Olive Green

Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear

Comments Off on Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear Written on March 11th, 2014 by
Categories: Decorating Ideas, Olive Blog, Olive Design, Olive Green
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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:

Retrofit Your Vintage

Comments Off on Retrofit Your Vintage Written on July 11th, 2012 by
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Or should I call it funky improvements?  Or love your retro?  Or the I’ll-renovate-after-I-pay–for college makeover.

Sometimes renovation is just not the right solution, whether its time, mess, or budget considerations.  So you make the best of it and just go with it.

The point in case for me is the Pink Bathroom.  I don’t know who came through this neighborhood in the 40’s, but I do know they were pretty darn persuasive and that I am not alone with my Pink Bathroom.  I found a website called “Save the Pink Bathrooms” created by Pink Bathroom advocate Pam Kueber.via, http://savethepinkbathrooms.com/about/

From Pam’s website:

5 million pink bathrooms — I believe that pink was the single-most popular color for bathrooms in the 1950s, and estimate that some 5 million pink bathrooms went into the 20 million+ homes built in the United States from 1946-1966.

I wonder if she is including the retrofitted pink bathrooms from turn of the century charmers such as we have here, because there are pink bathrooms a’plenty.

Read on for 10 facts about pink bathrooms, I like #2:

“Mamie Pink” – First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was pivotal in popularizing the color, which is often referred to at “Mamie Pink” or “First Lady Pink.” Her husband President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent her pink flowers every morning. She re-decorated the private quarters in the White House in pink — so much so that reporters called it the “Pink Palace.” And, the bathroom in her Gettysburg retirement home was pink down to the cotton balls.

Brooklyn DesignI took a photo of the start point in my bathroom so perhaps it will hold my feet to the fire to get this done and I hope to put up “finish” photos by Christmas.  Some things I want to change: wall color, lighting, and the medicine cabinet.  The fluorescent fixture attached to the top of the med cabinet died some time ago.  I have a cool pink chandelier that I made from lamp parts, but nothing over the sink.  So, in order to get all that happening, we had to remove the medicine cabinet from the wall and detach the light- I hired an electrician to put in a box for my lights, and a GFI outlet so I have somewhere to plug in a hairdryer.

Unfortunately, when the medicine cabinet came out, a few of the tiles did also, and one of them broke.  I was already missing one of the pink bullnose trim tiles from it loosening and falling. To replace the missing tiles, I went to the site recommended by Save the Pink Bathroom, World of Tile and they told me to get my tile and send it to “Chippy” to match.  It’s going out today!  I will tell her how much I need and hope she can help me out.Brooklyn Design

I am contemplating HC-136 walls, a great historic blue-green, dark gray on the ceiling and, happily, my hand printed Fabric Workshop curtains and shower curtain will look amazing with this renovation.

The medicine cabinet was a disaster, rim and body were both rusted.  As I could not find a similar size cabinet and didn’t want to get into massive wall renovation (and mess up the tile issue even more!) I brought my cabinet in to get powder-coated at Ever-nu metal, in Park Slope.  For around $300 they took the body of the cabinet, sandblasted off the rust and made it turquoise (lots of colors to choose from!) and the outer rim is a neat white gloss that will look fab against the pink tile.  I reckoned that it was less expensive to do this than to get a new body, pay the shipping, and pay a contractor to resize the opening.  The original size was just fine, the hole already there, the sliding mirror doors in good shape  (and safely put away until we reinstall this cabinet). It was surprisingly easy to take out the cabinet, only 4 screws held it in place.

Brooklyn Interior DesignStay tuned for notes from the battlefield.  This afternoon I will make matters worse by taking off the rest of the wallpaper.  I always tell my clients as they get antsy watching the progress of renovation mess up their house- you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet….


Humble Parts

Comments Off on Humble Parts Written on July 3rd, 2012 by
Categories: Decorating Ideas, Olive Green
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Brooklyn Design
This weekend I was helping a friend put up curtain hardware, and we were looking for a fast and inexpensive solution for a double window.  The apartment is a rental and my friend had no interest in fancy hardware.  And neither was there time to order custom rods.  I have a knee-jerk reaction to putting up “extendable” rods, the one-size-fits-many variety.  Not only do I not like the way these rods look, I dislike that each time you open or close the curtains, the rings, (or rod pocket), catches on the join;  every single day as you yank the curtains over the join you have the irritation of a badly designed product. I use wood rods a lot because they are cut to fit.  Metal rods I often have custom fabricated, so that I can get one with out that extension joint in the middle.

As we didn’t have time to go to my drapery hardware supplier, I did a dive into Home Depot to see what they offered for speedy installation.  A serviceable wood rod was available in an ok color.  Then the finials, and the rings…it was starting to get pricey, and I was thinking the wood was just fine, but not spectacular. Alas, they ended up not even having the right brackets (in a disappointing marketing plan they don’t even carry the right brackets).

Brooklyn Design

I have in the past used plumbing pipe for hardware, so I took a stroll over to that department.  I found a great looking steel pipe with threaded ends, in just the right size. It had nice little caps to use as finials.  And it came in a “gun metal” black –gray finish, similar to one I had specified on some pricey custom metal rods.  For about $12.00 I had a fantastic rod and finials!  I went back to the Décor dept at Home Depot, and found a “Universal Bracket” for around $14.00/pair that could be used to hang the rod.  I made sure brackets seemed sturdy – the rod was a hefty weight and I was glad I wasn’t hanging super-heavy curtains on them.  There were nice metal rings available that fit the rod as well. The brackets and rings were both a matte silver that worked well with the gunmetal finish of the rod.

Brooklyn DesignI have used a lighter weight copper pipe for drapery installations before, in my friend’s framing shop.  We found all the parts we needed to run the curtains from wall to wall.  It’s a little tricky in this case as you have to assemble first and then install (so you need to know how many rings you will need before you start) but it’s a great industrial look and less expensive than custom metal rods and brackets. I show the parts used here. There is a threaded sleeve that screws into the base, which in turn is mounted to the wall.  The pipe fits into the sleeve.  Again, all must be assembled and then lifted into place and screwed into the wall- and takes down the same way.  Adding a few more rings later is not terribly convenient- best to plan ahead for this type of treatment.  In my installation we had painted the non-copper metal end piece black and the contrast was great looking.

I often use plumbing pipe in my lamps.  I like the oxidized copper, and am getting ready to use some galvanized pipe on a pair of silver lamps.  I like to use other “humble” parts, and recently built a pair of lamps from hardware I had bought for this purpose- and some I upcycled from pieces I found when cleaning out my dad’s workshop.  I usually choose not to put a finish on these lamps and enjoy their “natural” patina.  I do mix humble parts with fancier vintage pieces as well.  For a “dressier” lamp I may give the humble parts a little polish and shine and find that when used judiciously, they step up to the occasion.Brooklyn Design



Comments Off on Appliances Written on May 9th, 2012 by
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The other day someone from one of my Sustainable Entrepreneur Groups posted a great Ted Talk called “Hans Rosling and the Amazing Washing Machine”.

In it, global heath expert Hans Rosling recounted the day his mother and grandmother, after scrimping and saving for years, used their new washing machine for the first time.  It was a huge step up from heating the water over a wood fire and performing the weekly chore of washing clothes by hand.  He chronicles consumption and “the washing machine class”, noting that women of every class, in every society, want a washing machine, as it falls on them alone to do this backbreaking chore.  Rosling posits the case that the washing machine may be the greatest invention of the industrial revolution.  The video informs about consumption in a humorous and engaging manner.

But consumption polemics aside, the appliance that I find so many women talk about and on which they wax lyrical, is the vacuum.  How many times on our local list serve have we heard someone ask for recommendations for a brand, model, or source- and get a host of enthusiastic responses.  I have had a good relationship with my vacuum go-to guys in Park Slope, Brooke’s Appliances for years, and continue to loyally buy my vacuums there and have them serviced as needed. On their advice I bought the best ones I could afford.

VacuumWhen my favorite brand started delivering shoddy goods, I felt let down. The last two of my favorite brand’s machines I purchased were disappointing in performance and durability.  I expect that when I pay more for something, the trade off will be that it lasts longer and performs better. While the machine was not inexpensive, the plastic wheel fell off in a month, clips broken and unfixable, the wand broke, the suction was ok but not fabulous enough to make me overlook the cheap plastic parts breaking with light use. How many of us go home to visit our parents and see the 50 year old Electrolux in the closet? Mom may like the newer brighter lighter weight canister vac better, or prefer an upright with the lighted front- but the Electrolux is still going strong.    I hate to buy anything that I know will break down quickly, despise the notion of planned obsolescence, and “throw away “ goods.  My 1954 sewing machine is serviced regularly and is a powerhouse.  Ok, so it doesn’t do buttonholes automatically and I will never figure out the ultra-low tech do-hickey that they claim will do them- I’m okay without all the bells and whistles.  My mom had given me her 1954 sewing machine years ago, and upgraded to a newer model- and has been through 4 machines since.  I kept her New Home going until the early 80’s until the overhaul on it cost more than it was worth, and replaced it with a Singer of the same vintage.  1954, apparently was a good year for sewing machines.Olive Design

Olive DesignHaving decided to jump ship from my current vacuum brand, I cast my eye on the much-touted Miele; this little aqua blue number that (of course) was just the right color.  Only to find this particular color had been discontinued by the time I had made up my mind to invest in what I hoped was a better quality machine.  It was the rave reviews of every woman I know who owned one that got me interested in purchasing one, but of course it was the color that sold me. The Brooke’s Appliance guys went searching, and found me what they claim may be the last still-new-in-box aqua blue Miele available on the market.  Thus far I am in awe of the performance and the heft of the parts; wands and heads snap together with a resounding click, there is no sense of impending breakage, it’s like driving a luxury… vacuum.  I justify my consumerism by investing in a product that will not need replacing within a year.  I am passing on my old machine to someone who needed one, replacing the wheel and taping the faulty wand, and wishing them good luck with it.  If it’s broke, then fix it.  If it can’t be fixed it just may be too temporary for me.Olive Design


The Recycled Garden

Comments Off on The Recycled Garden Written on May 2nd, 2012 by
Categories: In the Garden, Olive Green
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It occurs to me that, when operating correctly, gardens are really about recycling.  In an ideal world we use the discarded leaves and grasses and turnip tops and return them to the soil. They help nourish the new growth, the season ends, the next year we enrich the soil again, with last year’s nutrients.  Whenever I am showing people my grassless garden, more often than not it will end up with a tour of the compost pile(s).  For several years running now, I have held onto every leaf that fell into my yard, and tried to compost them.  By the end of the fall season, the piles are admittedly a bit overwhelming and I have occasionally had to resort to satellite compost piles in the yard…. but by spring it has always cooked down to a neatly managed amount.

I generally have several vintages of compost going, the 1st year pile and the 2nd year pile, which goes on the garden in the form of new dirt.  Because we get a lot of roots in the pile, I end up sieving the compost to ”make dirt”.  My daughter helps me with this and we get appropriately dirty in the process.  The first year pile gets turned several times -we just did it a few weeks ago.  Turning helps to consolidate the pile and in spring we usually need to add to it so turning helps to get it packed down.

My artist friend, Christine Hughes shares my enthusiasm for compost- here is one of a series of compost drawings that she has recently done.

There are leaf piles and then there is kitchen compost.  I love being able to keep my food waste down by composting.  In an effort to promote this diversion from the waste stream, black plastic composters were being distributed by the city a number of years ago, and I use mine all year long, trekking out in the snow to empty the tub I keep on the counter.

But for recycling, nothing beats my mom’s garden.  I helped her stake her plants last year, and the assortment of poles she used to do this consisted of every mop or broom handle she had used in the last 10 years. There are various repurposed containers around with plants in them, but her real claim to recycling stature is the garden itself.  When my parents retired to this home in Maryland 25 + years ago, it had an in ground pool.  Neither of them ever used it.  Figuring that it was perfectly sited for sun and convenience to the house, my mom had it filled in and created her dream garden. From the back deck you can see the oval outline of the concrete walkway that used to surround the pool.  She has enjoyed it far more thoroughly than she ever did as a pool, and the concrete surround makes it accessible even in mud times.

Motor View

Comments Off on Motor View Written on March 23rd, 2012 by
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Occasionally I will have a client ask me about motorized shades.  I go to my friend and associate Steve Borodkin at Design Resources for all the answers.  When is it appropriate as a window treatment?

The first time I had even heard of such a thing was when I lived in North Carolina. A good friend of mine had Rheumatoid Arthritis.  When she built her “dream house” she installed motorized windows in her deck gazebo.  There may have been some in the main house as well.  I had helped design some easy-access clothing for Holly because of her disability and knew how daunting everyday tasks could be for someone with her disease. I was glad that technology existed that could help with this routine task that she found challenging.  But I had never really considered motorized windows as something used commonly.  (The new car I bought in 2005 was the first time ever I had automatic windows…Still sort of miss the roll-ups).

Steve rattled off a list of reasons why people would request motorized shades:

*Windows that are hard to reach

*Larger windows where the shade is cumbersome to operate

*Safety- no cords for kids to get tangled in


When you look at the technological advance with remote control access, there is a whole other raft of benefits.  I hadn’t considered that you could more effectively control heat/light by setting your shades to come down or up when you are away.  It can have energy savings as well.

Steve mentions the benefits on his website, Design Resources:

Whether operated based on pre-set times, temperature, light-sensors or centralized programming, motorized systems eliminate the necessity of traveling from room to room and floor to floor to monitor energy consumption.

No longer a luxury item, automated shading systems conserve energy by reducing air-conditioning demands, minimizing and maximizing the sun’s heat, enhance security, and protect your interiors from UV damage.

Today’s glass buildings make motorized shades a reasonable solution for energy savings and light control.  Steve estimates that programmed motorized shades pay for themselves in about 2 years in energy savings, keeping cooling costs down.

Not sure I am hurrying to install them in the homes I decorate in Victorian Flatbush, as I like the more traditional window hardware for our vintage aesthetic.  For these applications it would be for convenience rather than energy savings. There is a 30-50% increase in costs over regular window treatments which could be prohibitive if not offset by energy savings.


Rock Paper

Comments Off on Rock Paper Written on March 14th, 2012 by
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Countertop Stone AlternativeI first  heard about Richlite in  a materials class while I was studying Sustainable Design at FIT. It is basically layers and layers of compressed paper soaked  and baked in a phenolic resin.  Richlite looks like a matte stone of some variety, and is incredibly tough and heat resistant.  Yet it can be cut by a wood working shop (My cabinet maker trimmed it to my specified size).  It has a greater spanning strength than stone as well.  My supplier, Anthony Brozna from Eco Supply in Richmond, Virginia, tells me that a 1”slab can cantilever over 30” and gives designers a lot more flexibility than stone. I chose basic black, though Richlite comes in a range of subdued colors.

Detail of Richlite Material


While I was testing the product for my client, I  tried abusing and staining a handful of samples. The material seemed impervious.  I have heard complaints that Richlite scratches easily, but the small surface scratches that I see lend to its character, and the beauty of it is that it can be sanded down with an orbital sander and 150 grit sand paper and refinished with their rejuvenator. My supplier has given me a few squares to try out for lamp bases in place of marble.  I will need to get a carbon tipped drill bit and hope to try them out.

Alternative to Stone Counter

The Richlite site has information for getting LEED points through the use of their product.  While Richlite has been around for many years, it has recently grown more popular with the rising interest in sustainability.  A similar product, and newer to the market, is PaperStone.  It also comes in fabulous colors and their advertising brochure proclaims them “The Countertop with a Conscience”.


Cycles Recycled

Comments Off on Cycles Recycled Written on February 22nd, 2012 by
Categories: Neighborhood Notes, Olive Green
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Vintage Bikes

In the hope of Spring, and because this false winter has been so easy, I went bike shopping last weekend.  I was after a good solid bike for myself and one for my 11 year-old daughter.  The new ones I have looked at were either too cheaply made or the decent ones stratospherically expensive.  But as my style seems to lean toward yesteryear anyway, and I love recycling, I went for the vintage experience.

Brooklyn Vintage Bicycles, by Peter Whitley, is housed in a tent and basement store in Gerritsen Beach.  It’s a residential area and doesn’t look like anything from the street.  You call ahead and make an appt. with Peter.  I told him the two bikes I was after, my height and my daughters height and age.  When we got there I was amazed by the selection- more bikes than most bike stores I have visited.  All of them beautifully restored and ready to roll.  He showed us each about 4-5 bikes and we narrowed it down to a few that he and his partner brought upstairs so we could road test.Recycled Bikes

The caveats:  All the gears and cables are new or tuned up or reconditioned, everything works great, and there is a 30 day guarantee.  But remember these bikes are from the 60’s- 90’s and there are some dings, dents, rust.  You have to be into the style and value and not be hung up on it being shiny and perfect.  If you like vintage, this is probably not an issue, but just to mention.  The bike I was retiring was pretty decrepit; my new one is absolutely a Beauty Queen.  I will miss being able to lean my bike up against the side of a building and go in to do my shopping without any fear of someone swiping the bike (really, it was so unlovely that I rarely locked it!)  but the ones I bought last weekend are truly fantastic.  I ended up with an unusually colored brown Schwinn “Tourist” bike, and my daughter with a periwinkle blue wonder with chrome fenders.  We are really pleased with our purchases.  I consider them excellent value.  The two bikes together, with a lock for my bike ended up at $500.  Bikes I looked at ranged from $200-$280, all of them road-ready, often new tires and cables.Vintage Bikes

To make an appointment with Peter Whitley call him at 347.733.2079.  He says once the season starts he sells 35 bikes a week.  Stock is great right now.


Designs on Wood

Comments Off on Designs on Wood Written on January 17th, 2012 by
Categories: Decorating Ideas, Olive Design, Olive Green
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After a film crew unceremoniously sanded off my teal blue kitchen floor, with its aqua checkerboard, I was left with a somewhat unlovely- but natural-looking wood floor.   I didn’t miss the fabulous teal color I had painted as much as I did the pattern on top.  So I designed a checkerboard ”rug” to drop on top of the polyurethaned wood.  It gives me the pattern fun, but is easy to maintain.  When  the next film crew that used my kitchen (see it in the pilot show of “a Gifted Man”) damaged the floor- it was easy to paint back in a few tiles without re-doing the whole thing!

As the floor was an awkward shape, I designed an area with the size squares that I had in mind and positioned it on the floor with a same-color border all around.  It makes it way easier than dealing with the awkward edges of the room that do not lend themselves to extending a checkerboard across the whole thing.

I took the opportunity, when the floor was redone, to switch to a water based finish.  With today’s new technology the finish is just as sturdy as the oil based variety, dries faster and is way less toxic than its alkyd brethren.

I have used natural floors as the backdrop for other floor patterns, it makes a great textured ground and hides blemishes and mess better than a plain two-colored pattern.