Friday, June 28, 2013

Shopping for Period Style Kitchen Items

I have spent literally hours trying to find period style items for my kitchen. It is surprising how difficult it is to find modern kitchen items that resemble those I found in the period photos. I really thought it would be easier; after all, how much would canisters and crocks change?

These were the containers I really liked.
I spent hours and hours trying to find modern reproductions with no luck. I finally had some success with finding similar canisters when I tried ebay and etsy. If you want to search ebay or etsy, I suggest using the search terms "german porcelain canisters" or "mepoco german" or "block canisters" or other variants. (There are actually some beautiful sets on eBay right now, but they'll be gone too quickly to make it worth preserving the links here.) It is especially difficult to find a good set that still has all the pieces and all the lids and when you do, they're not inexpensive.

Since I never found a set that coordinated with my kitchen—most sets with an acceptable pattern were delft blue which really didn't work for me—I finally compromised on a modern good-enough-for-now round copper set and I continue to keep my eye out for a nice antique or reproduction set. (The copper set is already showing signs of wear after less than 2 years of use.)

I have to admit I gave up on the drainer. Rubbermaid does carry a large chrome dish drainer but the reviews for it complain that it starts to rust almost immediately. It is also possible to find quite a few vintage wire dish racks, but again, I imagine they'll all suffer the same rusting fate. So, for now, I content myself with a plastic-coated rubbermaid dish rack. I am on the look out for a decent looking option in stainless steel and when I find one, I'll update this post and buy it.

Fortunately wire bale jars are very easy to find. They're literally carried all over; here is a 12 pack at Amazon. The lids for mason jars look to have gotten smaller, but they're also period as well. They're carried everywhere, especially at your neighborhood garage sales which is the most affordable way I've found to pick up quite a few of them.

One great place to shop for old style kitchen gear is Lehman's. (No, I'm not being paid for the endorsement in anyway; I'm just a happy customer.) They cater to amish and other folks off the grid and they carry non-electric versions of a whole lot of kitchen gadgets. And especially of note, if you need those little rubber rings for your old bale close jars, they carry them. They also currently have a beautiful set of heritage blue stripe stoneware that would be tempting if my kitchen cabinets were not already bulging.

I did manage to score a 1914 toaster off eBay that didn't cost a fortune.

In examining the old pictures, there seemed to be a lot of enamel-coated bowls and cooking pots in the photos. You can still buy those too, but they are NOT cheap. A reputable brand, Le Creuset, is having a sale right now—their 11-piece set is $1000! And while you can find less expensive alternatives at places like Target, I have no idea how they would hold up to regular use.

In concluding this post, when I first started shopping for our kitchen, I actually expected I would be able to find more period-style items, but it was disappointingly difficult. With our current disposable everything-made-in-China culture, I guess we have moved on. The good stuff made to last is too expensive and the cheap stuff just doesn't look like the traditional items anymore. There is just so much stuff made from plastic now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Period Kitchen Photographs

I'm always interested in finding pictures of authentic early 1900s kitchen interiors because it gives you a chance to see the kind of stuff visible in a working kitchen. I wanted to answer questions like, what did they use for dish drainers? What did they store food in? Canisters? Jars? Since most kitchens did not have an over abundance of cabinet space we have today, how did they store utensils and pots?

I set out to answer some of these questions by digging through old books and photograph websites. I've collected quite a few images over the past couple of years and I thought I would share some here.
From The Craftsman Magazine, Sep 1906. I'm wondering what that interesting rack to the left of the sink is. A towel rack? Some sort of dish rack?
From The Craftsman Magazine, Sep 1906. I like the canisters in this picture. I think that cloth hanging on the back of the door might have been for hand drying.
From The Craftsman Magazine, Sep 1906. Apparently vertical wall space was fair game for storing stuff.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Custom Stencil Business

I've decided to try setting up a small custom stencil business.

I'm in the process of buying a real stencil cutting machine (one that can handle mylar) and I'm planning to offer a limited number of designs (to start) from my stencil research where the buyer chooses the design and it's scaled to the desired size and then cut out of durable, reusable mylar.

The ordering of the machine and supplies are happening this week and then you guys should start seeing quite a few stencil trials as I practice with the software and fine-tuning the process.

This is not going to be a get-rich scheme, but more a labor of love. I don't even know if I'll make any money at it, though it would be nice to at least break even. =)

The idea of this project really appeals to me so I guess we'll see how it goes. What do you guys think? Bad idea? Good idea?
The stencils I cut for the dining room curtains
The stencils I cut for the dining room runners

Monday, June 24, 2013

Period Book: Successful Houses (1902)

On my continuing quest to find good early 1900s sources for furnishing middle class bungalows, I ran across Successful Houses by Oliver Coleman. This is another opinionated, and vastly entertaining book dating from 1902. It can be downloaded for free from Internet Archive here. And while it does mostly seem to give at least equal treatment to painted Victorian-type decor, it does still have some fun and useful bits for us craftsman style enthusiasts.

Once I read the beginning of the Introduction, I knew I wanted to continue reading:

"There are comparatively few people at one time or another do not have to face the problem of household furniture and decoration, and who do not as such times experience a sensation of comparative helplessness. To assist them there have been published two classes of books only, one in which the information is of the most shocking character, utterly devoid of taste, judgment or good sense; the other in which the laws are of a learned and technical character, but difficult by private persons in their own homes. Many of the latter class of publications are great authority, and could their intent be thoroughly absorbed would lead to radical improvements in the popular idea of household decoration; but unfortunately, besides the ponderous text, the illustrations are usually chosen from views of palaces and other great houses, and convey no suggestions to the discouraged housewife with a few hundred dollars to expend at most." (emphasis added)

This book is a little difficult to pull the relevant parts down into a reasonable size blog post. There are literally so many hilarious comments about their current practices that I'm tempted to over-quote the book because the humor would be lost in a summary, but, I obviously cannot do that. I can include some of my favorite quotes and recommend this book to those of you who get a kick out of decorating books like this. It's really too bad modern books aren't written in this style anymore. They're all written so as not to offend anyone so they seem so bland and uninteresting.

For instance, when talking about art, he says, "The need of [pictures] is never half as great as most of us suppose and here, they never should be hung simply to fill walls, regardless of their worth. What weak, insipid things, what base and ill-made copies, what plate-worn etchings and process colored plates are here often flaunted in the face of every stranger who may enter, and on the very threshold cry out to him how little taste and judgment there is within the house!"

And later he adds: "ornaments for the sake of ornament should find no place. The vases should be of a character to hold flowers, the candlesticks to give light and the fireplace to hold a fire." You should design and furnish your drawing room to put guests at ease, not to "astonish with a lavish display."

His book seemed to have the opinion that paint was the poor man's solution to decorating, "Those who have but little wealth should as a last resort turn . . . to paint." "It is painted furniture to which I would now refer as the third class of possibilities. One may often by diligent search among the marts of commerce discover chairs and tables and even sideboards of simple, good design. These pieces when so found are usually lacquered over with some species of yellow shellac and varnish which makes them unfit for any ornamental purpose. But paint will cover all."

Then there follow quite a few chapters on general decorating schemes. Mr. Coleman gives quite a lot of advice about finishing in colors, papers, and fabrics; advice for finishing the cheaper woods; artificial illumination and finishing with small ornaments. There are really too many suggestions to be copied here; if you're interested, go download the book and read it. But here I share a few of my favorite parts:

". . . in the treatment of walls and ceilings lies much of the success or failure in the outcome of a room. If it be warm and bright, the room will surely be so also; while if, upon the other hand, the coloring be in neutral tints, afraid to say its say, the room will have a dingy, faded look, which nothing in the furniture can recompense. . . I would have color in every room, bright, strong, cheering color, that should make sunshine on the darkest day, warmth on the coldest, and cheer on the saddest."

"The excellence of wooden walls and ceilings cannot be overstate. They have a solidity and dignity which otherwise came with the use of stone only, yet have much more of the qualities of home. Finished in natural colors, if the quality allows, age and the passing years can only add new beauties and bring out new charms."

"The bric-à-brac must be subservient to the general decorative scheme of the house, and must not fasten itself in every corner and on every wall until the house shall look like a curiosity shop or an auction room."

There is a chapter on using portieres, which I quoted in its entirety in  this blog post.
And there is a chapter on using soft woods, which were a cheaper option for most folks. (Our house is finished in a soft wood, douglas fir.) "The simplest way to finish stained wood is to cover the stain with one or two coats of raw linseed oil; while the best way is to give it three coats of thin-spirit white shellac, and rub with pumice-stone and oil to give it a dead, even finish."

I think many of his ideas are still valid today, though obviously only one opinion among many different opinions of his time.
Living room
Mahogany dining room
Library - I find it interesting that none of the chairs match

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gluing Closet Boards

We've gotten ourselves in gear on house projects again. Getting the house cleaned up for company actually provided a bit of motivation to keep moving. We made forward progress on the closet project. When I last posted about them, we had planed the boards and then I had sanded off the remaining dirt and paint.

A couple weeks ago, Jeff had a friend come over and they went off to the garage to play with our tongue & groove router bits. While the joints are not perfect, they're good enough for a closet. It was particularly difficult since this was all salvaged wood and not necessarily the same thickness throughout.
Finally yesterday we got out there and started gluing all the pairs of boards. We would glue up two boards and clamp them, then wait an hour or two before cleaning up the excess glue with a scraper and removing the clamps. It took us a couple days to finish all the pairs.

After the boards get a chance to thoroughly dry, we're planning to cut these down to width for the closet. Most of them need to be 16" wide. We're actually thinking about making an appointment with the commercial shop—if it's still available—to continue on this project. That shop is just so nice to use (dust collection!). Plus we could cut down and bring some more boards to plane them.

As an aside, we've done a bunch of cooking this week. Last weekend we scored 40 pounds of apricots so we spent quite a bit of time working on preserving them for the winter. Jeff also went and picked another 2 flats of strawberries so we've been busy. If you're interested in what we made, go visit Jeff's food blog, Chez Vorax.

And so I can "claim" my blog on Bloglovin'. I'm adding this quick link here. Excuse the interruption.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

And I'm claiming my blog on Technorati by giving their claim code: NUJRVU5HNN6P

Monday, June 17, 2013

Period Book: The Furnishing of a Modest Home (1908)

It seems like so many blogs and bungalow books feature the "great homes." You know, those homes that cost a staggering amount of money when they were built—like the Gamble house—and have only gotten worse in modern times. I don't have much interest in those homes, except as inspiration. Who has tens of thousands of dollars to furnish one room? Not us. So we have to be more creative.

I am always looking around for inspiration for how to furnish the average middle-class home. So, when I found The Furnishing of a Modest Home by Fred Hamilton Daniels, published in 1908,  available at the Internet Archive (for free), naturally I grabbed it.

Though, Mr. Daniel's comes from a different time. His idea of a modest home still comes with servants quarters. Oh, and one bathroom. But his writing style is enjoyable and he does have some strong opinions.

On painting woodwork, Mr. Daniel's says you should paint the fancy victorian stuff, but the "ordinary woodwork in the modern house cannot afford to have its uninteresting mediocrity or ugliness brought to the front. It should be stained or painted in low-toned colors that it may assume a very subordinate place in the room. In general, grayed, deep browns or greens are restful and unobtrusive, and are colors with which wallpapers will harmonize." He also didn't think the wood should be finished so it would shine because then it would stand out.

Mr. Daniel's seems to have preferred uncovered, wood floors because they are hygenic, but he does discuss floor coverings. "Carpets composed of naturalistic designs of roses are not pleasing, for walking about upon a bed of roses is a thing which we would carefully avoid in the world of nature. The simple, old-fashioned carpets which have little definite design are among the best."

I excerpted the section about portieres in my post in August 2012. You can read it here, if you'd like.

Mr. Daniel's suggests green for wall colors. "In nature we rarely find pure green in all its intensity and harshness. The hue of the color is softened by yellow, orange, or red until we say it is a warm green. This is the green for our walls. Because the human race has for thousands of years been accustomed to seeing so much blue and green, they are the colors which tire our eyes the least."

Mr. Daniel's cautions people to live with a space for a while before rushing into making furniture selections. "It is because we make unwise selections that the constant procession of furniture through the house is noticeable. We buy a chair for the reception room; soon we decide that it is not what we want for the room, and it is moved on into the study, then the bedroom, the attic, the rummage sale. Money wasted!" (However, if you do as we do and buy used furniture for good prices, you quite often don't lose money when you change your mind. We certainly do our share of churning furniture, but now we don't lose much money and we sometimes even come out ahead.)

Mr. Daniel's states art should be hung with two vertical wires.
How Not to Hang Art
The proper way to hang art: two parallel wires and matted to coordinate with wall color.
This is apparently another how not to do it. Too much white art on a low toned wall.
This is a well done den because everything has been carefully placed and is of a good coordinated color scheme. But, LOOK at all that stuff! That's a lot of stuff. It looks crowded to my eye.
And of course one problem we still have now and will surely never be solved, is how we feel obliged to use a decor item simply because it was given to us. "A man was given a vase by a friend. On one side of this vase was painted a picture of a goat—a GOAT! Now, from any standpoint whatever, what possible relation could a picture of a goat have with the purpose or beauty of a vase? If it had been a butter dish—but it wasn't! The friend was a frequent visitor at the house. The man knew that the decoration of the vase was as bad as it could be, but his friend would come and expect to see the goat on the parlor mantel. What was to be done? What would you have done? We all have this problem to settle...." Alas, he doesn't offer a solution.

And to wrap up, one of my favorite quotes: "At the present time most of the house furnishing is left to the mistress. The man has other interests. He is at the service of his wife, chiefly in the capacity of the moving van. Said the guest, "I see that you have moved the piano since I was here." The husband meekly replied, "Yes, we have had it in every place in the house except the coal-bin, and I expect to put it there next."" Apparently some things never change.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cutting a New Stencil

Now that the dining room is basically finished and put back together, I finally found the motivation to work on the one last project I want to do for this room — stencil the linen table runners I made back in March.
Today I cut out the stencil design I lifted from a 1913 Gibson catalog (specifically, the top right one in this image below):
Since I still have the silhouette cameo, I went ahead and "etched" the design into the mylar first. It's probably faster than hand-tracing the design onto the plastic and then cutting with a craft knife.
Then I carefully went over the lines with a craft knife and finished cutting through the mylar where needed.
It took an hour or two to finish hand-cutting these, but I think I managed to get a pretty decent two-part stencil out of the effort.
Next up, painting practice and putting the stencil on the runners.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Dining Room Hinges

Since we were planning to have 12 people for lunch today, we finally found the motivation to finish a project that's been sitting unfinished for several weeks now. The dining room built-in has finally gotten its new brass hinges.
The old hinges are really skanky. The exposed portions were mostly black and the painters applying stain over them, certainly did not improve their appearance. And while it seems like it would have been more thrifty just to have these old hinges replated, it isn't. I looked into it, but it was more expensive to replate the old hinges than it was to buy new solid brass hinges.
I tried to buy identical hinges—I carefully measured and scoured the online websites for the same size—but I still failed. The new hinges are about 3/32" larger and, of course, the screw holes didn't line up. So, it was a bit of a slog to take off all the doors, re-mortise the frames and doors, and fill the screw holes. Jeff used a small dowel and wood glue to fill the original screw holes.
After the glue dried, he had to redrill all the screw holes and reinstall all the doors, but we finally have pretty, shiny hinges to go along with our pretty new leaded glass panels.
I've just got to look at it again. I'm so pleased this is finally done.

And for those, just dropping by for the first time, this is where we started in 2010.
And now.

(For more before and afters, visit our "Before and After" page.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Finding Quality on Craigslist

Stickley rocking chair $500
Those of you who have followed my blog for years know that most  of my current furniture has come from craigslist. Since learning the hard lesson of selling nearly perfect almost new furniture during our move in 2006, I learned the value of buying used. So, over the past few years, I've managed to buy high quality, style appropriate furnishings for a fraction of their original retail price.

Another reason to buy used furniture is if later you find you have to sell a piece because you want to rearrange a room, or you'd like redecorate—if you've been careful to find good deals—you can usually resell the piece for close to or more than the original price paid. (That has been our experience, anyway.)

When I'm looking for a piece of furniture I tend to make a list including the relevant measurements, i.e. looking for a dresser than can not be wider than 48" or taller than 40". I also have a list of "keywords" that I enter into craigslist. I actually write them down on an index card so I don't have to keep trying to remember them every time I do a search.

One good strategy I have found for picking keywords is to know names of some of the high end furniture stores in your area that sell the furniture you're looking for. For instance, in the San Francisco bay area where I started my mission furniture collection, I knew that "Fenton McLaren" sold a lot of high quality, solid oak furniture that would be perfect for us. So, I would also search on "Fenton" and "McLaren" because sellers don't always know what the furniture style is called, but they might remember where they bought it and put it in the ad.
This roguewood solid oak dining set was $1500. Retail for the table alone is more than $2500.
Another strategy for picking keywords is to use brand names of quality furniture, such as "Stickley," "Bentwood," "Roguewood," "borkholder," and "amish." And don't forget the list of relevant styles, such as "Craftsman," "Arts & Crafts," "Mission," or "Shaker." 

Another advantage of finding a brand name is quite often you can find pieces from different sellers. For instance, I have 7 matched Cost Plus World Market mission style mahogany bookcases! Their retail price was $225 each and they came unassembled. I was able to buy 7 matched bookcases, already assembled, from 3 or 4 different people and I never paid more than $75 each.

If I'm looking for furniture, I like to limit my search to "Furniture—by owner." I do this mostly because in my area the antique stores do a lot of listings and their prices are very often well above what you would find offered by owners. I figure it's better not to fall "in love" with the piece that's twice as expensive at an antique shop.

It seems like I spend a lot of time haunting craigslist, but I really don't. When I am on the hunt, I  do some quick searches—usually once a day when I'm watching TV in the evening—for items I am looking for and then email the sellers with questions or if I want to go see the pieces. 

Sometimes I find good pieces where the seller is too far to travel to or the price is too high, so I bookmark the ad (or save a copy for my files) but not contact the seller. Then, if the seller continues to place the same ad for several weeks, or months, I feel justified in writing them asking if their price is firm or if they'd consider a lower offer. I might point out I've seen their ad listed for XX weeks. Because of the long listing time, many are receptive. If they aren't, I move on.
This solid cherry bedroom set by Stuart David was $2000 (retails for $5000).
Given one of our lessons this past year, not all sellers are honest. (Most are, luckily.) Those wicker chairs we bought for the front porch—broken and surreptitiously repaired. So, make sure to thoroughly inspect any furniture before taking it home. Sit in chairs, see if they rock. Look to see if the pieces are good and solid. 

One last comment about buying good quality furniture on craigslist—don't expect to take home a truly solid cherry bed for $50. Veneers are very well done these days, so if someone is selling a "solid cherry" piece for $50, I'd be skeptical that it truly is solid. Write the seller and ask for a brand name and research the company if they send you a name.

For modern reproductions, I stick to listings that tell you the brand name, or tell you what store they were purchased from, so I try to shop on name reputation. Unless the item is truly an antique, then you have to use your judgment a lot more. 

Sometimes the trip to see the furniture is wasted, but over time the savings can be truly inspiring. In my experience, you can expect to pay one-fifth to one-half the original retail price, but usually closer to one-fifth.

I'd love to hear from you all about your successes or failures on craigslist, or any further tips I missed.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Picture Hanging Adventures

We've never had a house with plaster and picture rail before so I'm learning a whole new way of hanging up art. At times, it's fairly straight-forward; there are loops on the back of the art to attach the picture wire and the picture rail is easily accessible. Like these.
But sometimes the picture rail is running at an angle, like in the den. How do you hang a picture on this? This looks stupid and we'll be reworking it.
Quite a lot of the pictures don't have hooks or rings on the back so I need to try and find some to install.

Also, some of the best wall space we have is in the stairwell where the picture rail is maybe 14 feet above the stairs. I have no idea how we'll be getting art up there.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bye Bye Bookcases

It's taken a while, but I've finally found a new home for our gorgeous solid wood Bentwood bookcases. They've been listed on craigslist on and off for about four months. These are really nice quality, so it's taken a while to find someone who could appreciate their quality and also had the budget to take them away.
I hadn't planned to put anything in them before selling, but as the weeks passed, stuff slowly trickled into them and then when we emptied the basement bookcases, they filled the rest of the way. The buyer comes back tomorrow to pick them up so I'll have to spend some time today packing these books back up.

It will be sad to see the bookcases go, but they proved to be ill-suited to this den area. They are taller than the plate rail so had to be set several inches away from the wall and the space would do better with bookcases with smaller doors.

I'm now on the hunt for barrister bookcases. I'd really like something along these lines. In fact, I'd snatch these up in a minute if they weren't also too tall for the plate rail. Sigh.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Strawberry Season

Strawberry season has finally arrived in Oregon. Jeff and I got to go pick berries at the North Willamette Research & Extension Service test garden because Jeff is a Master Gardener. It was a really good deal; just $3 a bucket. We picked 3 buckets-full (about 18 pounds worth). Perhaps we should have gotten more, but it was hot and we got pretty tired after more than an hour. It still took us several hours to "process" the fruit for the freezer today.
It's well worth the effort to prepare the fruit for the freezer. Jeff first soaks the fruit in a solution of water  and a small amount of vinegar. Then we remove the stems and place the individual berries on cookie sheets.
We put the cookie sheets in the freezer for a few hours. Then, when the strawberries are partially frozen, we place them in freezer bags. Because of the extra effort, the strawberries don't freeze in one great big block and Jeff can pick out individual berries for use.

Now we'll get to enjoy strawberry smoothies throughout the winter.