the Pyrex casserole dish? How does that fit your taste, personality, and memories?

And to think a few wisdom teeth started this post. I think I'm going to need to switch to decaf.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Do I Have To? Paint Trim

Here again is my monthly installment of  "Do I Have To?"  a regular segment tackling the big list of do-it-yourself jobs that really aren't that fun.

Everybody likes crisply painted and clean trim. Nobody that I've ever met likes to do the actual painting.

When we first moved in, I was in hurry-up-and-make-the-house-presentable mode. I wanted the kids' rooms to be mostly done, and so it was all too easy to leave trim unpainted in every single room. Now I have miles and miles of backtracking to do, on my knees with a brush and a faint grimace on my face.

The largest of amount of unpainted trim is in the twins' room. You'll forgive me, I think, if you knew where we started:

The entire room was paneled in construction grade plywood, and then stained (except for that part they left inexplicably undone) some incredibly odd pinkish brown color. It looked like a bad sunburn. The ugly, it burned the eyes.

After we rescued the room from the plywood nightmare and the disgusting amount of filth, we decorated in pale blue, navy, and red.

Ah. Much better.

The room has a built-in desk at the opposite end, and while I did a few things to fix it up, I ran out of time to get it completely done. (My apologies for the picture. It was taken on a really dark day, and that navy blue paint sucks the light out of every photo.)

I painted around the desk area with the navy paint. The blues in the newly done room did a lot to tone down the remaining weird-colored paneling, but I wanted to get rid of it totally.

Then the boys and I moved into the house and.....

The room has been reserved for interplanetary warfare ever since.

I'm not going to go into the details, since y'all know the drill. Paint, roller, trim brush, knee pads (I'm only joking on that last one this time, but it doesn't sound like a half bad idea).

Another before:

And after: 

It's not done yet, and I think that's obvious. The underside of the desk only got primed, and I plan to extend the navy blue paint underneath on another day. The front and sides of the desk need some base trim, and the face frame is missing a piece between the first and second drawer on the left side. Hey, I didn't claim I'd finish anything, I just promised I'd make progress. And I did. The upside is that the weirdly flesh-colored plywood is now gone from view. Yeay!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Need for Red in February

Let's just say I hate Valentine's Day and get it over with, shall we?

I hate the subliminal message that women's good will and adoration can be bought with heart shaped diamond pendants, or pink furry stuffed animals, or boxes of mass-produced and slightly stale chocolates. I hate overseeing the handwriting of 25 valentines times two for two boys who utterly detest the chore and yet are obligated to complete it so that Valentine's Day can be another opportunity for the school to teach them handwriting. I hate the cloying artificial sentiment manufactured and marketed by card/flower/gift/candy shops. I hate the feeling of obligation it sets up in otherwise sane couples. And to be perfectly truthful and yet contradictory, I spent not just a few years of my marriage and then divorce, sitting at home in sweatpants doing nothing, feeling sour, and then feeling sour that I felt sour about being neglected on a holiday I hated anyway.

It's enough to make this usually level-headed woman eat a whole bag of potato chips at one sitting.

Now that we're clear on the that, I am still in favor of the color red in February. I think most of us who experience a true winter like we do here On the Doorstep, need a blast of warm, fiery color to counteract the gray skies, dirty snowbanks, and mucky streets we struggle through for months on end.

Red's a master of many roles: cheerful, passionate, saucy, loud, every one of them a good antidote to February blahs. I believe every room, no matter what's going on in it, needs a little red to keep things from being boring.

Here are some of my favorites, from Etsy sellers: