One woman's quest to salvage the world's castoffs, lock, stock and bauble
Author: Lisa Cestkowski
A history nerd and profligate collector, I spend way too much of my free time at thrift stores and garage sales, salvaging other people's castoffs. When I'm home, I'm trying to find new uses for old things and undertaking projects well beyond my skill level. Sometimes they actually turn out.
I had some leftover milk paint after last week’s jewelry box redo, so I decided to use it on a sad little curio cabinet I had stored away in my basement waiting for inspiration to strike.
The cabinet was a thrift store find — although calling it a “find” might be a bit of a stretch.
It was dark. It was dingy. It was dated. Literally. There was a stamp on the back that read
“Enesco Imports 1979.
And get a load of the felt glued onto the back of some of the cubby holes. Ooo-la-la. 1970s chic.
Fortunately, the roof section was separate from the rest of the cabinet, so the first thing I did was remove it. Then I pulled up all the felt squares and sanded off the glue residue left behind.
I took off the one handle that was still on the cabinet door. The other one had been sheared off previously. I wasn’t able to remove the portion of the metal screw that was still embedded in the wood.
So instead of screwing in new hardware, I had to glue a couple of wooden knobs onto the door. It’s not ideal, but it will do the job. The door isn’t going to get opened real often, and the knobs aren’t going to have a lot of stress on them, so I’m sure the glue will hold.
Next I broke out the milk paint. Just like with the jewelry box I redid last week, I didn’t use any primer or bonding agent in hopes that the paint would peel off at least a little, leaving me with a nice chippy (faux aged) finish. But just like with the jewelry box, the paint didn’t chip at all. Maybe I need to invest in better milk paint? Or maybe I’ve just been using it over the wrong kinds of finishes?
Except for the lack of chippy-ness, I have to say I’m happy with how the milk paint looks. It’s got a nice flat finish, and it’s a definite improvement over the original dark stain and felt.
I decided to decoupage newspaper onto the backs of a few of the cubbies, because everything looks better with a little newspaper decoupaged onto it.
Then I decided the newspaper was too distracting, so I whitewashed it with a quick coat of paint. Now a hint of the type peeks out, but it’s very subtle.
I also screwed hooks into a couple of random cubbies, so I could hang things off of them.
Here’s the cabinet with the doors closed, all ready to be put to use.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I rounded up some heart-shaped items, like this little frame, to put in a few of the cubbies.
These hearts are metal cookie cutters that I backed with newspaper-lined cardboard (proving once again that everything looks better with a little newspaper decoupaged to it).
I found this sweet heart-shaped lock in the bottom of a thrift store bin a while back.
I also put a couple of keys in the cubbies. None of them fit in the heart-shaped lock, but they were the right size for the cubbies. I’ve had this rusty old skeleton key forever.
This one has an old-timey skeleton key look to it, too, although it is definitely not old; it came from Michael’s craft store a couple years ago.
I filled some of the cubbies with newspaper flowers.
I filled a few of the other cubbies with some random treasures from around my house.
You might think this is a vintage pocket watch, but it’s not. It’s actually a lip gloss compact that I bought at Urban Outfitters about 10 years ago.
Anyhoo, here’s the new, improved curio cabinet.
Anybody else have experience with Folk Art brand milk paint? If you’ve got any advice, leave a comment below. I’d love to know if there’s anything I can do to get it a chippy finish with it. Or what brand would you recommend?
Here’s a little chest of drawers that I redid this week. (I think it’s supposed to be a jewelry box, but I’ve been keeping it on my desk to store office supplies in.)
This is what it looked like when I first got it. I picked it up for a dollar at a garage sale a while back. I thought it was a cute little chest, but I wasn’t wild about the orange-toned stain, which is why I decided to paint it.
Before painting, I wanted to distress the chest a bit to give it some character, so I added a few “wormholes” and scratches with a hammer and nails and then worked a little dark stain into them.
I painted the chest with some white (technically, the color is called “Petticoat”) Folk Art milk paint. Milk paint is supposed to flake off if you don’t apply any bonding agent or primer, giving the piece a chippy/aged sort of look. Unfortunately, my milk paint didn’t flake. At all.
After one coat of milk paint, the chest just looked streaky. And sad. In a non-chippy sort of way.
So I applied a few more coats. The extra paint made the chest look better, but it also filled in all the wormholes and scratches that I had made.
To make the holes and scratches stand out again, I traced over them with a pencil. I also sanded the corners of the chest (and a few other spots) and worked some stain into those areas.
Then I Mod Podged some newspaper onto the bottoms of the drawers.
I brushed some watered down white paint over the newspaper to give it a faded, washed out kind of look and then added another coat of Mod Podge over the top to seal it.
I liked how the bottoms looked so much that I decided to add newspaper to the sides of the drawers, too.
Next, I dug through my stash of craft supplies until I found some label holders for the fronts of the drawers. The ones I had were the right size, but the wrong color.
So I painted them with some black chalk paint.
I nailed the label holders onto the fronts of the drawers and printed out some labels to go inside of them.
Then I filled the drawers with office supplies and called the project done.
I didn’t get quite the chippy look I was hoping for, but I’m happy with how it turned out. I definitely prefer the white paint to the orange stain.
And the labels are a great addition. No more blindly opening and closing each drawer when I’m looking for ink or tacks or a thumb drive.
The newspaper sides are a sweet little detail, too.
I have somehow managed to acquire a small collection of both snowflake ornaments and vintage embroidery hoops.
So as I was packing away my Christmas decorations, I decided I’d put the two together to make a few flattened snow globes (or “snow hoops”) that could hang around my house for the rest of the winter.
This is what I came up with.
Here’s what I started with: my snowflake ornaments, my embroidery hoops, a bag of faux snow, some silver and white glitter, a piece of posterboard and half a yard of cheap white netting.
The first thing I did was lay the embroidery hoops on the posterboard and trace around them, to create backs for the hoops. I decided I didn’t want the backs to be just plain white, so I Mod Podged some newspaper onto each posterboard circle and gave them a wash of watered down white paint.
Then I decided some of my snowflakes were a little too bright and flashy …
… so I put a basecoat of black chalk paint (in lieu of primer) on them and covered the black with either white or silver craft paint.
Then I went back to the backs, coating each one with matte Mod Podge …
… and sprinkling on a little glitter.
I also added glitter to some of the ornaments.
I glued the ornaments down to the backs and sprinkled faux snow on them. (No glue for the snow; I wanted it to be loose like it is in a snow globe.)
Then I pulled the netting through the hoops, trimmed off the excess …
… and glued the hoops onto the backs.
I decided to use three snowflakes in this one.
Here it is with the hoop attached and the snow inside. (I think this one is my favorite.)
And here is the whole group of hoops ready to be hung … except that I hadn’t attached any hangers at that point.
So I pried the exterior and interior hoops apart and fed some burlap ribbon in between them.
In hindsight, it would have been smarter to feed the ribbon through at the same time I sandwiched the netting between the two halves of the hoops.
To celebrate the holidays — and the end of my first semester in my second go-round with college — I made myself a little Christmas present.
Isn’t it purdy? I’ve been crushing on the Pottery Barn JOY sign the whole Christmas season, but as a poor college student, I didn’t have 59 discretionary dollars to spend on a holiday decoration and I had consigned myself to the fact that I would have to go without it.
Then one day last week I noticed a crusty piece of plywood — full of paint smears and stains and holes that had been drilled around the edges — leaning up against the side of our garage. I assume my husband must have put it there, but I decided it was a sign. Or at least it could be. A rustic, reclaimed, one-of-a-kind Pottery-Barn-inspired Christmas sign, that is.
With the plywood in hand, I searched my paint stash for a beautiful Christmas red. All I could find was 1 ounce (half a bottle) of tomatoey red acrylic craft paint. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I made it work by adding a couple of dribbles of black to darken it up and then mixing it with a bit of water and plaster of paris to stretch the paint and make sure it had a nice, flat, chalky finish.
Once I had the paint conundrum solved and the board bedecked in red, I sat down at my computer and played around with a few different words and fonts. Eventually, I settled on my sign saying “noel” in Rockingham medium, and I printed out the letters.
Then I cut away the black ink to create stencils.
I scooched the letters around on the board until I had them where I wanted them and stuck them down with masking tape.
I filled in the stencils with some leftover white chalk paint.
When I had the stencils all filled in …
… I peeled away the paper to reveal the white letters.
Then I rounded up a few pieces of grungy lath. The lath pieces are not even a year old, but my husband had used them to stake out a path he built in our backyard last summer, and they turned that lovely weathered gray color pretty quickly after they were exposed to the elements.
I trimmed two long pieces of the lath to fit horizontally along the top and bottom of the sign first, then drilled pilot holes and nailed the pieces into the plywood.
For the shorter ends of the sign, I butted the lath pieces up along the sides, marked their length with a pencil and trimmed them to fit, then drilled pilot holes and nailed them into place just like I did with the longer pieces.
Here’s a closeup of one of the butted corners.
After I had the frame built, I gave the sign a second coat of paint and then brushed on a couple of coats of Rust-Oleum Chalked protective topcoat.
I have the sign standing sideways on my back porch for now, but I can always hang it horizontally, if the mood strikes.
As I was leafing through my stash of Christmas books this morning, I came upon this gem, published in 1968, that I thought I’d write a quick post about. I picked the book up at an antique store about 15 years ago.
I love the cover of the book, and the inside illustrations are divine. But the real reason I bought it …
… is because it was retired from the Lincoln School Library in my hometown.
I didn’t attend Lincoln School and those due dates are all a little before my time so I don’t recognize any of the borrowers’ names, but I love that sweet reminder of how the world used to be, before books were checked out with bar codes and scanners.
The cards from the card catalog had also been saved and stored in the back pocket.
This might be my favorite illustration from the book: a very Ward-and-June-Cleaverish couple and their 2.0 kiddos hanging a wreath on their front door.
I also like this one, mostly because it has a “LINCOLN SCHOOL LIBRARY” stamp directly above it.
And then there’s this quaint two-page spread of Santa Claus delivering presents. I’d say this is one svelte Santa, but the book refers to him as “roly-poly.” Apparently our standards have changed a bit in that regard since 1968.
Anyhoo, thanks for checking out my little Christmas story.
Despite my best efforts, my little collection of snowpeople keeps growing.
I never go out looking for them, but (like a lot of other things) they just keep finding me.
This is the guy who started it all. He was a Christmas gift when I was kid. (You might recognize him as an Avon decanter; he’s still half full of Sweet Honesty, my signature scent in the eighth grade.)
Most of the rest of my little snow family have been picked up for a song at garage sales and thrift stores over the years.
I really like the vintage ones, like this couple of cuties, who are actually salt and pepper shakers.
But I have a soft spot for simple wooden snowmen, too.
This guy even came with a name tag. (Poor Bob. What kind of a heartless monster would dump him at a thrift store???)
The big guy in the center of this video clip is solar-powered. When I first saw him at the St. Vincent de Paul, I thought he was a broken clock or kitchen timer. I bought him anyway. After I got him home and held him up to the light to inspect him, he started to shimmy, and it dawned on me that the panel on his base was actually a solar cell, not a broken LCD screen.
Most years, I set my snowpeople out on this three-tiered shelf before Christmas. This year — as part of my ongoing quest to put off studying for finals and writing the three papers that I have due next week — I decided to document the process.
On the bottom shelf, I started with this chippy red metal plate.
I propped an evergreen branch (trimmed off the bottom of our Christmas tree) up against the plate.
Then I put a ceramic tree in the center of the shelf …
… and added a couple of larger snowpeople to the right. (I used a few checkers and poker chips as risers in order to vary the height a bit.)
I filled in around the big pieces with smaller snowmen and added a few more random pieces of greenery to hide the risers and fill in the gaps.
For the middle shelf, I started with this green metal plate.
An evergreen branch went in front of the plate again.
Then I added a couple of cocoa tins and a vintage battery-powered light-up Christmas tree in the center of the shelf.
I added Bob and another wooden snowman on the edges …
… and then I finished up with some other random smalls.
The process was pretty much the same for the top shelf, except I skipped the plate in the back and just started with some Christmas tree trimmings.
A couple of vintage Gurley candles went next, with one of them on a riser.
This week’s project — a DIY woven wreath — has been on my to-do list for about a year and a half.
That’s when I dragged this wire frame home from a garage sale. Actually when I dragged it home, it was green, but I forgot to take a “before” picture until after I had spray painted it tan. The reason I painted it? Because I was going to weave some rope around it, and I knew parts of the frame would end up exposed.
The weaving process was pretty straightforward: I went over one wire and under the next, then wrapped around the inside (and outside) wire to start over again.
When I reached the end of the rope, I tucked it into the back of the wreath and glued it down to keep it in place. Then I started with a new piece, keeping the same over-under pattern going.
Here’s what it looked like when I had the entire wreath wrapped.
If you look closely, you can see the wire peeking out in some spots, but since it’s the same color as the sisal rope, it’s hardly noticeable.
Next, I hung a few metal bells from twisted pieces of twine. (I applied a little Mod Podge along the length of the twine to set the twists in place and keep them from unwinding.)
Then I attached the bells and a few trimmings from the bottom of our Christmas tree to the back of the wreath.
I also wired a couple of rusty jingle bells to the top of the evergreen branches …
… and wrapped an old leather strap around the top of the wreath as a hanger.
After Christmas, I figure I will throw out the branches and pack the bells away, but the wreath itself can stay hanging up year round.
That would be the lath in the shower of our downstairs bathroom, which the husband had to tear out in order to attach cement backerboard to the studs, so we could tile the walls.
Sadly, this is what the lath looked like after the husband took his Sawzall and his pry bar to it. (Sigh.)
After digging through the pile of rubble, I found nine longish pieces that weren’t cracked that I figured I could still salvage. Butting the pieces up next to each other, side by side, they measured 13 inches across …
… which coincidentally was the same size as an old wooden wine box I had in my basement.
So instead of having to build a frame, all I had to do was pry the cover off the box. (Sometimes my hoarding tendencies pay off.) (This time my wine-drinking tendencies paid off, too.)
I played around with a few different patterns. Ultimately I decided to go with a log cabin-style quilt square design — mostly because it would be really easy to put together.
I just had to measure out the pieces …
… and cut them with my jigsaw.
I worked from the outside in …
… and alternated the rows, using the front (natural wood) for one row and the back (white with plaster dust) for the next.
I tried to work as many of the nail holes and knots into the design as I could because I thought they added character.
The square came together really quickly.
It took about 20 minutes to cut all the pieces and get them where I wanted them.
Once all the pieces were trimmed, I decided I wanted the frame to be darker, so I stained the wine box cover with some Varathane American Walnut that I found in my basement.
After the stain dried, I glued the pieces into place and filled in the gaps with wood putty.
Not bad for a piece made for free in one afternoon.
I finished one more turkey assemblage just in time for Thanksgiving.
When I first got the idea for this guy, I thought assembling the pieces would be quick and easy because most of the parts were going to attach to the hole in the center of the coffee basket that would become the turkey’s body.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had originally envisioned. Holes had to be drilled out because they weren’t quite large enough, pieces had to be forced into place because they didn’t want to cooperate and, for a long time, the turkey just refused to stand upright.
I got him done, thanks to much help from my husband, who has mad turkey robot engineering skills and, when it comes to helping his wife with mechanical projects and power tools, the patience of a saint.
Here’s what I started with: a coffee filter basket, a bunch of old measuring spoons and two gold furniture feet.
Step 1 was to slide a bolt through the hole in the tablespoon that would become the turkey’s head …
… and then slide the bolt into the hole in the coffee basket.
So far, so good.
Next, I laid out the rest of the measuring spoons in a fan shape, with the largest ones in the middle and the smallest ones on the ends …
… and slid them onto the same bolt the head was attached to. I secured them in place with a nut.
He was already starting to look like a turkey.
At that point, I pulled the measuring spoon tail feathers off so I could drill holes into the bottom of the coffee basket for the turkey’s legs.
Then I put everything back together again.
In order to keep the turkey upright, I had to add a couple of additional tail feather spoons that rested on the ground like a kick stand (the husband’s idea).
Finally, I dug out a few beads and baubles to use as the turkey’s facial features …
… but when I had them glued on, I was underwhelmed. He felt a little blah. I wanted him to have more personality.
So I dug back into my stash of beads and baubles and tried again.