Sunday, November 22, 2009

Great Art for (so much) Less

I visited a friend several years ago and happened upon a gallery that was exhibiting old paint by number paintings. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling and the impact was so striking—and the site of the paintings such an emotional trigger from my youth—that I started to collect the paintings myself. At first, I would be happy just stumbling upon an unexpected discovery. Soon I began looking in earnest, focusing on landscape paintings and scouring flea markets, yard sales, and even Salvation Army and Goodwill stores whenever I travelled. One painting was no longer enough. I started to look for companion paintings (paintings that were originally packaged together with complementing imagery). Before long, I was bidding against other collectors on eBay; crestfallen when paintings I coveted were snatched up in the final seconds of bidding. It was clear, I had not only become a collector, but a paint-by-number addict.

But collecting is only part of the story. The bigger question is what do you do with the things you collect? I decided to create a gallery of my own in the stairwell of Trout House. (You may recall seeing the story in the pages of Country Living Magazine, but the photo shoot was by no means the end of the project.)

When I first mounted the paintings, I decided to use a small, nearly headless, brad nail to tack each corner (see right). I figured if I ever wanted to remove the paintings I could do so without damaging them. I also knew that a frame would conceal the pin-sized hole in the corners should I decide to re-use or resell them. But, after a couple months, the centers of the paintings started to bow. So now my worst fear was realized—I would need to take each painting down and find another solution for mounting. Because the nails had no heads, the only way to remove the paintings was to pull them away from the wall and have the nail go through the backing. I used a pliers to remove the nails afterwards.

Oh, did I mention that I changed the wall color after I hung the paintings the first time and, rather than remove them, painted around each one? I should have known that decision would come back to haunt me (see left). After I re-painted the walls, I tried a double-sided carpet tape to see if that would keep the paintings flat against the wall. But, even the combination of carpet tape and corner nails failed to keep the paintings flat against the wall after a couple months.

So, I removed them again and used a 3M Scotch heavy duty mounting tape that, if you can't find locally, can purchase on Amazon. Today, those paintings are secure. Of course, taking them down now will clearly destroy the paintings. I hope the future owners love the paintings as much as I do.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I have owned this Harden chair for a good many years. It happens to be one of my favorites and has found a place at one time or another as a side chair in the living room, an accent chair in the bedroom and, on occasion, a rather stylish desk chair. I love the Queen Anne styling and have always found it to be one of the most comfortable seats in the house. But the time had come to give the chair a face-lift or, in this case, a chair-lift.

Although I've tackled minor upholstery before—like changing the seat cushions on a dining room chair—the cost of materials and the challenge of having a tight fit edged with brass nail heads, definitely required a professional. (Luckily, I have someone in a nearby town upstate who was able to do it for $80.) But, first I needed to refinish the wood arms and legs.

By tearing away the original upholstery, I was able to cover the exposed wood frame with a coat of primer and then two coats of the same color paint used on the room's trim. My friend and long-time colleague at Country Living—and arbiter of good taste—Robin Long Mayer, helped me choose a burlap-like (but not burlap-priced) upholstery material and velvet piping to coordinate the chair with the room's decor. And it was off to the upholsterer.

When the chair came back with it's lighter covering, I realized that the finish looked flat and lifeless (see left below). What it needed was a glaze, stain or toner that would enhance the carved details and give it a somewhat antiqued look. I turned to one of my favorite decorative paint sources—Caromal Colours. After taping plastic around the new upholstery, I applied Caromal Colours Toner with cheesecloth to the arms and legs and, after a couple of minutes, removed the excess. As you can see below (right), it provided just the right hint of color and definition.

The only steps left were to apply a coat of wax, buff well, and remove the tape and plastic. The final result—a new look, and oh so stylish lift!