Posts by mary:

Easy Peasy Deconstructed Roman Shades

Comments Off on Easy Peasy Deconstructed Roman Shades Written on November 11th, 2016 by
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It started as an upcycle…


My previous tenant left some beige wool felt curtains that she had made. The fabric came from the upscale menswear company where she worked; I was delighted at the uncommonly nice goods I had inherited! I pictured them as unlined roman shades: a super simple, minimal window treatment. I also knew that I wanted them to be removable for dry cleaning.


Traditionally, roman shades are installed and left in place until they are unbelievably filthy, or the fabric starts falling apart, or a combination thereof.  Making them removable for cleaning keeps them fresh and attractive longer, and when it’s time to replace the shades you can re-use the dustboard or hardware.

Roman shades are usually attached to a dust board: a piece of wood which holds the cord lock and the eye-hooks that guide the strings. The shade fabric is stapled to the top of the dust board , which is then screwed into the window frame, allowing the fabric to cascade down the front.

I eliminated the dustboard altogether and hung the shades like a curtain on a rod, with the eyehook/string guides attached right to the window frame.


Making the shades:

Roman shades work on a string lift system.  The rings are evenly space on the back of the shades in vertical and horizontal rows, and a bar at the bottom keeps the shade in place and helps guide the fabric to fold into pleats as the fabric lifts. I re-purposed some lamp pipe as my weight bar at the bottom and some lamp finials for the shade pulls.











I thought I would save some time by using “ring tape” and sewing that to the back of the fabric instead of sewing on the rings by hand. The “ring tape” creates a stripe which becomes a part of the design of the shade.  Sewing the tape on straight, I have learned, is as much a challenge as sewing on the rings; best to do this only if you like the look of the tape.


The shades are trim and translucent, giving a warm glow when they are down in daytime and privacy at night.  The fabric is now on its third life from its initial purchase for clothing, so it’s been diverted from the waste stream a few times already and should last a long while as clean-able shades.

Big Funky Floor Lamp Requested

Comments Off on Big Funky Floor Lamp Requested Written on October 4th, 2016 by
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Once I got the Emergency Lamp Call, I put together a collection of floor lamp parts from various pieces in the basement, on a sturdy base.  The finishes were incompatible but easily brought into line with a can of white gloss paint and many light coats over the course of the day, which gave it a rich, glossy and even finish.


I stripped down a huge vintage silk shade and recovered the frame. The call was for Big. Here is where it pays to be discerning in your junk; with older lamp shades, the silk shades are the most tattered, as silk tends to split over time while the synthetics are often intact. But the frames for silk shades are meticulously wrapped with a thin ribbon, to allow the shade fabric to be stitched on – and if you are recovering the shade, you can take advantage of this feature.

Sidebar… I tried wrapping a shade frame once with the special ribbon for it, and don’t advise trying this at home!

In a time-savings coincidence, the fabric I used was a funky skirt I bought at a street fair, having found that the times I would ever wear this skirt were exactly Never. I left the gathering elastic at the top, and stitched in a hem at bottom to anchor to the shade frame. Then, I pinned the fabric up tight to the top band, allowing the elastic to set the gathers; otherwise there would be way too much material to sort out. I stitched the skirt to the ribbon-wrapping of the frame. Lastly, I cut off the top of the skirt and finished the shade with glued-on banding to hide the cut edge and stitching.

Best part is the surprise effect when it lights up; by day it’s a graphic contrast, by night the dark and light sheer layers created a soft moiré pattern and beautiful diffused light…

  img_4694  img_4723  img_4705-copy



Summer Projects Roundup

Comments Off on Summer Projects Roundup Written on September 1st, 2016 by
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My summer projects list was pretty ambitious. For starters, I finally got the porch repainted! Notice how the chair color matches the house? That’s no accident.  I used the house primer on them!  For this application use Alkyd primer, and sand the chairs first, especially if there is rust!

I also wanted to organize and clean up my workshops in the basement, but more importantly to reverse the flow of projects; instead of more and more stuff piling up that I mean to fix, having things leave the basement to either start a new life of usefulness- or resigned to the curb for another soul to try.



And these chairs with the beautiful antique silver finish? (A street find that I stripped down, repaired and refinished) Check! Headed to upholsterer with fabric…



Also, various lamps in my  shop.  This gooseneck lamp has been on the table for months- I kept the industrial chic look with a simple finish treatment- steel wool to remove the rust, and a coating of linseed oil to prevent it from recurring. The oil gives the metal a great sheen. I always re-wire vintage lamps, as older cords can crack and become dangerous, and the plugs often not polarized

IMG_4448   IMG_4456     IMG_4458

Have a lamp you want to resuscitate?  See a previously posted blog on how to re-wire lamps.

I hope your summer was as fruitful!


Talking To My Socks

Comments Off on Talking To My Socks Written on August 6th, 2016 by
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The bestselling Marie Kondo book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has a lot of fans and detractors.  I decided to read it after several people,whose opinions and values I shared,  had recommended it,  Many of her practical suggestions include organizing like-things together, storing things for optimal access and viewing, and letting go of extraneous things; all which resonated with me.  Sometimes her suggestions were outside my normal scope of organizing activity; e.g., in one section, she instructs you to roll your socks in pairs and to thank them for their service in taking care of your feet.  As one article I read about the book noted, if millions of Americans have read it, and even a fairly small percentage follow her edicts, then we have  thousands of people in America talking to their socks.

My take-away on the book was the way she makes you think about organizing, which trumps any misgivings I have about speaking with my garments or household items.  While I first thought some of her methods were a little extreme, or too sentimental (or inaccessible, as far as time commitments goes), I eventually found that I began looking at spaces and re-organizing them without over-thinking it after reading her book. It feels more organic now.  Thus far, the changes have been ‘sticking’ so I feel like the book is as much about the mindset as it is about the practical advice. I manage organizing with minor incursions through cabinets, drawers and closets instead of the wholesale practice she recommends.  It works for me, as waiting until I had time to do a major sweep through all the cabinets or all the closets would be like waiting for Godot.

The before and after of my pantry;  I am no longer embarrassed if the door is left open-





                   IMG_3771 (1) …After

Then, I moved onto bigger game.  A client’s heavily used laundry room in a co-housing space for 5 adults had fallen into disrepair and was choked with clutter.  I was able to offload many bags of trash, and organize other items into the laundry room so shared items are easily found; this opened up space in other parts of the apartment for much needed storage.


Laundry  Laundry before 2Laundry before 4



Laundry after 1   Laundry after 2   Laundry after 4   Laundry after 3

Best of luck in your organizing endeavors! Tell your socks I said hello.

Turning a new (Nano)Leaf

Comments Off on Turning a new (Nano)Leaf Written on June 30th, 2016 by
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Always on the lookout for interesting lighting…


I found this LED bulb at the 2016 ICFF (international contemporary furniture fair).  The bulb is made of flat plates with LED sensors, which        gives it a deconstructed look… sort of like a Tim Burton version of a light bulb.  It has interesting features- both the white and black versions are  dimmable by flipping switch on and off at just the right point. but for added fun, the black model is programmable with a cell phone!  I      personally will never ever use this feature, but it was the perfect gift for a techie friend who will.  I just couldn’t resist pairing the super modern    deconstructed bulb with a lamp I found on Ebay,  which is its total opposite.  The lamp is clearly a Wood Shop project from the 50’s .  The    wood-   circles that make the lamp are a little quirky, but not bad for a hand guided jig saw; it has years of patina on the switch.

What I only just discovered is what a great sense of humor the makers of Nanoleaf  bulbs have.  I was reading the “instruction manual”  and it  just got better and better.

From the user’s guide:

#11.The Nanoleaf One bulb is meant to be out in the open and admired, so it will lash out if  placed into a fully enclosed fixture.

#12.Once the Nanoleaf bulb is damaged, it will be polluted with evil thoughts.  Stop using immediately if the bulb becomes damaged or open, or  experience its terrible wrath and mood swings.

Good to know.




Antique Hardware

Comments Off on Antique Hardware Written on June 9th, 2016 by
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It seems like you never get tired of finding new ways to prove “they don’t make them like they used to,” as things get ever more cheaply made.  One more for the hopper: drapery hardware, specifically barrel sockets for hanging sheers.  I was upstate foraging in a drawer in an antique store, and found these beautiful brackets, and at $2 a pair, worth it to buy them just to admire the heft and quality. I like the matching rings as well! I photographed them with the today’s equivalent.


Kitchen Cabinets Redo, Okay, The Fridge Comes Too

Comments Off on Kitchen Cabinets Redo, Okay, The Fridge Comes Too Written on October 26th, 2015 by
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Painting cabinets is a great way to spend $15 on a can of paint and have a totally renewed surface, bringing in a color punch, freshening up the space. There will eventually be chips, which can be touched up or eventually recoated- but I figure its worth the minimal outlay in materials and an afternoon of your time for the good looking outcome. I recoat the cabinets when they become chipped, but also to refresh the finish so it stays cleaner and is glossy, the surface dulls with wear and cleaning products.

I have a vintage metal kitchen cabinet underneath the sink, it came with the house and was already (badly) recoated white when I bought the house 20 years ago-so I started off with paint over paint.

It was oil paint, and I used oil paint going forward. I prefer oil for furniture and cabinetry but it does create a stink. I always liked the smell of paint, associating it with Progress and Fresh Starts until I learned that the smell was actually neurotoxins. There are Green latex products with little or no smell, but I deal with the stink in exchange for a much tougher surface; I recommend doing this project when you can have the windows wide open. If you use latex, get a primer that can transition the surface from oil to latex.

There was a pronounced 20” drip ridging the front, and cabinet was dinged and chipped. I prepped it by scraping the drip off with a razor lightly sanding the whole surface, and cleaning with a Tri-Sodium Phosphate based cleaner to remove any grease or residue.

My uncle developed this super strong stuff called Master Klean, and I bring up a case of it every few years when visiting family, but any strong cleaner with TSP will do it- or you can buy the powder version TSP and mix a solution yourself. Use gloves.

Where drawers meet, or anywhere there is scraping or chips, give some extra sanding to reduce the chip “crater “and it will make most single coat chips disappear.

As I was doing the cabinets, I noticed how terribly shabby my 15 year old white behemoth refrigerator looked.

I decided it was okay to call that a metal cabinet as well- and pulled out the fridge so I could do a test run on the hidden side.  I prepped it the same way, a light sanding to give the surface some tooth, (gives the new paint better grip) and scrubbed it with strong cleaner to get rid of any dirt or residue that would interfere with paint adhesion. The test side looked amazing so I proceeded. Special considerations when doing a fridge: mask out ¼” or so from the seal.

You don’t want to paint the surface the seal hits, it will have too much wear and tear, and potentially chip. And you don’t want to have to cut in all the way around the seal, which is a fairly irregular line (on my fridge, anyway).

Do take off the handles first. It was a bear getting them off but being able to paint the whole front of the fridge with a roller gives me a fantastic finish, and if I had to go around the handle with a brush it would look messy.So I left a quarter inch “wrap” onto the face of the fridge sides, leaving me well clear of the seal, repeating this on the the door.

What took even longer than wrestling handles off was moving all the magnetic poetry off the side of the fridge. I want to leave the teal surface unadorned, so I put a magnetic bulletin board

on a nearby door to deflect anything from landing on the fridge door. The grubby white handles got a good cleaning with the tri-sodium phosphate cleaner and they brightened right up.
I had always liked the gaily colored fridges from Big Chill, and this is my no-frills version. With the crisp white handles and cool teal color, it has a little mid century snap.

Totally worth my leftover cabinet paint and a few hours of my time.

DO try this at home.




Upcycled Ottoman

Comments Off on Upcycled Ottoman Written on December 1st, 2014 by
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Upcycled Ottoman

After one of my clients asked me to help her make a Mongolian Fur ottoman, I soon begin to spot these fun footstools all over the market; shaggy poufs and hoof-legged ottomans are ubiquitous now in stores and catalogues. The October Cover of Elle Décor sports a pretty blue fur piece.

I was recently given an old fur coat that was just a little too far gone in need of repairs, and I remembered a footstool I had picked up at some yard sale or thrift shop.  My upcycled fur ottoman was in the works.

Rescued Ottoman

To keep costs down I stripped down the footstool myself, taking out all the nails and staples. I sanded the legs down to bare wood with an orbital sander then stained and waxed them.









The upholsterer put a padded top on the ottoman, and made the coat into a loose fitting slip cover.

Ottoman meets Fur





Toggle Detail

My ottoman may have more character than most: one side has a discreet and neatly edged opening for the pocket. The other sports a toggle closure in a wink to it’s former life.

First lamp show of 2014

Comments Off on First lamp show of 2014 Written on May 28th, 2014 by
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Mary Olive Design: Unique Lighting

June 8th, 2014 12pm – 4pm

209 Westminster Road, Brooklyn, NY 11218

Join me at my home studio, and browse my collection of lamps, lovingly handmade from salvaged, vintage, and repurposed parts. Each one has been carefully considered and crafted for beauty and balance.

Featuring a trunk show of works on paper by Katie VanVliet, a printmaker from Philadelphia, PA. You can preview her work at

Many of my lamps are available to preview on my Etsy shop, and many many more will be unveiled during the show!

Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear

Comments Off on Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear Written on March 11th, 2014 by
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Curbside or thrift shop treasures while a bargain, usually lead me to the question- will I ever really fix this up to use it?   It depends on the level of decreptitude- or for me, if it’s the exact size piece I need for the space, and if its basically a better piece of furniture than I can buy cheaply.  While my kids hated the groovy painted furniture I put in their rooms and pined for Ikea almost-wood, I prefer a solid piece of real wood furniture in a classic shape and solidly built.  I can see past the peeling paint and occasional dangling part to what it could be with a little elbow grease.  But filling the space requirements is usually what tips me into actually doing the work on it.

My latest rescue was the perfect sized bookshelf for my bedroom, when my excess books were stacked in front of the radiator and collecting dust on the floor. It was old, had a gazillion coats of paint, some peeling and the front leg was cracked.

Before you do anything, take off any paint that looks like it is ready to jump ship anyway, using a spackling knife rather than a scraping tool, so you don’t pull up tight paint- I didn’t want to strip it (way too much work for this piece) but if you have any notions that new paint glues down peeling old paint, disabuse yourself of that idea.  It usually means your new paint will soon come off as well.  Top coat is only as secure as the bottom layer.

After the removal of loose stuff, take a sander to it- it will smooth down the previous layers, some of the brush marks and let you know where drips are that you haven’t noticed.  Sometimes I help those off with a sharp razor.

Orbital palm sanders are cheap and easy to use, they should be  a part of any handy-person’s tool collection.

Fix the busted leg- I use an old your-name-here credit card that comes in the mail every day with new card offers, its just the right thickness to work the glue into the crack.

I use clamps to hold it in place while it dries, and glued a block into the corner behind the leg to give it more stability.  Cut the block down so you can’t see it from the front.  I clamp the leg so the glue can set.

Then predrill a hole, and run a flat head screw into several points to give it extra strength and stabilize it.

If you have the bits, its nice to counter sink the hole (a wider hole at the top to accommodate the flat screw head) so the screw isn’t noticeable, you can fill the top with compound to make it invisible. This fix it step took about 20 minutes, and now I don’t have to worry about the leg cracking off, and the fix is invisible.

For the paint job, I use the same type of paint, in this case oil-based.  I prefer alkyd paint for furniture anyway, as its tougher, but always best for paint adhesion to stick to the original paint type. For my color, I mixed some leftover oil based paints, to get something fairly close to the wall color.  I want the bookcase to blend in, not stand out.  If it was a more interesting accent piece I might have gone with a bolder color.

Once it’s done and in place, I’m glad I took the time!


For all the pinners out there: