8.21.2011

diy drum shade

our oak park apartment has so much architectural charm, especially in the dining room, with the original picture molding frames around the room, the large windows and the french doors that separate it from the kitchen.  

one of the less charming modern elements of the space was the builder-grade "chandelier".  when we moved in, i was not a fan of its brushed-nickel, swirly-white-glass octopus-armed style.  the light this thing put off was overly bright for what's supposed to be an inviting stay-a-while kind of room, even when using the dimmer switch.  buying a new chandelier for a rental apartment would not have been beyond my usual scope of decorating madness, but instead, i came up with a plan to diy a giant drum shade that would utilize but hide the existing fixture.  here's that cheap looking eyesore:

when lit, the downward-facing light bulbs glare in the eyes.  ugliness also glares in the eyes.
the first thing i had to figure out was how to create the skeleton for the shade.  given the large diameter of the light fixture, nearly 24" even with the glass shades removed, i needed something something circular that would be both large and lightweight.  quilting hoops were just the ticket - preformed circles made of balsa wood.  as it turned out no local stores here had large enough hoops in stock, so i ordered two sets online that looked like this: 


quilting hoops are composed of two rings: one solid inner ring and another larger outer ring cut with an adjustable brace that allows the fabric to be tightly stretched between the two rings.  to prepare the hoops for my drum shade skeleton, i used one inner ring as is and broke off the blocking pieces of the two outer hoops that hold the bolt and wingnut and then glued and taped the separated ends together to make fixed-sized circles.

for the shade itself, i had had some fabric for at least ten years (which i bought from denver fabrics, a fabulous independent shop whose existence makes me question why chicago's fabric store selection sucks so much) and i knew it would be awesome for my purpose with its small colorful pattern.  

magenta, gold, and blue.
after preparing the quilting hoops, i measured out the piece of fabric i would need to wrap the circumference of the hoops.  turns out the fabric i had wasn't long enough to wrap the entire thing in one go, so i had to join two equal sized pieces of the fabric, which meant that instead of having one seam, i had to have two.  i also had to determine how tall i wanted the shade to be.  since i was going to hang this shade over top of the existing fixture, i had to ensure that the light bulbs weren't too close to any of the fabric and that there was plenty of room for the heat to escape all while keeping the overall size in proportion to the room.

measuring out both the length of the fabric and the height of the overall shade.
i did a test run of the shade, temporarily stapling the fabric to the hoops and haphazardly attaching it to the fixture chain.  as you can see here, it looked rather disastrous.  wrinkly and wobbly and, of course, the underside of the ugly chandelier was still visible.

test run.  um, not the look i was going for.
to give the fabric some much needed structure, without having to add more wooden pieces to the skeleton, i ironed on medium weight fusible interfacing to the wrong side of the printed fabric.  this simple solution worked perfectly to stiffen the sides of the drum shape.

now that i was sure the fabric would hang properly with the addition of the interfacing, i used fabric glue to permanently fasten the fabric/interfacing to the outer quilting hoops and clamped it all in place with binder clips while it set up.
fabri-tac glue is stringy and messy but very strong and permanent.
i also knew that i didn't want any of the existing fixture visible (except for the chain), so i had to create a cover for the bottom.  this step was as simple as taking basic muslin fabric and stretching it over an inner hoop and gluing it all up.  

the bottom of the shade, drying.
the next step was to figure out exactly how to hang the drum shade over the top of the existing ugly one.  i bought very small eye bolts and s-hooks and picture hanging wire and strung an x shape at the top of the shade.  the sharp tip of the eye bolts easily pierced this soft balsa wood which meant i didn't have to use a drill or any special tools.

detail of the removable and adjustable hanging system.
it took a bit of finagling and test runs to get the length of the wires equal and proper.  you can see here that the shade itself still looks a little crumpled, but before hanging it for the last time, i ironed out the wavy spots.

looking through the top of the shade with its hanging system and bottom cover in place.
as i mentioned earlier, i took off the glass shades of the original fixture in order to decrease the circumference of the light.  to hang the finished drum, i strung the wires over the top of the  fixture and hooked the s-hooks into the eye bolts.  the shade stays put just by being balanced and is not tightly affixed in place, which means that if it gets bumped, it gets off-kilter but seeing as it's hung over a dining table, bumping into it isn't really a problem.

the shade strung over the existing fixture.
here is the drum shade all completed.  the bottom muslin cover is just held in place by tension and easily pops out if i have to change a bulb (or dump out accumulated dead insects).  the magenta and yellow of the fabric does soften the light and gives off a warm and cozy glow.  the finished shade is about 24" in diameter and about 16" high.  being so big, it is something of a statement piece, but i feel the dining room is large enough to accommodate its size.

thar she blows!

i made this shade only two months after we moved in so you can see that the drum shade has lasted well and hasn't burned up or fallen off in the intervening two years.  here's the dining room a month ago:

drum shade in situ.

now that we're packing this place up in preparation for the move, i'm taking the fabric shade down and replacing the glass shades.  i hope to be able to reuse the drum shade in our next place.  if it turns out that this one isn't the right size, at least i know now how to make another one easily enough.














8.19.2011

color matters: house paint

when i lived in california, i had a friend who joked how she wished she could leave post-it notes on the front doors of less-than-lovely houses with suggestions on how to improve their curb appeal.  i think of her idea often, especially when i see a house like this every single day.  


clearly this is a grand home with tons going for it, and i applaud the owners for giving it some tlc, but believe or not, this unfinished-looking cold gray stucco color is brand new.  until a few weeks ago this exterior existed in an even rougher, splotchy, pre-finish-coat state of incompleteness for at least the two years we've lived in oak park (and surely longer).  the yard has been continuously torn up with mounds of dirt shifting from right to left as various areas of the foundation were excavated, which has resulted in loose dirt washing into a muddy sludge on the adjoining sidewalk every time it rains (which has been occurring in a record-breaking manner all summer long).  i was curious when i saw the stucco guys re-appear, wondering at how the colors would finally turn out.  um, primer gray?  not at all what i was hoping for.

i don't actually know for certain whether the dark cool gray is in fact the final color, but i have a sinking feeling that it is given the sluggish pace at which these people complete projects.  if i were to leave a post-it note on this front door, i'd suggest they paint it like so:

a deep rich brown with undertones of red and purple, just like the leaves on the crimson king maple trees flanking the house.  see how easily that would warm up and make more inviting the hulking mass of the house and complement the green lawn?

(while you're at it, why don't you get rid of that orange safety fencing over to the right and how about seeding that barren slope with grass.)

just a thought...

8.12.2011

(the end of being) at home in chicago

the current view from the sofa...


yes, boxes and more boxes.  we're moving!  in three weeks, we are moving to my home state of north carolina. at long last!  chicago has never truly felt like home to me even after six and a half years and now i’m ready to live where i’ve got roots and where i’m ready to put down more.

to be brutally honest, the first time i visited chicago in 2002, i thought it was the ugliest city i'd ever seen and i couldn’t remotely imagine myself living here.  i found/find it so flat, so gray, so heavy, so barren, so un-ornamented, so, to quote carl sandburg, "stormy, husky, brawling".   but in 2005 i did move here and it's hard to believe it’s now 2011.  i accept that my aesthetic standards were unreasonably high upon my arrival having just come from some of the most picturesque cities in the united states: portland, oregon and pasadena, california.  but i was still sort of appalled by how grim most of the streetscapes seemed.  turns out the most visual and aesthetic pleasure i’ve gotten from chicago has been not through its exteriors, but instead through its interiors.

and plenty of interiors i’ve seen: during my time here, i’ve lived in six different apartments.  six!  three of those were within my first year here.  my first place was in the logan square neighborhood - a nice condo building but nothing homey and i didn't spend much time outside of my room or the kitchen.   its major perk was the in-unit washer and dryer but that luxury was fleeting.

apartment #1.  top floor, somewhat ornamented, but a crappy street otherwise. duration: maybe five months.
the second place was a rough, raw and incredibly cheap loft shared with four roommates in wicker park.  living in a house full of artists, i didn’t mind the sketchy alley entrance, the peeling paint on every surface including the floors, the rickety rusted death trap ladder to the rooftop, or the lack of real visual or auditory privacy.  in fact those elements felt exciting and very cool for the short months that I lived there.

apartment #2. top floor, alley access only. duration: maybe four months.

i pretty much would be horrified by the same situation now, but in the end the advantage of such a undefined space is that you could do no wrong to it because it was never going to be civilized or tamed.  i did pick up two valuable DIY skills there: i learned how to plumb a pedestal sink (which had been found in an alley by a friend) for the bathroom where there wasn’t one before and i learned how to frame a stud wall to create a new room within the vast open space.

my third home was with a new roommate i‘d found on craigslist, still in wicker park.  my room was teeny tiny and required me to loft my bed in order to fit both it and full size drafting table below.  it was like a tree house nest.  such tininess i really did not mind when it was all to myself.

apartment #3.  top floor, upstairs from a knitting shop.  duration: 6 months.
the roommate and i were a good match and six months in, we moved to my fourth apartment only two blocks away.  being that it too was shared, i still didn’t feel the urge to prettify anything beyond my own room, and even there, my decorating was pretty minimal.  

apartment #4.  top floor, south facing windows galore.  duration: one year.

apartment #4.  barely decorated interiors.
 all those months of transience thankfully came to and end when, in january of 2007, i met my love while on a trip to omaha.  just months later in april, i had moved out from the wicker park roommate and found a fifth place to call my own back in logan square.  i was alone in the new place (just one block from my apartment #1) for about one month before my main squeeze moved from omaha to chicago to be with me.  i was so happy to be able to share the apartment that i loved with someone that i loved.

apartment #5.  top floor, ugly exterior.  duration: one and a half years.
here was where i really started to decorate in earnest.  the space got incredible southern light in its handsomely proportioned bedroom and living room. i painted the living room twice, the kitchen got a red accent wall, then i painted over that.  i stenciled a louis sullivan-inspired design on the bedroom walls.   i painted the bathroom, hung art, got custom wooden blinds to replace the horrible vertical blinds in the living room, bought more real furniture.  i guess i felt a much greater urge to make the space personal and cozy since i had a partner to share it with.

apartment #5.  evolution of the interior.
alas, one and half years later, a new job in the far western suburbs was impetus enough to move yet again.  after swearing while living in logan square that next time i moved, it would be out of chicago, i made it as far as oak park, a town which lies just west of chicago.   so technically i held true to my promise, though i didn't make it as far as i had hoped.

apartment #6.  top floor, pretty outside, pretty inside.  duration: two years.
this sixth place is the best yet.  incredible walkable neighborhood with legendary architecture all around, impossibly huge houses, lovely gardens, parks and shops galore.  this space has a separate dining room with room enough for a giant work surface.  good morning and afternoon light.  original 1920s bathroom tile.  a decorative fireplace.  the only real drawback is the impossibly small kitchen, but that has been pretty easy to overlook for all other great features.   i will miss this interior and exterior; it has been good to me and to us.

apartment #6.  evolution of the living room and other rooms.

but now: onward!  homeward!


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