Saturday, November 1, 2014

DIY: Making White Slipcovers Without a Pattern

The holidays are approaching, and I have a to-do list as long as my arm. Nothing like the prospect of entertaining guests in your home to get you to finish off all those tedious five-minute projects that would otherwise never get done. Projects such as caulking the kitchen backsplash, painting trim, hanging shelves -- post-move projects that I had put off for the summer months. Well, now here we are in November and its crunch time. It took this weekend and last, but I crossed a big one off the list: slipcovering the little mod settee in our entryway.

If you are wondering why I didn't just ship this off to professional seamstress Trish Banner at Cottage by Design, who had sewn the new slipcovers for my old sofa, chair, and ottoman, I did try! But the old slipcover was made of a stretchy poly fabric and, 30-years-old, the material simply crumbled in my hands as I was stripping it off. I had nothing that could serve as a pattern. And as Trish is located on the opposite coast, she couldn't just stop by our home for fittings. I briefly considered cutting and pinning and sending the fabric to her. But quickly realized that the cutting and pinning is half the work anyhow. In addition, the curved shape of this settee was going to present some challenges that would require quite a bit of pinning and alteration work to really get it right.

Nothing for it, this was a DIY project. So, how do you go about making a slipcover without a pattern? 

The first step is choosing your fabric. I thought about matching the beautiful nubby linen Trish had used on the living room slipcovers:

But the settee sits in our foyer under a very bold painting we call the "Fake Pollack" that seemed to call for an equally bold primary color for the slipcover. I first considered lipstick red, and even purchased the fabric. I left it draped across the settee for a few weeks to live with it and see how I liked it and though I love red, in the end I felt it was too blue a red for the Farrow and Ball "Blackened" paint color we have on the walls. I finally decided on white - which was the original settee color. But canvas. 

White canvas is actually a great choice for removable slipcovers because it washes and wears well and if you find stains you can bleach them. In a home like ours with pets, white canvas slipcovers are one of the most easy-care choices available. 

The second reason is that I am a self-taught and not very accomplished seamstress, and sewing stretchy fabrics requires fairly advanced sewing skills.

So, I purchased about 10 yards of white cotton canvas at my local fabric store at $4 per yard. I estimated my yardage using Cottage by Design's handy fabric yardage chart. 

Cottage by Design
In the end, I probably could have gotten by with 8 yards. But I didn't know that I might not want a skirt until I was nearly finished. Also, when I'm sewing without a pattern I tend to over-cut, to give myself more margin for error.  While I was there, I also purchased 6 yards of white piping with lip, which I find invaluable in making slipcovers and pillows.

White piping "with lip"
As you will see, you simply match up the edges of your two pieces, then flip them inside out, pinning the piping between the two pieces with the lip on the outer edge. Sew a straight line, keep close to the actual piping. Tie off your thread, turn it right side out, and voila! A professional looking edge.

So, a quick step by step to making slipcovers without a pattern:

Step 1: measure and cut. 

When I don't have a pattern, I use a tape measure to cut a rectangular piece of fabric, lay it across the furniture and trace using a pencil or tailor's chalk, then trim to fit.

Step 2: Look at the outlines of your furniture and figure out the lines (where two pieces of fabric will join) that you want the piping to accentuate. 

I chose to accentuate the straight lines of the back then follow down the curved arms of this  settee. 

Step 3: Turn your two pieces inside out, join the edges with piping and pin in place.

Step 4: Sew the fabric-piping-fabric edge together, stitching as close to the piping as possible. Tie it off, then turn right side out.

Step 5: Do this for all of the edges where your pieces meet. Cut, pin, sew, fit. Cut, pin, sew, fit.

Until all of the pieces are joined and you have the beginnings of a slipcover.

I'm not going to pretend to be one of those perfect bloggers who gets it right the first time. The curvy lines of this settee presented me with quite a few challenges. The biggest issue came at the end - how to finish the hem. 

Did I want a skirt? Should I leave some length and let it skim the ground?

I decided against either of these. The original slipcover was very snugly fitted, to accentuate the curved lines. And the feet of the furniture are carved walnut, quite beautifully shaped. I wanted them to show. Furthermore, the furniture has beautiful curved arms that I wanted the fabric to hug.

So, how to make coarse canvas fabric fit snugly? I decided to trim the fabric short and put a drawstring in the hem. Pulled tight, the drawstring would gather all of the loose edges in at the bottom, right under the seat.

How do you get the drawstring in the hem? I don't know how real seamstresses do it, but I use a wire hanger - the kind that come with your dry cleaning.

Step 6: Remove the cardboard tube from the hanger if there is one. Untwist the wire leaving a small hook on the end and knot your cord tightly.

Step 7: (Sorry, I missed a photo - probably because this was a very tedious step.) Slip the hanger into the hem of the slipcover and push it through, bunching up the fabric along the wire as you go until you come to a complete circle then pull the cord through giving yourself enough slack to be able to fit the slipcover over the furniture and tie the ends.

Step 8: Fit the slipcover, pull the drawstring snugly, and tuck the ends of the cord under the hem so they don't show.

Before and After

Step 9: Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy your handiwork.

White was exactly the right color to complement the "Fake Pollack"

Monday, October 6, 2014

Goodbye Tulip Chairs, Hello Catifa 53

Catifa 53 (x 4)

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with the Arper Catifa 53. It was January of 2011. I was working for a nonprofit in a donated office within a swanky health PR firm that was filled to the gills with stunning iconic furniture and pop art. Their clients were the likes of Pfizer and Ely Lily -- you know the kind. My chair was a boucle-covered red swivel on wheels, with sleek chrome arms. Not only was it the most comfortable office chair I'd ever sat in, it was also the most beautiful, and it swiveled and rolled with well-oiled perfection.

When form and function meet in perfect alchemy, there's no feeling like it in the world. I knew that I would have these chairs in my home some day. And that day has come.

It's not that I had fallen out of love with the Saraanin-style chairs we had been dining on. I will always admire the unfurling shapeliness of the tulip chair:

The Old Saraanin-Style Knock-Offs

It's that mine were poorly made knock-offs - whose bolts fell out with regularity and had to be screwed back in (approximately every 6 weeks).

I didn't end up with these reproductions by accident. I knew they were knock-offs when I had them delivered from a showroom in SoHo that specialized in such goods. But I had just moved into my apartment in Carroll Gardens and spent all the Renov8or dough on, you've got it, renovations, and these were what I could afford at the time. I had found an original pedestal table on Craigslist for $175. But, though I waited several months, checking classifieds, no tulip chair turned up that was within my budget. So, taking a feather from Newmod's cap (We Committed a Carnal Sin), I sprang for the knock-offs.

Do I regret it? Well, no. In spite of the constant mechanical adjustments and in spite of the $50 I spent on all new hardware and white lithium grease to try and fix that defect and in spite of the one pedestal that rather scarily snapped in two the night my nephew joined us for poker (I did warn him not to tip his chair back like that), I genuinely enjoyed these chairs for about 7 years before I felt ready to graduate to some real furniture. 

And even when I did, I kept the two in best condition for re-use. in our office:

But when the day came that I could finally have any chairs I wanted, I went searching for my true love the Catifa 53. 

Once again, I turned to Craigslist. And I found this perfect set of four in white, listed by a guy living in a fabulously decorated apartment in Washington Heights - he had just moved to a larger space and was trading up to some leather Arpers! Ross and I brought the chairs home carefully wrapped in blankets in the back seat of the Mini Cooper, top down - it was one wild ride down the West Side Highway and across 57th Street with our finds! And though they were spendy even secondhand, it was still less than half what I'd have paid to import them new from Arper in Italy.

No, they are not the red boucle that I first fell in love with, nor do they have wheels or arms, office-style, but they are the same sleek well-designed chair, a pleasure to sit in and so perfectly suited to their surroundings.

And solid! I will never need pause before offering a guest - even a back-tipping, poker playing nephew - a seat at our table in these babies.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cottage Renovation: Cedar Shake Roof vs Asphalt Roof

Our little cottage, with photo-shopped cedar roof -- hah! wish it were so easy!

It's been a while since I posted about our little cottage on the Northfork of Long Island, NY. But that doesn't mean nothing's been going on there. We do try to make at least one improvement each year, depending on the Renov8or budget. 

We knew last year that the roof was starting to go. When we engaged a carpenter to build us a shed out back, he pointed out the wear and tear to our roof and said that ought to be our next project. The asphalt shingles were peeling in places and it was starting to sag in spots over the porch. At that point we had to make a decision - shed or roof - we couldn't afford to do both. We already had the shed plans drawn up and in our imaginations the thing was already built, so we went with the shed. 

It could have been a risky move if we'd had another "Sandy". But luckily no bad Nor'Easters came our way, and when we opened up in spring the cottage was snug and dry. However, we knew better than to press our luck another season, so as summer waned this year, we sought roofing bids from three contractors -- two we had worked with before and a new guy Arthur, who had just done some work for our neighbors. We had all three give us two estimates -- one on replacing the existing asphalt roof with a like product and another if we chose to go with cedar shakes.

I'm sure you already know which one this Renov8or wanted!

Asphalt is cheap and it lasts a long time. Wood is expensive in both materials and labor, but it does last as well. In the end, its really a matter of what you can afford, what your goals are for your property -- and what you want to look at every time you drive by. 

Throughout the summer I had started to really pay attention to cottage roofs on my morning bike ride through Orient Town. And cedar tile roofs really make a difference -- and not just on the grand victorians and Queen Annes. Every design decision is more important on a small cottage like ours. 

Sadly, I did not do the good blogger thing and jump off my bike with iphone in hand to snap some photos for you. But here are some favorites courtesy of Houzz that will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Cedar shakes give a small cottage a fairy tale feeling:

Cedar shake siding and roof - Charming!
Cedar shakes are especially nice on a small house when the siding and roof match and the trim really pops. White cedar shakes weather gray over time, which looks totally charming with white trim:

For a little while, we may have a mixed situation such as this, where the newer shakes are still tan but the older shakes have weathered gray:

Because if you recall, a few years back we replaced the vinyl siding on our cottage with white cedar shakes. It made a world of difference. Those shakes are just starting to weather now behind the bushes and along the foundation. In fact, the cottage is really coming along, as you can see from this side by side where I have photo-shopped a shake roof on the left (okay, the pitch is a bit off): 

Here's how the cottage looked the day we bought it:

So, the bids came in from the contractors a few weeks ago, and they were roughly similar. The two guys we've used in the past are both busy this fall, so we're going with Arthur, the new guy who did some great work for our neighbors. He paid us a visit last week and we talked through the materials and the plan.

And even though the cedar shake roof came in twice as high as the asphalt, we're going with the shingles. Arthur says it will last us a good 30 years -- which brings us to about age 80. If we're still alive and kicking, I think we'll not be regretting the joy we feel every time we look at our little beach cottage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Home Office for Two: An Ikea Hack

Ikea Hackers
I've been dreaming of a white office. A real home office that brings all of our office gear to one place and with enough storage options that I'm not looking at piles of papers, computer equipment, scanner/printer cords and files every place I turn around.

Since we moved in, Ross had been setting up his laptop at the dining room table and filing his papers under the bed, while I had been working at my little desk in the bedroom.

While I liked that my desk overlooked a window, I didn't like that my files and printer/scanner are on a book shelf in the second bedroom. Every time I needed to print or scan something I had to drag in the machine and cords and set it up then take it down again when I was done.

Poring over home office photos on Houzz and Pinterest, I saw many good options. Something like this I felt could look great in our entryway:


Pros: Easily achievable. A long expanse of wood (Ikea Numerar comes to mind) with some Lack floating shelves above it.

Cons: No window or natural light. And Lack floating shelves, while spare and elegant, would not hide all the office stuff and my files would still be in the second bedroom.

Maybe something like this in the living room, against the far right wall near the window:

Pros: Good light. Nice expanse of wall. I could float the left side of the desk in the corner and anchor the right side with a file cabinet, moving my files out of the second bedroom. We could hide equipment in a row of mounted cabinets on the wall.

Cons: The living room is already very "shelv-y" given the wall of bookcases, and mounting cabinets on the wall would start to close in the room. Also, did I really want my office out in the open in the living room? Wouldn't it be nice to have a door to close, especially on nights when one of us is working late? Or in the middle of a project, when papers pile up.

That brought us to the second bedroom.

The logical location, it was already serving as a multi-purpose TV room/guest room/music room, though we rarely watch TV in there instead of the bedroom. I thought about rearranging the furniture. I could float a long shallow desk in the corner where the book case was and anchor the other end with a file cabinet.

Pros: We'd have great natural light coming in through the corner windows. And wall mounted storage like the Ikea Besta would look great there.

Cons: If I float the desk from the left corner and anchor it on the right with a file cabinet, the chairs would bump the sofa when you rolled out. The file cabinet would have to go on the left. Which means the table would have to have legs.

Not a deal breaker. The legs could be something airy - like hairpin legs. Very midcentury.

But hold on... moving the book case to the other wall would place the TV too high for sofa viewing.

It was going to have to be the TV wall, I could see. Could we replace the entertainment center with some kind of solution that housed both -- media and desk?

The TV was sitting on this Besta Burs media console that I had modified, adding chrome legs instead of the short bun feet it came with and hanging files that I hacked in one of the media drawers:

Ikea Besta Media Console
As it happened, the middle sections no longer held media equipment, as we stream all our movies from our laptop to the big screen now, and the drawers were actually almost empty. Now that I started to think about it, this media console wasn't functioning for our needs any longer. It was an inexpensive purchase made about 7 years ago, and I was happy to part ways with it.

But wait just a minute, couldn't I salvage that nice long expanse of glossy white surface. It happens to be the exact dimensions of the Besta desk. What if I salvaged the top and floated it from a file cabinet to the windowsill? I'd have my long expanse of desk. And the white would blend right into the corner windowsills. Ikea sells these nice glass tops for their Besta units. Two of those, and the whole thing would look very pulled together. With seating to the far left, I'd have a great view of the gardens while I worked. And I could salvage those chrome feet; they'd look great on a new file cabinet.

I started to sketch it out.

I'd need two Besta 24x25 cabinets, one for my hanging files and the other for Ross's piles of papers that are under the bed. That's 48". The TV could sit on top of those to the right, while the 70" salvaged top could be floated over toward the walls as far as the windows over the radiator cover.

Would it be stable enough? I lifted it up and it was actually quite heavy. It would definitely require legs, like these hairpin legs from

I was beginning to get excited about this home office project!

We've been so busy closing up the cottage for the summer, but I have so far managed to put together the base cabinets and floating desk top. I haven't decided yet on the configuration of the upper wall units. I thought I'd live with it all a bit and see how it suits our needs.

I can tell you this much already: I'm really enjoying the view of the back garden while I work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ikea Hack: Cutting Enje Roller Blinds to Fit Your Windows

How did I come to hack the Ikea Enje roller blind? It's a long story that starts with why roller shades are the perfect window treatment for midcentury homes and ends with I could not find a window treatment that better suited the spare architecture of our rooms -- and at Ikea prices, it seemed a risk worth taking. In the end, I think you'll agree.

DBA Blinds
"Simple roller blinds in a white setting become part of the architecture. In a room with a series of same-size windows, roller blinds lined up at the same height appeal to those of us who appreciate precision." - Remodelista

Amen to that, sister!

Christine Chang Hanway got it right in her article Remodeling 101: Simple Roller Blinds.

Before we even closed on the purchase of our midcentury apartment, when the renovation was just a gleam in my iPad, I spent many hours poring over Houzz and Pinterest for inspiration. This living room in a Greenwich Village penthouse, designed by Amy Lau, was an enduring source of inspiration. And even though my own living room ended up looking nothing at all like it, the combination of midcentury modern and contemporary modern mixed kept me focused on a "feeling" that I wanted my home to have. And that feeling guided my choices in fixtures every step of the way.

Amy Lau Designs
The window treatments really make this room, don't you think? I learned from reading Amy Lau's comments on Houzz that the curtain fabric shown in this picture was designed by textile artist Judy Ross. And I keep that bit of info tucked away for future renovations. Because my current living room isn't having it. And that's not really surprising when you consider that this apartment was built in 1946.

Midcentury architects did not think living spaces should have window treatments. They felt textiles detract from the pristine nature of the architecture. The window boxes in our home are unadorned of wood trim even, and this does add an austere symmetry to the rooms that draws attention to the spare lines of the walls and ceiling soffits. The rooms have a geometric grace that I am reluctant to disrupt, even with a fabric I love as much as Judy Ross's.

Midcentury architects, however, did not consider how much the large expanses of glass they loved so much would let in sunshine - and heat. Though most of our windows have a eastern exposure, the light in the morning can be blinding and in summer the heat grows stifling before noon. Clearly we would need shades.

Which is why I turned to Ikea's Enje.

The Enje are made of a sheer fabric that filters light without completely blocking it.

We live on the top floor overlooking the rooftops of neighboring two-story tudor homes. So we don't have to worry about privacy, day or night. These would strictly be functioning as light blockers during the day, then when raised would simply disappear into the wall.

I had installed Enje before, when I lived in Ross's apartment in Sunnyside prior to our moving here. I love the spareness, the lack of cord, and smooth spring loaded mechanicals. Even the plastic pull on the aluminum rails is good-looking. They have the look and hand feel of a much more expensive product. And did I mention the price? $18-$35, depending on the size. A great deal for an apartment dweller who doesn't want to invest in expensive window treatments. But even as a homeowner who might spring for a more luxurious line, I didn't see anything out there that I liked better.

The only problem: the sizes. While most of our windows are standard 34" windows, the "bay" in the master bedroom has these 18" side windows.

And in the bathroom, a 17" window.

The smallest size the Enje are available in is 23". But could I hack them down? The roller and rail are aluminum, which can be cut with a standard hack saw. The mesh would have to be removed from the roller and cut with a sewing scissors. It was certainly worth a try!

I'm generally not very good at stopping mid-project to take pictures, but I remembered to take a few this time.

Step 1: Remove the plastic end cap.

Step 2: Measure the width of the window inset, then measure the roller shade - with the hardware on.

Step 3: Remove the fabric from the roller. (This was easy; the fabric glue remains on the fabric and makes reassembling the fabric to the roller quite easy later.)

Step 4: Pencil mark the roller and make your cut.

(Okay, I missed a few steps with my camera!)

Step 5: Sand the end of the roller smooth. (I used a painter's block.)

Step 6: Replace the end cap.  

Step 7: Repeat on the other side.

Step 8: Now, the rails. Remove the end caps from the rails.

Step 9: Slide the fabric panel out by grasping the plastic strip that it's stapled to.

Step 10: Remove the staples and free the fabric.

Step 11: Lay the fabric out on a flat surface, then measure and cut the fabric with a sewing scissors.

Step 12: Reassemble the fabric at one end on the plastic strip with staples and at the other end on the roller and replace the end caps of both.

Okay, I missed a bunch of steps with my camera. Sorry!

Step 13: Hang according to Ikea instructions.

Step 14: Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy looking at your handy work.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Slipcovers for an Old Sofa

Our sofa is about 20 years old. One of the first major purchases of my life post-college, I bought it at Bloomingdales on sale and made monthly payments for more than a year. It came with a matching chair and ottoman and all were covered in "shabby chic" slipcovers in a white seersucker fabric that was the big thing at the time. 

Fast forward 20 years, the slipcovers were starting to look truly shabby and not chic...

I removed the slipcovers and shipped them off to Trish Banner at Cottage by Design

Trish custom sews slipcovers for a very reasonable price. If you check out her site, you can see the careful workmanship she applies. Normally you'd have to live in her area of California, so that she could come and visit your furniture and measure it. But because I'm ready to say goodbye to these old slipcovers, I was able to ship them off to her to pick apart and serve as the template for the new slipcovers. After a few emails with photos of what I like, she sent a handful of fabric swatches for me to choose from (her prices on fabric are excellent and include prewashing and ironing). I chose an off white Belgian linen with a bit of a salt and pepper thing going on that I think will compliment the Farrow and Ball "Blackened" paint color of our home.

The cushions covers are in, as well as the ottoman cover. And they look fantastic!

Trish is making a new cover for this little settee in the foyer as well:

It's certainly looking a bit forlorn without a cover. But when it's finished, it will be fantastic, don't you think?

Here's what it looked like with it's former cover, which was more form-fitting than what I have in mind:

That cover was 20+ years old and had to go.  But you can see the beautiful lines, can't you? I can't find a label anywhere, but I knew the lady who owned it and she bought it from Roche Bobois, a french modern furniture store that used be across from Bloomingdales. I has certainly withstood the test of time.