Rehab: the chair

The neighbor across the street was moving and discarded this chair on the sidewalk. Solid wood utilitarian fabulousity from the earlier half of the 20th century. I thought it was vinyl at first, but it turned out to be leather beyond saving. It’s too bad, it was handsome.

This is not the first chair I’ve picked up off the street with intentions of reupholstering, but it’s the first one I’ve actually *done.* I went to Discount Fabrics for upholstery. Their stock constantly shifts and it’s pretty cheap, so I didn’t go in with any strong opinions and went with whatever caught my eye. I was thinking maybe something in a mod pattern or bright tweed, but the winner this visit happened to be magenta velvet. It was the best choice! How can you go wrong with magenta velvet? That’s right, you can’t! I also got some 8oz. batting to pad it out.

I began by prying off the leather with a flat-head screwdriver. It was very stabby. Lots of this action:

I have newfound respect for upholsterers. Many finger-stabs and skinned knuckles later, I had this and this:

I threw away the old batting and labeled all the pieces (Label first! You’ll forget later.) and noted their orientation in sharpie. Everything you need to know about reupholstering you can learn from taking the chair apart. Take photos if you need to. Make notes about the order in which you took parts off. I had bought upholstery tacks but there were so many on the previous job that I reused a lot of them.

The chair looked pretty good in just muslin, but it was half-naked. It’s a nice chair. It has tied springs and strapping under what you see above, and it’s still in good shape. I started out using the pattern pieces to cut new ones, but allowing enough edge to work with they were basically just large square shapes. So I just cut big pieces and fit them to the chair as I went. I did the same with the batting first, tacking it down at critical points and trimming away the excess. You want the batting to be able to move a little as you adjust and smooth the upholstery over it, so don’t go crazy on attaching it.

I squared the grain of the fabric with the frame of the chair, and started nailing the underside, six or eight evenly-spaced nails per edge. I did one whole edge of the seat first, starting in the center and smoothing between each nail to keep the fabric from puckering. Oh, and if you care about keeping the wood pristine, use a rubber mallet, not a regular hammer like I did.

Once one side is nailed in, turn the chair over and smooth the fabric in the direction of the opposite edge and do the same on that side. It involves a lot of tugging and nailing at the same time because you want the fabric to be taut, not baggy. Three hands would be useful at this point. I was folding the raw fabric edges under for neatness, but I think I’m going to just cover the underside with that black fabric the pros use and not worry about it. Fold the fabric into hospital corners at the corners of the cushion just like you would when making a bed, and nail those down too.

It’s pretty much done and Mooncookie is into it. It will look more finished if I ever get around to doing the edge piping. Maybe later. Magenta velvet chair!

House genealogy (part 1)

I warn you this post is long, but to me it is fascinating. It started with the humble snippet above that came with our escrow paperwork. It was exciting to know that the house was THAT OLD, and that we knew the name of the (probably) original owner. Saloon?! Was our house a saloon? No, it was just the owner’s stated business. I started searching on and found enough information to get me hooked. Hooked enough to pay for an membership. There’s a lot of confusing information out there* but these are the things I know for sure:

1870: Frederick Brandt was working for his father, Conrad, a grocer at 417 3rd St, San Francisco (less than a block from where I work now). Seems like a successful working-class family.

1881: Frederick is listed as a grocer living (and working?) at the same address. Probably took over the family business.

1884: Alameda directory listings have no mention of Mr Brandt.

1886: Mr Brandt appears on the voter registration in Alameda, but no street address. There may not have been a house here at that point.

1887: Frederick Brandt now runs the Chicago Beer Hall with John Hencken. I’m guessing Hencken was an uncle or cousin – Brandt’s mother’s maiden name was Hencken. The bar is just down the street from the location of his father’s store.

1889: Check out the directory listing for his residence:

He was here on this spot, but this was before there was even an *address*!  Also for the locals, 9th Street used to be called McPherson. If you’re interested in what Alameda had going for it in 1889, check this out.

1894: Frederick Brandt is arrested for murder.


Continue reading “House genealogy (part 1)”

Occupants of times past

I’m so excited! I’ve been researching the original owners of our house and I’ve just had a breakthrough. I think I know how the property first changed hands and who the proud owner of the 1930’s stove in the basement was! I’ve been working on a post about it and it’s not ready yet, but I had to share my glee. I started writing the post more than a month ago, but the more I look, the more I find and I’m not done yet. I don’t know why unraveling this mystery gives me such a thrill, but it does.

A plan has been hatched

It’s not much yet, but I think we’ve settled on a general layout for the bathroom renovation. Is it a renovation when you totally change the layout? I don’t know. You know how it’s laid out now? Let me refresh your memory.

The purple areas are not bathroom space. Closet makes sense, storage makes sense, but the laundry room layout and walled-off closet are CUCKOO. So idea #1 is to remedy the awkward waste of space, idea #2 is to get me a bathtub I can use, and idea #3 is to have a bathroom free of leaks and 60 years of other people’s crud.

  • Big bath and shower area (separate units)
  • Door is moved over (no more 2-door airlock)
  • Stacked laundry closet behind the door
  • Build storage around the sink on the left
  • Another window! There was one in the laundry room
  • Toilet remains in the same place

We’ll lose some storage, it’s true. But we’ll add some on either side of the sink, and we have a lot to begin with. Yes it’s weird that our sole bathroom is right off the kitchen, and that’s why I think they had the 2-door entry, but it’s just a waste of space. And the toilet area is so secluded that it might be able to be made into a water closet.

Now that we have this very preliminary floor plan we can start talking to contractors and see how much this insanity is going to cost, and when we might be able to afford to do it.

Lead paint: Delicious but deadly!

That’s my face after I realized what I got myself into.

You know how we had our house painted six months ago? Well we got the absolute cheapest painters ever, not realizing til afterwards that they didn’t prime the house (we really should have realized for that price). They power washed first and they did a couple of coats, but our little old house needed more. It’s not peeling everywhere, but where it is peeling, it started many layers ago. A little scrape on one of the blisters reveals this: Continue reading “Lead paint: Delicious but deadly!”

Screen Doors

Among the many other bees in my bonnet, I’ve gotten it in my head that we need a new screen door. I mean, we do. The current one is kind of awful and pulls the entryway right back to 1958. I’ve examined the catalogs of Vintage Woodworks and The Gingerbread Man many times, but there is no way, NO WAY we’re going to spend $500+ on a screen door. I admire hand craftsmanship and real materials, but I’m not a person who could justify that. Probably ever. So it finally occurred to me (today) that they must make retro-styled doors out of vinyl. They make corbels and gables and everything else out of it. Sure enough, they do and they’re a fraction of the price (Mass production! Yay?). These two are from Screen Tight.

Here is my question to you, gentle reader: Do you think I could get a door like this with screen all the way down and keep myself from accidentally kicking through it?

Or must I resign myself to a model more like this one:

which looks a little more awkward and is frillier than I’d like. Any other manufacturers or solutions I should know about? Please advise.

Sink 911


It’s been pretty stressful around here for the last couple of months so Randall and I booked a vacation, the kind where you lay around by a pool and a nice man brings you drinks and you can read your book all day long. The day before we were to depart our bathtub and sink began to drain very slowly. Randall went to the P-trap to attempt to snake it and the pipe promptly broke off in his hand. Oh 60 year-old plumbing! You little scamp. The old drain broke off where it threads into the sink and there was no way to replace it, so the whole sink had to go. Twist my arm! I hate that sink. But first we had to go on vacation. Continue reading “Sink 911”

Custom house numbers


Since before we painted the outside of the house I’ve been looking for some nice house numbers. There’s lots of great options if you’re looking for mid-century modern or arts and crafts, but Victorian? Not so much. I realize that address numbers were probably not fancy if you lived in a cottage in 1900, but this place needs some gussying up. And I believe the functional necessities in life can and should be beautiful. Not boring.

I was considering painting an address plaque but my brush skills are hit or miss. And then I remembered Ponoko. It’s a website where you can upload 2-D or 3-D designs and have them cut out of a variety of materials (wood, felt, metal, plastic, etc). I’ve been looking for an excuse to try out their service for a while and coming up with a design on the computer is more my speed. Continue reading “Custom house numbers”