I'm a little weird in that I look for the old, dumpy pieces of furniture with a hint of character hiding under the grime. We picked up a piece at auction a couple of months ago. My husband thought I was a little crazy because the piece was old, broken, grimy, the back was missing and the top was cracked. I liked it because it had wooden handles on the drawer.
The cabinet has four layers of paint on it and in order to get to the fasteners to remove the top without breaking it, I had to remove everyone of them. I brushed on stripper and scraped, cleaned and repeated. As I began to expose the details of the cabinet I noticed that it had very beautiful craftsmanship. The handles were hand carved wooden leaves and nuts. The detail in the carvings had been filled with old paint. The doors were meticulously carved. But the real cincher in this piece? The square nails that I eventually removed from the top of the cabinet.
Most people are not familiar with square nails, these nails are not actually square but more rectangular with a small flattened head. Why are they so unusual? Because these are hand crafted nails. Before the industrial revolution, nails were hand made by blacksmiths. By the beginning of the 1800's steel mills began producing long rods that could be cut and finished by blacksmiths making the process easier but it was not until 1880 that the wire nail became widely used and by 1900 wire nails were found in every tool box.
So as I sat with my chisels painstakingly removing paint from carved details and I wondered, where had this piece been? How many homes had it served? How many families had found a purpose for this piece? What parts of history had it endured. We don't think of those things much because we live in an instant society. But think about it for a moment, these nails were probably made between 1800-1880 and we can guess that this piece was made somewhere at the end of that time period. The civil war was fought from 1861-1865, President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, The Homesteader's Act was signed in 1862, Colorado became an official state in the union in 1876. People traveled in wagons, your house was furnished by cabinets, dressers and sideboards. The piece has a story, a legacy of travels and people.
That is why I take the time to repair, restore and repurpose these pieces. They have already stood the test of time. This piece is probably 120 years old, more or less, and even after all the use, all the paint and all the travels, it is still useable. The pieces of furniture that we find in stores today will not have the same legacy. They may not make it 5 or ten years before they begin to fall apart, they cannot stand the test of time and there will be no legacy. It won't be around to be passed on to the newly married daughter or son. It won't be a dowry gift from a grandmother to a granddaughter.
That made me think of something I read the other day. Are we going to leave a legacy? What are we doing to make memories or to be memorable? Are we working solely for our "resume virtues" or are we working for our "legacy virtues"? In other words, are we doing the easy thing and focusing on building titles or are we building relationships? Leaving a legacy. What will your children say about you? What about your grandchildren? What will you be remembered for? When all the kids have grown and the grandkids have grown will you have good memories to keep you company? Give it some thought.
I better get back to scraping now.
So you have been diligently working on your projects. You have refined your skills and begun to find your own signature look for your products. Everything seems to be moving along just smoothly and then a little tug shows up in the back of your mind. Soon the tug becomes a nag and the next thing you realize....it's time to grow.
Most often our need to grow is the result of a wall. We hit a wall in sales growth, in followers, in product expansion but something comes on our path to MAKE us change, grow and take the next step.
For me it was the need to expand my customer base, make it easier for my clients to make purchase and to get my name outside the boundaries of my neighborhood and city. I began researching the usual options, you know the neighborhood consignment store, a consignment store in the nearest city, boutique shops or a shop of my own.
Growth is necessary but it must also be strategic. What is the logical next step? What is the easiest? What will be a building block for future growth? What is fiscally responsible and reasonable? All these questions must be answered and all plans must be put to the pencil and paper test. Will it be worth the risk? Once you have racked your brain, run the numbers ten times and ten different ways, there is only one question that really counts. Are you being true to yourself and your dream?
You see when you are an artist, (paint, photography, furniture, graphic design, marketing, manufacturing, gardening, interior design, chef, restaurateur, seamstress, fashion design, jeweler, silversmith....the list goes on) your product stops being unique, precious, a labor of love, when you put money first and your dream second. Yes we need to make a living but not at the cost of creativity and a business built on ethical, moral, creative truths are the ones that become legacies.
With that being said, we are growing and changing to make the dream bigger and to make it easier for our clients. STAY TUNED. Oh and this will be one of our new pieces in our new place.
The pieces I am working on now have great form, solid foundations and the design is timeless. They were created to last, to go through the years and continue to serve as useful pieces in a home. As I was removing the faded, dingy and banged up finishes, I uncovered a story of color changes, use changes and finally the pieces were discarded to the back of the shed.
We begin with a good foundation (at least most of us) and we have good form, strong bones and we are built to endure the test of time. We have our own style, unique and beautiful and completely individual. Then someone comes along our path, takes a look at us and decides we would look better, be more successful or more desirable if we accented with this color, changed our hair or maybe a complete makeover. So we do it, we change our appearance, our mannerisms, our relationships in response to someone else's opinion of who or what we should be. When that doesn't work out for us then we listen to the next great idea and so on and so on.
One day we wake up, look in the mirror and we do not recognize the person gazing back at us. We have lost ourselves, what made us special, an individual that stands out among the crowd. When this happens we lose touch with our soul. The very essence of our individuality.
I make it a point to take time during this season of transition between summer and fall to evaluate myself, my work, my family and my goals. I look at what didn't work and I get rid of it. I look at what seems to be working and I strengthen it and then I set new goals. I look in my soul and take a hard look at who I am and if I am being true to myself. Is the work I am doing, the health and strength of my family, my relationships and my contributions to the community making this world better? Am I creating or just glossing over things with a new color?
Then I get to work, I grind off the old stuff, smooth the rough edges, reinforce the design and style that is unique; making sure that the beauty that was intended from the beginning is all that shines through with a light that can help change the world.
I advocate for re-purposing and reusing whatever we can. I spend most of my time restoring and repurposing furniture which is a passion of mine. Most of the time it is repairing something broken, refinishing something old or uncovering something hidden by time and dirt. This time it was the challenge of maintaining the original beauty AND fixing the broken and used places.
This old dresser (and her matching vanity yet to come) were originally decorated with beautiful veneer. I didn't want to lose that if I could help it. Some of it was popping loose and in a few places the veneer was missing. The veneer on the top was absolutely hopeless.
I peeled all the veneer off the top by hand that would come off easily. Then I took a WET towel and my iron (the only thing I really use it for) set on cotton and began loosening the glue holding the veneer. I learned a few things. Move the iron slowly to build up heat and steam. It takes time for the glue to loosen so don't get in a hurry. Peel the veneer while everything is still warm because the glue will reset quickly.
I sanded the frame of the dresser, the top, the legs and re-stained them. I worked the drawers and the ends of the dresser with Tung Oil. I used steel wool to remove buildup and mess, repaired the broken veneer, re-glued and repaired the drawers and then applied hand rubbed layers of Tung Oil for the finish. It worked! I didn't lose the original beauty and everything looks new again. I let you know how the matching vanity works out.
I applaud all the creativity that I see in furniture painting, repurposing old pieces and the design that has come forth from all the talented craftsman (and women) out there. I like to dabble in all sorts of textures, colors, designs and create something absolutely original. But sometimes...yeah sometimes the timeless beauty of the original design is all you need. Love this drum style table from the early 1900's and the walnut wood? Gorgeous. That's what I found under the gold paint. Timeless beauty. Do you agree?
Sometimes we come across things that appear old, used up and a little abused. The first thought is to push it aside, discard it and find something new, something that matches our vision. If we take the time, peal back the layers, rub off the old covering, find the original beauty and give that a polish with a little love and work; we find a treasure. It is the same with people.
We have all heard the story or seen the sound bites of those who are heralded as overnight successes. These are terms created by the media to bring attention to something they have only just discovered. The truth is that individual, that small business or that corporation has been tirelessly working toward that landmark success for years.
In order to achieve something first you have to see it, dream it and have believe for it. Then comes action, the decided choice to implement a plan to bring the vision into reality. This is a process, a "one foot in front of the other" process. This is where many falter, lose hope and even quit. The vision may become blurry, the step by step process may turn into a winding road and the dream dies. The "overnight successes" encounter these same periods of doubt and confusion. The difference? They never let go of the dream. They never let the dream die. They never let obstacles stop them but instead use those obstacles as a means to improve the vision and process. They also accept the fact that the dream will take on a life of it's own and the vision will grow, change shape and evolve...and if we let it....become something greater than we envisioned in the first place.
No matter what it looks like today, no matter how long it takes, things change. New jobs, new dwelling places, new relationships, new circumstances all come into our lives....and we wake up one day and realize that it happened overnight. IF we don't stop, we keep working, we keep trying and we keep the dream alive.
These chairs had been well loved and used by the previous owners. The process of restoring them, tightening them up and even fixing broken places took time. It was sometimes tedious to address all the details that needed attention in order to make them beautiful again. When everything came together, the repair, the stain, the fabric, all of a sudden the chairs were gorgeous! Don't you agree? Never give up!
All of us have long range goals such as building a business, finishing a degree, or getting a promotion. Sometimes long range plans come unexpectedly and are put upon us, like restoring health, getting through a crisis or a loss. The long range goal seems distant but according to the experts there is also need for smaller milestone goals so that the goal seems manageable.
What the experts don't tell you is that even with smaller milestones there will come a time, (just before the finish line) when setbacks happen, strength fails and we doubt the necessity to even finish. Sometimes we have tried to accomplish a goal 14 different ways and you don't have any idea what to try next. The thought of quitting is appalling but the thought of having to push ONE MORE TIME, to TRY ONE MORE TIME is even worse because there is no more strength, none.
The things that we envision, create, accomplish and build on our own with only slight resistance is great. We move along believing we are fully capable of accomplishing our goals and we have faith in the work of our own hands. Those little milestones that motivate us to keep going work. But as we get close to the mark, as we think we have it under control we realize the mountain might just be too high to climb.
I believe we are supposed to reach the end of ourselves. I believe that circumstances in our lives are orchestrated so that we have no more of our own strength left. Why? Because resistance builds muscle? Maybe, but I think that something more profound happens in these tests. We learn that we can't do it alone. We learn that todays strength will never be enough. We learn that todays skill and talent will only carry us so far and no farther. That the only way to truly learn is to understand that in the scheme of the universe, we know nothing. When we reach the end of our skill, our understanding and our wisdom, we are forced to look for other answers and the wisdom of the ancients. We are forced to develop new strength.
I started this project (which was supposed to be quick and part of the "building plan") but just as I was close to putting on the new stain, I injured my hand and wrist. At the same time a couple other challenges came up that I did not want to deal with and I felt blocked, tired and bewildered. So I took a break, read, meditated, pouted and soon I had the strength, the new vision and the ability to complete all the tasks. Even beyond that I was wiser, better connected to the universe and I had peace.
The new calendar year has begun, the hope of spring is breaking through the frozen places of winters heart and daydreams fill the mind with hope for new, change, growth. The earth is already changing, days grow longer minute by minute and the storms are covering the ground with the nourishment it will need to bring forth new crops.
The human being follows these sames cycles, times of immense growth, times of dying, shedding and darkness followed by seasons of renewal and restoration. That is the most comforting part of life cycles. In the times of decay and shedding there is the hope of the new growth that is around the corner.
The greatest challenges come in the transformation. Looking at ourselves we don't seem to be in too bad shape. We have a few nicks here and there, a few scrapes and our polish is not as lustrous as it once was but hey we have been through some stuff! Being "not so bad for what we have been through" only works for a time. It seems that the universe always has ways of pushing us, causing us to shed the old, get those nicks fixed, address the weakening foundation, remake ourselves and embark on a new adventure.
The transformation from "not so bad" to renewed is messy. We are stripped, scraped, sanded, our foundations come apart and are re-fit for new strength and we are laid bare. We look at ourselves as we brush our teeth and we don't even recognise the face we see. During this process ugly emotions rear their heads. Challenges come so that old grudges, anger and bitterness are released...or they will stop the transformation. Finally in a raw state, the new begins to emerge, stronger, better edges and lines, new color and a beautiful finish. Ready for all the challenges of the season of life that lays just beneath the surface.
Anyone who has worked diligently to change their physique has experienced this. You work hard, you sweat, you smell, you struggle to make sore muscles obey your commands and you do it again and again until your body begins to reform.
I do this everytime I transform cast off pieces I find in junk stores or old furniture found at auction. What appears "not so bad for what it has endured" has to be stripped and remade so that it can endure it's next purpose. It starts out not so bad, gets messy, gets ugly and then turns the corner where the new beauty emerges.
It happens in small unnoticeable ways everyday, it happens in years and decades and continues through our life. You can't stop it, you can't run or hide....you can only get better at the process and embrace it because there is new beauty coming.
One of the most interesting things I have observed in the younger members of our workforce is their lack of ability to problem solve. When given a task or set of instructions they follow them with their "point and click diligence" but when confronted with circumstances that deviate from the projected result, they stall out. This is our own fault. As parents, mentors and teachers, we have failed to let them fail. We have given them step by step tasks and duties and rewarded them for following directions exactly. We have rewarded our children and students for obedience, we have structured their play time, their school time and all activities, including computer games and television are reinforcing the directive to "follow the direction of others".
There are the exceptions of course. Those who have been encouraged to create, explore and "get dirty" so to speak. Then there are the other exceptions. The ones that have trouble following all the rules, following all the directions, who don't learn by reading a book and don't fit the tick boxes we have created to describe the perfect student. We need these people. We need them to analyze what we have created, what we are doing and find different, better, cheaper, faster ways. We need them to see the world from a different angle and create new ideas and pathways.
We are given challenges in our life to stretch us. We are given problems in our life so that we search for solutions. We are given tough and arduous tasks so that we increase our endurance and analytical skills. Unless we begin allowing these challenges in our children lives, the first problem, the first challenge, the first arduous task will overwhelm them and they will quit.
I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to stretch kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch me just slightly outside my comfort zone.
Temple Grandin (adult with autism, professor, speaker and inventor)
With all that said.....I had a challenge. I wanted to put stone border tiles around my ceiling to give a finishing touch to the venetian plaster and faux stone walls that I had created. Like most people, we are on a budget in this house. The cost to do a stone border would be over 1000.00. Now, being practical minded, that 1000.00 could also go toward my wood floors. I began to look for solutions. I went to my local habitat for humanities stores and could never find enough tile to do a one hundred foot project. I kept my eyes open on craigslist, checked stone shops and was about to use wood trim and faux paint the wood, when I stumbled on another solution. I found plaster and cement molds! Now I was familiar with the molds used for garden tiles, bird baths and little figurines. I was not familiar with suppliers that created molds for architectural design and decor. Walla! Not only did I find the molding I wanted for the living room/dining room but for the bathroom and decorative tiles just for fun! Out of a challenge came a new adventure! Now that is living!
Here are pics of the process to create the look of stone molding. First I brushed on a stone spray paint, before it was dry I brushed on the paint color. After these dried I dobbed gold metallic acrylic paint and then sealed the molding pieces with glaze. I am also showing pictures of hand painted decorative tiles that were sealed with glaze. Kinda fun and so much cheaper! I do not recommend plaster for anything that will be exposed to water unless you have added glue or some other bonding agent. Plaster will fall apart in the water. For projects that you will use outside I recommend quick set cement and tints.