When Wicker Meets Silver

June 27, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Deck, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  2 responses

Without fail, every time I visit my Grandma I leave with a trunk load of random goodies. That random assortment can be everything from Mini-Wheats and succulents, dog biscuits and curtains, to frozen perogis and 1960’s lights. And it’s almost always awesome/delish/nice to have.

One of my latest visits wasn’t much different; I’ve (and we’ve all) become adept at deflecting items that we don’t actually need for ourselves, but when I saw a wicker basket sitting behind her house, I claimed it as my own and smuggled it home for safe keeping.

“It’s just trash,” she told me “and it’s been sitting out here for a year, that’s not something you want.” But I did. I wanted it more than the glasstop table she was counter-offering with. And so I took it.

Freebie wicker basket, gettin' ready for its time to shine.

Having survived last summer’s beating sun, the ice and snow of winter, and the rains of the springtime, it was still in surprisingly good shape with just a few frayed and snapped pieces. In fact, being naturally aged made it smoother and more attractive, kind of like a beach cottage’s weathered shingles. Wicker’s radical.

Freebie wicker basket, gettin' ready for its time to shine.

Pretty as it was, I still wanted to update it a little bit to make it my own, and I decided on adding silver accents to the base of the basket to make it shine, and make it look a little more modern.

After thoroughly washing it with dish soap and the hose sprayer’s JET setting, I used a simple brush to get in the crevices and applied leftover oil-based Rust-Oleum Aluminum paint to the wicker. Stationed in the breezy backyard and propped up on a cinderblock (a cinderblock that now permanently looks like it was wrapped in tin foil), I kept the wet paint from getting covered in grass and dirt. Working outdoors in the breeze kept the fumes moving too, making the job totally manageable and clean.

Painting the basket silver!

The initial intent was to paint the inside and outside only part way up for a color block effect, but once I got started I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, and considered painting the entire thing silver. Instead of going that far, I took the silver up a bit further, making the basket about 75% silver and keeping 25% natural weathered wicker.

Color blocking with silver? Still pondering how it would look at this point. Like my friendship bracelet?

The wicker-to-silver balance was finally starting to make me think differently about the piece; I liked it.

Painted wicker basket.

I’m still a huge fan of this aluminum paint; it’s concentrated enough to make anything it touches turn to silver including your hand and knee and that left butt cheek on your running shorts that you accidentally touched to the wet paint when you were leaning over to clean the brush. It’s also runny enough to flow into tight places, like where pieces of wicker overlap and are hard to wiggle a paint brush into, and it never becomes the least bit gloppy.

Painted wicker basket!

The basket itself could serve many purposes; maybe eventually a real laundry basket (since based on its shape, that’s probably what it was used for originally), or maybe stuffed animals or extra pillows and blankets, but for now it has found a home beside our sliding glass door on the porch as a place where we can kick off our sandy and dirt-covered sandals all summer long.

Refinished wicker basket filled with sandy beach shoes.

It sits far enough beneath the eave that rain isn’t so much an issue unless it’s a northern-blowing wind. And it’s already sat outside in the weather for a year, so what’s a few more months.

Basket filled with sandy beach shoes.

How’ve you been making use of found treasures?

Practicing Patchwork

June 26, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY, Stairwell   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses

As something that’s been in development since I introduced the topic two weeks ago, I’m happy to finally have checked repairing the attic stairwell off my list.

The situation happening up there wasn’t dire. Crumbling plaster and unattended holes are no one’s idea of a well-maintained home, but the holes were out of sight behind the closed attic door, and therefore, mostly out of mind.

Uh, yeah. The attic stairwell looks like it took a beating at one point.

After I upgraded the stairs from glossy brown to a non-slip sand-infused gray, the walls needed my full attention. The damage wasn’t from me (or either of us, just to be clear), but it definitely did provide a nice opportunity for me to practice my plaster patchworking skills in a place that was in need, but also still out of sight for the most part in case I screwed it up worse. Because sometimes that happens.

There was plenty to consider before I got started:

The house was built in the early 40’s, so there could have been asbestos in the plaster. Lead paint could have been a factor too, as it was apparent that the walls had been painted and repainted several times. Deciding to keep things chill and create as little dust as possible, I opted to patch the open wounds and seal in the offending issues, and then then clean up the overall appearance of the stairwell with some fresh paint.

I started by patching the major holes of the wall using basic all purpose joint compound; after researching my options, I found that most sources suggested using this for patching plaster, even though its traditionally applied to drywall, and that it was especially good to use if it was watered down just a little bit (thinner than you’d need it if you were taping drywall joints, but thick enough to still hold stiff on the hawk and trowel. Pete had about 1/5 of a 5-gallon bucket of joint compound left over from previous projects, so I seized that f-r-e-e opportunity (the stuff doesn’t spoil easily if you store it correctly).

Prepping to begin filling holes in plaster with all purpose joint compound.

I used the smooth edge of a notched trowel to really glob on in a targeted way, sealing in the holes that were especially large (the size of my palm).

Patchwork begins.

The big holes may have been big, but they were still over lath, meaning that I really didn’t need to get into buying a drywall patching kit to correct the situation since the lath would act as a similar backing for the compound to hold on to. Over the course of 3-4 days, I applied 3-4 layers of compound, not obsessively worrying about how smooth the surface was but more so focusing on making sure that the compound, which oozed downwards with gravity and also sunk concave into the wall as it dried, began to cover the hole and become convex. Compound itself is easy enough to sand down, so if it dries proud to the surface that you’re patching, you can sand a little bit and take it back down to being level with the rest of the wall.

I also made use of having the trowel and joint compound out and did a thin skim coat over most of the wall, which had its own ripples and cracks and smaller divots from 70 years of settling and being generally banged up from carrying belongings up and down the attic stairwell.

Once the big patches were corrected, I skim coated over other problem areas.

It wasn’t perfect by any new construction means, but it is a hidden stairwell, and it is old plaster with its share of irregularities itself. To create a perfect stairwell wall, I probably would have taken down the plaster all together and hung drywall in its place. Never mind that, this route was f-r-e-e.

The dirty part involved sanding the wall smooth, and this all happened after the last coat of skim coating had dried for about 2 days. I didn’t want to create excessive dust (knowing it could be lead paint and asbestos infested) so I kept it simple and hand-sanded the areas coated in compound only to smooth it out. The places that were skim coated had very little excess compound, so it was more a matter of making sure the edges where it was applied flowed smoothly against the wall. No photos of the actual process; it was messy in there and I was fully covered with a face mask, gloves, and goggles to lessen the chances of me inhaling a lot of the compound dust and whatever else I was loosening inadvertently.

After an hour spent hand sanding using both a rough and smooth sandpaper, it looked like this. Note the dust drifts on the freshly painted stairs; I’d have been smarter to leave painting the stairs until after I patched the walls.

Sanded patches, and no more holes in the attic stairwell.

Letting all of the dust settle for another day, I followed back through with a damp rag to clean the walls (and what I could from the stairs) before beginning to prime and paint the patched surface.

The surface still wasn’t perfect; as I mentioned earlier, there was a bit of damage in the plaster itself that couldn’t easily be disguised completely. Irregularities like cracks (from the house sinking?) and waves in the wall (uneven joists? uneven plaster application?) and even a 2’x4′ piece of thin plywood over what I found to be a hole in the plaster that’s the size of my torso. Can’t imagine how that one happened; originally I thought it might have been access to the shower plumbing which happens to be right on the other side of the stairwell, but we didn’t remember seeing that access point when we gutted the bathroom shower last winter. Fixing an me-sized hole wasn’t really in the scope of what I set out to do, so I re-screwed the plywood back in place and continued on my priming way. Shush.

Post wall-priming. It's a flat/matte based substance, so many of the patching irregularities were disguised a bit. (As in, I'm not as good as it looks.)The matte finish of primer really does a lot to hide irregularities in the waviness of the walls, although it only covers the smooth compound patches about as well as a tinted moisturizer. While I considered dropping $5 on an OOPS bin gallon of flat paint (there’s always a lot of flat paint in our Home Depot discount paint stash, why, I’m not sure) but I saved my money and kept the project totally free by using what we had on hand, some leftover semi-gloss Behr Irish Mist paint that I used on the bathroom walls. It shows flaws a little bit more (as glossier paints do), but I think some of these scars would show through regardless of paint finish.

A glossy new attic stairwell.

The finished comparison is pretty remarkable. So much brighter.

Attic stairwell: Before and After

Any simple repairs in your recent past? Anyone else spend their Sunday cleaning joint compound dust?


Bringing Home The Bacon

June 25, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  8 responses

What started innocently enough as an afternoon spent trying to organize the catch-all closet in the office exploded into 4 days of spring cleaning, and an entire two days spent garage-sale-hosting. I don’t have any ‘before’ photos of the messy office or its closet space, and it’s still not cleaned and organized as well as we’d like it to be, but we did embrace the ‘If we lived without it all year, can we just get rid of it?’ mentality andĀ hauled three 90-gallon garbage bags of assorted clothing to Salvation Army just like we did last year (that’s 270-gallons, dudes, and an easy write-off for our 2012 taxes). We also promptly spent $60 in new plasticĀ storage at Target to help organize seasonal jackets and sweaters, helping to get Pete closer to his dream of having all of his worldly belongings stored neatly in clear plastic containers. Right? Right.

With the stuff we wanted put to the side for safe keeping, as they say, the monsters were unleashed and we decided we’d better just put the stuff we didn’t want to the curb, garage sale 2012 style. You know, before we decided that maybe we did want to hold onto it for another year.

Serious yard sale time.

We had a yard sale one weekend last summer, and I’m thrifty, so we even still had the same handmade pink signage in the garage, and that made it easier to pull this one off really quickly. The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday was charming, a bit cooler than last summer when we were dealing with humid 90-degree temps, so we spent the the later part of last week mapping out everything that we wanted to try and sell, and retrieving it from the attic. There was a little bit of stuff from last year, but mostly entirely fresh boxes of used home accessories, furniture, and kids toys that we’ve outgrown, not used, and retired.

We kept our strategy easier this year than last year; not every item was marked, which saved a lot of time and effort and tape; instead we divided our items three areas of the front yard: 25-cent items, $1-items, and priced-as-marked more than $1 items. Bucketing into those three categories helped keep us from getting into the nitty gritty discussions about “should this be 50-cents or 75-cents?”… no over-thinking necessary this year.

Get it cheap, and come back often people.

It kept things really easy from a transaction standpoint, helped us focus on keeping the bulk of our sale as priced-to-move, and made our pricing simple for the customers too.

Get it cheap, and come back often people.

We kept furniture separate from the rest of the home decor, even setting it up on the lawn like it was a complete living room display. Everything sold, with the exception of the old 13″ inch TV which I’m embarrassed to say was how I watched TV from 2002-2009. No wonder I’m nearsighted.

What? Is that not enough like the IKEA showroom to sell you on old furniture?

Pete (in the background of the above picture) spent the better part of our first morning filling water balloons with the garden hose, fulfilling our customer’s entertainment quota as a life-sized Manneken Pis. Well, I thought it was funny.

Pete, not intentionally trying to look like a peeing boy fountain.

It was the first year that I bothered to sort through and try to eliminate of old pairs of shoes, and they ended up selling quite well for $2-$8 per pair. I know some ladies got lucky finding some great 5″ heel boots for $5, but I haven’t worn them in 5 years and I could never really walk in them so why would I keep holding on? Time to let go. Even Pete’s 8-year old Vans found a new home.

Dudes, the shoes were a hit at the garage sale. Go figure.

The best outcome of the yard sale happened to be a surprise: The sister of a previous homeowner stopped by, and after telling us all kinds of details about the property (stuff that I wouldn’t have published here, like details about children’s handprints in cement in the backyard, among other fun home tidbits), was able to describe what jewelry her sister had lost in our home years ago: the engagement ring that we happened to find beneath the kitchen floor in February. How it was lost, we still have no idea, but we handed it off to her and are still feelin’ good karma for helping to get the ring back to its owner.

Our haul this year was a lot better than last year. I credit low pricing and favorable weather, but there were also a handful of other garage sales around town that we think helped to push traffic to ours. This year’s little sale added $270 to our pockets (that’s twice what we made last year), but we’re still figuring out what we should treat ourselves to as a reward. We were lucky to sell a lot of stuff, especially the items that were bigger in size and price, so our once jam-packed attic is back to having a lot of breathing room once again (and we thankfully didn’t have to lug any heavy chairs up three flights of stairs after two long days of being charming yard sale hosts).

Discover any great yard sale finds this weekend, or did you host your own? How’d it go?