A chair, two benches, and a DIY dysfunction

Just in case I ever give  you the impression that I have this home design thing all figured out–you know, that I’ve got the whole intentional/frugal design thing down–I want you to know that I don’t.

Before I can even get to telling you about the bench in the photo above the post title, I’ve got to tell you about a chair.

For probably 9 or more months, I’ve alluded to a chair project that’s been hanging on and on and on. It actually started the fall of 2011, when Cane and I picked up a rocker with cool lines for $5 at a neighborhood garage sale.

We spent an evening tearing the fabric off of it–three layers worth–hoping that, somehow, there would be something awesome and salvageable at the end of the upholstery rainbow.

This (sorta) Old Life: garage sale chair

There wasn’t.

This (sorta) Old Life: garage sale chair

We do love the curve of this chair’s base, though.

We lived with it for quite awhile with a thrift store Grandma blanket covering it. We knew it didn’t look good, but it was a comfortable chair and, given all the other things we weren’t crazy about in the room, we lived with it just fine.

This (sorta) Old Life: garage sale chair

At some point we got this idea that it would be really cool to paint the chair’s base and sew fitted cushion covers made from a knitted or crocheted thrift store blanket.

I’m not an expert seamstress, and I thought such a “fabric” would hide imperfections and absolve me from the need to deal with piping.

So we began collecting blankets, not really knowing what we’d want or what could work.

This (sorta) Old Life: Collection of knit and crocheted blankets

Luckily, there are 5 of us and we all like to snuggle up under blankets, so these all get used.

In the meantime, we got the living room painted, re-arranged the furniture, and found a more neutral rug. Once those changes were made, I was no longer feeling so OK about the crazy blanket chair cover. We swapped out the blanket for simple white cushion covers we found at Ikea.

thissortaoldlife living room and library

This is an image from our post last spring about painting the living room.

This, too, was less than awesome, as the covers weren’t big enough.

This (sorta) Old Life: Garage sale chair

Strategic pillow and blanket placement could hide the problem in the front of the chair, but this was the view from the back.

We finally realized we were never going to find a blanket big enough to cover both cushions, and it was too hard to find two blankets that would coordinate well with each other, so I decided to do my own version of the Ikea cushion-covers. I figured even I could sew two squares together and attach some ties to them. All I needed to do was find some great fabric, and the project could proceed.

Yeah, well… easier said than done. I wrote last spring about my terrible day at the fabric store, where I did everything wrong and came home with not-enough of a too-expensive fabric that I ended up not liking for the space.

thissortaoldlife gold fabric on chair

The problem is that I violated several UnDesign rules we’ve since come to understand. The biggest one?  Wait to make purchases until we’ve found the right thing/know what the right thing is.

After making my wrong fabric purchase, I decided that what I really needed was a simple, dark denim fabric–because I wanted to bring more blue into the room. I purchased more fabric.

This (sorta) Old Life: Garage sale chair

Then, not too long after that, Cane found the braided wool rug that we love in the living room space.

This (sorta) Old Life: wool rug in living room

(That black lump on the couch is our dog Daisy. She was tucked in so comfy I didn’t want to move her for the shot.)

The rug’s warm palette knocked all my blue ideas right out of the water.

I then went back to a version of the original idea, one suggested by some readers in response to my post about the fabric kerfluffle. I would use a blanket we’d found that we really liked.

This (sorta) Old Life: fireplace with wood mantel and braided wool rug

We like the colors and chevron pattern of this blanket, and think it looks great with the rug.

There wasn’t enough of this to make full covers for both of the chair cushions, but there was enough to cover the fronts of both cushions. I made a plan that used the blanket and (yet another new) fabric.

So I got to work. I measured. I made patterns.

This (sorta) Old Life: pattern

I was so sure of this plan, and so serious about it, than I even bought a new sewing machine.

This (sorta) Old Life: sewing machine

My previous machine, with me since college, had seen much better days. This one is great.

I was so sure of this plan, and so serious about it, that I began making a prototype of the new cover (to make sure I wouldn’t ruin the blanket) and even took the chair base apart and got it almost entirely painted.

This (sorta) Old Life:  chair project

And then our house painting/bathroom renovating projects got completely in the way last summer, and I realized I had to abandon the chair project until those were done.

I thought for sure I’d get right back to it once we got over the back-to-school hump. But I didn’t.

Then I thought for sure I’d get right back to it once we got through the holidays. But I haven’t.

I’m not sure why.

Part of it, I think, is that I need a fairly big chunk of time to get back to it. I no longer remember all the things I figured out about the pattern and how to do it. It was hard to do the first time, and I’m not looking forward to learning and doing it again.

Part of it is that there are other projects I’ve been more interested in doing, like our entry stairs and our gallery wall.

This (sorta) Old Life: Entry stairs before and after

And that’s pretty much how where things stood until last week.

Last week, I was lying on the couch one afternoon, looking towards our entry, thinking about how much I like the way it’s coming together. The sun was shining, and the couch was comfortable, and it looked pretty much like this (because I took a picture of it):

This (sorta) Old Life:  bench

The only thing marring my pretty picture was that bench, another project purchase made about a year ago. I loved how nicely the colors in the blanket tied in with the art we’ve finally settled on for the entry walls, but I didn’t love the way the blanket hung down and covered the legs of the bench.

We knew when we bought the bench that the cover was an issue. Not only was the color wrong, but it had some tears.

This (sorta) Old Life: vinyl upholstery tears

We’ve been covering it with blankets to tone down the blue and to keep the tears from getting worse. That’s been an OK solution, but not one that we really liked.

Finding a more permanent one has seemed far down on the to-do list, though. It’s been perfectly functional just the way it is, and it seemed like something I couldn’t/shouldn’t begin until I’d finished the chair project.

I did not want to buy more fabric that would just sit in the fabric cabinet in the garage. I especially didn’t want to buy any more wrong fabric.

That day, lying on the couch, I thought about how nice the bench would look if I used my blanket-upholstery idea on it, with the blanket that’s been on it for the past month or so.

You know, the blanket that’s been slated for the chair.

I pulled out the blanket and both the fabrics I’ve been hanging onto for the chair project.

This (sorta) Old Life: fabric for upholstery project bench

The blanket wasn’t long enough to cover the whole bench, but we realized it would be simple enough to unscrew the long bench cushion from its base, wrap the ends in the fabric, and cover the middle with the blanket.

So that’s what we did.

This (sorta) Old Life:  bench upholstered with knitted blanket

The only problem now is, I don’t know what to do with the rocking chair. And, writing this post and looking at pictures of it for the first time in months, I’m reminded of how much we really like it. It’s way more comfortable than the little one we have there now, and we’d like to get it back in the living room.

In my last post, I wrote a lot about an idea we’re coming to believe–that how we do home is how we do life. I’m glad I finally completed fixing up one piece of project furniture, but the chair/fabric saga has me feeling less than comfortable about how I do some aspects of life.

See, how I’ve been doing furniture projects is too much like how I do some other things, too.

I love the amazing potential stage of a project, the part where I have a big flash of inspiration and get really excited about what’s possible.

This (sorta) Old Life:  garage sale chair

Another garage sale find that’s currently in our tool shed, looking exactly as it did when we brought it home last May.

I love the dreaming and designing stages, where I flesh out the initial vision and consider alternatives and gather the things I’ll need to actually do the project.

I don’t so much love the part where I execute the vision. That can be hard and boring. While there’s still potential for the fun of discovering and exploring, that’s often largely done. This is also the part where my perfectionism can rear its very ugly head. I keep waiting for just the right conditions to appear, or I let my fear that I can’t execute the vision keep me from even starting.

And so, I don’t do it. I don’t dig in and stick with it. I waste time and other resources starting things I end up abandoning.

This (sorta) Old Life: old bench

This is another bench project I’ve been meaning to tackle for a few months now. I started by buying some new fabric, but that’s been sitting in a bag for a few weeks.

Too much of my life can be like that. I am a much better dreamer than do-er, and I too often put off hard/boring things so that I can do fun stuff that might not be as important as the hard stuff.

This pattern of behavior is really at odds with my desire to live simply and frugally. I acquire things we don’t use (chairs, fabric) which wastes money and  creates both physical and mental clutter. I sometimes fail to take care of things I should take care of, because doing so would also reduce physical and mental clutter.

I’m not sure yet what to do with this insight. I’m not sure how I want to tackle doing things differently. That’s OK, probably. I think seeing is the first step to making change.

As I was working on the blue bench with Cane and starting to connect these dots, I became determined to finish the other bench project–the one in the previous photo.

That bench sits in our kitchen. I’ve been talking for weeks about wanting to replace the fabric on the cushioned top. It was dirty (because it’s used constantly) and completely faded from the light that is always on it.

This (sorta) Old Life:  bench fabric

Here you can see the difference between the fabric tucked under the seat and the fabric that’s taken a beating.

I’d already spent time on two different afternoons looking at fabric. I’d even bought some that I decided I didn’t really like after I got home with it. Again, it was not cheap. I’d decided to go with an outdoor fabric to reduce the fading it will inevitably get in this location.

After finishing the living room bench, I decided that I just needed to use the fabric I’d bought, even if it wasn’t the best choice. It would be better than the dirty/faded fabric we’d been living with for months, and I just didn’t want to waste any  more time/money looking for something better.

Unfortunately, when I attempted to iron it, I let the iron get too hot and it puckered, right in the middle of the fabric.

I was on a roll, though. Not to be deterred, I decided that I would just use the expensive gold fabric on the small bench.

This was hard.

It’s still not the best choice for the bench, it will likely fade fast, and it seemed like I should save this fabric for some project worthy of it. (Perfectionism, much?)

I put it on there anyway.

This (sorta) Old Life: recovered bench

It doesn’t look super-awesome. We went with a simple fold on the ends. The fabric is a little thick for that, but it’s OK. The bench looks a ton better, and it feels better to sit on because we replaced the foam pad with a thicker one.

It feels good to have used those two pieces of fabric that’ve been feeling like some kind of indictment every time I saw them in the garage.

I’d love to end with some clear, simple insight or rule for how I’ll proceed going forward (that will fix everything), but I don’t think that’s how real change works–not in our homes and not in our lives.

Real change happens in increments, over time. Working on this post, looking back at old photos for shots of the rocker, I could see how much our living room/library area has changed in the time we’ve lived here. It feels and works so much better for us now than it did when we first moved in. But there has been no one day, no one event, no one change that made it what it is today.

Small steps, mindfully made, over time. If we’ve got any kind of real formula for how we’re doing things here, it’s that. Oh, and this, too:  Reflection and some gentleness with ourselves.

Like the house, we are works in progress.

This (sorta) Old Life: Rita working on recovered bench

This post is so long, we didn’t want to add a tutorial to it. We’ll be back (likely on Monday) with a short how-to on recovering the long bench. We’re pretty excited to share how easy this fix was.

How about you?

Learned any great lessons lately from working on your home/life? We’d love it if you shared in the comments. 

Linking to our regular Thursday hangout at Pancakes and French Fries.