Nov 30, 2010

Divine Dining

We have a pretty little dining room with a pretty little picture window that looks out to my neighbour's house. Picture windows were of utmost importance in the early design of mid century modern houses in Calgary. And according to Thomas Hine, "was not only a way of looking out on one's achievement, but a way of looking in..." Proud home owners carefully selected key items to 'display' in their picture windows - a showcase of their modernity and rising middle class affluence. Nowadays me and the girls prefer to showcase our dancing and lip syncing skills in our picture window. And certainly not to anyone's benefit in the neighbourhood...

The painting is by my friend Tanya - a native Calgarian who moved to Montreal a few years ago.

Dining rooms are going by the way of the dinosaur in new houses. Too formal. No need for two tables. Well, we love our little dining room, with its laminated plywood walls and sweet detailing on the ceiling.

When we first moved into the house this window had original mustard yellow curtains and no blinds. We hired a blind company to help us find a replacement for this and the living room window. We tried every colour and style and you know what ended up working this best for this wall of wood? Exactly the same colour as the wall.

We did very little to update this room and apart from the blinds and a coat of paint, we changed out the light to one we purchased at the Bad Teak Store last January in New Westminster (I think the owner prefers Mid Century Modern HOME).

Both hubby and I like our dining room table - circa 20-dark furniture, but we would like to start collecting fun MCM classic chairs to replace the boring leather parsons. Heeelllllloooo Kit and Mid Century Dweller! I've been so good this year. Swearzies.

Vintage light of one that looks a leetle bit like this

Some pictures of brick walls from a past trip to San Fran

Glass fishing balls and some thrifting finds

Doorway to the kitchen

Secret pocket door - not sure why anyone would feel the need to close doors to the kitchen. Maybe if I was making a birthday cake or wrapping some presents? I need to do some research on this - will keep you posted.


Nov 25, 2010

Handles and Green Cleaning

Since having my second little babe, I've magically become allergic to every important substance on this earth - most foods, wine, beer, trees, grasses, and the worst contenders: artificial scents and most cleaning products. So in dealing with the grunge of an old house, I've had to adopt some fairly radical cleaning methods to remove hard water spots, grime and germs. Some of my favourites are olive oil (buffed out with a dry cloth) on stainless steel, Borax for laundry boost and vinegar for a dishwasher's rinse aid. I'm still stumped by how to polish wood floors and make my pink bathtub gleam so if you readers have any tips, I'd love to hear them. Especially since hubby is annoyed at my overuse of olive oil. He claims it's just for cooking. Amateur.

We have a whole slew of original everything in this house including hardware. Most of the door and cupboard hardware is lacquered brass, except for in the bathrooms where it is chrome (typical for many mid century modern houses).

The cupboard knobs were looking a little rough so I experimented with a natural polish recipe I found online:

1:1 ratio of vinegar and salt. Soak and polish.

Seemed simple enough to me.

You can see the results below. The problem was that because the lacquer was worn from years of use, the final results were good - but patchy. But certainly an improvement from the original.

This is one of the only 'afters' that looked really good.

I decided to go back to Alberta Plating who re-chromed our bathroom vents to see what they could do for the knobs.

They didn't have the exact colour match for the existing hardware but a close, cooler-coloured version that I liked called 'Brushed brass with lacquer'. They charged us $10 per knob which I think is a very reasonable rate considering we (and the next owners) would potentially get another 50 years out of them.

Here's the results.



Nov 17, 2010

Festive DIY for your MCM

Well, it's snowing, I can't get my car out and piles of work are teetering on my desk. Time to take a little break from the day with some inspiring & festive DIY projects for your MCM abode.

Nothing says 1950s Christmas like tinsel and we at the Prairie House love tinsel. Especially when it's in the form of a pretty wreath.

Tinsel wreath complete with wax paper flower - darling

I'm obsessed with anything in an apothecary jar these days. Love that the contents can be pinched from your kid's toy animal collection

Instructions for making these tinsel wreaths and apothecary jar vinettes are available on Creature Comforts


Nov 12, 2010

El Pinko Sinko

El Pinko is officially el stinko. The vintage sink tap I ordered from Ebay failed within a week so only the 'hot' side works (handy for kids brushing their teeth) and the toilet has been malfunctioning and spraying out the top. We both grimace every time we step into the bathroom. Plus, the current vanity, countertop and floor are so ugly that it's hard to find the inspiration to figure out what is going to work in this bathroom.

We're finally moving forward. Slowly. I keep telling hubby it's because we've adopted a Slow Home approach to our bathroom restoration, but really it's because we're disheartened by the high ugly:salvageable ratio.

Not so 'Pretty in Pink'

So while we're saving for the restoration, we've started to slowly update some of the smaller elements: new mirrors for the wall vanity, chroming the vent and colour matching the toilet seat.

We are focusing on the sink and counter as well. The steel enamel sink is not original to the bathroom so we're replacing with a ceramic period appropriate version. After MONTHS of searching (not nearly as intense as the downstairs bathroom sink search), I found a sink on Kijiji. The owners had reno'd their 1950s bathroom and were hoping to find a good home for their sink. The woman was from the UK, moved here 5 years ago. She had an interesting perspective on re-use and was shocked at how disposable our culture is. In the UK, she remarked, a retro sink, particularly a coloured sink, would be in high demand. Here, it's landfill fodder.

We purchased this little blue beauty for $40, ceramic countertop included. The only problem is that it has a little hole in the sink from an old and unfortunate aftershave accident (those are the worst).

Common type of sink in 1950s houses. Love the blue.

Little hole in the sink

So back to Grant at Granor Bath Renovations in Calgary. He restored our pink bathtub and painted the current enamel steel sink pink. He is fairly confident that he will be able to repair the hole and paint pink - may have to be a bit experimental with the repair.

All is hinging on this repair. If the sink works, then we can move forward with updating the counter by Crystal Crete and restoring the vanity (see Republic of Pink for full deets). I have contacted a few cabinet construction companies to see if they can restore our vanity.

FInger's crossed!


Nov 7, 2010

Historic Window Restoration Guide

This post is a holla out to all you window geeks out there. To those of you who question why so many people are ripping out perfectly good wood windows to replace with EnergyStar vinyl windows. To those who shake their heads at why anyone would install a vinyl window that if one part fails, the ENTIRE WINDOW has to be thrown in the landfill. And these failures aren't happening after 100s of years, but after 15 to 20 years.

Here's the facts:

Single Glazed Wood Window: R-0.6 (not so hot)
Single Glazed Wood Window with Wood Storm: R-2
Double glazed Vinyl Window: R-2 (hmmm - interesting that it's the same as a wood with a storm.)
Top of the Line Triple Glazed Vinyl window: R-3.5
Wall with 4" batt insulation: R-12*

Wood windows require maintenance to retain their functionality and energy savings. They fail mainly because they are not maintained; the build up of paint creates space between the sash and the frame, allowing air to escape and putty fails if not repaired when damaged. Most of us have lost touch with the art of maintaining wood windows. But it's actually quite easy and can be fun.

Wood Window Restoration vs. Replacement

Wood windows require a few tools and a small amount of materials to repair and maintain. Replacement is all done by a company. The new IG units go in and the wood windows end up in the landfill. Generally there is no reuse of the old window.

Labour is the most costly aspect of window restoration. But if you do most of the work yourself, and hand off more major repair work to professional wood window restorers, you will save tons of money. Labour is part of the cost of the window replacement with IG units.

While retrofitted vinyl windows can be installed in a week, wood window restoration can take weeks, even months,
depending on how many kids you have bugging you to play with them while you're trying to work.

Restoration, if you do most of the work yourself, will cost anywhere from $50 (for some tools, putty and paint) to a few thousand if a window restoration company is involved in the more complex restorations. Replacement can be as high as $15-$20,000. The figure I've heard many times is approximately $100/sq.ft for restoration and $700/sq.ft for replacement.

Well, we were up for the challenge. A complete overhaul of your wood windows, if done properly can last for 20 to 30 years (with regular maintenance). One which doesn't remove every stitch of existing paint can last 15-20 years. For the sake of time and kids (who like to think that they are helpful and handy), we opted for the latter option.

Our windows are original gorgeous single paned casement Pella windows with interior storms and interior screens for the summer months.

Original condition of basement window

Interior of window showing openers

They are mostly in good condition but have paint build-up, are stiff to open and some of the putty is failing. Our plan for this year is to restore the largest and the most vulnerable windows at the basement level. We will complete the rest next year. For this restoration, we did not remove the glazing from the sash. This is only required if you are a) a die hard or b) the glass is broken.

Here is a breakdown of the Conservation program we undertook for this year including materials required. I recommend to do any restoration work in the summer so the putty can dry in the sun.


Simple Green Cleaner (Totem Hardware)
Angled Putty Knife (Lee Valley)
Straight Scraper (Any hardware store)
Chisel (Any hardware store)
Electric Sander (Any hardware store)
Homemade heat shield (my kitchen)
Heat Gun (Home Depot)
Boiled Linseed Oil (Rona)
Primer (Rona)
Lead Kit (We didn't use one but I will update this with a source ASAP)

Conservation Plan for our Wood Windows

1. Photo Documentation. Photograph each and every window prior to restoring and record what type of restoration is required for each window. This survey will serve as a maintenance plan to help monitor the repairs.

2. Lead Check. Use a lead check kit to check for lead in the paint. Usually houses painted after the 1950s do not have problems with lead. But best practice to check and wear a mask if necessary. Don't want any of you fine folk getting sick...

3. Colour Testing. We took samples of paint and colour tested to establish original colours. The basement windows were that Ceramic Rose that we found samples of in the basement. The main level and upper windows were cream. I have stored samples in a labelled envelope with the colour marked on the outside for our house file.

3. Putty removal. The putty was removed with an angled scraper or a chisel. Only putty that was damaged or loose was removed. If it was tight against the window, we did not try to remove the putty - it's unnecessary as it's already sealed.

Close-up showing area of putty that were removed against glass. We filled the cracks in the putty with a mix of putty and linseed oil.

4. Paint removal. This was a combination of straight scraper to remove loose paint first. Then we used a heat gun and a scraper to remove the paint. If you are close to the glass, it is important to protect the window from the heat or it will crack. As we did just after this picture was take. After this mishap we fashioned a heat shield made from a rectangular piece of cardboard covered in aluminum foil. After the majority of the paint was removed, we used an electric sander with 150 or 80 grit depending on the paint remaining.

Heat gun and angled scraper to remove paint.

Me sanding the garage windows.

5. Cleaning. Dust was removed and the entire window frame and sash was cleaned with SimpleGreen cleaner. Very environmentally friendly and a good cleaner for all outside elements including stone and brick. Smells yummy too.

Smoke stains on inside of basement window. Gross.

6. Conditioning the Wood. The window frame and sash (all the wood components) were then painted with boiled linseed oil. We painted this on until the the wood stopped sucking it up. We allowed this to dry for a few days.

7. Sealing the Glazing. We sealed the glazing using good ol' fashioned putty. Putty has to be well kneaded before use. Do not use any putty that comes in a caulking gun. Using our finely tuned playdough skills, we pressed a bead of putty on the corner of the glass where it meets the wood. We used the angled putty knife to finish the putty into the corner evenly. Be sure to remove any excess putty before drying. Putty is IMPOSSIBLE to remove once it is dry.

For those areas of putty that were not removed, we mixed putty with linseed oil (50:50) and mashed it into any small cracks in the original putty.

The putty was allowed to dry for a few days in the sun. In a shop this process can take weeks, which is why we recommend restoring windows during the hottest part of summer.

Window after paint was removed and linseed oil treatment. Like hot oil for your hair.

8. Primer. After the putty had dried completely, we painted the entire window, including putty and 1/16" onto the windows with primer. If the window was not being painted we would have used Sansin KP-11C, a clear product that acts as a protective moisture barrier.

9. Painting. Not this year for us as we have to finish the rest of the windows next year. But after the primer has dried, paint away. If you have interior storms, be sure to paint the interior portion of the sashes, otherwise you will get moisture build-up on the inside glass.

10. Weatherstripping. Ours was in good shape for the windows that we did this summer, but this is the point to add weatherstripping to the exterior where the sash meets the frame.

12. Final Clean Up. We finished the window by cleaning the glass with 0000 steel wool then polishing up with window cleaner, wiping clean with newspaper.

Don't look too closely. I didn't 0000 this one yet.

11. Complex work. Any window requiring more complex work (replacing portions of sash in kind, glazing replacement, sill replacement, muntin replacement) should be completed by a historic window professinal. I'm still trying to source a good historic window repair company in Calgary but in the meantime, Vintage Woodworks, based out of Victoria, BC, is the bomb.

Summary: We completed the full restoration of two windows this summer but almost fully removed the paint from all the basement windows. Kind of a trial period this summer. We plan to complete the others next summer. In total, we spent under $300 on supplies, mostly because we had to purchase all of the tools. And hours spent. I just asked hubby and he closed his eyes slowly and said 'Alot'. Be prepared. Until you get the hang of it, the first few are time vampires...

This conservation plan is specifically designed for my sweet 1955 Pella's. Let me know if you have something different, including rehanging weights on a double-hung window (pre 1940) and I can help you out.

Happy window restoring!


* Mark P. Lawton, Morrison Hershfield