Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Medicine for the Bath


The finished medicine cabinet
Years and years ago, in the 1970s, my grandfather became interested in woodworking and set up a shop in the basement from which he turned out everything from rocking horses to Christmas ornaments. I guess really he was always good at building things. When he was a teenager he and his brother decided their house needed extra space so they decided to add a basement. They jacked the house up on stilts and dug a basement underneath with shovels and then set the house back down again. While the house was elevated it began swaying in the strong wind and my great-grandfather, a Norwegian man of few words, took his pipe from his mouth and said, "Well, now you've done it." The boys finished the basement, however, and it is still in use today as part of my cousin Realpha's house. I'm sure it added a lot of extra space to the house, which is quite small and housed a family of 10 in my grandfather's day.

My mother can remember when my grandfather built the staircase in her childhood home. There was just a ladder to the basement for a time until he built and installed a staircase all by himself, I believe. One of my great uncles may have assisted him in installing it. He also laid the floors and paneling in that house and built in captain's beds for the children and bookcases and cupboards all over. Somehow he seemed to have picked up all kinds of skills without any formal training.

I guess he could probably make a little medicine cabinet in his sleep, so when my mother asked for a wooden one to complete her paneled bathroom he agreed. As I remember the walls in that powder room were paneled in ebony boards and the floor was some kind of brown vinyl. I think maybe it was patterned to look like bricks or stones. There was a shaggy latch hook wall hanging featuring trees under a full moon. My grandfather built a wooden cabinet and stained it ebony to match the walls, so you can imagine, the room was the height of 1970's design!

The sanded cabinet

Fast forward to Christmas of 2015, and my husband and I have really been wishing for extra storage space in our master bath, especially for small things like toothbrushes and makeup and stuff. My husband was up in my parents' attic putting Christmas decorations away after the holiday and saw the old wooden cabinet up there. It was deemed too outdated to hang in their remodeled bathroom. We asked if we could have it and they agreed so we brought it home with a plan to paint it. My husband sanded off the dark stain and I really liked the unfinished wood. Our furniture is mostly painted, so I thought some wood grain might be a nice thing in the house. I told him to just stop and leave it as it was.


I used tracing paper to lay out the design.

I transfer the design from the paper to the wood.

I thought the bare wood would look nice accented with rosemaling and gold wax. When we moved to North Carolina in the 1980s we brought the medicine cabinet to our new house. The powder room there was blue and my mother collected several ceramic and glass blue bird decorations and displayed them on the open shelf of the medicine cabinet. I wanted to feature blue birds but still wanted rosemaling since my Norwegian grandfather made the cabinet, and I wasn't sure if rosemaling ever featured birds. I found a book of traditional Scandinavian decorative motifs and did see a few that featured birds, so I decided it would work. The birds I drew are more like blue quail or peacocks than bluebirds; a nod to my California childhood when we saw quail around our house all the time.


After the paint was finished I applied gold wax as an accent.
I used acrylic artist's paints for the rosemaling. It's funny; my Midwestern friends think the painting is Pennsylvania Dutch like the Hex signs and my friend from Budapest thinks it looks like Hungarian folk painting. It just goes to show how very similar are the cultures, I suppose! After I finished the paint my husband applied a few coats of polyurethane to the whole thing. Then I went back and accented the edges with Rub N Buff gold wax. The wax tends to run if you apply it before the polyurethane.


The finished cabinet
As you can see, the cabinet adds some personality to our otherwise plain Jane, straight from the builder bathroom. I would love to update the bath and make it more functional for storage, but since our kitchen is literally falling apart (now the ceiling is getting water marks all over it, showing we will most likely have to rip it out to repair the plumbing from the bathroom above it) there won't be any money for cosmetic work on the bath for a very long time. We do still need to paint the wall where we had to patch it after removing a towel bar, but then the bath will be almost finished. I have a vintage curio shelf I want to repurpose as an essential oils organizer and display. That will be my next home project.

The reason I haven't finished much of anything lately is shown in the photo below. I actually started this blog post a week ago, but that coincided with the entry into our lives of Miss Luna, our Australian Shepherd puppy. She's actually about twice as big as in that photo already, after just a week and a half. Puppies last even less time than human babies, but that's a good thing I guess since Luna has only slept through the night once since she arrived and gets into everything so much during the day it's impossible to get anything done. I'm so tired I hardly know my own name! I definitely forgot what it's like to have a baby in the house. Hopefully things will settle down and allow me to complete some new projects soon.


Luna, our new puppy

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