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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

Absolute Beginners

This will be the first of my catch up posts from the past couple of months and I thought it best to begin the unloading gently with an easier-than-easy tutorial on upholstery.  Now, upholstery is a bit like cooking: you can make it as easy or as complicated as you want and I chose to go at with as little effort as possible.   It is not a skill I would say I have mastered, not yet anyway, but pulling off a little project like this was surprisingly straightforward.  No sewing and no specialist equipment needed: simply a piece of cloth you like and a staple gun, although a hammer and some tacks/small nails would do the same trick.

Yes, and a humble old chair.

I found mine discarded by municipal bins whilst walking the pupper.  In France, like in many places where I’d lived before, especially in bigger cities like Edinburgh, it is commonplace to leave unwanted furniture by the communal wheelie bins or in the street to be collected by those in need or want.  A rogue way of recycling perhaps, but in my view, better than taking your old things to the recycling centres that sort things to be burned or destroyed rather than working towards re-using them.  When I was a student trying to get furnishings on a budget, things left out to be re-used were a true godsend.  This chair that I picked out in Mazamet was certainly not the first one I have adopted from the rubbish and I have collected other ones since.

This particular chair looks to me to have been made in the late 1930’s or 1940’s with an art deco-esque steel frame and a wood veneer seat, upholstered in cream coloured vinyl.  The metal was covered with a bit of rust, but otherwise the chair was in pretty good nick – the perfect upcycling project really!  Better yet, I had just the fabric.  Ideally you’d have something quite hefty and tightly woven so that it won’t fray too badly with use – thinking canvas rather than sheet with a bit of elasticity but nothing too bouncy like jersey.  The one I chose is a Finlayson fabric meant for table cloths, cushions, aprons and things that need to stand a bit of wear, made of pure cotton.

metal frame of a 1930's chair

Before I could start with the seat, I wanted to make sure the frame was looking its best.  First I removed the seat and began getting rid of most of the surface rust using an orbital sander.  Regular old sand paper with a fine grit would work, too, and one designed to be used with water on metal specifically would have been a stellar choice.  To finish it off, I added a bit of multipurpose furniture polish to protect the frame and moved on to the next and final step of this little project: upholstering the seat.

I could have removed and replaced the original vinyl, but as it was not damaged in any great way I simply stapled my new fabric on top of it.  By using the seat as a template I cut out a piece of cloth, about 10 cm bigger than the base and made little indents alongside the edge of it, every 3 cm or so as you can see on the photos below.  This was to insure the best possible “fit” without wrinkles.  Having done this, I used my staple gun to tack the fabric tightly in place, one flap after another until the cloth was completely stapled in.  Having checked everything looked smooth on the top, I fastened the seat back onto the frame using new, stainless steel screws and… voilà!

I just upholstered a seat in less than 15 minutes.

And so could you.

Here comes the best part… ok, the preachy part:  By re-using an old piece of furniture rather than buying new is one step away from the single-usage-discard culture of today.  If the eco-aspect does not float your boat, how about saving cold hard cash?  That usually gets people listening.  When I get new things, I try to favour local producers and things that are made to last.  Unfortunately, quality seldom comes cheap.  By skimping on cheaply made goods such as chairs for my balcony (which is where this newly upholstered one is going) means that next time when I really need something, I can afford to pay that little bit more for it.

Working towards a more sustainable consumer culture is not just a nice thing to aim for, it should be a given thing.  I am not trying to lecture you about how to buy – maybe you want new stuff and that is fine.  However, when you buy things to replace your old items, think of ways to put them back into the circulation.  There are clothes banks, charity shops, apps to buy and sell surplus food (too good to go-app being a recent favourite of mine), facebook groups to donate stuff… or the curb.  Chances are there is someone willing to take on your pre-loved goods, even if they need a bit of TLC.

Rant OVER.

See you in a bit with a new blog!

Bisous,

T xx