My friend EJ and her husband recently purchased a new house circa 1961. The house needed work, but EJ is always up to a challenge and she had great ideas to modernize it while leaving a lot of the wonderful mid century details intact. She enlisted my help on the project, and we had a great time knocking out walls, painting, restoring wood floors and trim, more painting, and of course, SHOPPING for new stuff!
Many years ago some different friends of mine were putting new flooring into their old house, and unearthed that cool old linoleum they used to do with borders or to make into the appearance of rugs. It was all cracked and broken, but I saved a couple of the prettier pieces, squared them up and framed them, and gave them to them as found “art”, and a reminder of the old. So remembering that, I started “shopping” all the junk that we were ripping out and throwing out of EJ’s place. The kitchen ended up being a goldmine of project and crafting bits, I just needed them to reveal what they were waiting to be transformed into.
The previous owners had decided to “Victorianize” their very ’60s kitchen by applying layer upon layer of decorative moldings and trims to the cabinets. It might not have been so hideous if they’d actually finished the project, but they seemed to run out of steam and never bothered to PAINT the raw wood trim, and in some cases, didn’t bother to nail it up either, but “secured” it in place with blue painters tape – UGH. Well I knew some of the decorative trim was a definite keeper, and started squirreling bits of it away right from the start.
One cool thing about the kitchen was it still had the original countertops intact! They weren’t perfect, but they were a wonderful ’60s snapshot of decorator chic – white with tiny leaves of aqua, coral, chocolate and chartreuse with a sprinkle of gold across it all. Once those slabs of old formica were ripped out I knew I had to put a couple chunks into my treasure bag too.
The last bit of inspiration came from the electrical wiring. The kitchen had these bizarre and ultra-dangerous electrical outlets – a double plug per outlet that weren’t even grounded! In fact they were so scary, the building inspector told EJ he couldn’t sign off on the safety of the kitchen because the plugs had to be replaced – no questions asked. This was the perfect little bit of kitchen inspiration and nostalgia I needed to move forward.
The first item was quick and simple. My handy work friend, Marc, trimmed a piece of wood with decorative molding and we glued a piece of the formica on top to become a trivet. It’s really a decorative trivet because this old formica can burn or melt if something hot gets on it, but it looks pretty cute and I know EJ will find a use for it. I just needed to fill the nail holes with spackle, sand and paint – easy.
The second project I envisioned was a “shadowbox” to showcase the cool but crazy dangerous plug. Marc made me a little box,trimmed it with the decorative wood, and I had him back it with the formica. Some more spackle, sanding and painting and it’s a pretty dang cute little piece of art for the kitchen wall, isn’t it?
You could easily use these ideas as a starting off point for your own craft projects made from parts of the old house. I used the formica, wood pieces and an electrical outlet, but there are dozens of bits you could salvage for housewarming gifts or from a remodel project of your own: cabinet knobs or pulls, house numbers, old shingles, decorative wood trim and molding from baseboards or ceilings, fireplace bricks – the list is endless and your imagination is going to go crazy with it once you put your creating hat on. In fact I’ve got quite a few bits of decorative wood trim available and some small glass tiles – maybe a birdhouse?
I just can’t help myself when it comes to throwing out useable cast-offs. I have a garage and basement full of stuff that I have no idea how I’m going to use, but it just seems too cool to trash. Sometimes that piece of junk ends up being the EXACT THING I need to finish a sewing or craft project, but it doesn’t reveal itself until another piece comes along to create that “Eureka!” moment.
Such was the case with the bird feeder I just made. I’ve been helping my friend EJ remodel a house she just bought, and it’s been a treasure trove of cool stuff. The people who moved out left TONS of crap behind – and a lot was crap – and there were a few gems I had to adopt and bring home. Among my new findings were some decorative woodworking pieces and an old lathe-turned spindle to a staircase. All they needed was for me to find the giant, over-sized vintage tea cup at a thrift store to know they were meant to be a bird feeder!
Now this was one idea that I couldn’t realize without the help of my handy work friend, Marc. He’s made and/or repaired great stuff for me over the years including a shelf for my laundry sprinkler collection, bookends from old bowling trophies, and a kitchen counter to help organize the clutter of my tiny 1940s kitchen. He has awesome ideas to make things easier and more sturdy than my concepts often are, and he has access to a huge shop full of tools and equipment at our workplace, which he’s a whiz at using.
So – the first thing he did was make a little platform to set the tea cup and saucer on, which would become the actual bird feeder. He trimmed the platform with some of the decorative wood pieces I had, then he attached that to the turned spindle. Although I hadn’t asked him to do it (but had thought about it), he added a metal rod to the bottom of the spindle so I could stick that part into the ground for stability.
The next part involved the “feeder”. I really scored the day I found that oversized cup and saucer while thrifting. I mean, it’s not just large, it’s HUGE, and I’ve never seen another like it. The fact that it has fancy/cheesy Rococo-style images and lots of gold trim on it make it that much better! My plan was to drill through both pieces so they could fit onto a threaded bolt inserted into the platform, then I’d hold them on with a gasket and wing nut. I wanted it to be removable so I could wash the feeder every so often.
Drilling through this tea cup was WAY HARDER than I thought it would be. I had my special drill bit for drilling tile and glass, but the pedestal portion of the base I was drilling trough was almost 5/8″ thick and it took for-freakin’ ever. Seriously, I must have spent an hour and a half on it and several battery recharges to the drill over a couple of days. Anyway, once I got through that, I tackled the saucer, which took five minutes at the most.
Now my garden is not exactly the most lush, verdant thing I’ve always hoped it would be (I used my neighbor’s yard for the picture) and I’m not entirely sure the feeder is going to be at home there – it may end up as a wedding present – but I like the way it looks among the leaves and flowers, and I hope the birds will like it too.
You can do this project easily – fancy tea cups and saucers are easily found at thrift stores and yard sales, and you could use any pieces of scrap wood for a stand. You might even want to make one that hangs and skip the stand part. Just get some decorative chain to attach to the base and you’re ready to hang it. I do think you’re going to want to anchor the cup and saucer to the base – if not with my method you could always glue it, but I like the ability to take it apart and wash it and maybe put it away for the winter months if there’s a chance it could freeze and crack if it ended filled with rain or snow.