PSA: Watco Danish Oil is the Shit.

by Lisa Lombardi in , ,

We've already established that I've been a regular Craigslisting fiend lately, but what I skimmed over in my last post is the fact that these finds usually don't arrive in pristine condition.

Take my glorious, beautiful chairs. General Assembly, a company here in Boston that hosts professional development classes (think stuff about online marketing, coding, engineering, etc.), was moving their offices and needed to unload 14 of these puppies, so I jumped on the opportunity. However, due to some crazy planning on my part, I wasn't able to pick up my four until the last available day.

Translation: I got the ones that no one else wanted.

That's not to say that I regret my decision, but I did feel a little knot of worry when I was loading them into the car. There were some fairly noticeable scratches and gouges in the wood, and one had a particularly dark stain on the woven seat. But how much can you complain when you're getting something for reportedly 10% of the original price?

Deep breaths. I could fix this.

You know how when you first move out on your own and really start cooking for yourself, you realize that recipes call for all these spices and seasonings? And that stuff is actually really freaking expensive? It sucks buying everything for the first time, but then you're pretty much set for the next 5-10 years. (I cook pretty exclusively with paprika, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Everything else is virtually untouched.) (Don't be me. Throw away your spices after like, a year.)

Anyway, that's how it is when you first start building an arsenal of tools and magical potions acquired from the Home Depot. Luckily, I've already dipped my toes in that water and had some handy things already waiting in the closet to come to my aid. Namely: steel wool, Murphy Clean & Shine for wood furniture, and Watco Danish Oil in natural.

A little elbow grease, a little actual grease, and some oil later, and my chairs were looking pretty great. The scuffs buffed out and those ugly scrapes and gouges? Completely filled in by the oil.

All that was left was the stain.

I threw everything I had at it. Oxyclean. Mineral spirits. Nail polish remover. (I'm pretty sure it's paint.) And while I'm still not convinced there isn't more I can try, I'm pretty pleased with how far it's come.

Plus, I plan on either have it tucked in under a table or draped with a throw blanket the majority of the time anyway, so I'm not too disappointed.

I officially have seating for six now! Whoo! Party at my place. Except not, because the only kinds of parties I like are parties I can leave at any moment.

Thrift Store Impulse Buys and Other Saturday Adventures

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

As part of my New Year's resolution to stop over-thinking everything, I got up bright and early last Saturday and left the apartment on a mission. My first stop was Winmil Fabrics, in the Chinatown/Downtown Crossing area.

(Does anyone other than ambitious tourists actually venture downtown before noon on the weekends? It was eerily deserted at 11 a.m.)

My thorough research showed that Boston has basically one fabric store within the city limits (i.e. accessible to us carless people), and this is it. I'm sorry to report that it was as dingy and unimpressive as the outside suggested. To be fair, it had the kind of selection that fourth-grade-sewing-class-Lisa would have been all over: cotton/polyester with busy patterns in bright colors — pretty much everything you'd want for that reversible vest that you definitely wore in public on several separate occasions.

Ahem. Unfortunately, this did not fit present-day-Lisa's needs. Disappointing. This strike-out pretty much solidified what I had feared: I was going to have to order my fabric online.

Ordinarily, I prefer to do my shopping online. However, as someone who works in the online retail industry, I know firsthand just how unreliable product photographs can be, and fabric is especially finicky. But I was reading Rosa Beltran's blog when she mentioned that she buys a lot of the fabric for her projects from because they offer free returns within 30 days of purchase, so it's essentially a risk-free way to try a bunch of different options.

WHAT. This is kind of mind-blowing, because when you order fabric yardage, you're making a cut in the bolt that can't be undone. So, unless someone else wants the exact same fabric for the exact same length or less, the store is pretty screwed trying to re-sell it. I don't know how functions with this policy, but it was enough to convince me to just go ahead and order something already. (2015! New year! Cut the crap!)

Next stop: Michael's, to burn through the shiny new gift card I got for Christmas. There's no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than by purchasing multiple cans of spray paint, right?

On my way home, I made a stop at Cheap Chic, a thrift store in Allston. I think a more accurate name would be Sometimes Cheap, Rarely Chic, but it's one of Nathan's go-to places for apartment stuff, so I figured I would give it a try. I was originally on the lookout for a mirror but an accent table caught my eye instead.

Remember this? Furniture shame incarnate?


Do not stare directly into its depths.

So, this table, down in the basement depths of Cheap Chic, caught my eye. It seemed like the right measurements for that corner of the living room, and there was something about the shape and details that I really dug. I'll admit, I waffled for a bit, walking endless circles around the piles of furniture while I had an inner debate.

No. Cut the crap. I bought it, and even haggled the price down a bit to make me feel better. I then proceeded to carry it home three-quarters of a mile. (Bet you didn't know that thrifting could be such a great arm workout.)

That's the angle that sold me on it. But it's not without its problem areas...

Part of the decorative molding was ripped off one side, which I hadn't noticed at the store. Perhaps I was too quick to pull the trigger? Oh, irony.

The top, I knew, sported the most damage. I'm not concerned about the middle portion, since that will be covered by the stereo and record player. But I'll have to try out a few things for the edges. So far, rubbing coffee grounds into the scuffs and scratches has not worked, and something tells me that the other at-home remedies I've seen won't make a difference either. Maybe a scratch correcting marker from the hardware store?

Or maybe I'll paint it. As much as I enjoy the little inlaid jazziness going on at the top, I'm tempted to cover the whole thing in a fresh coat of...deep navy? With faux brass end caps on the legs and the metalwork coated in brassy paint? Who knows. Weigh in with your thoughts, please.

For now, I've opted to just live with it, as is, and hold off on any paint-related solutions until it gets warmer out and I can once again use the balcony for my more fume-y projects. 

The cord situation kind of kills me, but it's not like it was much better before. Maybe I'll try wrapping that bundle in black electrical tape, just to wrangle and camouflage it a bit better.

Now. About that spray paint...


by Lisa Lombardi in , ,

If, like my mother, you're wondering what the heck happened to those chairs I was moaning about, here's a little something to get you off my back:


I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that they're never going to be perfect. See how it's darker around the edge of where the caning is? There lies the remnants of the old stain that, despite my many attempts, I haven't been able to banish completely. (I might give it one more go before I completely admit defeat — I just need to do it while the guys are out so I don't have to witness the inevitable "Really? This again? Is the apartment ever going to stop smelling like chemicals?" look.)

There's also just some naturally occurring variation in the color, because the chairs are constructed of multiple, different pieces of wood. Strangely, I'm okay with that. I'm actually pretty okay with the whole thing, in general, which is good because I've had moments of sheer panic over these chairs where I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking "OMIGOD WHAT HAVE I DONE??"

I'm just kidding. Kind of.

My anal obsession with the lingering stain, aside, I'm in the home stretch. All I really need to do is pick out new fabric and slap it on those cushions. (I'm also going to work a little Frankenstein-like magic on the foam cushions themselves, but more on that after I put my plan into action.) The issue I'm facing, though, is this: the dining room is a total blank slate. There's nothing but dark wood and empty walls — no real direction to influence what color or pattern (or lack thereof) I choose. This would be a blessing — a license to run wild, really — if not for the fact that I can't get past the idea that what the room really needs is a rug. A big one.

Which leads me to this: how can I pick the upholstery fabric when I don't have that rug to work with? What if I pick some crazy pattern that makes it impossible to find a rug to coordinate with it?

I have this thought cemented in my brain that the dining room can't get just any rug. No, it needs something amazing that goes with the other ones we already have in the apartment. All of the doorways in the living room are so large that they make the whole office/living room/entryway/dining room area feel like one giant common space. That, in turn, makes me feel like I have to come up with some cohesive style that isn't too crazy different from room to room. (The kitchen, with its buffer zone of hallway and pantry, doesn't suffer from this problem. As such, it's noticeably different from the rest of the common spaces.)

So. The rugs. Here's what we're working with:

First up is the rug in the living room, which, as you can see in the photo, is within easy sight of the dining room. 

Next we have the rug in the entryway, which shares doorways with both the living room and the dining room. Similar floral pattern in a slightly different color scheme.

Finally, this is the rug that's in Andy's office, which doesn't share a doorway with the dining room, but is still within easy sight. This rug has a decidedly different pattern and vibe from the other two, but the geometric qualities, color scheme, and vintage look help it mesh just fine. 

For months now, I've been scouring the Internet for a vintage rug that shares some of the qualities found in the ones we have, but for the size I need (between 6'x9' and 8'x10' to keep it from looking dinky) and the budget I'm willing to part with, it's proving damn near impossible. I thought I had a good Craigslist lead last week, but in my attempt to barter, all lines of communication went cold.

I'm thinking now that maybe I try plan B: get a big-ass neutral rug and just layer a vintage one on top of it. It could work; I've found a bunch of rugs that I love and can afford, but they were all just too small on their own.

This is what I've been looking at:

via Apartment Therapy

Via SAS Interiors

So, what do you think? Should I continue my search for the perfect Persian, big size and all? Layer something smaller over a neutral jute or sisal rug? Throw away this notion of cohesion and go for something modern and different? Or maybe do some layering, but with a bunch of neutrals, like in the seventh row of images here?


by Lisa Lombardi in ,

I received two responses to my chair dilemma. My lovely mother suggested that I simply paint them, to which my immediate thought was, "NEVER." A mysterious second commentator recommended that I bribe my friends with beer and have them help with the sanding. While this was a wise suggestion, I unfortunately have no friends here in Boston that have even the slightest interest in refinishing chairs, and no amount of beer in the world would change that.

So I went with plan C: chemical stripping. It all sounded so simple — paint on the stripping agent (in this case, Citristrip), wait, and then scrape off the finish. It'd be the chemical equivalent of magic, and this dilemma would be solved once and for all!

Based on the tense I'm using to describe this situation and the dead giveaway of the title of this blog post, you can probably guess that it didn't shake down like that. 

Using the tips I made from bartending all day yesterday*, I gathered the necessary supplies and got to work. All of the labels on the bottles I was using were quite ominous, so I opened a bunch of windows, tied on a bandana, donned protective glasses, and grabbed some rubber gloves. Safety first.

Then, I realized that I couldn't breathe or see, so off came the bandana and glasses. Sorry, safety. If I grow a second head or all of a sudden develop respiratory problems, we know what to blame.

The process of applying the Citristrip to the chairs took approximately one hour, or two episodes of Parks & Recreation (highly recommend: The Fight and The Bubble). First, I wiped the chairs down with a TSP solution to remove any gross stuff that would hinder the stripping process; then, I applied thick, even strokes of the Citristrip (note: the online tutorials I read suggested using cheap foam brushes to do this, but both of the ones I bought started to dissolve and fall apart within about twenty minutes of use, so I bought a cheap one with synthetic bristles that held up better). I waited about 45 minutes before trying to scrape a small section: success! The stain was definitely coming off, but the result was nowhere near as light as what I got when sanding. After scraping down as much of the chair as possible, I hit a second snag. Due to the bizarre (but very cool!) design of these chairs, there are small corners and edges that I can't really fit the scraper tool into — which was one of the big problems with the sanding, too. 

Welllllllllll, crap.

After two applications of Citristrip and vigorous scraping, the chairs are noticeably lighter, but also noticeably a mess. Even after wiping down with some mineral spirits, they're sticky and gloppy and will still require sanding.

Do I want to scream in frustration right now? Yes. I am quite downtrodden. However! I know the sanding process will go a lot faster now that several layers of stain have already been removed, and I know that the Citristrip will be handy in those smaller areas that I can't easily reach with the sander. As long as it's only small detail areas, I think I can handle breaking out smaller tools and putting in the time to get it done. 

Now I just need these two failure chairs to completely dry so I can attack with the sander. I've made a self-imposed deadline to have all the heavy-duty, messy work on these chairs done by this time next week. That means by next Sunday, I need to have the power sanders packed up and put away, the dirty drop cloth gone, and the dining room clean of sawdust and bottles of mysterious chemicals.

Challenge accepted. Now, please excuse me while I finally shower and wallow in beer and more old episodes of Parks & Recreation.


*I bartend part-time, picking up shifts at catered events whenever I need some extra funds. My personal rule is that any money I make in tips is mine to spend, guilt-free, on anything I want. Going to the movies, eating out, or — as is most likely — blowing it all at the hardware store? Totally fine. Remember that the next time you don't tip your bartender: you might be preventing her from spending her Sunday breathing in chemical fumes and getting brown goop all over her clothes. What a jerk.

Project: Dining Chairs

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Remember that chair I mentioned last time? The one I got for the back balcony that ended up destroying hours and hours of my life because I foolishly refused to give up on it?

It looks like chairs are my kryptonite.

Back when I had an alert set up for "dining chairs" on Craigslist, I got an email with an ad for four of these, for FREE. Right price? Check. And there's something about the style that I think is just so cool. I have no idea what that style is, but I like it. (As far as I can tell, "that" style does not exist.)

The seats are going to get recovered so I can finally try my hand at upholstering, and at first, the plan was to leave it at that. I was going to just clean up the wood a bit and focus my efforts on the seats. But then they sat around in my dining room for a week, and the darker wood didn't look right with any of the patterns and colors I was leaning toward. And even after I wiped them down with some Murphy's, there was still this gross waxy film that I didn't want to think too hard about. And I wasn't loving how the finish of the chairs went with the wood floor and the wood paneling on the walls.

And then I wondered: what if I sanded down the current finish and redid it? They're always doing it on HGTV shows and Apartment Therapy and all over the interwebs, so why couldn't I? So I sanded a small part on the underside of one of the chairs, just to see what it would look like.

I loved it. I loved it just as it was, lighter and more casual and soft to the touch. It reminded me of driftwood, and would look amazing with a colorful tribal pattern or something a little more boho.

Before I knew what I was doing, I had started sanding the top side of the chair, merrily going along my way. Sanding. And sanding. And sanding. Twenty minutes passed, and I remembered something: I HATE sanding. The sound is grating and gives me goosebumps and it's slow and it makes a big mess and it's SLOW.

I broke out the power sander, sure that it would be my savior. But after only another twenty minutes or so, I had to stop because I couldn't feel my hands anymore.

These four chairs have been sitting in the dining room for MONTHS now. Every time I try to get a little more work done, I don't last more than an hour before I have to give up again, and I'm left covered in sawdust, ears ringing, hands still vibrating.

I don't know what to do. I still really like the chairs. And a recent compliment from Andy's aunt confirmed that they are, actually, really nice. But I can't keep letting this project drag. The dining room — which, in my defense, barely got used to begin with — is now a wreck of sandpaper, rags, power tools, and unusable space. It's the only common room in the apartment left that I haven't fixed up yet, and I was really hoping to get the ball rolling with these chairs.

But, guys. The SANDING. It's killing me.

What do I do? Give in and junk them? Stick with it? Anyone know some tricks to make sanding less painful? I'm thinking of trying a chemical stripper, but they sound kind of scary. Help!