22 Jan, 2011 @ 13:44
4 mins read

Gypsy Rose Lee has to strip again

Stripped the furniture back to the original pine (liquid stripper, 10€ a tin); a new electric sander (35€) and 10 sheets of sandpaper (10€); one coat of primer (10€); two coats of paint (14€); one coat of varnish (8€). Twenty-four hours of labour for a revolting baby-poo colour.

Start again.


I am SO excited about moving to our little mountain village in Spain at the end of March. I want everything to be perfect, and have spent the last two months clearing out cupboards and selling or giving away stuff that won’t fit into either of the two houses.

The first house, Casa Alta, will become a holiday rental property; the second, La Otra Casa, will be our retirement home. I have juggled with floor plans and furniture layouts to try to get everything from a 3-bedroom house in Johannesburg to fit into an (already furnished) 3-bedroom and an empty 2-bedroom. And my biggest concern? There’s not enough space for Kevin’s T-shirts … 38 at the last count!

I have been ruthless with my clothes, deciding that silk evening gowns and cocktail dresses will not be ‘de rigueur’ for the village, and I have consigned these to a local second-hand clothing shop.

But Kevin feels that T-shirts are very appropriate … and insists on keeping them all, particularly the ones with logos: e.g. Hong Kong Sevens (two of these); a Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey jersey; Spain and England football shirts; ICC Cricket World Cup (South Africa 2003); O2 England ruby shirt; Compaq BMW Williams F1 Team shirt; HSBC Jaguar Team shirt … and, worst of all, a shirt with the logo “ZMA Earthmovers Team, 27 of June 2007.” (If you see Kevin wearing any of these in the village, I’m not with him, ok?)

I have also been busy with the sewing machine and staple gun. I’ve made cushion covers for the outdoor furniture (two sun-loungers, two steamer chairs), re-covered the seats of 12 dining chairs, three barstools, two ottomans and a storage trunk, and sewn accent pillows for the family room and for both bedrooms at La Otra Casa.

Last week, a like-minded crafter, Christine, and her daughter, Chloë, came to help me out. Chloë has a Fine Arts degree, so she got the task of making our ‘butler’ look more realistic. Kevin has always wanted a butler with a tray, on which visitors can leave their ‘calling cards’ (ha, ha), or on which (more appropriate, I think) I can put glasses of Cava to welcome friends to our home.

We went looking for our butler at one of the local ‘craft markets’ … a loose term, meaning an assortment of hand-crafted stuff displayed at a busy intersection here in Johannesburg. We found lots of ‘upright’ carved men, arms stiffly at their sides, and just one butler, who had an evil-looking face that seemed to say ‘piss off’ rather than ‘welcome’. He was holding a tray made from a dilapidated piece of black-lacquered MDF, so we asked the vendor to let us know when he had a better-looking specimen … and to leave off the tray. A week later, I received an SMS: ”Now I have nice happy-man, burglar, but I didn’t put a tray. Jonas.”

We duly went off to inspect the ‘burglar’. OK, he wasn’t bad, but he was painted in bright, glossy, enamel colours, and the design on his tie was possibly done by a five-year-old. We handed over the 120€ asking price, and brought ‘Jonas’ home. (Ah, sweet, we named him after the vendor).

Stripped, sanded, primed and re-painted in elegant matte colours, Jonas will be positioned in the entrance hall to welcome visitors to our new home. Chloë gave his face and eyes some character, and he now looks inviting rather than threatening.

In the meantime, Christine and I were re-covering the seats of six dining chairs and two ottomans. It was definitely a two-person job: I was pulling, stretching, crimping and pleating the fabric, while Chris was hovering with the staple gun, saying, “Ready?” A few staples went in rather loosely and somewhat crooked. “Have you got a hammer?” asked Chris. A futile search of the toolbox ensued. We ended up using the thick end of a heavy chisel to bang in the recalcitrant staples. (What kind of household doesn’t have a hammer?)

When Chris and Chloë came over, I had several painting and re-finishing projects that needed completing … but, in that one day, we managed only about 50% of them, so I have been busy with the remainder ever since.

The biggest project has been the re-finishing of a dining room suite – a drop-leaf table and six chairs. We bought this pine set at IKEA in Canada in 1985; and, from 1997 until 2002, it was in storage there, until we had it delivered to our home in Botswana. In 2006, I sent it for re-finishing in a light green marble-effect. The set has spent most of its time outside, in the covered patio areas of the three homes in which we’ve now lived in Johannesburg.

In Casa Alta, when we bought the house, we inherited the dining room suite … a fantastic table that extends to seat 12, plus six ugly chairs that needed re-upholstering. I decided that the IKEA dining room suite would make a great replacement, but not in the green marble-effect finish.

First step: Remove the old paint, using a liquid paint stripper. It burned my skin and had little effect on the finish.

Second step: Use a scraper to remove ‘bubbled’ paint. (There wasn’t much that had bubbled).

Third step: Buy Black & Decker sander to give a rough surface to which paint could adhere.

Fourth step: Prime all the sanded pieces; chuck away paintbrush afterwards, as it would cost more in turps to clean it than it would to buy a new brush.

Fifth step: First coat of the new colour. I had been recommended to buy a ‘textured’ paint, as this would cover up gouges, cigarette burns, dents, etc. on a 26-year-old table. The paint was like chocolate mousse with sand. It ‘glazed’ the table and left gritty bits all over it.

Sixth step: Second coat of the mousse paint. Covered up most of the flaws, but still very gritty. Not nice to put your elbows on, and would probably ladder your tights if you rested your legs against the chair.

Seventh step: Sand off the six chairs and the table, to get rid of the gritty bits. Perfect. Beautiful colour. Very happy.

Eighth step: Light matte varnish of the suite: varnish was called ‘matte suede’. Great … the paint was called ‘suede’, too. This should be perfect.

UGH! All the pieces are the colour of baby-poo.

Ninth step: Bought very expensive medium-gloss paint in ‘stone’ colour, to cover up the baby-poo colour. Too light, too dense, too matte. Sanded it off again, to achieve a ‘rubbed’ look.

It’s still not quite right. But, if you spit on your finger, and rub it onto any part of a chair, you get the look I’m trying to achieve.

Tenth step: Maybe another coat of suede varnish … ?

Carolyn Emmett

Am an inveterate traveller. Born in the UK and spent teen years in Stratford-upon-Avon. Emigrated to Canada in 1976. Married 33 years, with three children and two grandchildren. Have lived in Jakarta, Indonesia (1997-2001), Botswana (2001-2003) and Johannesburg, South Africa (2003-2010). I'm a perfectionist, very organised, typical Aries; as Purple Ronnie would say: I would be good at being Queen of the World because: I love bossing everyone around and telling them what to do; I am great at making clever plans; I am great fun to be with 'cos I love action and adventure, and I always think up crazy ideas.

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