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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

before

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.

milk paint

Like chalk paint, milk paint is an age-old mineral paint formed of chalk, earthy pigments and the casein that gives it its name. It is a pure, ecological paint I’ve encountered here in Canada, and comes in powdered form. I decided to try it out on the shopkeeper’s cabinet that I’d modified to fit a nook in my studio.

milk paint- algonquin powder-measure

Any paint lends itself to mixing to achieve just the right shade, but milk paint colour just begs to be played with, like the inks in the old lithography studios I used to print in. First I measured out 85 grams of Canadian Homestead House’s Algonquin.

milk paint-algonquin paint

Equal parts water went into the blender first, followed by the powder. I found it was critical to work quickly with a spatula to scrape down the sides. Be sure to blend it for at least five minutes. Shaking it in a jar doesn’t work so well, and pigments will appear grainy and mottled. Ask me how I know this. I do prefer doing things by hand whenever possible! Wash your blender and any tools thoroughly, immediately, as this paint dries quickly.

milk paint- coal powder

The same again of coal black. Being so simple in ingredients – so much so that I’ve heard that milk paint will go off! – I did think that the stuff wouldn’t smell like much. On the contrary, when mixed with water it smells out and out like any strapping, volatile can of paint. Once dry, there was hardly a whiff.

milk paint- coal paint

Blended, the black paint felt quite different from the brown, far thicker in texture, and asking for more water. Preparing milk paint feels more colour-theory-at-art-school than summer-job-as-student-painter. That alone has much to recommend it, if you’re an adventurous sort.

milk paint- mix

From there I began to mix the colour, adding a teaspoon of the black to darken and cool the brown, painting a swatch, letting it dry, mixing in another teaspoon, testing. If you plan to reproduce what you’re doing, for example to mix another batch as I needed to, it is a very clever practice to make notes of what you did.

milk paint- swatches

The first, plain swatch of algonquin went on to (a hidden spot on) the cabinet smoothly and promptly crackled over the orange stain as it dried, so I knew I’d need to use the binder wherever I didn’t want chippy paint! The shade I wanted appeared at about 5 teaspoons of the coal black paint mix to the half-bag amount of algonquin paint. After mixing in roughly half the amount again of the binder, I got to work painting the shopkeeper’s cabinet. About that – soon. If you missed me wrestling this oversized buffet-and-hutch into my studio nook with the assistance of a saw, crowbar, and vinegar, you can see it over here.

knaves acre

Knaves Acre is the 400-year-old cottage in Sussex that we had the utter delight to live in for a couple of years. Such a community, such wonderful countryside, and a beloved circle of friends. The old cottage is featured in the summer issue of the British interior design magazine, Heart Home. There are beautiful, inspiring spaces in every issue, do go have a look. Would you like to see Knaves from their perspective? Here are some of the images.

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In my studio, the hand-crank machine on the long antique table, usually covered in fabrics, papers, clay pieces, but sometimes transformed for a party.

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The old treadle. Those steps lead up to a reading room in the eaves, and the door opens to the deck and a spectacular view across the weald.

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I do love shelving in a studio for yarns and fabrics and excellent tools. I like to see my things, and know where to find everything at a glance.

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Our daybed, much transformed since we acquired it, with the pillows I sewed as studies in linen all across it. Friends would sleep here, and it is the best place to curl up with tea and a book. I’m very fond of the craft cupboard in the corner.

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We studied at the little round table in the mornings and shared our meals there in the evenings. I like to keep an old crate full of study books and pencils nearby, and basket for napkins and mats. I always thought of the ledge beside it as a mantel, though the little wood stove is opposite.

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The writing desk that I fixed up, and its companion, the painted chair. I love to have a place dedicated to writing and image editing, and all the small things that surround that sort of work. Well positioned between the wood stove and the windows! The doors lead to the rambling old garden, once an acreage, with a pond and a swing and a greenhouse in it. And a cliff!

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The settee is an upholstery project, my first. Next to it a table I revived, and my tall girl’s bluebird typewriter, with a story in it as always. The flowers all round the cottage were picked at Blooming Green.

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Up the steps are the bedrooms, with the painted bed and pot cupboard. The vaulted ceilings are something else! From that window we could see the Bluebell steam by in the distance.

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And through to the girls’ room, tiny but perfectly formed. The truckle bed helped the space function well, such a cosy little room in the eves. One wall was entirely lined with shelves full of books and beloved games.

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I loved this kitchen for its marble counter in one corner, bright windows beyond the hob, and open space to stack my own pottery along with pieces I’ve collected. (And for its old edition of Mrs Beeton’s.) It was fascinating, and so much fun, to watch the lovely editors and photographer Paul Craig working to tell the cottage’s story, looking at the space so differently and shooting from angles I’d never have expected. We ate the tarts I’d baked, and had a lovely time.

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.

writing-desk

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.

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