Monday, April 11, 2016

Tile when your heart is aching.

Pat tern/padern/
Noun. A model or design used as a guide.
Verb. A regular intelligible form.

Ok. T.S. Eliot may have won a noble prize but he was wrong about one thing. April is not the cruelest month. February is.  That's why Valentine's Day is in the middle. All the roses, cards and chocolate are a ploy to take your mind off the fact that the month is bleak.

At least it is short.

Speaking of Valentines...One of the most recognizable patterns in the world is a heartbeat.  The same is true of brain waves.  So what happens when these two things seem to short-circuit?   Can something as simple as a cut piece of plastic hold the answer to resetting a heart to happiness and a brain to hope? And are the things that happen to us random luck or a pattern that is part of a larger story?

This is the story of my winter of discontent and how a stencil guided me back.

In our business, February is the slowest month. The holiday rush for projects is over but finishers will often take a class in January to get the year started. This winter was particularly tough for studios given the shift in design trends. Ours was no exception.  I scrambled to get a class schedule together with more diversity and on-trend samples while working on a face lift for the studio. We held an open house for local finishers, designers, and potential clients.  And it paid off.! January was good-better then expected-which made February even more disappointing. 

Now Bruce still comes in and helps me with accounts.  I don't know which is more stressful: Watching him get sick while working or not knowing what else to do to make things better?  My brain is out of ideas. 

In the end I sent him to California to visit his family and enjoy some warm weather. Also I wanted him to avoid this:

As I noted before, my sweet husband used his Uber money to hire the crew that worked on our last house to help me. Every room in the "new" house looked like this...

and this.......

and this.......

At least Bridget, Jack and Murray seem enthusiastic.  I moved into the only room not torn apart, a guest room, with our  3 dogs....for 2 weeks. I think this is the 4th time since moving in that things have been put away and then packed up again. It's like moving every 3 months!

The house is covered in plastic and dust. I'm working in the rooms opposite of the painters to get stuff set-up before Bruce returns.  And when I finally think I'm getting things done....

I realize that I'm not dealing with the Top Brass. 

This happened when I started painting the walls...

There are specific primers that go over removed wallpaper. Then you let the mud dry well before sanding. After sanding you WIPE OFF THE DRYWALL DUST before priming again.  Every time I rolled my paint which is a quality Benjamin Moore, the walls bubble and then peel.  What is worse? The crew does not fix the problem or reimburse us anything for the poor job. All I can think about is Bruce working hard to pay these bozos!

I can tell that he is becoming tired even while he pushes ahead these past few months.  But right now, Bruce is in California riding go-karts and ultra-lights. He is at a beautiful wedding and viewing a private car collection.  This should make me happy. I wish I could say that I'm bigger then this. Braver then this. But I'm broken.  I throw my trowel every time the paint peels. The dogs hide in their kennel.  I sit on the top of the stairs and cry with my shoulders hunched over. 

I call 2 other contractors to help me on projects. One never sends me a bid. The other one never even shows up.  How will I pull this house together? How will I pull myself together?

While I'm trying to figure out how to save my husband, my business and my home, my body is also done.  I can't figure out how to start running again. My legs feel like lead. Something that I used to enjoy just seems like one more thing I need to fix. What happened to my mojo? All I want is to wake up happy and feel optimistic.

So I do what thousands of the unhappy and unhinged do each year. I go to Florida.

When you are depressed find the friend that makes a good breakfast and serves good champagne. For us that is Mr & Mrs. Smith.

Not them.

Way more fabulous.
Our oldest friends welcome us to their home.  Every morning Burks makes a yummy breakfast with a Bloody Mary.
Kim has coffee and lively conversation ready. My shoulders that are rubbing against my ears begin to relax.  Our trip to Florida is not only social. I signed up for the Gasparilla Half Marathon before things started to fall apart. Here I am about to run a competitive race without much training. And I have to be at the start before dawn.

What was I thinking?  How sweet that Bruce drove me to the race at the un-holy hour of  5am.

My brain is a jumble as I start.  Running in the dark as I'm going over every thing that is wrong in my life the sun starts to come up.  It hits the ocean water just right and I take in the sparkle.  I can really see the people around me now all trying to accomplish something. There is an elderly man bent so far over that he can't look straight. And a woman with a shirt dedicated to someone she loved and lost.

 I start thinking how Bruce is here-not just at the race but in my life. I have these great friends sharing their hospitality.  It reminds me how much my friends at home have helped me.  Someone says, "looking good" as we pass mile 10.  And I smile because for the first time in months I really believe it. 

The weather is beautiful as I finish in 2 hours. Not a PR but a respectable time.  More importantly, my body reminded me that it wasn't giving up. It knew the pattern. Now my brain needed to get on board and let the sunshine in.  I can hardly walk but I'm happy to enjoy brunch with Bruce and the Smiths on this beautiful day.

After we get home, I'm sitting by the Smith's pool checking emails. And I see this....

Royal Design Studio is having a contest to name a new tile stencil.  The tile is inspired by vintage Spanish 1920's design.  For some reason this resonates with me even thought it seems totally unrelated to my current state.

 For a creative person, I am a literal thinker. So I google Spanish Homes in the 1920's.  This comes up....

El Marisol, a mansion built in Palm Springs...Florida. It reminds me of the homes I ran by earlier in the day. The one's I passed in the morning sunshine. The name comes from Mary, Our lady of Solitude. This seems appropriate. Running is a solitary sport even when you are in a race. And what I've been going through lately makes me feel alone.

Marisol. It is also associated with two Spanish words mar y sol. Sea and Sun.  Both things with rhythmic soothing patterns. Things I've enjoyed on my Florida break. I submit my name to the contest, finish my beer and relax. Even if I don't win, for the first time in months I don't feel like I'm losing.

I win!  I am unreasonable happy when I get the email from Royal Design Studio. I start researching Spanish tile. While looking at the patterns it becomes clear to me where and how to use the style in our own home. Suddenly the disaster that I call the kitchen doesn't seem so unsolvable.

My Marisol Damask Tile Pattern with stencil topper.

The first colorway I try is OK but not quite right. I decide to integrate my Rockport Grey paint color into the pattern and  the Rapid Rust that I love. Then somehow it all comes together. It is bold and cheerful. The palette pulls together the room.

I am feeling truly inspired-not the fake "I'm going to act like I'm with it to be inspiring" for my blog, Facebook or Instagram followers.  But the deep knowing in your heart and brain that you are breaking through the block that is holding you down.  That feeling of not only anticipating the finished project but enjoying the process.

And when it is done, I knew what to paint my cabinets and how to fix the awful pantry doors. I could finally put away things that were in storage since July 2015.  The clutter in other parts of the house is now gone.

Bruce tells me he loves it and I can see him relaxing as we enjoy dinner together. My parents visit and say it's so much brighter which is funny since the walls before were much lighter. Our new neighbors come in and gush, "That looks like something in a magazine."

And me?  I go in early every morning to make coffee at my new station and feed the dogs.  I look at my tile wall and smile.  It makes me feel happy. It reminds me how I can create beautiful things. It encouraged me to finish other projects in the house. My creativity is sparked at the studio again.

Things are starting to look like home. Like us. I understand when you have chaos you need to find order.  Even when it doesn't seem like it - there is a design to it all.

I turned a corner after February.  My attitude shifted.  I feel more optimistic. Business has improved. I started running again. Now, I will confess that I still worry about the future. But I look at my wall and know I am capable of pulling it together- of pulling myself together. I will need that reminder in the future but for now I am secure in understanding it is possible.

Yes it was just a simple contest. Yes, it is just a piece of pretty plastic. And Yes, it is just a stencil-like the hundreds of stencils I've used in the past.

But this time. It was the pattern of my life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rebecca Wrecks the Pantry

One thing I will say about our new home-it is true to the 70"s aesthetic. Too bad that works better for clothing then it does for interior design.  Although the slab golden oak does bring out the pattern in the contact paper wall covering.  Notice the tiny knobs for handles. 

The inside is not an improvement.

The shelves are built double depth right up to edge of the doors. And covered in dirty white contact paper.  There is a single light bulb with a pull chain. The linoleum is original to the home and the less said about it the better!

We basically just threw stuff in there and lived with the disorganization for 9months.  Wow! Most people at least get a baby after that much time.

Welcome to the Level 4 Hot Zone. Please burn your suit and shower after leaving.

We paid a crew to remove the popcorn and the wallpaper in the entire house. This is my 5th house rodeo and the biggest lesson is: Get the basics fixed first.  Start with a fresh palette as much as possible before moving on to the more fun decor stuff.  It is a really messy and dusty process.  But worth in the end.

So back to the pantry.  Unfortunately taking off the popcorn and wallpaper didn't magically change this into a reclaimed barn door with beautiful heavy metal fixtures.  The position of the door and available wall space made using a sliding door impossible.  I also learned about replacing doors from my previous fixer-uppers.  It is rare that a new standardized door will fit perfectly in an older opening with out some carpentry work.  Since my carpentry skills are just above not cutting my hand off, I decided to work with what I got!

I removed the doors and took them to the studio.  Since I am adding trim to the flat doors, I removed the side molding to allow for that extra relief.


I cleaned the doors and the trim surround with Paseo which is a strong de-glosser and degreaser. You can use TSP, Krud Kutter or Simple Green.  I use a clean rag and wipe the Paseo over the surface. You will see the "schmutz" coming off on the rag.  Keep turning the cloth and replacing for a clean one as you work. You don't want to reapply the junk you just took off. I wet my cloths before throwing them away. No rag fires please! When working with a degreaser/de-glosser make sure you wear gloves and the room has ventilation.  Safety first always.

The doors and frame are sanded with a medium grit sanding block. My doors are so old that the finish just came off in uneven patches. Use a damp cloth or denatured alcohol to remove the dust.

I painted my doors Royal Taupe Setcoat to give me an even well-sealed base.  See that faint hazing on the dried paint? That is Crème Activator from Faux Effects.  It's a great product even though it looks like snot in the bucket.  It is a barrier product that slows an above layer bonding to the sub straight.  Unlike Vaseline there is no petroleum in this product. The product will evaporate and the upper layer will dry and bond firmly over night. No sanding or mess. Plus you don't have to worry about getting all the petroleum jelly off! Crème Activator is a Gold label product intended for use by professional cabinet finishers. It is totally worth taking a Faux Effects cabinet class to learn how to use it. It is a staple product of  the cabinet classes I teach.

I used a small white fluffy roller to apply the Crème Activator in a thin even layer.  Fold a terry towel and wipe down the crème activator. For those of you trained in CA, this is the step you usually forget. You will think you are taking it off but don't worry. This just keeps you from applying too much! I let it set-up about 30 minutes.

I mixed Faux Effects' Sandstone with water (1 quart to 1 cup water) and whipped it into a paste. I troweled this over the surface covering 95% of my base.

My Sandstone dried to the leather stage in 30 minutes.  I used a wire brush to scrub the surface. The effect is similar to a Cerused Oak.

The wire brush removes lines of the Sandstone because of the Crème Activator.  To create more texture, I use an old chip brush to apply more Sandstone in a stria effect.  If you don't have access to Crème Activator, you can still do a version of this finish.  Just skip the troweled layer and brush on the Sandstone to create a rough wood texture. You may have to repeat this step to get the build and coverage you desire.

I also use the brush to apply the Sandstone to the sides of the doors.

The Sandstone layer needs to dry overnight. 

My motion shot hence the blur!

I mixed FX Thinner with Stain & Seal and brushed it over the surface.  This is a water-based stain and water-based glaze medium.  I spritzed the surface with water and used a damp cloth to move/remove the stain the length of the doors.

When the stain dried, I rolled FE Old World Finishing Paint in Coconut 100% over the surface.  This is a mineral paint that dries to an opaque matte finish.

When the Coconut is dry (a few hours), I sanded with a medium grit sanding block. This is a dusty process. As I sand, I wipe the surface with a damp cloth. This lets me know how much of the underneath layers will show.  The surface will feel amazing because the Old World Finishing Paint really fills in the low areas of the texture.  Old World Finishing Paint is a now available in a range of pre-tinted colors.

I sealed the surface with Aquaguard Satin which is a water-based poly.  I use a black foam roller like the one pictured above. This minimizes bubbling especially if you thin the topcoat with water (about 10% - 20% is enough). Let it dry an hour before recoating.

I measured the top and bottom of my bi-fold doors remembering there is the break where the door folds out.  That means that each panel has 2 narrow doors attached with a hinge.  Each panel needs 4 small molding pieces for a total of 8 pieces. I used paint grade popular strips from Home Depot and applied the Sandstone treatment and sealed. Then I cut the strips and painted the edges as needed.  To affix, I used Liquid Nails.

Since I couldn't get my barn door, I wanted to add a little rustic charm with metal tacks.  Now the tacks at the hardware store are usually smaller and not as decorative.  Sources include D.A.D.S Nails and Decotacks.  It is important to use a good tack. Less expensive one (and by that I mean cheap) will bend or break when you hammer them in.

Since these were a hammered metal using a hammer was not a problem. If you need to protect the tack finish, create a starter hole with a nail. Then place the tack in the hole and knock in with a rubber mallet.

I painted my trim in Benjamin Moore's Swiss Coffee. Because of Bruce's lung condition I won't use oil based paints in the house.  I have tried several water-born enamels with varying degrees of success. My most recent venture with a water-based version of a popular trim paint was not so great even though I've used it for years. It pilled and pulled back even after sanding the wood trim. The next day it rolled off when re-wet with a brush. I need 3-4 coats for coverage over a light wood. And after 2 months, it pulled off with low tack tape.  Of course I could prime the woodwork first. But many people use enamel to avoid priming and top-coating. And using stinky primer defeats my purpose of protecting Bruce.

After talking with my local rep, I used the Advance Water-Born Alkyd in a satin finish.  It took 2 coats over the cleaned and lightly sanded trim but it rolled well with a foam roller or a good paint brush. The finish dried to a true pretty low luster satin.  It costs about $79 a gallon but goes a really like way. In my opinion people are too cheap when it comes to paint.

I added these fun large vintage looking handles. The size easily covered the existing hole from the poor sad tiny knobs.

The kitchen paint color is Benjamin Moore Rockport Grey-more on the paint color and what happened with the walls in a later post.  As you can see, I've removed the baseboards around the entire kitchen in preparation for my biggest project to date-replacing the floor.

Now let's see what happened behind the doors!

A u-shaped  gives more room and accessibility to a small pantry.  The existing shelves were in great condition and the shelf paper came off easily.  It turned out that the deep shelves were two pieces, one in front of the other.  After removing the front shelf, I measured the sides.  Then I cut the wood I removed to make small side shelves for each side. I gained 6 additional storage spaces!

I painted the shelves in the same Royal Taupe Setcoat and top coated with Aquaguard Satin-just like the doors. Remember to paint and topcoat both sides so the shelves don't warp.

Most contact paper is really generic or ugly.  I made my own with wrapping paper. I Aquaguard on the wood and then decoupaged the paper using more top-coat on top. A brayer will roll out the air bubbles.

 I could have built out the wood brackets already in the pantry but honestly, I was ready for this project to be done!  I used 2 metal brackets and a corner brace from the hardware store for support.  Then I used wood screws and drilled down through the top of the shelf to the wood wall bracket. Very secure!

Since moving into a smaller space I've come to appreciate the power of organization. Even an unseen space can be more tidy and functional.

The hanging wire baskets and dog food bin is from IKEA.  The Lazy Susan's and can holders are from the Home Store.  I built this cart from IKEA to hold our baking goods.  Putting everything into glass jars makes for a nice and clean presentation.   I even cut out a shelf so the cart would slide easily into the back of the pantry!

That's it! It's crazy but a cluttered home created a cluttered life for me.
 Now I actually feel more settled in and calm.
The down side?  Since I can find the food again I have to start cooking.

If you would like to learn about Faux Effects Cabinet products join me for a class. I will be teaching May 5-6th at the Sarasota School of Faux & Architectural Finishes in Florida. Please call 941-921-6181 for more information. I also have cabinet classes listed on our Surfaces Website!.