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Treasures from the Basement – DIY Standing Frames for Mom’s Art

As many of you know, early last year, my mother unexpectedly passed away. My family and I then spent the next 8+ months cleaning out my childhood home – a house my parents lived in for the final 34 years of their 51 year marriage. As we sorted, purged, and de-cluttered, we unearthed a bunch of things. Some amazing things, some not so amazing things, and quite a few odd things that I dragged home to transform into neat things for our home. I’ve been documenting these transformations here on the blog under a series I dubbed “Treasures from the Basement.”

Up until now, the word “treasures” was a bit tongue-in-cheek, referring to all the crazy and unwanted items I saw potential in and couldn’t help but rescue. However, in this latest installment…the word “treasure” is for real. Today, I am going to show you real treasures from my parents’ home…treasures created by my Mom’s amazing hands…treasures that I will honestly cherish for the rest of my life.

I’ve told you many, many times that my Mom was an amazing crafts-woman. She seemingly did every craft you can think of and and did them all beyond well. For as long as I can remember, there was a series of about 6-8 still life oil paintings on the dining room wall in the house I group up in (the one we just cleaned out). Mom took classes and painted them long before I was born. I was always awe-struck by these paintings, as was my entire family. In addition to the ones framed on the dining room wall, we also found a bunch of un-framed paintings down in the depths of the basement. It was so neat to see some of her practice paintings and drafts. The framed ones were obviously the ones she was most proud of.

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As things shook out and items started getting divided up, I ended up with four of Mom’s amazing paintings. (I’m not necessarily sure I’ll get to keep them, but I am considering myself their guardian for now 😉 Sad to say, for the last year, they have been in a box in our laundry room. I had a hard time getting them up on the wall because the frames were mis-matched, not my style, and one canvas didn’t even have a frame (the apples were a practice painting we found in the basement). I reeeeeeaaaalllly wanted these paintings up on our walls, but I also wanted them framed and hung in a way that felt true to my style and our house. At the very least, I wanted them in matching frames. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for 4 brand-new frames because 1) I just wasn’t sure what I wanted, and 2) custom framing is SOOOOOO expensive.

Some day, I will get these into the professional frames they deserve. But for now and for the sake of getting them out of the box and up on the wall, I thought I’d try my hand at another DIY frame project. After a ton of trial and error and a lot of wasted wood, Mom’s paintings (finally!) have new frames. Take a look!

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These frames are far from perfect. I chalk it up to both my novice wood-working skills and the fact that these canvases are no longer perfect squares (um…they have to be almost 40 years old!). But I made them, they were inexpensive (I think it cost me about $25 for all four frames total!), and I learned a ton along the way!

I first realized that a new frame job would be possible when I determined the canvases were only held in their original frames by simple nails. Knowing that I wouldn’t ruin the paintings by taking them out of the frames, I was certain I could DIY some sort of solution! I started by removing the canvases from the frames using a flathead screwdriver and pliers.

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Next, I glued 48″ lengths of 1x2s to flat lengths of pine with my favorite Gorilla Wood Glue. I secured the wood with clamps and allowed them to dry.

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I was able to do my last few framing projects by hand with a mitre box and saw with great success, but this project required A LOT of cutting. And as I kept getting my cuts wrong (#iamhorribleatmeasuring), I was growing weary. Determined not to give up, we borrowed a power miter saw from a good friend and boy what a difference it made! I’ve never used a power saw before and it was SO.MUCH.FUN! Using the power miter saw changed this from a multiple hour cutting session to just minutes for each frame!

I cut each length of wood about a 1/2″ longer than my canvas on each side, all at 45 degree angles. Because I wanted the bottom/flat wood piece always on the interior of the frame, it meant that I wasted a bit of wood in between each cut (below, top middle). To ensure I’d end up with a perfect square, I made sure my lengths for the top/bottom matched up and the right/left sides matched up (bellow, bottom left). Once all my wood was cut, I dry fitted the frame around my canvases to ensure it would fit. Once I was comfortable with the measurements, I assembled the frames by putting wood glue at each corner junction and securing it tight with a band clamp. I also put wood filler on all the corner seems (below, bottom right); once dry, I sanded everything smooth.

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Custom Frames for Mom's Art-006

You guys. I must have tried a dozen different paint/stain combos for these frames. I really struggled with finding a combinations that looked right with the paintings but also worked in our home. The paintings are quite dark and all the frames in our house are bright white; at the same time, white glossy frames didn’t seem like the right answer either. After trying everything I could think of, I settled on stained outsides with white tops and insides. I’ll show you why in a bit!

I stained the outsides with some leftover Ebony stain I had from previous projects. I treated the frames with wood conditioner first (not shown), and then gave each edge two coats of stain with a small foam brush. I allowed for ample drying time between coats and wiped away excess stain where I could.

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Once the stain was dry, I taped off the sides with painter’s tape and then gave the tops/inside lip of all four frames a primer+white spray paint treatment, exactly as I detail here!

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I removed the tape to reveal four beautiful paint+stain shadow-box like frames!

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For the most part, the canvases nestled right into the frames. Two were so snug they barely fit, two were a bit loose so I secured the canvases to the frames with small wood screws through the back of the frame into the wood canvas stretcher.

Admittedly, the fit isn’t perfect on all four frames. You guys, I tried and tried and tried. I tried so hard. (Hence why I’ve been hinting at this project for three weeks!) The frames would be a bit roomy. I’d measure and then cut my lengths just a tad shorter, and then suddenly the canvas wouldn’t fit in at all. I ultimately decided I was okay with roomy rather than making myself crazy trying to get a perfect fit 😉

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Now a bit about why I painted the top and inside edge white. When I designed (and bought all the wood) for this frame project, I hadn’t paid too close attention to the edges of Mom’s paintings. While the canvas was wrapped the way a normal canvas is, she only painted the fronts of the canvases, not the sides. After popping the canvases into my frames and seeing her jagged edges, I realized why my folks had them framed they way they were. I had already invested quite a bit of time into these frames, so I wasn’t up for a re-design; and no way was I going anyway near these canvases with paint to darken the edges. So…I thought white paint would reduce how much you notice the jagged edges of the paintings. And honestly…from a distance, you can’t really tell, so my tricked worked!

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I have to say….I REALLY love these frames. I LOVE the stained edge with the white faces. Are they the most suitable, perfectly designed frames for these paintings? Probably not. But they sure make my modern-clean-asethetic-loving heart sing! I love that they stand up completely on their own. I think they will look amazing on bookcases, nestled into dishes and china. However, in this house, at least for the next two months, I don’t have any bookcase space to put them on. So up on the wall they were going. To hang them, I screwed on simple D-ring hooks.

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My original plan was to hang them all together in our dining room. I LOVE them together as a set, but they felt so cramped on this little wall. After just a few hours of them up, I knew they needed to be split!

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I’m such a sucker for symmetry; and while our butterfly cabinet is a smidge too tall for this arrangement, I like the two-and-two much better in this space!

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I can’t even tell you how much I love seeing this art on the walls. I see them and they remind me of so many good times with my family around our dining room table in that house that is now empty and no longer ours’…at birthdays and Christmases and every other holiday and family gathering. They were always there, always part of our family landscape.

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I know my DIY skills don’t quite do Mom’s art justice, but seeing these paintings up on the wall these last few days made all those exasperating cuts and wasted wood worth it. At least they are out of the box. Gosh – I love them so. Wasn’t she just so good?

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It’s amazing what art can do for a space. Real art. Art that has meaning and a story. These four little frames have completely changed this space for me. Both design-wise and emotionally.

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These paintings feel a bit ridiculous next to/near our more modern State Prints (on the right side wall). We’re not here for much longer, so I’m going to overlook it for now…

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…because seeing that signature…in the bottom righthand corner…is everything to me. That signature that was on every school permission form and Doctor’s note and dance tuition check. That handwriting that was in every birthday card and love note in my lunches…I’ve missed it so much…and I love seeing it every day.

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I miss Mom more than I realize sometimes. But as I’ve said so many times in person and here on the blog, I am just so thankful that we have so many of her beautiful hand-crafted works to remember her by. Quilts, sweaters, clothes and now these paintings…are such a wonderful, lovely and ever-present gifts…reminders of who Mom was and how much we loved her and she loved us. Having these on my wall helps me feel like she’s here…I hope she likes my frames 😉

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Phew – that one took a bit more out of my than I expected so I’m going to sign off there 🙂 I hope you all loved seeing my Mom’s work and my budding wood-working skills! I’ll see you back here on Wednesday with a moving update!

See you soon,


Treasures from the Basement: Vintage Lamps Makeover (including how to wire a vintage lamp!)

Happy Monday, friends! Did you have a good weekend? We spent a fantastic weekend visiting and relaxing with family. We made it back just in time to watch the Super Bowl and prep for the week ahead. It was a good one, but it sure went by way too quickly!

I’m excited to kick off this week with a quick little makeover on another one of the “treasures” from my parents’ basement! (You can see more “treasure” makeovers here!) Let me show you this little spot in our home office, do you notice something new/different?

 Vintage Lamp Makeover-001

Yep – we have some cool yet funky, “new” vintage lamps on our office desk. Admittedly, they’re a little weird and a tad ornate for my taste, but they’ve completely grown on me over the last week and I sorta love them! The white and brass bases paired with ultra-preppy shades just make me smile, and their size is actually perfect on this monster of a desk!

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What’s more fun about these lamps – besides their paint-and-polish makeover – is that I completely disassembled and reassembled these vintage lamps all by myself! Sure, I’ve made over lamps in the past, but I have never had to complete take them apart and then re-wire them back together again. I LOVE projects that teach me something new, so I really felt accomplished with this one.

I acquired these lamps during the great clean out and purge of my parents’ house. My Dad ended up with more pairs of lamps than he needed in his new place. Instead of hauling them off to Goodwill, I brought them home, super excited to give them a makeover. They were pretty “vintage” and all sorts of ugly, but the brass and wood combo intrigued me. I’m pretty sure my husband gave me at least a dozen “really, we are taking these home?” looks!

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 (Note – do not paint, polish or disassemble any lamp that is plugged in or switched on. Before working with a lamp, be sure it is turned off and un-plugged from an electrical source!)

Originally, I was going to paint the lamps via my usual route of taping off sections and spraying. However, after examining them for a bit, I realized that every section of the lamp was separate and could (relatively easily) come part, making the painting step much easier (if I could figure out how to remove the socket portion of the lamp!). After Goggling around for a bit, I found Mandi’s lamp tutorial easy to understand, so I gave the disassembly a go. It was actually pretty easy and I ended up with my lamp in all its individual parts! (I’m super sorry, but I forgot to snap pictures of the disassembly part – this was one of those, figure it out as you go-type processes! Check out Mandi’s tutorial or you can follow this tutorial in reverse, which should help you successfully disassemble your lamp).

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My plan was to polish the three brass pieces with Bar Keeper’s Friend and paint the rest. Even with just using a soft, old toothbrush, I discovered that these pieces weren’t brass after all (you can see the silver sections peeking out behind the varnish). Boo.

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I was somewhat hooked on my brass+white plan so I decided to give a new-to-me gold spray paint a try and see how it looked! Lo and behold, I love the clean, shiny, gold metallic look this Krylon Premium Gold Foil Metallic spray paint gave the metal pieces. All the remaining wood sections were primed with Zinsser 123 Spray Primer and then given several light coats of Valspar White spray paint in high gloss.

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Once my lamp pieces were painted and fully cured (about 24 hours later), it was time to reassemble the lamps and see if I could get them working again! (I remembered to snap photos this time!). I started with my white base, and then layered the pieces back onto the metal rod, just as they were taken off.

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The longer, skinnier parts of the lamp were more difficult to thread onto the rod with the loose wires on top, so I taped the two wires together with painters tape and continued stacking the components onto the lamp base.

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With the lamp base fully stacked, it was time to reassemble the socket portion of the lamp. I also had to add new harps and finials since the lamps didn’t have finials or the right size harps for my new shades.

 Vintage Lamp Makeover-011

I started by putting on the new harp base (bottom left) and then twisted on the base of the bulb socket by stringing the wires through and twisting it tight (bottom right). Twisting on the bottom of the socket ensured that all of the lamp pieces were now cinched together tightly and wouldn’t rotate or wiggle.

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When I disassembled the lamp sockets, I used a red Sharpe to denote which wire was attached to which screw (below, top left). To re-wire the lamp, you simply just wrap the wires around the screws on the sides of the socket and tighten the screws down to hold the wires in place. I first attached the red wire to the red screw (below, top right), then attached the other wire to the other screw, tightening everything down with a flathead screwdriver (below, bottom left). Next, push the entire socket, with the wires below it, down into the base of the socket, and place the socket “cap” over the entire unit (below, bottom right).

 Vintage Lamp Makeover-013

Twist the switch back onto the exposed screw and place the harp into the harp holder (below, top left). Before adding your shade, this is a good time to put in a lightbulb, plug in the lamp, and test to see if your lamp works. I’m a bit of a ninny and was worried I would electrocute myself, so I plugged the lamp into an outlet that is operated by a wall switch. I was super excited when I flipped on the switch and the lamp lit right up!

The final step is to attach the shade and finial to the top of the lamp and level/straighten it out!

 Vintage Lamp Makeover-014

Admittedly, when I first finished the lamps, I wasn’t quite sure on how they turned out. That middle “brass” section just seemed a bit too ornate for the ultra-modern shades (or my style). However, the more I looked at them, the more I liked them. I think they are just fun and funky. I love how big they are, and those shades (from PBTeen!) add such a delicious preppy pop to the space!

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And because I love a good before and after, here’s how they started and how they look now:

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 I love the symmetry and big bold statement they make on our desk. They feel very grown-up but playful at the same time! I also think they would look fantastic on an entryway console table or dining room server (neither of which we have 😉

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Disassembly and reassembly each took about 30 minutes (for both lamps), so not including paint-dry time, these didn’t take very long at all. However, this wasn’t the cheapest of makeover projects. The lamps themselves were free, but I had to buy the paint, harps, finials and shades, which all together came in at about $70/lamp.  Still, I completely taught myself how to wire a lamp (which is a pretty handy skill to have!), and we now have super unique lighting for our office space!

 Vintage Lamp Makeover-019

So, tell me what you think! Have you ever taken a lamp completely apart and successfully reassembled it? It’s a pretty great feeling when it actually turns on. Would you have left off that middle brass piece on these lamps? Painted them differently? I’d love to hear how you would have given these lamps a new look!

With the calendar flipping to February, I suddenly have Valentine’s Day on the brain. You too? Come back Wednesday for a quick round-up of some of my favorite Valentine’s projects – both old and new 🙂 See you then!


Treasures from the Basement: Old Ugly Frames

Last Friday I revealed some new artwork I made for my walls – make sure to check out the post HERE! When asked me to create these wall art projects, I was excited to take on the challenge – especially since I am always looking for great things to put on my walls. The only problem was I was still in the midst of my no-spend Lent (which, by the way, is now over and I am slowly wading my way back into the dangerous waters of shopping, I’ll have a re-cap post on how it all went coming up here this week!). While cleaning out my folks’ basement on my most recent trip home, I came across some pretty amazing, but pretty dated, old chunky wooden frames. Knowing this wall-art project was fast-approaching, they came home with me!

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Now, you can bet none of my siblings were fighting me for these babies; in fact, like the other treasures I’ve dragged home, I think they thought I was nuts to take them. They were indeed ugly, but I couldn’t get over their 1) size, 2) their details, 3) their solid-wood quality, and 4) the gold!!! Talk about “everything old is new again”! These frames are old, old, old, but the gold detail on the inner lip on 3 of the 4 frames just seemed so “in” with current trends.

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This makeover was quick, simple, and turned out surprisingly well! I started by removing all the backings and art out of the frames, and then taped off the gold inside edge with painters tape. To give them a modern and fresh vibe, I went with my usual stand-by: Zinsser spray primer followed by Rust-Oleum glossy white! (btw, this combo gives me awesome-quality results EVERY time!)

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It took a good 2 coats of the white spray paint (after the primer) to get all the nooks and crannies filled and covered, but boy, what a transformation!!!! While my frames were drying, I got to work on some really great but super simple typography-style projects to go in them. You can get the full tutorials HERE!!!

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All of this art, including the frames and styling, were done in a day using supplies I had around the house. Quick, inexpensive and super stylish…all inspired by those really ugly frames!

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I am so so so loving the challenge of making over the “junk” I have un-earthed from my parents house. I think my Dad and siblings are equally amazed at how some things have transformed. All in the power of paint and patience, my friends! (oh, and those turquoise diagonal lines on the long skinny frame? Just some strips of contact paper…just like I did HERE!)

Okay, just for fun, one more before and after:

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As I mentioned, I gave up spending for Lent in the wake of cleaning out my parents’ house and in an effort to get my own spending/shopping/wasting habits in check. Lent came to a close on Easter, and over the last few weeks, I have been giving a lot of thought to what I learned and how I’m going to (try to!) move forward with a more mindful attitude. I’ll share what I accomplished during the 40 days of no spending and what I learned coming up here later this week!