Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bob's Your Uncle

At long last I am delighted to report that the great chair debacle has (almost) come to an (almost) satisfying conclusion.

For those of you just joining the party, read here for backstory.

For the rest of you…

After the chairs were declared permanently ruined, despite the magic that apparently exists in New York, the company indicated that they would of course pay for the chairs to be reupholstered. I indicated that I have a friend who does such work for a living and that I would like for her to do the job, and they asked for me to get a quote from her for the labor and to go in search of fabric.

Rachel agreed to do the project for 25% less than usual, 1) because it is me and she loves me and B) because she has known me as long as I have had these chairs and like me has always wanted them in a different fabric.

I then spent the better part of two days at seven different stores trying to find the right fabric. Genius designer Penny said I would want natural fabric, in a good warm neutral somewhere between oatmeal on the lighter end of the scale and camel on the dark. As we had already ordered a gorgeous chair from Pottery Barn in a dark chocolate velvet (sooooo yummy.) she suggested a flat, matte fabric…it could have a texture, but no velvets or chenilles and nothing shiny. It would need to “be friends” with all the other colors and textures in the room. I love the idea of my furniture being friends with each other.

At lucky outing number 7, Crate and Barrel, a very nice man named Nathan helped me find exactly what I was looking for. A basketweave cotton fabric in a warm oatmeal color, with a soft feel and matte finish. I put down a deposit on the sample to bring it home and see if it got along well with the other kids in the class. I was a little worried, as the name of the fabric is Dorien, which seems like the kind of name liable to get a kid beat up every first day of school for 12 years, and might possibly result in membership in the AV club or the chess team. But I brought Dorien home to see what happened. I draped him over one of the cushionless ruined chairs and watched for 24 hours to see how he behaved in all the different lights of the day and night. In bright midday, he was a source of reflected light. At dusk he mellowed, becoming a nice subtle backdrop to the embroidered pillows that live on those chairs. At night he deepened, becoming a solid grounding force in that part of the room. So far so good.

I walked Dorien around the living room to meet the others.

“Hello, dark green leather couches, so nice to meet you. When I lay on you, don’t we just look like a tree from a magical forest?”

“Goodness couch of vaguely lavender properties, exactly what color do you call yourself, and can you believe how well we complement each other?”

“Oh my, Oriental Rug of gargantuan proportions, did you know I would exactly pick up the color in your swirls?”

Dorien is a little bit of a suck up, but at least he didn’t eat paste or pick his nose, and he was generally well liked and welcomed by the rest of the room.

I called the chair ruining, I mean cleaning, company. I gave them Rachel’s generously reduced bid, and the name and information on Dorien. I was immediately rebuked that the labor costs were very high and that the fabric was too expensive when purchased retail. They informed me that they had found a local company who had given them a bid in their price range that included fabric, and that they would be in touch to meet with me. I was sad not to be able to give the business to Rachel, but just wanted the chairs fixed.

I received a call from Bob, a representative from a company that has been operating in Chicago for over 70 years. Bob informed me that he would come by to see the chairs and would bring fabric samples with him. I said my needs were very simple.

100% natural fibers, preferably cotton or linen or a blend therof, but wool also okay.

Neutral color in the oatmeal to taupe family.

No chenille, no shiny, no velvet, no microfiber.

Texture is good, but no patterns, not even tone on tone.

Bob said he would be over around 9pm. This seemed late to me, but it isn’t like I’m not awake.

He arrived at 9:30. He was approximately 1072 years old. I worried that a heart attack was imminent while watching him navigate the eight steps of my front stoop. He looked at the chairs.

“These are very good chairs.”

Well they were before they were tie-dyed orange.

Bob shows me three sets of fabrics. All three are 100% polyester. One is a chenille. One is a pattern. One is shiny. None of them are remotely Dorien. They are more of a Tawny, Amber and Charisma and while someone might ‘welcome them to the mainstage’ or plop them in an oversized champagne coupe filled with soap bubbles, no one was ever going to put them in my living room. The green couches went pale. The weirdly lavender couch shuddered. The Oriental Rug waved hello, but she’s easily distracted by sparkly objects.

“Bob, I really want a natural fabric, and not chenille, not velvet, not pattern, not shiny. Basic cotton or linen with a little texture, in a simple oatmeal color.”

Bob requested that I get him a sample of Dorien for him to source and left. Luckily he made it to the bottom of the stairs without breaking a hip.

The following week Bob called to say that the sample I had sent had arrived and he would come by that evening to show me some new samples. Jen was scheduled to be over for our usual Wednesday girls night, and was excited to meet Bob, since she had no idea who Fyvush Finkel was, and therefore cannot picture him.

Bob was scheduled to come at 9pm. He arrived at 10:30. Which I have to assume was way past his bedtime, and he was probably missing curfew at the Home.

Bob showed me two sets of fabrics. One was a cotton duck that was sort of like that canvas they put on outdoor furniture. The other was 100% polyester. And shiny. And patterned. It took me all of one minute to reject them. Jen agreed with my assessment. Bob got testy.

“You have to be flexible, these are very good fabrics, much better fabrics than then one you sent me. And this one (the polyester) is washable and fire retardant.”

I take a deep breath, having been taught not to disrespect my elders. Or Methusulah’s elders.

“I appreciate that, Bob. However, this is a home with no children or pets or smoking. I don’t need them to be washable and fire retardant. I need them to be beautiful.”

“I have put these fabrics in homes on Lake Shore Drive.” Well, yes. In 1944.

“I want to find a good match for the one I sent you.”

“I’ll keep looking, but you need to be flexible, I have a very limited budget, and I have three people looking for your fabric, and I am just trying to prevent this from going to Court.”

Court? Now this is a legal matter, my dislike of plastic fabric? “Bob, you should not be in the middle of that, all you need to worry about is the fabric.”

“I have more samples in my car, if you want to come look.”

Bob’s car looks like someone backed up a dumptruck full of sample books and let it rip. No organization, just a pile, nearly up to the roof, of hundreds of sample books. After ten minutes outside trying to look through them by the dim light of his car, I gave up and requested that he simply try to find a good match for Dorien.

Jen was apoplectic when I returned from my visit to sample book purgatory. She couldn’t believe he was so dismissive and insulting. I sighed. It was a process.

After a third nocturnal visit from Bob, who I was now sure was a vampire or some other creature of the night, where he once again brought me man-made shiny fabrics that would survive a conflagration, insulted my taste, implied that I was unreasonable, and discussed the imminent law suit should I not cooperate, and told me that the only reason he bid the job so low was that he thought the cleaning company wasn’t good at what they do and he could smell oodles of such business, I called the company back. I would need a cash settlement, as I was not comfortable with Father Moses of the Polyester Cult removing my chairs from my home.

Turns out, after two months of dealing with me (and Bob) they were ready to cut a deal.

Tune in later this week to find out how even this went all catawampus, and why my chairs are STILL not reupholstered.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


When you have lived in a vintage home as long as I have lived in my apartment, certain things are comforting. You can walk around in the dark in the middle of the night without your glasses on and never bump into anything, even avoiding the squeaky floorboards. You know every quirk of every appliance, door, drawer and closet. I’ve been in my apartment almost 16 years, and I know exactly how to flush the temperamental toilets on the first shot, how to lift up slightly on the handle to the guest room closet door to get it to stay shut, and where to give a tap with my hip on the kitchen drawer that sticks when it is humid. I know that my oven runs slightly cool, and that the hood vent over the stove has a mislabeled fan, so high is low and low is high.

Some things are less of a comfort. When, on a bleary-eyed-morning-after-the-night-before you forget about the one wry stream of water in the shower that never fails to squirt you right in the eye if you don’t lean to the right. The millionth time you blow a fuse by forgetting to shut off the living room air conditioner before turning on the vacuum requiring a schlep to the basement fuse box. The drafty windows in the living room, which are great for letting in light, are also not so great about protecting me from bitter Chicago winters, and I spend the worst of the icy months wrapped in blankets and sweaters, with thick socks and a permanently cold nose like a two-legged Labrador.

Generally, I love that I have lived here so long. However, occasionally it does come back to bite me in the butt.

As a part of the big apartment Version 2.0 project, I have been altering some of the artwork on the walls. Mostly this has been just about editing, and as there is no budget for painting, I have been resigning myself to the little imperfections that are revealed when something that has been hanging somewhere for a decade and a half is removed. Small nail holes, and occasionally secondary holes that the piece was covering up are made public. Slight discoloration in the wall paint, brighter behind the removed item than around it. In one interesting twist, a sort of shroud of Turin effect where a small hanging quilt used to be, the folds and drapes of the fabric captured in a light stain on the wall.

But nothing prepared me for the frustration I felt last week, when I went to take down six large pieces that had been hanging behind my couch for the last dozen years in order to replace them with a single large piece. This is when I discovered that the genius I used to be married to had decided that instead of using the technology and tools at his disposal to hang the pictures straight and even, he had not only put an extra dozen or so holes in the wall, he had eventually fixed the problem with the liberal application of DARK GREEN FLORAL PUTTY. Which left DARK GREEN STICKY PATCHES on the ivory walls when I removed the paintings.

Big green splotches. Not exactly the highlight of my design efforts.

I tried to scrape them off with a spatula. FAIL.

I tried to wash them off with soap and a sponge. FAIL.

I tried to sand them off with fine sandpaper. FAIL.

I was about to give up entirely when I talked to my friend Sue (set designer and former scenic painter extraordinaire) who suggested I try one of the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.

I went out and bought a pack of the ones marked Extra Power. When I opened the package I was disheartened. They didn’t look very scrubby. Really basic white blocks of foam, slightly textured on one side. I wet one and wrung it out, as per the instructions, and went to the living room to see what happened. A little elbow grease and A MIRACLE!!! Wasband splotches gone! Wall saved!!!!

You have got to try these things. I’ve been taking them all over the house, little marks and big problem areas, gone in a flash. I can’t believe how well they work. I have a feeling I’m going to be buying them by the case!

Mr. Clean is my hero.

Now if only they made a Magic Eraser for those pesky exes….

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Not Counting Chickens in Chicago

As part of the whole “Stacey converts her apartment d├ęcor to something worthy of a grown-up” I didn’t just tackle the indoor spaces, but looked to my outdoor spaces as well. I have a tiny back porch, more of a porchlet really, with a view of the alley. From this porchlet you can see all manner of urban wildlife…raccoons, opossums, squirrels, many more rats than I am comfortable with, not to mention the occasional “guy who cannot make it home to urinate”. I have a decent sized front porch, with a view of lovely historic Logan Boulevard, with its wide lawns and lush trees and gorgeous Victorian architecture.

So when I moved in fifteen years ago, it seemed almost logical to put the small iron patio set we had been gifted…on the back porch. I'm not exactly sure why it was logical, but I know there must have been a reason. It isn't a big set. A couple small chairs, a tiny settee, a little coffeetable. The perfect place to sit outside and enjoy the ambiance of being on the first floor facing the alley. The set was, at the time, painted a white so dirty it was gray, was peeling and flaking to reveal rust, and had cushions in a garish daisy pattern of lime green, canary yellow and white. I mused to my then husband that maybe we should repaint them, possibly do new cushions in a Provencal pattern. He surprised me a week later by spray-painting them a bright bilious cobalt blue. I hated it, but it was a nice gesture, so I thanked him and left the cushions as is, not wanting to spend money on new cushions to match that horrible color, and figuring in a couple of years the paint would need re-doing again anyway and we could fix it then. We never did.

We never sat out there. It just wasn’t ever a good place to hang out casually. The only use it ever got was when visiting friends needed a place to smoke. The husband left the house eight years ago. The majority of my friends wisely quit smoking. The ugly blue furniture sat peeling and rusting away on the back porch undisturbed, and I never gave it much thought. Until this summer.

When it occurred to me that if I moved the furniture to the FRONT porch where the NICE VIEW is, I might actually want to sit outside.

I may be really smart, but sometimes I’m a flipping idiot.

The set moved quickly and relatively efficiently (since I was doing it alone) to the front porch where it made a perfect little sitting area. I went on Craigslist and found a kid willing to come scrape, sand and repaint for a pittance, and within the week they went from primary blue to a dark chocolate brown. I ordered replacement cushions in a camel cotton twill. It has been a delight all summer, and I cannot believe it took me so long to have this particular A-Ha moment.

Sadly, not every project has such success.

The moving of the set left a large hole on my porchlet in the back. Looking at the space I realized that actually, it wouldn’t be a terrible place to have dinner, since that happens at night when the alley is darkened, and with some candles or twinkle lights and good company as the focus, it wouldn’t be so bad. All I needed was a small square dining table and four dining chairs and I would be set.

The chairs found me quickly. Visiting a great funky store with design guru Penny, a perfect set of four (ridiculously cheap) folding iron dining chairs with a nice scroll design practically leapt into my car. Sadly, there was no matching table. I figured I would wait till the end of the summer when the patio furniture goes on sale everywhere and pick up a cheap one.

It is the end of the summer.

I looked everywhere. But the tables in my price range were either too ugly or flimsy, the ones I liked would need to be 90% off to afford them.

Until I checked on I sometimes have good luck with them when I am looking for something specific, and they did not disappoint. A square folding iron dining table with a slat top that would match the slat seats of the chairs. The perfect size. In my budget. Five of them left. I ordered it. That was just over a week ago.

Today, sort of wondering where it might be and when I might expect it, I went to check the delivery tracking number with UPS. The UPS website announced proudly that my table has been delivered!

To Incline Village, Nevada.

Which is sort of nowhere even remotely close to Chicago, Illinois.

I contact, who confirms that the package was indeed delivered to Incline Village, Nevada. I inform them that I do not, in fact, LIVE in Incline Village, Nevada. They inform me that they will try to track the package down, however the item is now out of stock, so if they cannot find it, they will process a refund.

Table, FAIL.

Tune in next week to follow the continuing saga of the ruined chairs….