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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Simple Inexpensive Furniture Restoration

Everyone loves a "before and after".
This is the story of how an old desk top became a blanket box.

We acquired this old sturdy piece from a friend when they were clearing their mother's estate. It's a little broken about the edges but still solid and appears to have been a desk top at one stage now without legs (if it ever had them?) First things first was a thorough vacuum, then a good wipe down with a damp cloth.

Next I used a fine steel wool (#00) and some methylated spirits to clean off the old grungy layers of dirt and perhaps ancient wax or shellac layers. To do this, take a modest wad of stainless steel and apply a generous amount of metho, rubbing lightly with the grain and using clean rag pieces to wipe the grunge to remove before too much metho has evaporated leaving a sticky residue. This method works well on naturally finished woods like wax and shellac. Other varnishes or polyurethanes may require a caustic stripper.

Fine steel wool is excellent for cleaning up brass too, like these hinges. I'm not repairing the broken, chipped corners. This is not a "fine" antique and there is no use pretending it is. It's the broken and the scratched that tell a story and make these rustic pieces the treasures that they are.

My original plan was to shellac this piece but I felt the lovely high glossing would perhaps not be as appropriate as an oil and wax treatment to nourish the wood and the gentle glow somehow more honest and in keeping with it's altered nature.

Many old pieces can be brought back to a beautiful life very simply and inexpensively. This took me only a few solid hours of cleaning and polishing. You could do it too. To give you some idea, this project required 
about 400ml of methylated spirits
about six wads of #00 steel wool pulled from a roll
One old shearer's singlet
and wax and oil for finishing.

To nourish, I tipped small amounts of furniture oil onto the pan of wax and then used a soft lint free cloth to apply and buff - inside and out. Before deciding on the finish, I experimented on the back to see if I liked the effect.

Now it's ready to do service as a blanket box.
Don't forget to lay sachets of insect repelling herbs inside too.
You can find my recipe a little down the page in the post
and if you would really like to dip your toes into furniture restoration,
you could start by checking out
on YouTube. He has some great vids with great background music.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Paper Trails

After we left Callington Mill precincts, we travelled up the main street of Oatlands to "Alan's Verandah" the next venue for the historic skill of wood graining and a discussion of other faux finishes and decorating styles of the Victorian era.
What happened next was nothing short of "historical porn" and an unexpected meeting with a genuine wallpaper guru, Alan Townsend.

We did legitimately dabble and ooh and aah with some paint finishes like flame cedar and birdseye maple but then what followed was a history lesson that sent me to 7th heaven.

We were invited to tour the mid 1800s timber constructed cottage and peer at it's most intimate layers, and I DO mean LAYERS!

Layers upon layers, decade upon decade.....
Tragically beautiful and exquisite in it's decay.

So the very basic construction of this cottage, and in fact other similar timber cottages of it's era, is timber weatherboard exterior with some stone foundation and the interior walls are a patchwork of split shingle-like timber rather than commonly known lathe and plaster. These interior walls were never meant to stand alone but to be thoroughly swathed in decorative papers.

Upon these crazy patchwork timber bases were laid the first layers - newspaper. A very effective and indisputable dateline for the cottage's construction. Next came the fabric layer. Whatever was cheap and recyclable. In this one front room is found hessian, the very coarsest and cheapest material and also some recycled mattress ticking. Then upon that is the decorative paper. Drafts are excluded, the room "insulated" and then decorated. 

Alan is a professional researcher and historian and sensitively handles and documents the life of the building on it's preservation/restoration journey. Large segments of "art" paper is collected and saved, the floral 1970s wallpaper treated as deferentially as the faux stone paper borders of the late 1800s.

And not just the wallpapers, but also the layers of floor coverings from many decades that chart the years of various property owners and fashion stages.

I wish I could have reproduced the colours faithfully for they were truly beautiful.

Can you imagine the plethora of documents and interesting ephemera tucked into these layers? I couldn't and I was totally flabbergasted at the range of invoices and documents.

Marriage certificates, lengthy shopping invoices, doctors bills and fashion pages.

So much history is revealed about the community and the way of life of the town and attitudes of the eras. It speaks also of a time when paper and fabric (things in general really) had a real value and nothing was taken for granted or casually wasted. He said he has also found the practice sheets of copperplate handwriting of young students copying over and over religious verses simultaneously learning their moral code and handwriting in one lesson.

Alan is currently working on techniques to renovate the space of each room but also keep it's history intact and enfold it's precious layers. As you would imagine, several decades of wallpapers tends to distort the planes and corners are lost to rounded swells and even the very foundations shift and twist over time too. Any other person would have stripped with gusto and brought in the plaster sheeting. He is a far braver man than I and most skilled.

Only a creative eclectic like Alan could live within this chaos as he learns and works with the house. His crazy mix of superb antiques and art juxtaposed with the slow and complex decay, but slowly and sensitively he transforms the space back to a home.

It is quite an extreme form of "shabby chic" don't you think?
We were truly privileged to meet Alan and bask in his enthusiasm and freely shared knowledge and experience.
My favourite quote of the day from this historian was "By all means, people should enjoy their homes and express their style, change the paint scheme and improve their comforts but resist stripping and removing. Above all, avoid removing anything, leave it for the telling"

to experience more of the world of historic recreation and wonder of Alan Townsend.

Callington Mill - Oatlands

The grounds of the famous Callington Mill were abuzz with activity for the heritage skills day. As you can see in the above photo, it began life in 1837 and after some major restoration over many, many months by a specialist from England a few years ago, it is a working mill today. It is a unique part of the town's skyline and a special part in its history.

The buildings are quite something and I really think the grant money used for the restorations was money well spent. If you visit Oatlands you can also take a guided tour.

Not as simple as it looks from the outside!

And of course lovingly hand packed cottage industry flours to purchase.

The Miller's Cottage

I've been soaking up plenty of garden inspiration too.

Blacksmith display.

This is the community garden also located on the grounds and over by the wall is a couple of the massive grinding stones from the mill.

The town is right on the shore of Lake Dulverton.

I'm falling in love with micro gravel paths, dry stone walls and formal box hedges.
Tomorrow I have someone very special to introduce you to. Be prepared for some serious "heritage porn" in the next post.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Bullock Team

Yesterday we travelled about 30 mins south to Oatlands in the southern midlands for an historic skills day. The bullock team was definitely a highlight for everyone. The team were part of a reenactment of taking wool bales to sale and came right up the main street.

There were people everywhere but quite by accident I took these two photos that collage together almost perfectly! There was a major frost in the morning and the temperatures were below zero but as always, a brilliant and dazzling day followed. 

These bullocks are trained by Brian Fish, this guy in front is named Major and he is 18 years old. 

They are so well trained and handled and Brian has a true passion for this skill set and an obvious affection for his team. 

Many farms in the district supplied a bale of wool for the "big load" reenactment carted on this wool wagon built in the 1880s. 

The team headed up the lane to the grounds of the famous Callington Mill where there was also a wonderful display of various carting and transport memorabilia.

It is quite probable that this very passenger and mail coach went past our front door regularly back in the 1840s and until the railway saw their demise.

Another valuable piece of Tasmanian history - the cart used by Campbell Pottery of Launceston to cart clay.

Oatlands made the perfect backdrop for the display and because we arrived early with the frost thick on the ground, I managed to get lots of photos before the crowds arrived.

How's this for a piece of branding!
Made by Ransomes don't you know...of Ipswich.
A beautifully made piece of equipment, not sure, but Craig and I speculated that it may have been a rock flicker type plough.

A wonderful day with more photos to bore you with another day.

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