Thrifty Treasures and Cleaning Silver

Craigslist and thrifting are of course, very hit or miss.  It’s better to go into a store with an open mind and a general idea of what you’re looking for or hoping to find.  Occasionally, I make a big score, like our camel leather sofa, but larger pieces have been elusive lately.


Aside from a pair of fantastic chairs, all of my finds have been small accessories.


There are a few items on my list that I’ve been looking for, mostly serving pieces, which thrift stores are chock full of.  Not only are they useful, but look pretty on display in our hutch.



Most recently, I picked up a three dollar silver platter and two brass flower bowls from different places.


A $5 silver teapot, three buck marble and glass cheese dome, 5 dollar brass footed bowl fill in the right side.  I’ve had these gold striped glasses for several years now, and just found a matching pitcher for a mere $4, total score!


For two or so years, I’ve looked for a wooden bowl big enough to hold our Costco quantities of fruit.  Finally, spotted this big, dark guy for ten dollars.


I almost walked out without this smaller hand carved bowl, but in the end, the grain had me hooked.


It’s so interesting and makes a great catchall on my desk.


The silver platter was dirty and tarnished, so I picked up Tarnex to make it shine again.  In my excitement to get it done, I spaced and didn’t take pictures.  Since it worked so well, I used it on the other silver pieces in my collection, including the silver teapot.  It certainly wasn’t terrible, but did have an even layer of patina.


A few light swipes of a Tarnex soaked cotton ball made it all go away.


Not sure why, but the platter required more muscle and scrubbing, while this swiped away with little effort.


Then I tried it on the silver bowl we keep Lego minifigures in, but it barely changed this harsh tarnish.


Any tips or products to polish up really stubborn silver stains?

Box Cushion Tutorial

Quite often, I have a hard time passing up a good deal.  Even though I didn’t need another set of chairs, the shape, style, lines, and potential these lovelies had made it impossible for me to pass up.  As if I needed more encouragement to just get the dang chairs, the $4.99 price tag did me in.


Clearly, their better days were behind with dings, stains, missing cushions and atrocious fabric.  With a dozen or more full refinishing projects under my belt, I knew the wood would come right back to life with a thorough sand and new stain color.  What I hadn’t done before was sew box cushions.


Measuring and math are seriously the worst in my opinion, and sewing precise covers almost made me lose my marbles.  To get started, I dug three yards of a heavy small herringbone patterned upholstery fabric from my stash.  Let me tell you, that was the most stressful part, knowing I had only three yards, without a possibility of getting more fabric since I’ve had this for a few years.  So, I carefully measured each section of my cushions and marked it on the fabric, leaving as little waste as possible.


The outer black shows the cut lines, while the inner gray shows where I’ll actually stitch.  For every piece, I added 1 inch to my measurement, leaving me with a 1/2 inch seam allowance on all sides.  This is just a little wiggle room to work.

As the chairs originally were, a stretched, worn out vinyl web was the support for the seat cushion.  This system offered zero support and sagged like a weeping willow.  Not going to work, so I decided a plywood base would offer the lacking support, but could easily be wrapped with fabric for a seamless look.

Starting with the seat cushion, I measured from front to back and side to side and cut out one 21 inch deep by 20.5 inch wide top panel for each chair.  The foam was only 3 inches thick, but I cut 5 inch pieces to wrap the sides, leaving extra to staple to the wooden base.  One option to make the side wrap is to cut one long, skinny strip to go around all sides.  With my patterned fabric, even a small, subtle pattern, I wanted to keep the design going the same direction.  When I cut the left and right panels, I cut in line with the design to match the top piece.

Once my pieces were marked and cut, I broke out the sewing machine.  Warning, don’t do exactly as I have pictured here.  This was my first round and while it worked, I did make one small adjustment to my method for the remaining three cushions.  First, pin everything right sides together, but don’t sew a single stitch.


Pretend that right side hadn’t already been sewn and there are only pins in place, because that stitched area adjusted my corner seam.  See how it doesn’t meet up?  Do as I say and not as I show!


On my remaining three covers, I pinned all the pieces together before stitching anything.


Typically, the side pieces would be stitched together first to create that single long, skinny wrap ‘belt’ piece.  I found it was easier to sew the side panels to the top section first, staying an inch or so away from the corner.  Then, I stitched the short box corners, going end to end and reversing to lock in the stitching.


With the sides sewn to the front and the box corners stitched, this is when the corners meet.  I found it easiest to first pin the pieces together like this:


Then to flatten out the seam for a tight corner.


To close the gap, line up the needle where the corner stitching (the brown thread in the above photo) left off.  Start sewing, reverse to lock it in, then continue until the corner where you’ll need to turn.  Leave the needle down, then pivot to continue until you’ve overlapped the side stitching, reverse and one corner is complete.


After sewing two base cushions, I set the foam on my wood base, then covered the top with the sewn box.  I followed the same upholstery process at that point, pulling tightly and making sure the seams fall in place.


To create double-sided, removable covers with a zipper, the process isn’t much different, just a few small changes.  First, rather than cutting four side panels, cut five: left, front, right, top of zipper, and bottom of zipper.  For the ease of it, I cut my zipper sections the same width, leaving extra to cut off before stitching it in place.  Secondly, the sides will be the thickness of the foam plus the seam allowance on either side.  For a two-inch cushion with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, you’ll need to cut a three-inch wide piece.

To create the zipper panel, start by marking where your zipper starts and stops on each piece, centering the zipper on the width.  Then, at a half-inch allowance, sew right sides together on a short stitch (between a 1 and 2) for the areas at the first end, until you hit the mark.  Without removing the fabric or lifting the presser foot, change the stitch length to the longest stitch possible and cruise along until you hit the other zipper end mark.  Change back to the original close stitch and finish down to the end.  Always reverse a few stitches at a starting a stop point of close stitches to create a ‘knot’ and lock everything in place.


Iron the seam flat before sewing the zipper in place for a smooth finished piece.  Center the zipper face down on the underside of that sewn strip and stitch into place as usual.


Once the zipper is in place, turn the panel over and carefully cut out the long stitch in front of the zipper.  This creates a tiny pocket/flap to hide the zipper under.


But the ends are tightly sewn shut still, thanks to the shorter stitch.


Trim off an excess on the sides of the zipper, making it match the width of the other side sections.


Then, follow the first steps, sewing sides to the top, followed by the corners until you’re ready for the back panel.  Open the zipper-this is crucial, or you won’t be able to turn the cover right side out.  Pin the back piece in place and carefully stitch along, working slowly around the corners.


Before turning right side out, snip away any bulky areas, but still leave enough fabric so it won’t tear with use.  If you’re feeling up to it, iron all the seams for really straight, tight seams and corners and then stuff the foam in.  Give yourself a big pat on the back and your favorite treat (chocolate, wine, beer, a nap!) for not giving up/throwing it in the trash/creating something that is a pain in the butt.

Helpful tips:

  1.  Use the longest stitch for the first corners, just to make sure it all lines up and looks good.  If it doesn’t, it’s easy to pull out and try again.  If it does look good, go back over that stitching with a shorter stitch to secure everything in place.
  2. If you’re cutting foam, wait to cut until the covers are sewn.  It’s better to have a tighter fit than to find out you have to stitch with a wider seam allowance to shrink the covers down.  I left my foam an inch wider and taller than my back cushions for a fuller look.
  3. Have extra needles on hand.  I broke one, then had to wait until morning to get extras and it was stupidly annoying to me.

As daunting as the covers seemed, after the first one, I had worked out the kinks and felt much more confident in what I was doing.


The subtle pattern of the fabric is noticeable up close, but looks like a nice neutral from across the room.


If, okay, more likely when I feel up to it, I still need to iron the seams for a straighter, clean fit.  Hashtag OCD problems-ha!


Honestly, sewing the covers went easier with each one.  It seems like a lot of steps and work, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really not so bad.  As long as you have extra needles.  And a good seam ripper.  Have you entered the Minted giveaway yet?

Another $5 Chair Pair

Around a year and a half ago, while searching for thrifted treasures in need of some love, I found a pair of chairs, each priced at only five bucks.  Of course, at that price, the chairs weren’t perfect.  Far from it, in fact with torn orange vinyl seats and dark stained wood.  Basically, all 70’s glory.


After a few hours of sanding, several yards of fabric, and elbow grease, the chairs were much more sturdy and neutral.

Update 70's Chairs

Rewind two weeks ago and I had a similar experience, stumbling on a pair of mid-century chairs in need of help, for a mere five dollars each.


The size and shape are exactly what I wanted, offering a more relaxed, reclined seat.  The wood wasn’t in terrible (or excellent) condition, but each came with only bottom cushions that had been quickly recovered in a two-tone damask fabric.  After removing the outer fabric, I found the original mustard fabric lurking beneath.  Ugly, but in good shape.



Following my usual refinishing process, I backed out the screws, disassembled the chairs, and started sanding with 220 grit paper.  Sanding is a little tedious and time-consuming, but in my opinion, the easiest and most effective way to get a clean slate.  Paint strippers leave behind a residue that’s tough to clean off and gums up sanding pads after.  For hard to reach, detailed, or delicate areas, strippers are okay, but for all flat parts, stick with sanding.  Whew, got out the pent-up feelings on paint strippers and now I’m carrying on.

With the similar style wood and linen sofa in the neighboring living room, I wanted the new chairs to coördinate.  A coat of Special Walnut stain warmed up the wood beautifully, followed with a teak oil protective coat.  As long as the sanding process can seem, that was the easy part.  I took my first crack at sewing box cushions.  I’m pleased to report, after a few trials, moments of frusteration, and a broken sewing needle, the box cushions didn’t get the best of me.  Full tutorial for the cushion covers coming at you soon.  We now have beautiful, updated chairs in the family room.


Even though I liked the previous chairs, the upright, smaller seat was comfortable, but not inviting or especially conducive to relaxing.  This low-slung style and deep base are comfy and stylish.


Just look at the old versus the new.



A slightly darker wood tone offers a better contrast against the stump turned coffee table, too.


Applying a lighter toned and thinner stain also lets the pretty grain shine through.  Before, it wasn’t obvious.


Now, look at that great detail!


For a small dose of my favorite color, I used leftover fabric from our headboard to create lumbar pillows to jazz up the neutral fabric.


Because I’m a fabric hoarder, I mean lover, I was able to use an upholstery fabric I already had.  Reusing the base cushion foam, sturdy metal zippers, and stain I had on hand means the only purchase made (besides the chairs themselves) was two-inch foam to create the back cushions.  Total monetary investment per chair: a whopping $14.  Total time invested: countless hours.  Outcome: priceless, and worth it.

Camel Leather Dreams

Long ago, I had dreams of a beautiful leather sofa to star in our living room scene.  Living in a relatively small town, seemingly devoid of clean lined, quality furniture without large rolled arms or overstuffed cushions put a serious damper on those dreams.  For months, I’ve considered the Hamilton leather sofa from West Elm, scrolling through images and scheming a way to get it home from a store several hundred miles away.

It’s beautiful, with classic, clean lines and that gorgeous camel leather I adore.  Here it is, with some of my favorite pieces in what I imagine my grown up living room looking like.


I’ve substituted the green rug for grassy colored curtains, added leaf art in wood frames, with a stump side table for a rustic touch.  A pair of arm chairs would be fantastic, but I have yet to find a pair that wows me.  Back on task-this weekend, I scrolled through Craigslist, casually browsing when I hit the mother lode.  A straight armed, camel leather seven-foot long sofa.  Right away I sent a text, asking if it was still available and when I could take a look.  The following morning we loaded into the truck to make sure it fit the bill, paid the nice guy, and hauled the handsome and comfy couch home.  After a little sofa switcheroo, the new addition looks riiiight at home in the living room.



I love the richness and warmth of the leather, but the coffee table will need a new top because it’s too similar and close to the sofa.



Look at those straight arms with piping detail.

Leather-Sofa-Left Side-Arm-Detail



Much like the Hamilton, this leather is unprotected and ages.  The previous owners had dogs, leaving hair and scratches behind, but no punctures through, giving it a patina.



It’s so soft and enveloping, just sink in cozy.  I’m happy that the cushions are removable, allowing easy cleaning (and Lego digging out), but also swapping the seat cushions for even wear.  Want to know the best part?  I only paid $225 for a real leather sofa in near perfect condition.  I almost feel as though I stole it, but that was the listed price, so I’m assuming everyone involved is happy.


To prevent the back from fading in the sun, I’d like to find a cute blanket to drape between the cushions and back.


With the new addition, our previous couch is in the family room.  This is a better fit both in looks and length than the tired old micro suede couch before.  At 6 inches shorter, it leaves more walking room, while the taller back helps divide the kitchen and family room.


Sometimes (always) it’s fun to see how pieces look in a different room, to bring new life in without getting new everything.


Finally, I had enough patience (and a whole lot of luck) to get exactly what I wanted, without giving up an arm, leg, or my first born to get it.  Any great deals or steals you’ve gotten recently?

Mirror Makeover

When I found this dresser for a friend, it also came with a matching mirror.  The kind that attach to the back of the piece on stilts.  You can kind of see it sticking out the top, reflecting another chest of drawers.


Luckily for me, she didn’t want it as a set, and I loved the look and size, but not the speckled finish or the color.


A few areas of the veneer started to bubble, so my first step was fixing those by applying glue under and clamping it until dried.


Then, to remove the stain, I generously spread Citristrip over everything, letting it work its magic.


Just like scraping off popcorn ceilings, the process is satisfying and oddly similar.  Instead of using a wide metal spatula, I used a narrow plastic tool to gently remove the old finish.


One thing I really dislike about using a paint stripper is the clean up.  But, with such a small area, I didn’t have the option to sand instead.  To clean the residue, I brushed on a little paint thinner, then scrubbed the grooves with an old toothbrush.  Flat areas are easier to clean with an old rag.  After all that, I had my clean slate.


For a little color and protection, I rubbed on two coats of Dark Walnut tinted Danish Oil.  The coloring isn’t as strong as a stain, and can be applied as needed.  I wasn’t looking for a new mirror, but I swapped the one in the main bathroom for this handsome fella because I like him so much.  The mirror already had hooks on the back, so we strung 100 pound picture wire to hang it. To accommodate the slightly taller size, we did raised the two wall screws a few inches.


Adding that small dose of natural wood brought in so much warmth and texture, making the once white space feel layered and earthy.

Our Humble Abode Blog Main Bathroom Vanity This frame is two inches narrower and three taller than the old frame, so it makes the ceilings feel a bit higher.


A serendipitous change for the main bathroom, that just proves changes are always taking place, even when unplanned.  That white mirror will be saved for the basement or pool house half bath, so it won’t go to waste either.