August 29, 2011

The Power of Flowers

When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy a bouquet flowers from the little florist in my office building every Friday. It was usually a sad little bunch, on sale because it was the end of the week, and it was better to sell it for 50% off instead of letting it die in the store. The blooms usually only lasted for a few days, but I loved having fresh flowers around our apartment.

After we moved to Chicago, I didn't have a real florist in such close proximity. (Well, maybe I did, but I just wasn't looking for one.) Plus, that 50% discount in San Francisco had been very motivating, and living on a student budget made purchasing flowers at full price less appealing. Even after I started working again, I had just gotten out of the habit of having flowers around.

But recently, I ran across this great article about flower arranging from the NY Times magazine and decided that I needed to start having flowers around again. All the prearranged bouquets I had ever purchased always looked a little sad. This article addressed what you can do with a cheap bunch of flowers with just a little trimming and arranging. I pulled out the article and put it in a little heap with some magazines, thinking that it would come in handy at some point.

A few weeks after reading this article, I was strolling through Whole Foods' floral section one day and saw a some gorgeous hydrangeas and peonies. I decided to give flower arranging a shot with these luscious looking buds. So, I bought the flowers and a few greens to get started.

I took everything home and started trimming wildly. Whenever I would bring home flowers before, I would hack all the stems off at one point on the stem and stuff them into the nearest vase. It was very efficient, but produced somewhat iffy results. Plus, I noticed that almost all the vases I have are meant for tall, traditional arrangements, but I like tighter, denser bouquets that sit a lower to the table. So this time, I tried to have a nice little bunch of flowers grouped low to the vase. I have to say that I like the results.

It was definitely a lot of fun trying to arrange the stems, and turned what was normally a five-minute activity into a half-hour long adventure. (The last 10 minutes of that half-hour were cleanup from the insane number of stems and leaves littering my counter, but it was part of the whole experience, I suppose.)

I ended up replicating this arrangement a few times because I liked it so much, and then peonies went out of season. (A very sad time in my summer.) I tried a different arrangement again a few weeks later with some spider mums and these weird purply prickly things.

I haven't gotten as many flowers recently because of a project that has eaten up my whole dining room table, but I plan on trying again soon. I'm pretty sure I won't have another gap like the one I had before after my SF-Chi move. That's too long to wait for something this pretty to show up on my dining table again.

August 21, 2011

New Life - Repurposing Old (Ikea!) Furniture - REDUX!

Hang on. Repurposing old Ikea furniture again? Didn't we just go through this? It doesn't seem so long ago that I dreamed up this whole scheme to start this blog and repaint and old Ikea chest to make it new again. But now we're back in the same place.

See, we finally decided to redecorate our office. No more baby-boy-themed paint scheme with a mishmash of cheap furniture. Now we have a real desk, a cool paint color, fancy chairs, actual non-ugly light fixtures and table. New! That's all fine and dandy, but where are we going to put all those books we had accumulated over the years? There was no room left in our office for all our books. Our one tall and one short Billy bookcase from Ikea were still serving a very real purpose but didn't fit the space anymore. So, one bookcase got shuttled off to the attic, and one earned a place in our guest bedroom as a functional decorative piece.
Oh, but Billy, you're kind of boring, and your natural finish doesn't match the room I'm putting you in. So let's hit those paint cans again. I have to be honest: even though the room is very clearly a homemade Holly Hobby piece, I'm totally in love with it. It's the only room in the house where I picked all the furniture, color, and decor myself, and I think of it as MY room. MY work in progress. The room is a deep grape color (crazy, I know) with black and white accents modern and baroque accents, so I wanted to keep with the theme and paint the bookshelf white with black accents. 

To be as thrifty and environmentally friendly as possible, I used the same paint I had purchased from the last Ikea refinishing project two years ago. So, I dug out the old paint I used last time to paint my furniture and scraped off the icky solid layer of paint that kept the rest of it relatively fresh. After sanding and cleaning, I painted the craptastic chipboard veneer and even that terribly flimsy chipboard backing that slides into the grooves on the back of the shelves. You know, the one that actually you could pop out just by giving it a gentle nudge? 

In my thriftiness, I didn't really calculate how much paint I would need. It was barely enough - I didn't even paint the underside of one of the shelves. (Yes, friends, if you come visit, I officially give you permission to inspect the shelf and mock me.)

Keeping with the modern baroque theme I'd already started going with in the room, I chose a stencil from Michael's that mimicked the pattern on the bedspread in the room:

I toyed with the idea of taking the design across the sides, top, and even the back of the shelf. However, I planned to put decorative items on top of the refinished pieces, so it didn't make sense to take all that time stenciling the top. Also, since I'm bad at editing my book collection, I figured that no one would ever see the back of the shelf. So, I just took the stencil up the side in black stencil paint.

Why is it off center, you ask? Well, in my brain, it made sense that it would be slightly closer to the front of the bookshelf so you can see it, and I thought it would look fine since there is a little divot on the back of the shelf to prevent it from tipping forward. Like I said, it made sense in my brain. Don't judge me too harshly

After finishing the stenciling, the paint took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to dry. The stencil paint I purchased had a dense, dry, powdery texture, which gave the stencil a nice antique-y look. However, the high-gloss paint that I used as the base probably extended the drying time by a lot. On the paint, it tells you to let it set for 24 hours. After 3 days, it was still rubbing off with a touch of the finger. I thought I was going to have to scrap the whole thing - and let me tell you how excited I would have been about that - but luckily, it finally set after almost an entire week.

Add a few vintage books, some adorable little foo dogs from west elm, and voila! A new decorative bookshelf is born. Okay, it's not that impressive, but at least it looks different from how it started and it matches the room. That's all I ask for.

Materials used in this project: 
  • Old Billy bookshelf from Ikea
  • Gloss oil paint
  • Stencil from Michael's
  • Stencil brush
  • Masking tape
  • A place where the bookcase can dry for days on end since you can't move the stupid thing for fear of smudging the stencil.

August 14, 2011

Cheater, cheater, Chrysanthemum Eater

I've spent the last few months buried up to my neck in... the New York Times Sunday Crossword! I'm obviously terrible, because I work on it for a while on Sunday and then gradually throughout the week. I'm almost about to break through, though - I've only got one little chunk left to solve from this past Sunday's puzzle. Hooray! Only one week later.

So, creative endeavors have taken a backseat lately. But a few weeks ago, I saw the front cover of the Paper Source catalog and decided that I HAD to have the chrysanthemum wreath featured on it.

So pretty, right?

Paper Source sells these kits that you can assemble yourself. The make it really easy to be creative. Actually, it's so easy, that it feels like cheating. All you have to do is punch the petals out of the pre-cut paper that they provide, curl the petals, and then stick everything together with the tape that they provide. Really, the only decisions you have to make are where to put the flowers and leaves when they are assembled.

That got me to thinking: so much of my creative activities are really just following directions that the real creative people give me? Most of us pull inspiration from elsewhere, but there comes a certain point where it crosses over from "drawing from" to "copying." Where is that line? I'm pretty sure this project is pretty deep into copying territory, but I loved the process (and the result) just the same.

Materials used in this project:
  • Paper Source Chrysanthemum kit
  • Bone folder