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?

The Great Curtain Cover-Up

In these few short months I have had the privilege to live in this charming old house, I learned a few practical lessons in restoration work, but most valuably, gained some patience to help me cope with the fact that we cannot start putting everything right all at once
 
As our beloved N°21 had been empty for over a decade, the first steps in restoring this house to its former glory were intended simply to make it habitable again.  Coming to the end of February, we have succeeded in crafting ourselves an adorably bohemian bedroom where there used to be nothing but dirt and dead bats, a dinky but functional modular kitchen and a two unfinished but comfortable rooms of living and dining space.  Not to mention the little loo of horrors we turned into the clean and functional bathroom it is now.
 
But after all of the absolutely necessary work is done – where do you go next? 
 
There is some structural work to be done in the next few years including patching up parts of the roof and insulating the entire attic floor as well as re-framing spaces to accommodate a few toilets and a large kitchen-diner.  All the plasterwork can be assessed and fixed once the frame of the building dries, most likely during next summer and the shutters, window sills and doors need to be painted before next year’s winter storms.
 
 
 
This is not a weekend project – we would love to be able to finish bulk of it in five years, but you never know.  Old houses are like hen-dos in Vegas; if you don’t keep your cool they can drain all your money, soon followed by your will to live.  So as we are still getting used to living Chez Nous, we are taking it easy, for now, assessing our priorities and harbouring an uncomfortably close relationship with Pinterest.
 
Don’t get me wrong, understanding our priorities won’t make me hate the rough edges of our dwelling any less!  On the contrary.  But before the time comes to start hammering out the crap, I must be creative in hiding what I can’t change in the interim.  From the long list of complaints, the time has come for the raw concrete scarring in our current dining room.  I can’t start plastering it out yet, nor is it sensible as we have plans to extend the existing French doors with a panoramic window.  The next best thing, naturally, is to hide the problem and pretend it does not exist – and this is exactly what I set out to do when I started sewing curtains for an imaginary window.
 
Our dining room before we moved in and after some light touch-ups, including partial wallpaper removal.  The bare patch of concrete sticks out like a sore thumb. 
Luckily I had plenty of fabric to cover up the whole mess.  While looking for décor for our wedding in Finland last December, we raided a Finlayson Outlet Store in my old home town in Forssa and picked up over 10 meters of their Kihla-fabric from a bargain bin of off-cuts.  Designed by Sami Vulli, the pattern is inspired by Finlayson’s graphic motifs from the 60’s and 70’s, and features stylised wedding rings*.  Although we needed to cut some of the cotton we bought in order to have enough table runners for the wedding, I managed to sew two sets of narrow panel curtains, one wider curtain and a new doggy bed cover for our Rusty with a good couple of meters still remaining.
 
*Although we did not know it at the time. I literally just googled the name of the pattern for this blog.
The happy nuptials: These snaps are from our very hand crafted wedding. We needed to cut some of the fabric for the table runners, but no-sewing was required, merely a creative hand wielding an iron.   
I have always been a fan of Finlayson.  To be honest it could not be avoided growing up in a city like Forssa where a large selection of their fabrics used to be made.  Comparing Finlayson textiles to other better known Finnish producers such as Marimekko, theirs were always the working horse of fabrics and soft furnishings, durable and affordable, but no less iconic from their rivals.  In the recent years they have re-introduced a load of their old classics, from retro patterns to the Moomins, and launched new lines that turned out to be amazingly popular such as the Tom of Finland collection.  As Finlayson Co is getting increasingly known overseas, especially in East-Asia, the prices have increased too.  We were able to rummage through their bargains and buy our Kihla-fabric for 15€ a kilo, but I would have happily dished out the full price (approx. 20-25€ per metre) for this lovely piece of thick cotton – in my experience it is hard wearing and washes well without losing colour.
 
But going back to the task at hand:  sewing curtains can be just as easy or as hard as you want and I made mine super simple.
 
I will be adding a white liner when these are hanging on an actual window, but for the minute I left the back side blank to enable me to adjust the length easily if needed.  Having zig-zagged all the rough edges to avoid fraying I pressed my seams before sewing them to make everything run as smoothly as possible.  Not really being a sewing-wizard myself, these curtains turned out surprisingly nicely.  
 
The most difficult part was to get the pattern match between both double panels, especially when most of these bits I used for the curtains had been half-arsedly ripped to size for the wedding.  The whole project took me around a day from ironing the properly ruffled up fabric to finishing the hems.  One of the panels is a tiny bit shorten than its peers and another still bears a faint ghost of red wine spilled at the merriment of our marriage ceremony, but hey, they’ll do fine for the job. The two picked our for this project were roughly the cleanest and just wide enough to cover that fugly wall.  So bye bye nasty concrete – hello retro vibes!

After: finished curtains in situ

I had the whole 6’6 of James helping me with the rods, thankfully.  Getting them somewhat levelled on my own would have been a mission impossible, especially as the ceiling in this room sags just enough to make everything look crooked regardless.  In fact, we had to fix them in place twice, perfectly level at first and then crooked to match the profile of the ceiling – now the end result appears somewhat straight.   


Tackling this little eye sore really came to show that putting things out of sight does get them off your mind.  Or I am just pretty good avoiding life’s little pitfalls!  Either way, this dining room is slowly but surely starting to feel like home. 

 

Sorry what… A G&T? Don’t mind if I do!