Thursday, June 13, 2013

perfect chairs

one of the most romantic things my husband can whisper in my ear is, "honey, let's go buy some new furniture!"

and though he's terribly romantic, he doesn't really whisper that very often.

in fact, i don't think he's ever really said those exact words.

not that we haven't ever gone out and bought new furniture, mind you, but i am pretty sure it's never once been HIS idea.  no, i am actually absolutely certain it has never once been HIS idea. he always jokes that if he hadn't married me he'd still be living in pittsburgh completely content with an orange bean bag and a tv tray table (and the pens game)!

and he would.

he'd also have a lot more money in the bank.  his wife and five kids cost him. and he knows that. in fact, i give him credit for not bringing it up more often.  of course he'd tell you we're worth it (smile), but we really are an expensive half dozen.  in 2012, USA Today estimated the average cost of raising a kid was about $250,000 -- that's not including college or weddings.  i'm not sure what the average wife costs, but, as most of you know, my husband has always thought me a bit of an overachiever, so we could probably take whatever that number happens to be and bump it up a bit.

the bottom line is families are expensive.

so back to that furniture thing.  though rick would be happy with his bean bag chair and tray table, i (surprise, surprise) would not.  just to be honest here, we do happen to own an orange bean bag --- but i assure you, it is appropriately placed in the basement where the kids hang out, near the video games and the ping pong table. never have felt the pull, however, to own tv tray tables.  never say never though. anyway, this piece is not about what we have and it's not really about my husband, it's about what we didn't have when moving into this house.

we were short one extremely important family item: a kitchen table.

i'm sure i've already mentioned that fact in a past post, but i have to tell you that it is has thrown me into quite a tizzy.  not only did we need to purchase a table big enough for 7 (maybe 8) people, but we also needed it to fit into a specific (somewhat defined) space. now let me just say, if space and money weren't an issue, we'd have a 15 foot farmhouse table and equally long benches gracing our kitchen.  it would be rustic enough for the little one's crayons and paint set, but charming and elegant all at the same time. comfortable, casual and incredibly cool. neighbors would talk about it in the cul-de-sac and friends would come visit and leave coveting my kitchen table.  it would seat at least 20 and we'd always have room for company -- or more children! since we're dreaming about kitchen things, i'd also, at this time, like to throw a cook into the fantasy.  just someone to show up every day about 4 o'clock and whip us all up a nutritious and delicious dinner.  i can't ever seem to do both.  i can do nutritious or i can do delicious, but rarely do those two worlds collide. perhaps this cook might even, on occasion, be kind enough to do dishes and help with homework.  perhaps she could apply bandaids, kiss boo-boos, and referee some of the sibling strife all while attending to that nutritious and delicious souffle or soup. come on people, we're dreaming here!

back to that table.

so, we got one. i like it a lot, but no one's going to talk about it in a cul-de-sac or anywhere really. it doesn't scream farmhouse fabulous and it isn't 15 feet long, but it's slightly rustic and the wood is dark. and it works well in the space. better yet, it's got just enough distressed gouges in it that if someone misses their meat and accidentally stabs the table, it wouldn't be the end of the world.  or... if someone decided to cut their apple directly on the table (not mentioning names here, but TYLER MCNATT) that is okay too.  bella can safely work with her glitter paints at this table and emily can modge podge an art project or two across it's rustic top. it's a working table. a pretty one, but practical.

so when you buy a new table, guess what else you need to think about?  like everything in our home, it falls prey to the great domino decorating effect.  a new table leads to... chairs! though we sometimes have to eat on the go, i at least like the idea of having chairs to sit upon.  occasionally, the planets do align and we are all home at one time to share a meal. it's a nice thing then, i'm sure you'd agree, to have something to sit in.

i mentioned to a friend recently that we bought a table and now i had to figure out the chairs.  she kind of looked at me funny and then said, "jody, i would never have to 'figure out the chairs,' i just buy the chairs that come with the table .  i buy the set."  i know. i knoooow.  i know people do things that way. it's wise and it's smart and it's incredibly efficient. that kind of one-stop purchasing definitely has it's advantages.  it's probably why "rooms-to-go" was invented.  go in, browse a bit,  pick out a room and voila! it all gets delivered the very next day! everything from the sofa and love seats to the candlesticks and throw pillows. and it's all matchy-matchy and finished off for  you!

but that's not me. nope.

i like the hunt.  actually, i adore the hunt.  not that i have oodles of extra time, but i really do like to drive all over town and poke my nose into every nook and cranny home store in the city.  i like to piece things together. i enjoy the little bit by little bit process.  I CANNOT HELP MYSELF.  perhaps you do not understand the ABSOLUTE THRILL of coming upon the perfect throw pillow or thing-a-ma-bob in an unexpected, out-of-the-way kind of place?  i've heard some people say i should check "online" and make sure a store has what i'm looking for.  yes, that's as smart as ordering the set of chairs which attend the table. but how can i explain that i love walking into a store and not knowing if they have what i'm looking for.  i don't want a secure list of the sureties...i want the luxury of looking at all the possibilities.  i suppose you either get that or you don't.

so no, i did not buy the chairs that "came with" the table.  my husband (the guy with the orange bean bag and tv tray table) he was ready to throw in seven chairs on the night of the great table purchase.  but i said, "oh, honey, let's just see what i can come up with...."  he rolled his eyes because he knows his wife.  but seriously what man wouldn't agree to foregoing the extra cost of 7 chairs. so, somewhat skeptically, he answered, "okay. fine you work on that."

but it wasn't exactly that easy.

because it never is when you are a domestic huntress like me.  and, unfortunately, there we were for quite some time with a nice, new table...but no chairs circling it's rustic beauty. we stood with our cereal bowls and sandwiches while gazing at our nice, new (chair-less) kitchen table.

eventually, i began my hunt with great enthusiasm.  but that, of course, waned a tad when i realized what i was envisioning was going to cost us a college education.  i would need to get creative. i would need to get financially frugal (after all, we still had window treatments in the dining room to do!)  first of all, i rounded up the four chairs we had in different corners around our house.  these four chairs belonged to a dining set of my parents when they were first married. i grew up eating roast beef at sunday dinner in these ladder back chairs.  my parents gave them to us over 20 years ago when rick and i were married. we've used them as extra chairs and desk chairs and craft table chairs, but never as kitchen table chairs.  but guess what -- that's exactly what they are now! so with our old-new four side chairs in place, we just needed to come up with two arm chairs for the ends and we'd be all set.

and here's what i had my heart set on:

GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS genoa italian chairs from ballard design.   EXCEPT they were going to cost about $400 a piece and wouldn't be ready to ship until the end of october.  october, really??? apparently they had yet to chop down the italian trees. who knows, they might not even have planted the trees! but i had that image seared deeply in my design-loving mind and i was willing to do whatever was needed to get these chairs.  EXCEPT that was a lot of money...and, EXCEPT that was a really long time to wait.  we just could not continue to eat our cereal standing up. i wanted the chairs like, oh...yesterday.  october wasn't looking too good.  so i continued my search with this perfect italian chair fixed fondly in my heart.

i even got my girlfriend, karen, back in atlanta involved.  she's really, really good at this kind of stuff and responded well to my decorating S.O.S. within hours she was sending me links and pictures and ideas.  i just love her.  she understood exactly what i was trying to do. she completely understands why i didn't buy the chairs that came with the table.

i found a few options.  nothing exactly as i wanted it though:  too blue. too brown. too gray. too much money. excuse me, but we are talking about kitchen table chairs here,  is this really THAT important?   seriously, those orange bean bags and tv tray tables were looking better and better all the time. (yeah, right).

then i came across a posting on craigslist.  it was a table (super ugly) and four chairs.  i didn't need the ugly table and i didn't need four chairs.  BUT there were two armchairs in the set that made me pause.  and my wanna-be-decorator-wheels began to turn.  maybe. just maybe...

i called the guy, arranged a time and dragged my friend, diana, with me (because that's the safe thing to do when meeting a stranger from craigslist).  he didn't really want to break up "the set," but finally agreed to sell them to me for $30 a piece. two armchairs at $60... score! they weren't exactly like the italian ones i was dreaming about across the ocean...but they were here in minnesota, the trees had already been cut down and they were going to be mine for sixty stinking dollars!

when i picked them up from this man at his storage facility, he said "these belonged to my wife...she just loved furniture.  she's gone now."  and as i drove away, the sweet irony kind of hit me.  i wish i had taken the time to ask him more about his wife. i should have sat down with him in these arm chairs right there in the parking lot of his storage shed. i should have let him talk to me about his late wife who loved furniture.  i bet she cost him a pretty penny too. i should have asked him to tell me about the family dinners they had in these chairs. i didn't spend more than a few minutes with this elderly man, but something about him standing in his storage garage full of his wife's belongings put some things in perspective for me.  i did not need expensive chairs all the way from italy.  i needed to remember these chairs were about my family circling a table for only a few seasons of life.  circling a table where bread is sliced and stories are shared and memories are made.  circling a table where life is really lived.  a table which the children will someday leave one by one by one.  a table where someday one of us will remain seated across from an empty chair.  no, i didn't need chairs all the way from italy,  i needed to spend less and get a whole lot more.  and that's exactly what i did.

i also got myself a good afternoon project!

 step one: remove the rush seats.

 step two: sand the wood.  you aren't trying to get rid of the stain.  
but you do want to scruff up the surface a bit -- the primer and paint will adhere better.

(important: use a clean, dry rag and thoroughly wipe off all sanding dust when you're finished)

step three:  use a good primer.  cover the surface and allow it to dry. 
my dad would suggest a zinsser product.  see below.

step five: paint the base color on your chair. 1-2 coats.
i was looking for something that had a touch of blue, but was mostly gray.
my choice of paint color: smoke flint (behr).
 sounds a little serious for kitchen table chairs, but the color worked! 

 step six: after the base coat dries, grab some sandpaper and sand the edges 
for that worn and weathered look. this is an important step if you have a house of children and dogs.  you won't despair over scratches and smudges if you put them there yourself! i know this from experience.

step seven:  dust off chairs again and add stain. this is where it gets personal and creative. add as much or as little stain as you'd like.  remember, there's no right way to do this.  i would suggest starting with a little and adding as you go.  i like to apply the stain with a brush and then wipe off with rags.  i add a little and then wipe it off or kind of rub it in until i see what i want. just go ahead and pretend you're an artiste! 
 put some music on and have a glass of wine with this step -- it helps!

step eight:  after you've allowed the stain to dry (a couple of hours) it's time to apply a top coat for protection -- these are kitchen chairs and they will receive some abuse!

step nine:  i didn't love the light, yellow-ee color of the rush i removed them from the chairs, i applied a small amount of stain to the seats to darken them a bit.  again, i started with a little and kept adding. when i was happy with the color i allowed them to dry for about an hour and then sprayed them with shellac to seal in the color and assure safe sitting! 

so that, friends, is the story of our kitchen chairs...

my family circles around our kitchen table in chairs that are absolutely not brand new.  they didn't come right off a show room floor and they weren't shipped all the way from italy.  the rush seats are a little worn and the wood is a little nicked, but somehow, they are absolutely perfect.  they hold memories from someone else's family dinners and they will now hold my family and our memories in future meals.  something about that fits perfectly in our our table.  it's not new furniture, but it's a new perspective and it's beautiful.

now about that cook...


Rebekah said...

Uh oh!! With seven in the family and only six chairs, looks like the cook will keep standing or the orange bean bag will be used after all!! (a nice touch of color) That would only make all the chairs that much more endearing!!

Jennifer said...

Such a great post, and I can relate on many levels! Just can't seem to buy the "set" off the showroom floor. Every project becomes a search, a mission. Took 2 years to finally find the perfect desk, for example. Love antique shops, tag sales, and even my parent's own basement! Furniture with a story is so much more special . . .

Love your new pair of chairs!

Paula said...

You are more than welcome to decorate my home anytime!

Aus said...

I don't know which I like better - the back story or the finished product - both I'm guessing!

hugs - aus and co.

Simply LKJ said...

Love the new chairs, but I too was thinking "aren't there 7 seven of you?"