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La canicule has shifted and I am back on the chain gang; fixing little bits and bobs and trying to keep my mum and my nephew content in their holidaymaking.  They arrived from Finland a week ago and I am already running out of exiting things to do.  Thankfully, Les Fanfares Sans Frontieres-festival is almost here and it happens to be the best of Mazamets summer events, in my opinion anyway.  Having had a jolly good time swimming, barbecuing and burning every inch of my body in the sun, I am not quite finished taking photographs of my latest painting project so I thought I’d share another nifty chair restoration I finished yesterday.  This time around I revamped a relatively modern seat, not older than perhaps 15-20 years, and made out of aluminium.

Les Fanfares sans Frontieres, Mazamet, 2018, photo by Tiina Lilja

How I came by this piece mirrors a familiar tale:  Not a full day had passed since I wrote about finding a small Art-Deco-esque chair near our bins at Champs de la Ville when another appeared, deserted by the very same communal recycling point near our house.  It was a petite metal framed patio chair, in pretty good nick but repainted rather clumsily with a heavy-duty matte emulsion.  I needed a break from answering awkward questions from a nine year old so restoring a chair seemed like the perfect excuse for a bit of alone time as acetone based paint stripper and children don’t mix all that well.

old aluminium chair with its white paint job

Based on the thickness of the paint on this chair I expected to find several different colours, but there were only two distinct layers: heavy-handed white emulsion and the original teal & white powder coat enamel.  The latter turned out tricky to remove, but I enjoyed every minute of my time spent lurking under the guises of toxic fumes.  Three coats of paint stripper, some serious sanding and a quick steel wool polish later, I had managed to clean the chair down to bare aluminium.

The polished metal had next to no imperfections so I was happy to leave it as it was.  The seat, however, needed more work.  There was a bit of old rust and dinky scraps of enamel so I prepped these parts to be painted by giving them a quick once-over with medium grit sandpaper.  My chosen colour, blush pink, was largely dictated by what I had in the house, but it worked well with the dark brushed aluminium.  I’d bought the paint for our bathroom door two years ago and, based on the thick dried up layer of paint, it needed using up.

Although I am happy with the results, arguably this one was not entirely worth the effort.

You might be surprised by my sudden sensibility, but not all projects, no matter how satisfying they might be to execute, are cost effective.  Money spent on the paint-stripper, paint (although scraps) and other sundry potions and bits like sandpaper, not to mention my precious time, totals more than the chair is worth.  But I do appreciate a good up-cycling project.  Not to mention locking myself away from child-minding duties.

This seat will serve us well on our balcony, for years to come, but unlike the one I just upholstered, it perhaps falls under the vanity project-category.

Voilà.  Another wee task tasked.

Now, if you excuse me, I am off to read a story.  About an Alsatian dog called Roi, who catches crooks and stuff.  And I am pretty excited about that.

Tiina x

Wunderkammer – DIY Restoration for a Vintage Map Cabinet

 
 
Don’t you just love summer; sizzling in the sun, all the BBQ’s, hay fever, swimming, sitting out sipping adult themed drinks and complaining about the mozzies… the works?  It truly surprises me anything gets done during the summer months when the sun is shining and the beach is burning!  However, in chez nous, it’s business as usual and I have been continuing to get my atelier organised.

One of the big perks of my studio space, the old crèmerie on the grown floor,is a large built in cupboard where I keep my art materials.  In the absence of any other storage however, I have been forced to keep my stock, i.e. all of my finished paintings, drawings and prints, either propped up against the walls or in boxes and plastic bags which is obviously not ideal.  Wanting to get something more permanent sorted out for these fragile things cluttering up my workspace, I took on the long overdue restoration of a piece of furniture I and James bought nearly a year ago – an old map cabinet big enough to house my paintings and protect them from the hustle and bustle of the atelier.
 
 
Actually, these draws of mine are not map draws at all; the owner of the local Depot Vente who sold us the parts, said they used to house the robes of members of clergy working in a nearby church.  He in turn found the pieces in a skip as the chapel was being refurbished. 
And yes, the piece was in bits when we got it; two of the draws had lost their supports completely, the top was broken in three and the right side panel had been taken out and replaced with a piece of plywood.  Having studied the woodwork and the metal pulls, looks like it was custom made for this church in or around 1960’s and kept well for most of its life.  Seems like a great waste to through something as stunning in the bin, but their loss, my gain, I suppose.  Even in the condition it was in, the cabinet had so much potential it ended up in my studio where is stood patiently, waiting to be restored back to its former glory… until now of course.
The very first step in the restoration process was to replace the supports for two of the bottom draws which turned out to be easy as pie.  Using an existing piece as a template James cut two new runners out of new pine, dry fitted them in place to make sure they were the right size before attaching a strip of recycled wood on top of each to stop the draws sliding out of place.  Next up, I would attach the new runners permanently in situ with the help of a mallet and some wood glue. 
 
 
Our dog Rusty helped a lot too, mostly by wagging his tail and being in the way adorably. 
To complete the framework, I re-attached the top of the cabinet by using old nails still attached to the panels and glued in a few strips of wood that stuck out where the top-pieces had been torn apart in the past. The draws, although dirty, were in pretty good shape and only needed to be waxed to help them slide in and out with ease.  
 
 
After the structure was secured I begun the cosmetic side of the restoration.  To even out the tone of the piece and mask out a few old scratches and wood-worm marks, I stained the whole chest, including the new plywood side and the draws, by using a strong solution of Yorkshire tea.  A bit un-orthodox, I know, but I only wanted a thin coat of stain that would cover up some of the imperfections and damages without compromising the woods lovely patina.  I applied it with a microfiber cloth, in three coats, letting the wood dry thoroughly between each layer and sealed it with two coats of a furniture wax that gave the piece a lovely sheen.  The product I used contained 8% beeswax, giving it a slight orange tint.  It took an hour to be dry enough to touch (or re-apply) and around 12 hours to dry out completely.  
 
 
Beyond cleaning and polishing, I did nothing with the pulls and so they will remain brown for now.  As it stands I have not decided on whether I ought to get new ones, perhaps in brass or aged copper, or strip and restore the old steel ones.  The brown paint, which is a bit chipped around the edges, I believe, is original to the pulls.  The chest being a vintage piece rather than an antique one, I am not too bothered by changing the minor detailing like the pulls as long as the woodwork won’t be damaged in the process.  Not that I am fundamentally against painting woodwork anyhow, I’ve done it before, but here it is just too lovely to be covered up.  

For something that was ready for the skip, or actually already in a skip, this magnificent chest of draws is now perfectly rehabilitated and ready to serve in my atelier, with or without the retro-brown.  My precious artworks couldn’t be better protected in these priestly draws and I have one less project to worry about.  (Insert a sigh of relief!)  James is happy, the dog is happy and I am happy.  Having finished it all, I actually feel like I deserve the cheeky swim and an ice cold beer…

Meet you at the Lac de Montagnes… anybody up for that?