the 1940’s beds, improved

Curiously, when we assembled the antique beds after painting them, the beds did not look like this: 1940's-beds-reading-aloud

Instead, each bed lay at an angle, attaching a couple of inches higher at the headboard than at the footboard!

What on earth were they thinking? Have decades of children slept on a hill? Did someone in 1940’s England believe it to be healthier to sleep on an incline? Apparently some folks do. Or was it an error of production?


Nor was that the only problem. If one used the box springs, the mattresses sat higher than the top of the footboard in the most unappealing way. Without them, there were no supports for a mattress. Mystified, we set about putting it right with my fathers’s kind help.


My grandfather’s hand-drill was just the thing to bore new holes. Best to be precise on this kind of piece.


Being thorough, and taking pity on me, he not only levelled the frame but also cut down store-bought slats, attaching metal along the edge to contain them. Very comfortable! This is fiddly work, but I highly recommend it if you’ve an old bed to update.


Do learn from my mistake – never purchase antique furniture unless you can see it properly assembled, or you’re up for a big project.

Our children adore their level, slatted, painted, new-and-improved vintage beds. Good night!

painting the 1940’s beds

Having left our children’s beds behind in England, I was very pleased to stumble on a pair of twin 1940’s beds for sale not far from the lake. They were in pieces, but they showed great character and possibility, and even bore a plate stating that they were English themselves, by appointment to the King. Well then!


Such a charming shape. I confess to desaturating this picture, you didn’t want to see orange wood either, I’m sure. In summer weather I chalk painted them.

painting the 1940s beds

I sanded them a bit.

painted headboards

I gave them a coat of beeswax polish, and buffed them a little.

painted headboards

The children slept through the summer on the box spring and mattresses, stacked in their room. They slept through the autumn on the box spring and mattresses, stacked in their room.

Then I had a moment to assemble the beds, and here I got a bit of a surprise. More about this surprise, and to see the finished pieces, here.

writing desk

One of the traditional skills I’ve been studying is quite compatible with a predilection for fixing up old furniture. The fine art of haggling. I once read that if the seller doesn’t bargain, they always feel they should’ve asked for more, and if the buyer doesn’t bargain, they always feel they should’ve paid less; when they both negotiate, everyone goes away feeling quite satisfied with themselves. At any rate, between antique shops, online auctions and vintage markets, I’m in training. Just recently I bargained my way into a great deal on a neglected old painted secretary desk. The writing desk came home with us, to be refinished like several pieces I’ve worked on at the old cottage.


The yellowed paint was sanded a little and lightly coated with Old White chalk paint, and I removed old paint from the ornate handles with a dull scouring pad; they came up beautifully, though I admired some of the texture and left it. The good old fashioned leather inlay needed a gentle scrubbing and oiling to restore, it’s a beautiful surface to write upon with just a sheet of paper, though I’m usually working in a sketchbook or writing book. My fountain pen will be a natural match for the piece, when it returns from Germany where it is kindly being repaired, as I had the ill fortune to drop the lovely thing and crack it. Now the desk needs a coat of wax to protect its surface, but I’ve been too impatient to use it!

I adore this bit of furniture, I am thrilled to find it is such a well considered design. All of the drawers lock with a charming key, along with the desk that opens and shuts so elegantly. I love that I can lock up my work for the night, put it away, finished. I’m so pleased to have a devoted place for writing, with drawers and cubbies to keep all manner of papers and objects that didn’t have a good home before. My laptop fits it well, and having a dedicated place to work on it means that I don’t feel I am always working, and that work is everywhere. The top of the desk is just right for a collection of inspiring objects to gaze at, though I can see a bookshelf would also fit beautifully, and the leather inlay has clearly been used just as much for cups of tea as for writing. Ideal companions. If I could persuade my tall child to share, I think her typewriter would look debonair on it. My first experiment in painting fabric, an upholstered chair, had one more coat of a linen shade and is the perfect fellow to the desk, pretty, comfortable and ergonomic no less. When not in use the bureau looks dashing in the corner, which I consider an achievement for a workspace. Secretaire. Well made.

read more tried & trues.
read more stories about handcrafted things.

antique wheelbarrow

A two hundred year old French wheelbarrow makes a beautiful seat, just the thing to move around the garden to catch a rest in the sunshine on early spring days.

antique wheelbarrow - after

The antique barrow aged to a lovely yet bare grey; so I gave it a protective coat of French Linen chalk paint;

antique wheelbarrow - before

(Here it is, before.) And sanded it back in places to reveal hints of the vivid turquoise shade, lingering paintwork from a hardworking life on a continental farm.

antique wheelbarrow © elisa rathje 2012

The rusted metal that encircles the wheel is terribly charming, and the pale linen shade of the antique wheelbarrow is gorgeous out on the lawn.

This homemade project was created for the spring issue of the interior design quarterly from Sally Bourne Interiors, London.

crocheted coaster

First some messy experiments, watching little videos, browsing through patterns, trying different hooks and yarns, and now my studies in crochet are taking shape. I’m determined to crochet a granny square throw, and I’ve been developing my skills as I sort out what motif I’ll use. I’ve been carrying around some beautiful linen yarn and a hook, and when I catch a moment I work on a pattern for one motif or another. Learning the language of crochet patterns was one of the first steps. One of the motifs I fell in love with is the wonderful Yvonne Eijkenduijn‘s very romantic flower crochet pattern.

crocheted coaster © elisa rathje 2011

I attempted it first using a larger hook with a doubled strand, and then using a single strand with a little hook, 3.25mm. I’m getting better at it.

crocheted coaster © elisa rathje 2011

These little motifs are quite nice for tucking under our teacups. A crocheted coaster, or a coaster of any kind, is definitely something I railed against until I abruptly changed my mind, now that I have antique waxed surfaces to protect! If the coasters are pretty my little girls are also more likely to get them out. I’ll be making more of these. And then a colourful throw!


p>update: I fell thoroughly in love with these linen motifs, and use them all over the cottage. You can get all kinds of motifs to use as coasters and doilies, in shades of linen, in my little studio shop.