Saturday, February 22, 2014

Swan's End: The Attic Before and After

This is a set of photos showing my attic workroom before, during, and after renovations. My attic is very large (20' x 14') and light and has a walkout on to the roof, where I intend to have a proper deck built eventually. I use the attic as a work space. It's an office, a sewing room and a studio all rolled into one. It's an amazing space that I feel very fortunate to have. My house is one of three attached houses and the other two do not have finished attics like mine. They both have unfinished crawl spaces with no windows, and that crawl space only be reached via a trap door in the second floor ceiling. My house would also have had that originally and one of the previous owners put in a staircase and finished the space.

I would not have bought this house if it didn't have this attic. I would have said, "The house has great bones, but there's no parking and it's right in front of a bus stop. Meh, I'll keep looking." A tradesman I once brought up to the attic and who had told me his house was much like mine exclaimed, "I would never let my wife see this room! She would want me to make her one like it at our house!"

So we begin our tour of the attic as it was at the bottom of these narrow and very steep stairs. I had already spent two hours ripping an old carpet runner from these stairs, only to find this fitted carpet underneath.

The attic as it looked the day of the building inspection while I was negotiating to buy the house. I remember squeezing into the corner to try to get the whole room in view. The seller left a lot of old junky furniture behind when she moved out. I got rid of most of it, but some I fixed up and kept.

A view from the attic door. Note that there was only a storm door between the inside of the attic and the elements. So energy efficient. I had to hire a company to install a new door. The only other thing I hired done during this attic reno was the cutting and capping of the old yet live gas pipes that ran along the south wall — I don't have photos of them, unfortunately. (Apparently they were remarkably unsafe and I was very lucky nothing untoward happened to them before they were dealt with.) Everything else I have done myself.

The attic and my unpacked boxes. The attic ceiling is not much more than 6' at best, but I'm 5'5" and I find the ceiling height doesn't bother me much. I even toyed with the idea of turning the attic into my bedroom, but decided against it as there's no closet and it's very hot up here in the summer.

A better view of the stair railing as it was. Very, um, utilitarian.

A very long, bare, grim-looking wall, no?

Support post. It's in the way and a bit of an eyesore, as support posts generally are. There was no getting rid of it, so I figured out a way to camouflage and make use of it.

This is an old dresser mirror I bought at the Salvation Army for ten dollars years ago when I had my condo. After years of vaguely meaning to use this mirror somewhere at some point and sometimes almost deciding to donate it back to a thrift shop because I never seemed to have a place for it, it finally came in handy. I decided I really needed a mirror up in the attic because when I'm sewing myself clothing it's a pain to have to run down to my room to try the item on and check my reflection in my dresser mirror.

This date stamp tells us the mirror was made on February 16, 1928. It's in very decent shape for a mirror of that age.

This table was in the basement of the house when I bought it. I do not care for the style of the table, but it is sturdy, has an indestructible surface and is a perfect size for the space and my purposes, and hey, it was free and already here, so I decided to just work with it. It would make no sense at all for me to buy a "nice" table when I'm going to be sewing, painting, and doing stained glass on it and would only wreck it.

One of the chairs that was in the house when I bought it. They aren't much, but they are sturdy and comfortable and I thought with some work they could be made to go with the sewing table fairly well.

These chairs are definitely in need of a facelift.

This is what I found underneath the brown vinyl when I took it off. These chairs had been reincarnated before.

My sewing corner. The renovations for the actual room were actually pretty simple and easy and didn't take a lot of thought or work or expense. It was the furnishings and decor of the room that were the real challenge. I had a very motley collection of very utilitarian furniture, none of which went with any of the rest. And I had so much paraphernalia to store. Oh for a closet in this room! It wasn't going to be entirely possible to make the room look really pulled together.

Someone a few blocks over from me put this chest out on the curb for garbage pick up one morning. It wasn't fun lugging it the three blocks back to my house (my arms didn't fit around it and I couldn't drag it as that would have destroyed the feet), but it was worth it. I'd been wanting a chest to store stuff in.

This chest was a homemade affair, solidly if amateurishly built. My brother was around when I was stripping off the fabric and told me it had to be many years old because the top is a solid width of wood, and you can't buy wood that wide now.

View of the copper handles on the end.

The chest had a lock, but of course I didn't have the key.

This was another piece of furniture that was in the house when I bought it. I thought it was a cute little Art Deco-like piece that was worth saving.

The chair seems to have been originally painted or stained brown with red detailing. I took careful note of how far the red paint on the feet extended so I could replicate it.

I found this "Spanner Products" stamp on the bottom of the chair. The Spanner Products company was a Toronto-based, family-owned furniture manufacturer. They've been rediscovered lately and some of their pieces from the fifties are apparently highly regarded for their innovative design. I don't know when this chair was made. All I know for sure is that it dates no further back than 1938, when the company name was changed to Spanner Products. My guess is that this chair dates from the forties. It isn't from their celebrated design series.

Two bookcases and a chest of drawers. I know they don't look like much, but the price of these pieces was right. The bookcases were in the house when I bought it, and the chest of drawers was a piece I found on the curb of a house around the corner several years ago.

Also note the broken light fixture over the chest of drawers, which gave me a welcome excuse to get all new light fixtures. I hate that bright brass, which always looks cheap and chintzy.

It appears that someone had cut one bookcase in half in order to make bookcases that fit in this low-ceilinged space — they aren't quite the same height, and the bottoms are cut quite raggedly. Also there were grooves on the back where a piece of backing board was supposed to be, and they were very wobbly affairs without the stabilization that backing would have provided.

This curbside find is not a good quality piece, but it was in perfect shape structurally, and I liked the shape of it.

Wobbly as this bookcase might have been, I was already making full use of it.

I bought this box at Value Village for $3 a few years ago. It had a price sticker on the bottom for 130 pesos, which in Mexican pesos is a little less than $10 in Canadian money. It's a sturdy, handy box to keep stuff in, but the longer I had it the more unattractive I thought it. I decided to give it a makeover.

I've had this bulletin board since I was 13. Twenty-five years later it needed a facelift.

My desk and chair, which are two out of the grand total of six pieces of furniture in the house that I bought new — and some of those six pieces are probably the pieces I like the least! It's not really my style and I don't like that there aren't any drawers, but computer desks don't ever seem to be very appealing, and this was the only one I found that I didn't actively dislike.

I bought this filing cabinet years ago at the Salvation Army for $20 (I bought the mirror on the same trip) back when I owned a condo. It didn't look good, but it was mechanically sound, and I spray painted it with Tremclad, which made it look quite presentable. The CD rack and wicker waste baskets were also thrift shop finds.

The casement window after the former storm door had been replaced, but before any other improvements. I had originally intended to put in a door here, but the door and window company salesman insisted that a casement window was the best choice, providing the maximum light and ventilation, and costing much less than a door. And, as he pointed out, a casement window would function just like a door because it opens to a right angle and the screen lifts out. I took his advice.

A storage cupboard I bought (this is another one of the six "new" pieces in the house) to hold my art supplies.

The post-reno staircase. I painted the staircase cream, ripped out the old carpet and put in new, and replaced the light switch and plate. Memorably, I installed that carpet just five days after I got hit by a car. Ow.

My house is rather dark (I basically can't have houseplants), and the attic, with its east and west-facing windows, is the room that gets the most light. Since I painted the room cream and chose a light carpet, I get the feeling of climbing into a light, airy space when I climb these stairs.

I bought new trim for the top of the stair that was as much as possible like the old, and stained and varnished it to go with the floor.

Everyone always gives me grief for painting wood, but I think this railing looks much better painted, much more finished. It was only a pine anyway. I put on two coats of cream paint and then two coats of clear acrylic.

I painted the entire room cream, and it took a gallon and a half of paint to do so. It's easy to underestimate how big this attic is because of the low ceilings and sloping ends. I also changed all the light fixtures, and all four of the electrical outlets. I'm so grateful to whomever finished this attic for putting in sufficient outlets, two on each of the long walls.

This is a little collection of swan-themed art and vintage postcards I had professionally framed. Professional framing is one of my few extravagances. I painted the mirror frame. First I tried to do it in silver, and it was the wrong silver and didn't go with the picture frames. Then I painted it another shade of silver, and it still didn't look right. I gave up on the silver and just used a little can of paint in "Wilmington Tan" that I'd bought for something else and never used because it didn't look right for that purpose. It worked pretty well for the mirror. The nice thing about having so much to do to a house is that if you buy something and can't use it for what you planned, it's very likely to come in useful for some later project.

I took the chairs apart, spray painted the frames silver, and reupholstered the seats in this tan vinyl. Also I put new glider feet on the chairs. Some of the old feet were broken off or missing entirely.

I placed the upholstered chest in the dormer window because it creates a sort of window seat, and also because when it's placed there I have the head room to stand in front of the chest and lift the lid. The chair went next to the bookcase so I have a place to sit when I'm browsing through my sewing and knitting patterns, as I frequently do.

The chest has been reupholstered and the feet painted cream. I was going to strip the legs down and refinish them in a oak or pine tone, but after a three-day soak in paint stripper left their black surfaces unmarred, I gave that idea up as a bad job.

I love this fabric. When I found it in Fabricland, it was a case of my craving the fabric at first sight and then trying to come up with a use for it so I could justify buying it. I had originally intended to keep the attic very neutral, but after finding the fabric decided my colour scheme would be "mostly neutral with aqua and spring green accents". I did not put the old copper handles back on, nor cut the opening for the lock as had been done in its former state. I thought it looked perfect as it was and those details would only detract.

A certain pussycat just loves this window seat and can frequently be found napping on it.

I used some of the upholstery vinyl I used for the chair to cover the bottom of the chest. It covered the raw edges of the fabric and, when dust collects underneath the chest as it inevitably will do, it can just be wiped clean.

The chair painted to match the room. After painting the entire chair in cream, I carefully recreated the former detailing, only in teal and spring green this time instead of red. I selected these colours to match the upholstered chest fabric's colours as closely as possible, and just bought sample jars of them as I wouldn't need very much of it at all.

I organized all the books and other things on the bookcases so that my sewing and knitting patterns and crafting books are in the left bookcase, and all my reference books are in the bookcase closest to my desk. The chest of drawers holds my sewing stuff.

I painted the bookcases twice each with the same paint I put on the walls, then put on two coats of clear acrylic finish to keep the paint from scuffing. Then I added corner brackets to reinforce the bookcases, two in each of the four corners. The bookcase went from being alarmingly wobbly to only somewhat wobbly.

I think these candle holders were presents from my sister, years ago. I rediscovered them in a quick search through my stock of unused knick knacks, when I was looking to see what I had that would be suitable for the attic. I then just had to buy some turquoise candles from the dollar store.

The wooden box, post makeover. I often end up spending more money and time making things over than the intrinsic value of the item really justifies, so I tried to watch how much time and money I put on this cheaply and roughly made box.

The stencil on the top is a detail from the Art Nouveau stencil I used in my hallways on the first and second floors. I used the sample accent paints I bought for the chair for the tile and the stencil. I did buy the hinges and catch online, but that was the only expense. I also spent a ridiculous amount of time on the painting because I would do the stencil, hate the way I'd done it, then redo it. I think I did it three times in all before I was satisfied with it.

I lined the box with part of the upholstery fabric left over from the chest, cutting and hemming the fabric to fit, and then gluing it in. I use the box to hold my embroidery floss.

I painted the chest of drawers in the cream, decoupaged part of the Alphonse Mucha's "Summer" (1896) on the drawer fronts, coated the entire dresser twice with acrylic finish, and put new pulls on the drawers. I chose "Summer" because this house was built in 1912 and I'm trying to give the house an Art Nouveau feel. And of course it fit my colour scheme, and I love it.

This photo frame clock was one of the few corporation-to-employee gifts I've ever gotten that I liked. It's handy to know the time when I'm working in the attic and the computer isn't on. Knitting needles are hard to store, so I bought this vase at Value Village for $6 and put it to that purpose. I like the vase so much I may borrow it sometimes for flowers.

The bookcase closest to my desk holds my printer, scanner, supply of printer paper, and my professional reference books.

My desk, with my filing cabinet and reference books and ribbon board all conveniently nearby.

My old bulletin board, covered with fabric and ribbons, and tacked together with fancy little upholstery nails. I opted for the nails instead of the buttons most people seem to use because I thought it had a much more polished look. I may do crafts, but I don't like that craftsy-kitschy look.

My filing cabinet, CD rack and waste basket all sitting much as they did before, but in a freshly painted corner.

A silver-plated swan photo frame I got for $3 from a Salvation Army store a few years ago.

I covered the centre post in cork board. Now I can pin art work and the like to it. Also I added a clothes hook to the top so I can hang a dress or skirt up while I pin the hem, or an unwanted sweater when I'm working. The advantage of having taken five years to get around to renovating the attic of my house is that I know exactly how I use the space.

I painted the floor vent that's visible in the foreground with two coats of cream Tremclad. I vacuumed the dust of ages and old cigarette butts out of the vent itself. Occasionally I make some little "find" like that which speaks volumes about the former occupants of this house. Also, notice how the floor gleams? That would be because the last task of the reno was to spend about five or six hours first scrubbing it clean and then rubbing it down with finish restorer.

I painted the fake woodwork that surrounds this window. It improved it greatly, transforming it from cheap paneling to a interestingly textured painted surface. I also replaced the step carpet and cut new quarter round to fit around the step, staining and varnishing it to match the floor as closely as possible. It's a big improvement over the old white-painted quarter round, even though whoever put that in there was just matching the rest of the quarter round around the baseboards.

This corner isn't much changed. I couldn't get some of this stuff completely out of sight the way I would like to. Tucking my ironing board and sewing machine in beside the cupboard did make them fairly unobtrusive, at least. In a way I would like to reupholster my dressmaker's dummy to make it look more attractive, but it belonged to my beloved aunt Reta, who died in 1983 (incidentally, she was a wonderful sewer and had fantastic taste), and so I don't like to meddle with it.

Since I painted this railing Trilby has developed a penchant for sitting on it. He never did before, and now he does it regularly. This is despite the fact that he once tried to leap to the railing, overshot the mark, and plummeted into the stairwell. I heard several thumps, and then outraged squawking. Buddy, don't squawk at ME because you were living dangerously and disaster, um, befell you. However, as Chief Renovations Inspector, Trilby is glad that this room is no longer in the state of chronic chaos it was in while I was working on it, with items of furniture constantly being moved about, because he didn't like that at all. Also, he wants his supper.