amateur stripping (Or, why automotive brake cleaner has a place in your home.)

4 Oct

Today’s post brought to you by the color blue, the husband, and as usual, D.I.Y. projects that go almost-but-not-quite as expected. By the way, my wife has not forgotten part II of her chair upholstering tutorial, and she’ll be back with that soon. In the meantime, here’s another fun- and chair-filled post!

Let me begin by saying that I have an obsession bordering on the unhealthy with Eames chairs. Specifically, the molded fiberglass shell chair holds a special place in my heart. So when we saw a pair of similar molded plastic chairs on the “scavenger” section of our local Apartment Therapy (as highlighted in this post from a few months ago), there was no question they would have a place of honor here at Location 27:

bucket chairs

We made our way to the seller’s apartment (I with a mid-century song in my heart, my wife slightly less enthused) and became the proud new owners of two “gently-used,” wannabe Eames chairs. Remember this moment folks, because it’s the high point.

Things went downhill from there. When we got them home and brought them to our back porch, we realized that they were…sticky.


Apparently the previous owners had covered the chairs in a brownish spray paint, but neglected to seal it. The arms and seats were covered in a thick coating of dirty gunk that I had somehow missed when we picked them up. What can I say, the minimalist-inspired stars in my eyes had blinded me to their condition.

Closeup of chairs with sticky gunk

Since we weren’t crazy about the color anyway, we figured we’d just strip the paint (and the sticky coating on the seat and arms along with it) and cover it with something else. Initially we planned to mod podge one of our favorite comic strips to the chairs, but as you might remember Kim mentioning, she has somewhat of a fascination with spray paint.

And so spray paint it was. We figured that if we failed completely, we could always mod podge over it later. Plus a high-lacquer, solid finish would go really well with our as-yet-unannounced plans for the art studio.

First up, we had to strip the chairs down to their natural state. I tried every cleaner I could think of: dish soap, steel wool, dish soap and steel wool, SOS pads, heck I even tried Skin So Soft. A quick note about SSS: my grandmother was an Avon lady, so growing up we were never without a bottle of this stuff. In all that time I have never, ever seen Skin So Soft fail to remove any type of stickiness…until these chairs. Seriously, it removes tar. I speak from experience here, folks.

If you read our previous post about these chairs, you’ll know what finally did the trick:

Brakleen brake cleaner, for stripping the chairs

That’s right, automotive brake cleaner to the rescue. Brake cleaner will strip paint from anything it touches. Including your car. No joke, it will not hesitate to eat through the clear coat and paint down to the factory metal. Unfortunately, due to a computer snafu, the photos from the stripping process-and most of the rest of the remaining steps-were lost, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what came next.

Once we stripped the chairs down, we discovered that their original color was a weird, fleshy peach tone (you can actually see it peeking through on the left hand chair in the picture at the top). Thankfully this was nothing that our friend Krylon couldn’t fix:

Krylon blue spray paint

Despite losing all of our higher-quality photos, I still snapped a few pictures with my phone after a plastic-specific primer coat and roughly four coats of Krylon:

Chair after four coats

The coverage gets a little bit better after a few more coats, though this is still much lighter than the final product:

Chair after more than four coats

And here we are after many, many more coats than we could count:

Chair semi final

Remembering the sticky state the chairs arrived in, we opted for a gloss coat to seal the chairs once the spray paint was finished. Based on our previous experience with this project, it came as no surprise when the seal coat didn’t go so well.

For one, we thought the gloss would even out the oddly bumpy finish from the spray paint. It didn’t. It also didn’t give the chairs a highly-lacquered look we were picturing in our heads, so for now we’re left with this patchy mess:

Patchy finish on the gloss coat

We’re thrilled with the paint color and coverage, but again, the gloss coat is not-so-hot. Plus, we’re still keen on getting that ultra-shiny, lacquered look, so our next step on these chairs is to smooth out the finish with medium-fine grit sandpaper, hit them with some more Krylon to even out coverage, and then seal them with real lacquer. I’m no expert (hence the “amateur” reference in the title), but I’m pretty sure that if you’re going for a lacquer finish, then you should probably use actual lacquer.

And now that the word “lacquer” has ceased to have any meaning, I shall end this post. Stay tuned for the finished product in a few weeks!

Now it’s your turn to (over)share: Do any of you have a preference for gloss vs. lacquer? What about alternative uses for automotive products? Or maybe your grandmother was an Avon lady too, and you want to express some Skin So Soft solidarity? Let us know below!

couples first DIY upholstery adventure: part one (Or, the story of our first four dining chairs.)

27 Sep

I’d say the majority of couples opt for couples massages. Or couples romantic getaways. Couples spa day, maybe? But we’re not like most couples. We opt for couples re-upholstery. Fun-filled hours with staple removal, sanding, measuring, cutting, aligning, gluing, stapling, blistering and super-satisfying results!

Remember these?

dining chair before reupholstery

We picked up four of them back in May during our very first trip to our now-favorite vintage shop, thinking that we’d have them reupholstered and lookin’ spiffy in no time flat. Then, as you may remember from this post, we learned that our dining table delivery was to be delayed by almost three months, and the poor chairs were banished to the basement to collect dust.

When the table arrived in late July, the chairs came back into the light of day almost immediately, and roughly one month later, we’d gone from here:

dining chair cushion before

to here:

dining chair after reupholstery

That’s right, we just put part of our “big reveal” in the first 150 words of our post. Because like they (whoever they are) say, it’s not where you’re going but how you get there that counts. Don’t get me wrong, we’re thrilled to have reached the land of fresh upholstery where the furnishings are functional and the cats don’t stare at us quizzically through open chair frames wondering when they’ll be given a new favorite place to lay. But how much fun is the result without the adventure? So, we thought that now would be a good time to put together our first official do-it-yourself post. Though, official is probably a loose term since we’re by no means experts. We’re still working on the best way to walk you through our process, so look for Part Two of our DIY upholstery adventure (and the rest of the big reveal photos!) in the coming weeks.

By the way, true to form (see this post), Shiva (our female cat) has already managed to projectile vomit on two of the cushions. After a mini heart attack scare on my part, I realized that it brushed right off! So far, that gives me high hopes for this fabric’s staying power…fingers crossed.

musings: what’s in a name?

21 Sep

I name things. Inanimate objects, plants, wild animals. Teddy the Wondermunk is a good example. So is his new friend, Edward (also a chipmunk), who appears to have made his home under our front porch. When I was a kid, everything — I mean everything, including rocks and spiders — was named George, sometimes by me and sometimes by my dad, who was the one who taught me to name things George. These days, I’ve added more variety. A few months ago, we had two spiders living in the cellar eating every other spider that wandered into their path. I named them Bonnie and Clyde.

Here’s a rundown of everyone living in Location 27 today (apologies for the iPhone photo quality!):

plants with names: spike, fred, george
From left to right: Spike, Fred and George (There’s still always at least one.)

plants with names: planticus

plants with names: harold, big bird, gloria, lord count quigan
Back: Harold
Middle: Big Bird and Gloria
Front: Lord Count Quigan (He’s been having a rough time of it lately. I am trying to bring him back, but I think he’s having some depression issues due to my husband’s refusal to acknowledge his name.)

plants with names: lagoya (la-hoy-a)
LaGoya (pronounced La-Hoy-a)

plants with names: enzo/kevin
Enzo (My husband, however, calls him Kevin, because he swears Enzo told him that his real name is Kevin.)

stuff with names: finesse and alonzo
Finesse and Alonzo

And not pictured: Kitty (the car) and Izzy (the iMac).

That list is actually a lot shorter than I would have expected. Then again, we’ve only lived here for seven months. Give me time.

The names usually just come to me, and I like to think that it’s because they all introduce themselves, but realistically I’m probably just that special breed of “special” reserved for the crazy aunt who talks to spoons. Odd then that on Saturday, when my mother-in-law surprised my husband and I with this adorable Dwarf Brush Cherry bonsai…

plants with names: bonsai needs a name!

…to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary (coming up tomorrow!), the little gal’s (or guy’s!) name just wouldn’t come to me. It still hasn’t. I feel like the darn tree is holding out on me!

That’s why we need you. I may be a spoon-talking freak as previously mentioned, but he needs a name. How can I stand there and water her like we’re just a couple of strangers? So send me your best suggestion. And maybe be so kind as to let me know if anyone out there is crazy enough to admit that they’re on a naming spree just like me. Or, for that matter, feel free to share if anyone out there actually does talk to spoons. Then again, you probably don’t want to admit that.

cat scratch fever (Or, the story of what happens when a wife dares to mess with kitty’s best friend.)

16 Sep

Kitty likes his scratching post. In fact, kitty likes his scratching post more than anything else in the world. That’s saying a lot since kitty also believes that everything in the world belongs to him. But since he has selected his post as the crown jewel of Location 27, there’s no better way to put Sam in a tizzy than to move, touch, or in any other way violate his scratching post. Even his toys are required to steer clear.

Exhibit A:
Note: the post-touching culprit in this video is catnip, but trust me, he attacks non-catnip violators with equal vengeance.

Knowing how Sam reacts to situations involving his post, I felt a spike of trepidation when I recently noticed that its sisal covering was looking a little worse for the wear.

scratching post in need of new sisal

Sam was just a kitten the first time the sisal on his post fell apart. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to replace it with something that didn’t have carpet on the top and base, because I had heard that carpet could be a kitty gateway drug to the harder stuff like area rugs and upholstery. The new post I brought into our then-apartment was met with pure, fiery disdain. It was not his post, and it had to go. I know, I know. I sound like a pushover, letting a tiny furry creature boss me around like that. But tell me, could you say no to this face?

Could you say no to this face?

Since then, I’ve re-sisal-ed his ugly carpeted post twice. Not bad for almost seven years, but they’ve both been harrowing experiences, so I was not excited to see it looking shabby once again. The DIY refurbishing process is simple, requiring only two rolls of sisal, a strong staple gun, and less than an hour’s time.

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are 6,072 big ones documenting the very worst moments of little Sam’s summer:

But I worked hard to make it look like this.

But I worked hard to make it look like this.

Not this piece! This piece is my favorite!

Not this piece! This piece is my favorite!


(After retreating to the screen porch, because it was too much to watch.) Why?????

You will pay for this -- you and your little hand, too.

You will pay for this -- you and your little hand, too.

And then it was finished…

Oh, Scratchy! My beloved Scratchy! You've come back to me, and we shall never part again.

Oh, Scratchy! My beloved Scratchy! You've come back to me. And we shall never part again. *Sigh*

and all was right with the world.

And all was right with the world.

if ya like it then ya shoulda put some spray paint on it (Or, the story of one of our favorite ways to upcycle.)

12 Sep lacquer_featured


Yeah, even I’m not sure if my post title and “oh”-so-musical interlude is a tribute to Beyoncé or the great Kurt Hummel of Glee. Aaaaaaanyway… the actual point of this post is that I’ve developed a love of spray paint. And not just paint, but lacquer, enamel, metallic, even plastic fusion spray paint.

When you’re standing in a flea market or consignment shop, the knowledge of spray paint’s glory suddenly makes all that is dingy and worn appear new and full of endless possibilities. Like this stool — a pre-Location 27 project from our old apartment, and my first real spray painting adventure: 

stool before black spray paint

(The before photo comes with a bonus kitten, since I somehow have absolutely no other pictures of the stool prior to its makeover. Shiva was only a couple of months old and had an adorable habit of falling asleep while making her way from one “bed” to another.)

After years of heavy use, the stool’s wooden base had seen better days, but a few coats of flat black spray paint and voilá:

stool after black spray paint

The best part is, spray paint creates such a dramatic transformation that you really feel as though you’ve accomplished something, even when the project seems tiny. When my husband snatched up this weird wire basket-ish thing at one of our favorite vintage shops, I didn’t see the appeal.

wire basket before spray paint

But ten coats of white enamel later…

wire basket after white spray paint

…it makes a great abstract addition to our dining room decor.

My favorite transformation so far came in the form of these bronze lion bookends, another vintage find:

lion before spray paint 1

lion before spray paint 2

I was pretty sure that they weren’t actually bronze, just bronze-colored, based on the large patches of black wear showing through. I was also pretty sure that they could add a great pop of color to our newly painted dining room, if only they weren’t gold. High-gloss, cherry-red lacquer, on the other hand, was perfect:

lion after red lacquer spray paint 2

The key to retaining the vintage look in a spray-painted piece is having the patience to use very thin, deliberate coats. I sprayed the lions roughly a dozen times over the course of two evenings, but each coat was translucent and in the beginning had minimal noticeable effect. The longer I kept at it, the more cherry they became, but you could still see hints of the dark, aged areas in all of the sculpted cracks and crevices. The result is a bright, modern pop of color with a touch of vintage shop funkiness and a hint of historic character.

lion after red lacquer spray paint 1

I personally prefer this unpolished flair, but if you’re going for a more finished, “what’s old is new again” look, I would guess that twice as many coats would probably cover all of the flaws and get you to a solid red lacquer.

Looking ahead, we have two more spray-paint projects on our immediate to-do list. Up first is to bring new life to this rather beat up frame, which we’ll ultimately turn into a kitchen chalkboard:

gold frame before spray paint

We painted about ten frames in a similar way back in our old apartment, so we’re optimistic that this will be a smooth-sailing project. But since that statement tends to be the kiss of death, stay tuned for the results in a few weeks!

Then we have these chairs, which you may remember from our sound of silence post way back when, that have been giving us a little trouble:

chair before spray paint

We stripped off the old paint, covered the raw surfaces with a plastic fusion primer, and set to work with some glossy royal blue. This photo is from about halfway through the spraying process:

chair in progress with blue spray paint

Unfortunately, spray paint isn’t always foolproof, and we’ve been having some problems with the sealing phase (a story for another post). We’re thinking of sanding them down for another attempt sometime this fall.

Call it an addiction, but I just love the satisfaction of upcycling something old. Vintage items come with a story, a life of their own, that you just can’t find on the department store shelves. Location 27 itself has almost 100 years of history within its walls, and we’re eager to keep adding to it in our own way.

How about you? Any other spray paint lovers in our midst? Tips on other creative ways to reuse what’s old? Or is there anyone out there who prefers an “out with the old, in with the new” approach? As always, we love to hear from all different viewpoints!


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