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An “I CAN MAKE THAT” Side Table Exposé

June 16, 2011   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses

Among the most ingenious and innovative products I’ve ever dared to rip off, Stray Dog Designs has created a wonderful, attractive, desirable side table that I just needed to have. I’m going to give credit where credit’s due and send you straight to West Elm to see the product as it is sold today.

I’ve had this catalogue page pinned on my inspiration wall for months now with full intent to figure out exactly how I could duplicate it.

Stray Dog Side table via West Elm Catalogue

Right in the product description and within the bio, West Elm credits Stray Dog with its ability to make stunning products from papier mache. I whole-heartedly concur – this table and their other works knocked my flip flops off. I should say upfront that papier mache is a process that I haven’t so much as encountered since summer day care at Care-A-Lot in 1988. Miss Karen was a good supervisor, but I was without this go-around. Nonetheless, I was up for a good challenge and excited to see how my own model would turn out (A+, C-, or fail).

To create a round structure for the side table, I knew I would need a sturdy frame to work from. I had decided that chicken wire would be a good framework, and I built it around a round plastic garbage can that we happened upon a few weeks ago at the mid-century modern estate sale (the sellers let us haul away our purchases in it as opposed to a plastic bag or cardboard box). The chicken wire wrapped around it nicely.

Garbage pail, wrapped in chicken wire to form a frame for my sidetable.Before I really started working on the real frame, I did a test run over the course of two days to observe a few things: 1) learn how to form and attach a structure for the zig-zags, because I was going to try and mimic their dimensional chevron model (although I also considered some other patterns, like a corkscrew going all the way from the bottom to the top and that might still look great); 2) to see how the papier mache would adhere to the zig zag and the chicken wire; and 3) see if I could actually make a working papier mache paste.

On a small piece of chicken wire, I bound two pieces of twisted newspaper (or Target circulars, in my case) together.

Test model. Affixing the underlaying newspaper to the chicken wire.The sample piece tested the use of zip ties to lock the zigs and zags into tight position. I also tried wire, but it was a little harder to manipulate (and hurt my fingers more to repeatedly bend and twist it). The zip ties were leftover from my scooter storage project; they’re 4″ long, and can hold up to 18 pounds each, according to the packaging. I was certain they’d keep things in place.

Small zip ties. 4" long.Contrary to some instructions to make the papier mache a stovetop activity, I went for the no-bake model consisting of about 1-part water to 1-part flour. I didn’t use glue per some instructions I found, but I do remember doing it that way in 1988. I added a pinch of salt to fend against mold in case that’s ever an issue, although it felt more like I was making waffles.

The sample zig zag received a coat of soaked newsprint (not drowning in the flour/water mixture, just lightly coated and carefully affixed to the chicken wire).

Sample papier mache. Worked!Maybe I should take a moment to mention how messy this project is. I was covered, and I’m usually pretty neat when it comes to painting, demo, sloppy projects (except when I sat in the mortar bucket, which I’ll get to another time). Messy, messy, messy. No wonder I loved it so much when I was 4 years old.

The sample model was a sweet success. It held up really well, and so I proceeded with setting up the framework for the larger, real side table model.

Similarly to the sample, I bundled ad inserts and newspapers together and zip tied them to the chicken wire; easy peasy. Make sure you have lots of paper (I almost ran out and had to wait for the free town newspaper to arrive).

Notice all of the zip ties poking out?

Underlying zig zag form attached to the framework.Snip them short. And then twist the tie around to face the inside of the table if possible to make for a nice, clean form. I also did my best to space out the zigs and zags, but I admittedly was more focused on keeping the zigs with the zigs and the zags with the zags to realize that some were closer together vertically than others; are you with me? What I’m getting at specifically is that my top strand looks about 1″ higher than it needs to be. Meh, still happy at this point!

Underlying zig zag form attached to the framework.

The papier mache went on just as smoothly as with the test piece, although I ran out of newspaper again and had to pause for a day until another set of newsprint circulars when I arrived. Good news is that papier mache is totally fine after a day in the fridge, just like waffle batter. This project made me want waffles bad. (And, where were my neighbors with their recycling bins overflowing newspaper when I needed them?)

Notice that I rolled the top of the chicken wire over so it wasn’t pointy at all; the rounded edge made for a nice clean finish at the top.

Truth be told, I seriously considered leaving the newsprint exposed like this instead of painting over it like the West Elm piece. The overall grayscale with hints of color was appealing to me; maybe someday I’ll craft myself a little set of furniture left unpainted.

A coated DIY papier mache side table.Once it dried (24 hours to be safe) I lifted the frame from the garbage can. Looks pretty nice and secure from the inside.

Inside of the papier mache side table.

I gave the table a fresh coat of white primer followed by white paint and set it aside to dry. While the paint was curing, I began working on a tabletop. Instead of doing a papier mache table top or exactly what they had done in West Elm, I pulled a board from my For Your Merrypad inventory of lumber, and specifically, a board that was free to me but was too short to use in making a picture frame for the biz, and also a little too weak to be trusted to hold glass and art. It had some really great character that I thought would work well here.

Table top source.I cut it into three 21″ lengths, and joined them together side-by-side with wood glue and biscuits. I had made essentially a 21″x21″ square, since the original board was 7″ wide.

Square tabletop on the DIY papier mache side table.

Using a sawzall (instead of the ideal jigsaw which is unfortunately MIA) I cut around the square table top along a pre-drawn line, converting it from square to circle. I also added some reinforcement pieces to the underside of the tabletop with scrap wood and 1-1/4″ wood screws.

Tabletop reinforcement.

Once the tabletop was installed (a.k.a. placed) on the table, it looked pretty good!

A finished side table... or is it?A few thoughts post-project:

1) Looks like I missed a few places in my painting; really, this is because the newspaper wasn’t as flush as could be in some spots and I didn’t get in all of the nooks and crannies. Live and learn and papier mache more often and maybe my skillz can improve.
2) Maybe I should paint the table top white?
3) Maybe I should make the table top the side diameter as the table for a more streamlined look.
4) Whoa, this project was totally free.

More Thrifty Treasures (I’m Turning Into My Dad)

June 15, 2011   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Decor   //  By: Emily   //  18 responses

I never intended for my garage saling hobby to become so much of a series on the blog, but here’s another sneak peek of some of my recent treasures. This spring has been good to me (for very little money). Some of my other escapades helped me discover sweet pink pushpins and an old owl and hunks of glass, all of which are slowly finding their way into my day-to-day decor. This weekend, between a church rummage sale and a random estate sale, I discovered some cool finds that only stole $11.75 from my wallet.

I’ve written before about how my everyday dinnerware consists of a usable collection of mismatched plates, bowls, and servingware, so I added a few choice picks to the collection – both happen to be scalloped and cheerful and fit in quite nicely with the mismatched set. The white bowl is a good size for cereal or soup; the yellow bowl will be useful when it comes to serving sides at din-din or summer picnics.

White and yellow antique flower bowls.And here I go contradicting myself; I allow myself to collect random plates and bowls because I try and anchor the table by retaining matching glasses and silverware… but I couldn’t resist this set of glasses representing the United States (minus the western states and mid-west). I’m guessing it was originally a 6-glass set. The colors and level of detail (down to state and regional factoids on the back) are adorable, and for 10-cents a pop, I thought they’d look great with the other clear glasses I drink from. They do.

Colorful glassware featuring the USA.

The clay pots were actually in someone’s freebie bin, so why wouldn’t I take them; cutely sorted like little nesting pots.

Free clay pots. Little nesting pots.

I also pulled a 8×12 picture frame from the freebie bin (for the free glass). This mangled frame is not shown but gives me the glass I need to make this empty, ornate frame usable again. This frame was a big spend, at $4. But it’s cute, right?

Gold, ornate frame.

Speaking of frames, the great colors in this print of the Grand Canyon National Park are what caught my eye; how pretty are the swirling skies and shadowed mountains? At $3, felt it was worth trying to scoot home with the 18″x24″-ish frame between my knees (just around the corner from home, so it wasn’t scary for too long).

Pretty print.How about a close-up on the color detail – the sea greens? the orange? the grays? Love. It’s going to be a pretty accent and complement to whatever wall it lands itself on.

Color detail in the Grand Canyon print.

The frame isn’t even bad, although I’m considering giving it a coat of paint – maybe a red-orange coat that will complement the similar color in the painting but still allow the texture of the frame to show through.

Close-up on the poster frame.I don’t own many tsotchkes; you’re not going to see me with a Precious Moments display on the built-in shelves anytime soon, but I couldn’t resist this little green dog with hand painted facial detail. At 10-cents, who wouldn’t have taken it? Originally I figured I’d paint it neutral a la the ol’ cheap owl, but the unlikely green and yellow is growin’ on me.

Little green dog. Totally useless. Totally adorable.

And then, I hit the jackpot. I stopped at a random estate sale with poor signage and turned into my dad in matter of 3 seconds. OK, back up: I’ve said for years that I’m turning into my mom (not in a bad way – she’s tall and thin, loves home improvement, perennials, j.crew, and amber jewelry), but my dad has this love for maps unlike anyone I’ve ever met, besides maybe a topographer. It’s annoying and obsessive and he’s forever hinting that I should have a map with me at all times in case I get lost (and my iPhone doesn’t count). His collection is expansive, and what I’m getting at here is that I actually bought maps. Real maps. Stunning, exquisite maps. I don’t collect maps, but maybe I do now since I brought home 10.

The sale was one town over, and come to find, the woman who once lived in the home was the town historian and was involved with mapping the town’s growth and development, so in addition to cool antique maps, reprints, and sketches of various locations around the world, there were some pretty nice blueprints of the town detailing property lines, schools, and dead ends. The family holding the sale had delivered a handsome package to the local historical society, but left duplicates and damaged items for other crazy map people to browse through. Yes, now I’m a crazy map person.

The storage unit itself was for sale ($50) and while I didn’t buy it, it would surely have made for a nice coffee table with a little paint and imagination. It was deeper and wider than this picture gives credit for, and with lots of little drawers, I could really see it being used as nice storage for my own prints and photos. I switched to the iPhone to take a photo for you so I didn’t cause too much of a scene, hence the quality of this photo.

Think of that lamp as a beam of precious sunlight on my new map treasures.Back to the maps. Yeah, so, I hunted through each of those drawers and came up with a fine selection to bring home with me for just $3.50. Amazing. Although it might have been because that’s all I had in my wallet short of a Starbucks gift card. Here’s the list of what I brought home, with related photos.

1. Map of New York divided by town. Within each town is the population as of the year 1865.
2. Connecticut. It was in good shape and might make for nice framed decor someday for a friend who lurrrrves CT (Holler Alyssa, if you’re reading.)
3. A Franklin County, Pennsylvania recreation map. It has a wonderful map key featuring hunting notes that I just had to take a picture of for you.

Three maps.

Franklin County Hunting Notes4. This old world reprint had me at hello. I loved it so much I practically hugged it into a wrinkled bunch. It’s stunning colors and wonderful design get to me every time I pick it up.

Old world map.How about a close-up on those colors:

Old world map.Ooh, but wait, it gets even more vivid:
Old world map. 5. This map of the United States is frail, tattered, stained, and beautiful. I can’t wait to display it someday, somewhere. Reminds me of my 2nd grade classroom. Those dark brown spots around Oregon were there when I bought it but seem to be marker related.

USA Map. Brittle and worn.6. I’ve never been to Paris, but now I’ll know the lay of the land when I make a trip. This reprint of an old aerial sketch is beautiful!

Aerial of Paris.7. and 8. Two frail local town maps made it home with me too. The bright paper color coupled with the level of detail in the map was really intreguing, and I like to know more about the area that I live in, so it’s been fun to look at closely.

Map of local area.

Fun fact: The site of an old Wegmans that’s closing at the end of the month was actually once the site an elementary school. How old could this print possibly be?

The larger maps, once I photographed them, suddenly popped out to me as being an artful backdrop for some new frames that I had needed to photograph for my store. I think it accents them nicely.

Frame for sale at foryour.merrypad.comFrame for sale at foryour.merrypad.comLegit self-promotional footnote: Both of those frames are available on etsy and can be seen in my store at


Gettin’ Stair Paint Swoony

June 14, 2011   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY, Stairwell   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

… And now I’m doing a happy stair-planning dance. The project I finally decided to be brave enough to do? Painting those stairs. Here’s to hoping I don’t revert into the most indecisive person on earth (you know how much I love color).

The stairwell leading to the second story (the bedrooms and bathroom are up yonder) was once carpeted, but has since been unveiled, refinished, and poly’ed to a glossy, glossy state of glossiness. You can see that transformation over in the before + after section. And I love them – I’m not actually painting over any of the natural hardwoods here, but I’m ready for a little something different. Where once was white will be no more.

A starting photo for stairwell design.

If you follow me on pinterest or have ever spoken to me about stair porn (yes, it’s a real site), you probably know I have major staircase envy. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love me some color.

The homeowners who dare to revamp their otherwise-ordinary staircases with bright colors, stencils, or Orla Kiely wallpaper (drool.)? I want to be them. Yes, for real, I’m going to paint my stairs, and hopefully make an appealing update (if it ends up being vomit-inducing, that’ll be a problem, since it’s the first thing you see when you walk in the front door).

I started the whole planning process this go-around with the simple photo of the staircase (just that quickie shot shown at the beginning of the post); I printed out a few copies of the photo so that I could use the real images as a sketch pad (or activity book, or coloring book), and then spent some time sitting in the entryway giving owed consideration to the colors of the frames in the wall photo gallery, the glow of the hardwood floors, and the color of the walls. I brought up the house paints from the basement, spread them out on the ground, and started playing with a dozen paint brushes mixing colors to see what hues might work best with the other colors in the space. You more artistically adept folks might just want to use photoshop to drop in colors, but I didn’t because I wanted to work with the real paint colors from the palette… and because I don’t have it on my machine.

Once I finished my little art project, I pinned my modified printouts up on the sunroom wall. The one in the center is higher because I’m (waveringly) voting it the leader. Read on.

I hung each of the painted photos on the wall of the sunroom to look at them side-by-side.

On each sheet, I tried to incorporate many hues and a few different plans to see if I should use more than one color on each step, and if so, tried to gauge which colors worked together best with the wall color and bright picture frames. Orange was a thumbs down, as much as I like it as an accent color. Horizontal stripes of multiple colors are looking like a promising idea. And I’m digging the light blues, but maybe that’s because I just finished using it to paint the entryway wall.

Tried out a little orange.The light green/gray color you’re seeing is actually very similar to the handmade shade that I used when I painted the sunroom floor (a sly concoction of Behr 2-in-1 Tiffany Box Blue from a $1 Oops Bin at Home Depot and a splash of floor paint gray). I was thinking it might be nice to try and pull that muted but bright color into the rest of the house subtly, so this was an attempt to see how it might fly. Also tested: polka dots and chevron. Without the use of a real stencil it would be harder to hand-detail a design (and I’m not totally sure I want to make another one like this but it’s not out of the question yet, just awaiting the right inspiration).

More stair painting efforts.

As I said, the photo that was raised in the center is showing the most promise to me right now (that’s not to say it won’t change tomorrow when I realize I have more blue painter’s tape than I expected). The top three stairs pull the original gold wall color and lighten it gradually with gray, going upward; it’s the kind of color combo that I wasn’t sure would work well, but it seemed to in this test. The bottom four stairs do something similar with the Tiffany’s blue and gray paint (like the sunroom floor dots).

Color scaling on the sample photo.
It’s going to be an indecisive few days. The biggest part is doing it in a way that it’s something that I can live with, without overpowering the other colors and elements in the small space. Await and see more; I’m hoping to make my pick and start the ball rolling (or… paint stirrin’) by the weekend.

(And, as always, votes and suggestions are appreciated, my fine and tasteful readers!)