Reinvention & Renovation

Furniture makeovers and upcyling

Primal Instincts

Naming things; it’s a very primal instinct, isn’t it? From the time that I could write I have been carefully inscribing versions of my name onto everything I own, and indeed many things which I don’t (possession being nine tenths of the law and all that).  A therapist would doubtless put this down to my being briefly but significantly called David for the first few moments of my life, as during the general distraction and euphoria of childbirth at least one of my parents was apparently heard to cry ‘It’s a boy! Let’s name him David!‘ before being eventually corrected by the midwives. As my parents are both doctors, this anatomical oversight is hard to explain.

Like all stories that one’s brothers tell you, this is probably wholly untrue, but ever since then I have been keen to write my correct name, very clearly, everywhere.  Of course the excellent thing is that this kind of territorial behaviour is not something we’re expected to grow out of once we leave childhood behind; instead, we call it Personalisation and consider it to be a very on-trend and chic thing to do.  Hurrah. So today I have been busy personalising the entire contents of the china cabinet, using up some leftover chalkboard paint. Having hosted a bunch of friends for coffee this week and realised the error of having ten identical mugs, I’m wishing I’d done this sooner…

Tips and techniques below for those interested in giving this a whirl…

Making chalkboard teacups:

1. Choose your materials.  I used; 1) porcelain teacups; I had these at home but if you’re starting from scratch choose mugs with a matte finish for greater adhesion, or use a primer as I did for glossy bases like these. 2) Chalkboard paint, from any craft or DIY store. 3) A selection of brushes; thick for the main tag and fine for finishing edges. 4) Repositionable tape for straight lines when painting. 5. A ceramic pen or paint for your ‘thread’. 6. Sharp craft scissors for scraping unwanted paint and making the hole in your tag.

2. Mark up and paint; I used a simple tag for the outline and marked the long straight edges with tape to help me.  Don’t worry about being too exact; the chalk paint is forgiving and can be gently scraped away before finally dry.  Prime if necessary, then give it two coats, following the manufacturers instructions about drying time, before gently scraping out a circle in your tag with the tip of the scissors.  Your finish should now be pretty resilient (though not dishwasher proof), but you could also coat with a clear varnish for even more staying power if you like.

3. Add your coloured thread; I used a sparkly ceramic pen for this, and continued the thread into the cup so that it looks fun when filled with coffee.  Again, check drying times – some brands require you to bake on a low heat to fix the ink and make it permanent.

4. Personalise! I used a chalk marker pen, but all of these options (pictured) work equally well, and wipe off easily with a wet cloth so you can change whenever you like.  Of course, if you’re truly having a retro moment and find yourself mentally back in the schoolyard, this means you can rewrite the names hourly, as you change your friends and ditch your former BFF for someone far cooler and more popular. Ah, those were the days…

Spiders, leaky roofs and that cheese obsession again…

This week’s project: a slate cheese board made from one of the ancient roof tiles which I found tucked away in the shed at the bottom of the garden.  This shed, which looks as if it would fall down if someone so much as coughed loudly in its presence, contains a myriad of dusty and (to me) beautiful abandoned garden bits and bobs left by previous owners.  A mountain of tiny, hand-formed terracotta plant pots are ready to be transformed into summer candles (on my long list of things to do…), but it was the slate tiles that caught my eye this time.

Taking the filthy and unpromising specimens below, the first step was to give each a long, hard scrub before coating with a durable matt varnish to bring out the original depth of colour.  Actually, I’ve abbreviated the process somewhat; the first step was to pick up a slate tile, carry it halfway in doors before dropping it, shrieking, onto the lawn as a generation of arachnids large and small leapt off the tile and scurried hastily back to the security of the shed. Having recovered from the mild hysteria this provoked, I carefully checked that no-one had observed me before casually retrieving the tile and continuing with the stages described above.

I used two cupboard handles shaped like chillies to attach to either end for carrying – I’d found these a year ago in a sale bin at the local DIY store and finally they’ve found a natural home.  I used epoxy resin to attach them securely, though those more savvy with drill-bits might want to have a go at doing this properly and making holes in the slate itself; mine looked a bit fragile to take it.  Now for the fun bit of accessorising the new cheeseboard; these decorative parchment leaves look great against the black, and a simple white pastel pencil works well on the slate, and is erased with one wipe of a wet cloth.  I’ll also be using it for tapas, with perhaps a trio of white bowls for contrast.

This project would be even easier with new slate tiles if you happen to come across them or have neighbours who are in the process of repairing their roof; a word of caution however – it was only when I whipped this out at dinner with much fanfare and self-congratulation that I noticed my husband peering at it a bit too closely. ‘Would that be one of the handful of original tiles I’d set aside to repair the annexe roof?’ he queried, in the kind of voice that tells you we both know the answer already.  Oops. So check that the roof slate is spare before coming over all artistic, would be my advice.  Still, it looks great

A kitchen for the Mini-Gourmand

It was when we were raising a glass to the completion of our new kitchen that we belatedly noticed Harry stalking around stroking the cupboards and muttering gleefully ‘My new kitchen! What is in my cupboards? I cook now!’

Never one to miss an opportunity to raise an enlightened metrosexual, it seemed an opportune time to focus on completing the toy play kitchen I’ve been making out of bits and bobs in the garage, but which has fallen off the priority list since our house move.

I bought a dresser top from Ebay (a bargain at £12) and painted it with leftover cream Eggshell, then raided the local Poundsaver store for accessories; the sink (lasagne dish), cups, utensils and bread board all cost less than £1, which is just as well as their life expectancy is already in jeopardy after some flamboyant, Heston-style dramatic gestures from the toddler chef de cuisine. The recycled taps and knobs were procured during a visit to the local dump after I wrestled them off an unwanted sink and cupboard, with the wrench and screwdriver I tend to carry in my handbag (ex-Girl Guides are always prepared…).

Harry may be a dab hand in the kitchen, but he is still inevitably a small boy, so guests; be warned that top of the menu is Slug Soup and Worm Sandwiches.  At least you know he’ll have pretended to wash his hands before dishing up…



The finished play kitchen, complete with accessories…and the original Ebay find (below)

The kettle and toaster were an Amazon.co.uk find

The hob (below) was made with CDs and silver-sprayed wooden knobs

The cupboards are filled with empty food packets and a junk store tea set, plus this rather fabulous toy cake stand from Grandma

I admit it; this was just a great excuse to buy and eat a whole camembert.

Hours of fun (and peace…)

More

Shoebox beds for mice (and dolls, and bears…)

My son is the proud owner of a grown-up proper bed, and insists on taking all visitors upstairs to admire it, and to admire also his technique in getting in and out and generally demonstrating the art of Taking To One’s Bed.  Every night, a new toy is invited under the covers to accompany him, and no-one is ever turfed out, meaning that after a week there is barely enough room for Harry and we are generally woken in the wee smalls by the sound of sleepy arguments and turf wars as H wrestles with his toys for pillow space.  Action was called for, so now Marvin (mouse) and Digby (dog) have their own bed, which was as close as I could make to being a replica of Harry’s own.  Using a cutdown shoebox, clip-art tongue and groove panelling and a remnant of batting covered in gingham, we now have a bed, pillow and duvet to rival Harry’s own.

The only risky moment was when Harry turfed them both out and claimed that HE wanted to sleep in Digby’s bed….  A compromise was reached and Marvin and Digby now sleep alongside Harry with this bed carefully positioned next to his.  Let’s see how long it lasts….

More

And whilst we’re talking cardboard….

The wonderful and dangerous thing about moving house is that without warning you become drawn to homewares catalogues like a moth to a flame.  John Lewis suddenly makes a stealth entry into your ‘most visited’ sites lists and ne’er a day goes by without an interestingly large package arriving on the doorstep… or so my husband complains.  Still, a happy upside of this retail incontinence is that I find myself with a wealth of large empty boxes, just waiting to be recycled into fetching play equipment.  ’Think how much we’ve saved!’ I cry, to an unconvinced marital audience. In this case, a large box (formerly housing a vacuum cleaner, since you ask) has been painted and appended with some mouth-watering clip art to make a simple play shop, through which much money has changed hands in the last 24 hours in exchange for a variety of dented plastic vegetables.

As you can see from the pictures below, the actual cardboard box with just a door and a serving hatch cut into it were just as exciting to the 2yr old in question – the paint and decor just makes it a slightly more attractive addition to the playroom…

More

Simple cardboard train

In our new house we have a huge open hallway adjoining a large room  which is currently empty (the new kitchen arrives in two weeks and counting…).  It’s a space just begging for play, and my toddler has spent the last week careering from one to the next, dragging balloons, toys and numerous random household items in his wake.  A pull-along train is definitely called for, if only to ensure safe passage for Wilberforce, Leo and Rabbit.  Here I painted two leftover packing boxes, joined them with a length of rope and added one for pulling along.  The wheels are silver paper plates (bounty from Poundsaver, my retail guilty pleasure), and for the rear I printed up a simple backplate with the driver’s name; I’m discovering that ownership is very important when you’re two.

As you can see from the pictures below, Harry’s train was a hit, and it’s uncertain whether the passengers will ever be allowed to disembark….

More