Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fabric-Covered Filing Cabinet

I have had a lot of requests for a more detailed how-to on my fabric-covered metal filing cabinet. (See my post from November 8, 2009 for the original discussion.) Why in the world I did not take more photos of this process, I'll never know, but I have posted a pretty thorough set of directions here.

Finding the right cab
Obviously you need to start with metal filing cabinet. (Some wood cabs might work, too.) There are plenty of places to find an old metal filing cabinet like the one in the picture - thrift shops, used furniture stores, garage sales... I even seen them on the side of the road. Seriously, don't be embarrased to pull over and look at somebody else's garbage. It might have potential and it would be free!

There are few things to be aware of when you are looking for the perfect used filing cabinet. The condition is important. It should be free of dents and rust and the drawers should open smoothly. It is also important for the base of the cabinet to have the right construction. Turn the cabinet over to inspect the bottom. It should have a metal construction that allows for the feet to be attached used fender washers and nuts as illustrated by this photo. If the base is a different construction and you're not ready to skip the feet, you might want to keep looking.

Once I found the perfect cabinet, I removed the drawers and took off the handles and the label plates. On my filing cabinet, there were screws on the inside of the front of the drawer. The screws held on a back panel in addition to the handle. Don't worry, it's fine to take the back panel off. It should reattach easily.There is no practical way to remove the button that allows the drawer to open, so it's best to work around it - more on that in a minute.
Fabric and Feet
I used basic cotton quilting material because it's easy to work with and it comes in so many different colors and patterns. Another thing to keep in mind when selecting a fabric is that the decopouge will darken the fabric slightly (dark, dark brown will turn almost black).

Next, cut out a piece of fabric for the face of the drawer that is at least an inch wider on each side.  Lay the fabric over the face of the drawer and mark where the button will come through. Then, cut two little slits in the shape of a cross in the fabric.

Set the fabric aside and use some sandpaper to rough up the surface of the drawer faces and wipe the surface clean with a damp cloth. Then, apply a decent layer of decoupage to the cabinet face. (You can get decoupage at any craft store.) Finally, work the slits in the fabric around the push button and start smoothing out the fabric with side of your hand until there are no air bubbles.

Next, cut slits at each corner of the drawer face. Then, trim the fabric down a little before wrapping and adhering the fabric around the edges using the decoupage method. If you are using a thicker fabric, you may not want to wrap it around the edges because this likely will prevent the drawers from closing properly. In this case, wait till the fabric is dry, place the drawer front face down on a clean, flat surface and use a rotary cutter with a sharp blade to trim the fabric clean to the edge.

Don't worry if some of the decoupage leaks through the fabric. When the fabric dries, you will apply another coat of decoupage on top of the fabric using a paint brush. (If you have very thick fabric and none of the decoupage leaked through, you have the option to skip this final layer of decoupage.) When this outer layer of decoupage dries, the surface will feel harder and more durable.

Repeat for other drawer(s).

The last step is putting the handles and label plates back on. I used an exacto knife to cut slits where the label plates attach and where the screws for the handles go through. Using a new, sharp blade is crucial for this step. Otherwise, you'll have a mess and ruin what you spent so much time doing. Finally, put the drawers back in and you're done!

I searched around for the feet and finally found the perfect thing at a big box store, but I have seen them in woodworker's catalogues, too. As I discussed earlier, the bottom of my cabinet already had holes that allowed me to attach the feet using fender washers and nuts.

When painting the metal cabinet, make sure to rough it up with sandpaper and wipe it down with a damp cloth first. Then, you absolutely must apply a primer before applying the paint. I would go to the paint store (not Home Depot, go to a paint store) and ask them what primer and paint you should use. I used regular primer and latex paint for my metal filing cabinet and it's holding up just fine. But, if you think it will take alot of abuse, you may need to go with a sturdier paint like acrylic or enamel. Another thing to consider is application - with paint brushes you will see the brush strokes and some people are fine with that. But, for a more professional quality finish, you may want to spray paint.

I would very much like to feature a few examples of filing cabinet done by others. So, feel free to send me pics of your work and I'll post them here!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gettin' Christmasy

Working on these oversized Christmas ornaments. This is the first one and I think it turned out great. I knit it, I felt it, and I stuff it. You know you want one for your tree! Just convo me through Etsy to place a custom order. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A New Life for Old Beads

I would like to share with you a new product that I am offering. They're earrings! We all know them, we all love them and I have extended the wastenot theme to them. The thought occured to me - when my daughter and I were making necklaces out of a set of disfunctional doorway beads - that there are probably enough beads in the world to avoid creating any new ones for at least a few hundred years. So, armed with some hand-me-down necklaces and thrift store finds, I embarked on the mission of creating jewelry from spare parts. I have found that older jewelry findings are typically tarnished and/or gold-plated. I'm not into either look, so I do start with new findings (aside from a wonderful silver chain I found at a thrift store). I am currently looking for a jewelry findings supplier that is based and manufactures in the U.S.A. Any suggestions are much appreciated. Here's the first batch of earrings ready to go to market.

Besides the earrings, you may also notice the attractive display, compiled of a picture frame I found at a thrift store and wood scraps. I removed the glass and backing from the picture frame and infilled within the frame using wood scraps. Wood scrap feet and some 'big box' hooks were all I needed to complete this simple little beauty.

I'm branding my earrings and other jewelry I make as christilou, affiliated with the Wastenot Workshop. I'm going to be selling this first batch of earrings at a friend's yoga studio in Carmel, New York. Thanks Amy! Here's your plug!

The YogaScape and Spa

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mid-Century Night Table with a Twist

Recently, I started dwelling on the fact that our bedroom is not the relaxing, soothing place that I want it to be. In fact, it had become quite the opposite - a dumping ground for everything we didn't know what to do with - piles of unfolded laundry and plastic containers full of bedding and other miscellaneous items. The worst was part was that my books had no home next to my bed other than the dusty floor. Something had to be done! After doing a simple reorganizing of my closet, I was finally able to put away all the laundry. I cleared out the boxes and sold two disfunctional dressers and an oversized bed set on Craig's List. Sometimes you just have to start with a blank slate. I decided the first thing I needed to get the bedroom redo going was a proper night stand with a drawer and a shelf for my precious books.

As usual, I hit the thrift stores. I had in my mind that I wanted the room to have a mid-century flare, so I kept my eyes peeled for an old piece in need of some work. When searching for items like this, I specifically do not want a pristine piece of furniture - one, because of the price, and two, because I would never get over the guilt aquired from comprimising the integrity of an antique. The third store I went to turned up a fantastic result. One corner of the night stand was a little banged up, but I had an idea for that so I laid down my ten bucks and got out of there.

To deal with the banged-up corner, I added some wood trim and used a little wood filler. After a good sanding, I painted the entire thing a deep chocolate brown and sprayed the handle with silver paint. Now, this would have been fine. But these days, fine just ain't good enough. I wanted to add a little something extra. Knowing what the accent color of our room was going to be, I got out the orange spray paint.

Now what? I thought for a while. I really wanted to make this easy on myself and I knew I wanted circles of some sort - i.e. no hand-painting. Then it came to me that I could simply cut blue painter's tape into any shape I would like. So I cut out little circles free-hand, stuck them onto the drawer, and spray painted it orange. I had to put a plastic bag over the parts of the drawer that I didn't want to be orange.

I was able to peel off the circles without too much trouble. If you ever try this method, however, I recommend using a pin or needle to get each peel started. Don't use your fingernail as it can gouge the base paint.
Among the other projects I have planned for our bedroom are building my own platform bed and jazzing up a torn paper lantern - both projects to be featured in future blogs. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scrap Paper Valentine's Day Hearts

I know it's not Valentine's Day, but I'm sure it will be here before we know it anyway. Plus, if I don't post this now, I may never remember to do it. So, let's talk Valentine's Day in September, shall we? My four-year-old daughter and I had a grand time making these scrap paper Valentine's Day cards for her classmates this past year. It's a perfect project for young kids because no accuracy is required - just pure creativity (and plenty of glue, which we all know they love!). First, we took some scraps of pretty craft paper I had saved from other projects and cut them up into smaller pieces. Then, we filled up whole sheets of construction paper by gluing the scraps on. Finally, I made a heart template, traced it onto each piece of construction paper multiple times and cut them out. We wrote the 'to' and 'from' on the back and we were done. Easy and fun - not to mention unique and green!

Monday, September 13, 2010


You're gonna want a saw for this one. (Oh, and a compressor and nail gun would be nice, too.) If you're a novice with power tools heavier than a drill, this is the perfect project to learn on because it's simple and perfection is not required. Ask a buddy with some of these basic tools to give you a lesson. Who knows - this time next year, you might be so hooked on it that you own your own tools.

For this project, you will need some kind of crates or boxes that can be stacked on top of eachother. I had these wooden crates laying around, but resale shops and antique stores are both excellents sources. Additionally, you will need some decorative trim and some bun feet. I had the trim leftover from other projects. You can check out local building salvage store for reclaimed trim if you don't have any laying around. I purchased the bun feet from a big box store, but it would have been really cool to have found some feet off an old piece of furniture. I am constantly seeing old, worn couches out at the curb that likely have feet that could be reused.

The process is pretty simple. Screw the crates together with screws of the appropriate size. Cut and nail on the trim. Drill holes and screw in the feet. Lastly, paint. A simple coat of one color will do, as I've done here. If you want to step it up a notch, try painting on some hip, cool design or decoupage your favorite material onto key areas. (See the blog from November 8, 2009 for an example of applying material using decoupage.)

That's it - an affordable, eco-friendly side table (or two) with character finished in a weekend!

To go with the nightstand, which was for my daughter, I also put a new coat of paint on an old trunk and made a simple clothing rack with hooks. For the clothing rack, I used some scrap wood from previous projects - just a 2x4 and some trim. I had the hooks, but you can often find hooks at a place like the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Otherwise, your local hardware store will do. I like simple projects like these because you get a lot of impact for a small amount of time and money.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Campsite Crafting

Every year, we get together with a group of friends and take over a campground. Okay, we don't really take it over, but, there's a lot of us and we may seem a bit overwhelming at times. We've spawned so many children that we need a group site! This year, I thought the kids might enjoy doing a group nature craft. After more pondering than was necessary, I came up with the idea of making ornaments. We are all nature lovers and start to feel a little restless during the long, cold Wisconsin winters. So, what better to have on the ol' Christmas tree than an ornament that reminds us of sunnier, warmer times and what we have to look forward to (and be thankful for).

To start, I purchased some blank carboard  ornaments from the craft store. (Yes, they actually had Christmas stuff out in the middle of summer.) I would have preferred to slice up some thick branches or other found objects and attach our own strings, but time was becoming a major factor (probably due to the over-pondering). What can I say? I'm not a purist. Practicality must come first at times.

During the first few days of the camping trip, my daughter helped me collect little rocks and shells from the beach as well as sticks and nuts from the campsite. Then we got to the crafting. Kids and moms both enjoyed themselves. The dads pretty much stayed out of it. Here are some of the results of our camping creativity. I can't wait to see them on the tree at Christmas!

"Aw screw it, get the sledge hammer!"

There are times in life where it is best to listen to your father. This was the case recently as we began the remodel of our first floor bathroom. You see, Dad's more of the philosophy that we should totally gut rooms, get it down to the bare bones, and start fresh with new drywall and such. I am more of the school of thought that we should work with what's there, patch things, fill in the blanks, smooth things out, etc... as long as it looks beautiful, of course. So, it being my house, I have the right to trump any and all of Dad's opinions if I so wish. So I decided to have a few friends over to do some minimal demo to prep the bathroom for the construction stage. All went well. Thank you Colleen & Lucas!

Only problem was, the bathroom still looked so gross to me. And, more and more, I was shying away from the idea of just working with what was there and was leaning toward the whole fresh start approach. It could have been the fact that both of my parents were laying the convincing arguments on extra thick or it could have been my pending fear that the moldy areas would never really be clean even with bleach and paint. Or, maybe it was just that I finally came to my senses and realized that sometimes, you just gotta say, "aw screw it, get the sledge hammer." So that's exactly what my Dad, Jon, and I did one hot summer day in July. We strapped on the dust masks and safety glasses, picked up our hammers and wrecking bars, and embarked on the fourth major demolition project this house as seen since we graced it with our presence two years ago.

Here is the state of the bathroom now - bare bones, cleaned out, and ready for a fresh start - just the way Dad likes it. Next steps include moving the window, a new bath fan and lighting, insulation, and finishes. I have some more reuse ideas up my sleeve so stay tuned for what's to come. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Breaking Down the Wall

Frugal Remodeler Episode 4

In 1926, when our house was built, a typical home was divided up very formally - a separate parlor for gathering, a separate room for dining, and of course, a very separate kitchen for women to cook in. Now-a-days, family life is much different and many prefer a more open plan, frequently creating a "great room" that includes the kitchen, the dining area, and the living space. I see the good in it. Families enjoy just being by eachother even if they are doing different things. We like that, too.

In order to get that in our house, we needed to create one large room out of our very separate dining and living rooms. We knew that breaking down the wall between them would give our family a larger and more flexible space. So, my friend Tamara and I decided to just go ahead and tear the thing down. I'm tellin' ya, this was not just any wall. It was more like a a wall within a wall. So really, it was two walls and one very large set of pocket doors. Here's the wall is in all of its glory. (And, oh yeah, there some nasty old panelling, too.)

We started by removing the wood trim and baseboards. Then we hit the plaster, using hammers and crowbars to chip it away and gathering it in garbage cans. We wore masks and safety glasses for this - very important. Here's Tamara sportin' the wear.

The last step, breaking down the wall's structure was a real pain. Apparently, this thing was not going down without a fight. I still can't figure out how they built it because the inner wood sleeve for the pocket doors was nailed to the studs from the inside. They must have built each side separately and then titled them up into place... but who knows. Then, there was the matter of removing the pocket doors, presumably installed in 1926 using hardware I did not recognize or understand.

In general, the whole wall was over-kill. It was completely over-built and made for a much bigger pile of wood than I would have preferred. Luckily, Madison has a great recycling program so we were able to recycle most of our construction debris. I still have the pocket doors complete with mystery hardware - destined for reuse.

We started this whole process at 8:30am and finished at 8:30pm - 12 hours minus a quick lunch and dinner. The shower afterwards was the best part of the whole day, with eating the dinner my mother made for us a very close second. Thanks Mom!

Above are the results of our labor. It's not perfect yet - obviously. There's a scar on the ceiling and walls where the monster divider used to be. And... there's some exposed ductwork, but hey - nothin' a few studs and some drywall won't fix. Here's the preliminary plan that Jon and I come up with. It's gonna be a little while since there are some other projects to tackle first. But, when it's done, I promise to share.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pushing the Limit

Frugal Remodeler Episode 3

Ever since we moved into this house, I have been doing battle with the entry foyer. And since this space is the absolute first impression you get when you walk into our house, it wasn't exactly wowing visitors.

The foyer wasn't in the best condition to begin with. Asbestos flooring tile had been painstakingly glued with asbestic mastic to the original hardwood floors at some point in the past. After the asbestos removal people paid me a visit, I ended up with nothing but the old diagonal plank sub-floor. And, you could see through the cracks to the basement below! To top it off, the newel post at the bottom stair was so wobbly that it took the railing with it as it moved from side to side.

First thing, I had to tackle that newel post and the railing that was not properly connected. With a growing daughter who was climbing stairs, we needed a sturdy railing. I really had to do my research on this one. For things like this, I tend to visit the websites of trusted home improvement shows like This Old House. I've never done anything like this before, but I found you just have to have the right instructions, the right tools, and a little muscle. I had at least one mis-fire when trying to stablize the newel post. But at the end, I stood up, placed one hand on either side of the newel post and shook.... Nothing. I shook it again, harder this time..... still nothing. Dude, I totally fixed the newel post! From there, I reattached the railing and balusters and built new caps for each newel.

The next problem to solve was how to get gorgeous flooring on a budget. I have found that you can get amazing deals on quality flooring if you visit your local flooring stores and ask to have a look at their discontinued inventory. I purchased pre-finished solid-wood, tongue and groove, maple flooring for a third of the original price - simply because they were trying to get rid of it because it was a discontinued line. On-line resources like Craig's List are another great resource for cheap but good flooring.

The last big step to complete the job was painting. Now, I've painted many a room, but this painting-the-stairs business was beyond the usual scope of my painting work. I had to use several brush sizes and a lot of painter's tape to do this job. It took several days to complete. A good tip for painting stairs: When you paint the stair treads, do one half at a time so you can continue to use the stairs throughout the project. You'll have to go back and forth from the left side to the right side with each coat of primer or paint you apply to ensure a nice even coat. I guess the alternative is to send your family or roommates away for a few days, but good luck with that. Here's a photo of the completed stairs and new wood floors.

I've finished off the room with the chandelier I wrote about in a previous blog post and a used coffee table for a bench and shoe storage. I also hung a piece I produced for Design MMOCA in 2008 - a coat rack made out of a piece of salvaged window casing.

The Foyer's Future
The foyer also has a little nook that I am constructing a mini-office in by jazzing up some salvaged cabinets from the Habitat Restore (pictured below). Watch for photos of the finished project in a future blog!