The Last (Really!) Furniture Refinish

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I’m really bad at remembering to take the “before” photos. I couldn’t be bothered enough to put the drawers back in for the official “before” photo.

The last three times I have refinished a piece of furniture, I vowed to myself that it was the last time. You all are my witnesses. This IS the last time. The above dresser has been in son Mike’s room (where ever that was) for the last 21 years. Before that, it belonged to his father. So I estimate it to be 1960’s vintage. The majority of the piece is yellow pine, a soft, inexpensive wood. The rest is melamine and a bit of plastic for the drawer slides. So it is not precious. I was hoping to send it to the charity shop, but son Mike stated that “he liked it.” And I found it hideous. So it was upon me to effect the change as Mike was content with the status quo.

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A close up of all I hate about the dresser.

So the proportions are okay, but I hate the pseudo-Early American handles and the shiny (and lets be real here,) dripped varnish.

I hauled all of this outside and sanded it with both a flat sander and by hand. I calculate it took about 18 hours. Plus I got a bad case of chiggers–don’t ask.

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Here is what it looked like after being sanded.

Where I could not sand out the old stain, it looked grey. So that was my choice for the new stain. I thought it would blend. I spent a longish time selecting the new stain at the stain aisle at the home improvement store, and selected a stain color that the samples showed as grey, and was named “Slate.”

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While I had everything apart, I glued and reattached with screws a bit of wood that had come off the bottom drawer.

Turns out that “Slate” is way more blue than grey. Not a color that I would have consciously chosen. But here we are and I do not absolutely hate it….as I did the previous finish.

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And this is the absolutely last piece of furniture that I will refinish in this lifetime.

Good Design/Bad Design

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Son Patrick pictured with the mustache mask.

One of my pandemic routines (can I say that?) is to go for a weekly walk in Forest Park with son Patrick, who lives in the same town where I live. We talk about what has happened in the past week and we admire the flora and fauna and architecture of the park and wax philosophical about whatever moves us. It involves many of my favorite activities: walking, observing beauty, discussing human nature, laughing (Patrick is one of the funniest people I know.)

This last week, we had several occasions to discuss good/bad design, starting with the mustache mask. I made this mask for Patrick as soon as the CDC recommended that everyone wear them while out in public. He requested the cheeky mustache and I was happy to comply. But when he wore the mask and spoke, it would drift down his face until his nose was exposed and he would have to yank it back up. So, while it was charming, it was NOT functional, and he didn’t wear it. Therefore no one got to see how charming it was. Fortunately, a small adjustment of reworking the 2 pleats into 3, was all it took to make the mask both cute and functional.

As we were strolling around the park this past week, we had occasion to use one of it’s many restrooms. And we encountered this sink (for some reason I feel obligated to assure readers that I photographed the sink in the women’s restroom, and had merely verbal confirmation from Patrick that his sink was equally egregious.)

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The water dribbles out of the spout so close to the edge of the bowl, that the only way to get one’s hands wet is to touch the bowl.

Which led Patrick to say that this design is so bad, that it would be better to have no sink in the bathroom. That is, one would encounter fewer public germs by using the restroom and leaving without washing one’s hands then by touching the wet sink that has been touched by hundreds of other persons between sanitation during a pandemic.

I went to art school a life time ago (I was still a teenager) and while there, was introduced to the argument between form vs. function. And it has always seemed to me that there are so many ways to design a thing that one should start with “Does it work?” and then move into “Is it esthetically pleasing?” A purely functional tool can be beautiful (think of an antique hammer) but something that doesn’t work and is pretty will be tossed as soon as the fashion of that object has passed.

This got Patrick and I to talking about good and bad design we have encountered. A few that we discussed: my mom has a blown-glass water/juice pitcher that cracked the first time that she put water and ice in it. She still finds it beautiful, and has it on display in a prominent place in her dining area. More than once, helpful guests have tried to fill it with water for a meal and she has to let them know it is purely decorative now.

I like this design for my dish soap bottle:

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This design does not dribble like other dish soap bottles I have used.

Although, I note, that it took me awhile to notice that it didn’t dribble. And Patrick states that this is one of the battles that good design fights–when it functions well, without irritating the user, it goes unnoticed.

And that brought up one more area of good design/bad design: websites. Patrick has a degree in computer science and engineering. I asked for him to give me examples of good and bad website design. He gave me the addresses of two websites (both are for items that I have no interest in purchasing.)

Pepsi

This one was fun and I enjoyed watching the actors depict the stories (which had little to do with the product.) The video was engaging and enjoyable as its own art form, that is, if the video was being posted in a park or movie theatre without the Pepsi logo, it would be just (maybe more) enjoyable.

Son Patrick is also involved in the design and marketing of board games and he gave me this website, which is the premiere website for learning about all things board game. He also gave me the following reflection. People play board games because they are fun. But to learn more about the board games that they love to play, they have to negotiate this:

BoardGameGeek

And I immediately understood what he was trying to tell me. Upon entering this website, I thought “Ick!” Too much work!” “I’m going to get a computer virus here!” I made myself click around to various parts of the site, to learn a bit about it and check how it functioned. And at a bare bones level it does function. (And my fellow minimalists will be excited to learn that I read on one of the forums of a person offering for free unwanted games and pieces that he had decided to declutter after dealing with the collections of his recently deceased mother.)

But I took home Patrick’s message: if you work in an entertainment industry, then all places where you engage with the public should also be entertaining.

My personal evaluation of good design starts with: Does it work/function? And then is it esthetically pleasing? There is no solid reason that design can not do both.

Think of the function of a chair. It is to support a human (or pet, or decorative object) off the floor in a way that respects human anatomy and gravity. And then think of all the variety of expressions of that function. From floor cushions to Ming dynasty chairs to cardboard chairs to Louis XVI chairs to Eames chairs to Target/IKEA chairs…..

But in my mind, the function always comes first.

Beloved readers-I would love to hear your encounters with good and bad design.

 

Fabric Face Masks

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And old sheet and an old T-shirt.

As soon as the CDC recommended that everyone wear a face mask while out in public I started making them for myself and my family. By the time the CDC made their recommendation, the fabric shops had closed due to being non-essential businesses.

I did a bit of research online, and found a site where the efficacy of various types of cloth masks were compared with disposable ones. (I can’t find the link now, sorry.) Basically, it said that tightly woven fabric (think 180 percale sheets or finer) that was arranged with two layers was more effective that a paper mask. So that became the basis for my pattern.

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The first mask I made, I based the dimensions on a paper mask that I had at home. Subsequent masks dimensions were altered to improve fit.

I did not have any elastic for the ear loops, so I decided to use the T-shirt material there.

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The first ear loops were 7″ long, still following the pattern of the paper mask.

I cut the T-shirt material into 1″ x 7″ strips and then folded them in fourths, tucking the raw edges in and finished them with a “X” stitch for maximum stretch ability.

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Here is the first prototype, modelled by my son, Mike. If you look carefully, you can see the sweet face of Gip, the Guinea pig on the extreme left of the photo.

My son, Patrick, wanted his customized with an embroidered mustache.

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The blue markings will launder away when the mask is washed.

The dimensions I am working with now are 9″ x 6.5″ for the mask with just 2 pleats. And the ear loops are 5″. That seems to fit us pretty well.

As these fabric masks should be laundered after each wearing, I will continue to make more, until we have a good supply. I have ordered some elastic, which is due to arrive in mid-June, which will speed up the process a bit.

How about you all? What are you using for face masks?

More Floor Work

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This is my view while I drink my coffee in the morning.

Having a clean and orderly home makes me happy, and all it takes is a bit of effort.

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Here are my simple tools.

And a few of the before and after photos.

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Inside the hall closet.
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And after.
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Threshold to my bedroom.
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And after.

This morning as I drank my coffee, I admired the patina of the restored wood. Aaaaah.

A Review of a Couple Books

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If you look carefully, you can spot a chihuahua sitting amongst the cushions.

Both of the reviewed books were borrowed from the library. The cover on this one is a bit worse for wear, which I interpret as that it has been checked out and read a lot.

The cover here tells the story: Bea Johnson has created an ultimate guide to reducing household waste. Her family’s story is one we have heard before. They had the large home in a nice area with a long commute and spent their free time taking care of the house and the yard and in the car. They relocated to a city home that was half the size, and this started them on the path to simplifying their lives in other regards as well.

While reducing the family’s landfilled trash output to less that a quart per year is an amazing achievement in our culture, I don’t think that that aspect of their adventure simplified their lives.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your trash output, this book will give you lots of good ideas: some simple, some complicated.

Best tip from the book: Look at the stuff that you put in your trash can and recycle bin and ask yourself how to find a way to keep from putting it there. Easy options include using reusable bottles and shopping bags to replace single use plastic bottles and plastic bags. More challenging options include making your own yogurt and buying clothing second hand and creating a compost. Probably too difficult for most of us include taking your own glass jars to the cheese and butcher shops so the staff can deposit their wares directly into your containers and teaching your elementary-aged children to say no to party favors.

Worst tip from the book: putting a brick in your toilet tank to reduce the water flow. Don’t do it! I have heard/read from several reputable sources that the bricks deteriorate over time soaking in the water and will cause plumbing problems.

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More challenging than getting your fish in a jar? Growing it yourself!

The Toolbox for Sustainable City Living will teach you how to grow your own vegetables, chicken, fish and small mammals for consumption in a city setting.

The techniques laid out are easy to understand and the supplies required affordable. It would be useful to own your own property before implementing these methods, but information is given on how to do so on abandoned city lots as well. There are plenty of diagrams and photos to help the reader replicate what Kellogg, Pettigrew and their community have achieved.

The environmental, economic and political benefits of this type of farming are also discussed in the book. I have added to my Travel List a visit to their community in Austin, Texas both to see the husbandry in action and to learn how they work as a community to get the work done.

Simple Winter Décor

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A little evergreen and a little light for the early evenings.

Here is my holiday décor for December. When the rest of your space is simple, it doesn’t take over-the-top flash to make it feel cared about and fresh.

The plate was in my kitchen. The cedar branches with berries came from a tree in the apartment complex’s yard. I was careful to trim from a side where the branches were not desirable (rubbing on cars in the parking lot.) The candle was .99 USD at IKEA.

After the holidays, the plate will go back into the kitchen, the cedar will be composted and the candle will either make it’s way to my meditation space or to the household emergency kit. Frugal, stylish and sustainable. Exactly what QuakerStylist is all about.

And I need a dose of restrained style, because this is our front door for the next two weeks.

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… and his mustache moves. Sigh….

A Few Things I’m Grateful for This Thanksgiving

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This is where I usually park my car.

We had some high winds Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, and when we woke Wednesday morning, we were greeted to this tree crashed down onto what is my usual parking spot. I’m ever so grateful that I parked in a different spot when we got home from the movie Tuesday night.

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Half of the flatware and plates in this photo are borrowed.

I hosted a dinner at our apartment Wednesday evening for my children and their families/partners. Due to my minimalism and recent multiple moves, I did not have enough plates and flatware for 8 people, but I was easily able to borrow the needed items. No less than three people offered to loan me plates and flatware for the event.

(And by the time dinner was served, the electric company had cut down the tree hanging on the power lines and another crew came and hiked the electrical cords back up to their normal, safe height.)

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All of my kids and their families/partners were able to attend the large family gathering this year, which is the thing for which I am most grateful.

Dear readers: I would love for you to share in the comments what you are thankful for this year. International readers, please chime in also. Surely, gratitude is not confined to federal holidays.

 

Bathroom Tile Project

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Sloppy painting, sloppy caulking and dirt have been accumulating for some time.

From the moment that I moved into this apartment last February the grime and careless workmanship of the tile repair bothered me. I knew that tackling the tile and grout was going to be an intensive task. I undertook some easier ones elsewhere in the apartment first, so that I could have some success under my belt before I took this on.

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It turns out some of those tiles were only being held up with paint and edge caulk.

And it got worse before it got better. I scraped out the filthy grout before gluing the cleaned tiles back in place.

After the glue set, I laid down fresh grout.

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So much prettier!

And the corner that set me off–

 

Christmas Wrap

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The ladybug came off a bar of soap I bought. I have been saving it all year just for this application.

I know it seems a bit early for a post about wrapping Christmas gifts, but my family is travelling here for Thanksgiving and I won’t see many of them near the Christmas holiday. We have developed a family tradition of sending the wrapped gifts home with each other when we gather at Thanksgiving to save on shipping costs.

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The wrap and gift tags.

I use the same paper for gifts all year long. I just dress it up differently according to the occasion. I bought this large roll of cream drawing paper at IKEA from the children’s section. Here. I’ve been working on this roll for a couple years. The brown paper is reused from a framing job I had done. The gift tags were all cut from an 87 cent piece of cardstock. I’m still working through a large stash of ribbons and string that my mom collected over decades and passed on to me. I usually color on the gift tags in colors that coordinate with my ribbon or string.

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I think the pile of presents makes a charming vignette in the corner for now.

My cost this year was just the cardstock. Everything else I had on hand. The paper can be reused and recycled. The fabric string and ribbon can be reused and composted.

Three Kitchen Hacks You Might Not Have Tried Yet

 

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Can you guess which ones are hard-boiled and which ones are uncooked?

Minimalists are always trying to figure out how to live well with less stuff. Not to make life an unbearable grind, but because we find it extraordinarily fun to be efficient, we like to use our creativity in the service of humanity/earth and we have discovered it is the path to freedom.

I figured out a couple decades ago that American-sized refrigerators are waste creators. They as so big that people overbuy fresh foods and restaurant meals and then park the hopeful meat and vegetables and take-home boxes on the vast shelves. Then life happens. Work goes overlong and there is only time for fast-food or microwaved pizza rolls. Someone ends up in the hospital and there is only time for vending coffee and chips. Someone breaks up with you and the only thing that makes you feel better is ice cream and Netflix. I get it. And all that food that you bought when you were full of energy and a plan-to-get-fit turns into refrigerated compost.

I am a huge advocate for small refrigerators. Parisians have the right idea, but think smaller. Think dorm-sized fridges-just don’t fill them with beer. I have been using a refrigerator that fits under my kitchen counter for a couple decades, even when I was cooking for a family of four. When you can see everything, you are not as likely to waste it.

Many fridges come with a plastic partition for holding eggs. It is there, taking up your expensive refrigerated space, whether you have eggs or not. My system, photographed above, does not waste space. If you take a few of your dozen eggs and boil them, just indicate it in some way-a Scarlet H, or Sharpie happy face or stickers that you removed from the avocados you bought. Also, if space is really tight in your half-fridge (which does happen from time to time, I admit) you can Trim The Carton To The Number Of Eggs You Have. Even the bits are recyclable.

And speaking of refrigerator compost–

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Where the compost goes before it makes it to the big container…about once a week.
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Where the yellow compost container goes.

Even in my half-fridge, I have room for the small compost bin that some people keep on their counter top or under their sink. I learned a long time ago that refrigerating the compost keeps down stink and bugs. The difference between me and the big-refrigerator folks is 1) my compost is all gathered together, rather than in individual plastic bags rotting in the produce drawer 2) My compost is what is left after I have used the fruits and vegetables that I purchased. Rarely does edible food go to waste here.

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See that small spring clip at the bottom?

Minimalists are always on the look-out for new tools that perform multiple functions. The mighty spring clip is one of those tools. You see it here as a prop for the recipe cards. (I don’t have a lot of recipe cards due to me simplifying our diet and virtually any recipe being available via an internet search.) It also works as a bag clip for spinach or frozen peas or any foodstuffs that come in a plastic bag. ALERT: not kitchen hint–It works great to hold fabric bits inline during an assembly of a creative reuse of second hand fabrics, whilst still being so creative that safety pins would be too much of a commitment. You can use it to hold bunches of paper together (boring!) or combined with a shoe string as an emergency tourniquet (I haven’t had to use this one yet-as a matter of fact in 30 years of nursing, the only time I have had to apply tourniquets was to plump up the veins to draw blood-no emergency.)

I know my readers to be the most helpful and creative of people. What are your favorite kitchen (or household) hacks?

P.S. I know a couple of you (i.e. 20% of my readers) signed up to follow the net-zero house story. I am spending a fair amount of my time tracking down the right property. I have real estate agents looking for it. I am looking for it, via online searches and then I drive to any viable listing. Other people, who are just excited about the concept of creating a net-zero house in boring old St. Louis, send me links every week. And I check them all out. So never fear, progress is being made…if it is only eliminating about 200 properties per week that will not work for one reason or another. I assure you, once we find the right property, the blog about it will be way more interesting. XOXO, Fawn