Gloppy, Distressed, Monteagley: A Chair Story
July 18, 2006
Today I’d like to talk about distress. I’ve been thinking a lot about distress–not mental distress particularly, because you can read about that at my other blog, www.iamlosingitbutiguessiwilljustkeepfakingitforonemoreday.com–but the physical, beat-upon distress that happens to stuff once people start using things. Our cottage, for example, is a temple to distress. I’ll take you on a little tour sometime, but right now we’ll focus on a tiny, isolated area that has been causing me a lot of, well, distress.
It’s the porch chairs. For the past two years, ever since we got this cottage, I have been watching four of our rocking chairs decay, right before my eyes. Last summer, toward the end of the season, the green paint started to fail–a flake here, a bubble there. You sat down, kind of hot after wandering around outside, and you got up to discover that your forearm was part green. So ANNOYING.
The thing is, I think the peeling paint is pretty. Look at these colors:
See proof of the 1970s, right under that green paint:
See how people long ago dealt with a dried-up leather chair seat:
Kay, I realize that this sort of distressed paint tends to give you hives. I know that peeling paint is not your idea of a good time. But think about the chair painters of years gone by–the one who thought orange was the right color, the one who hated orange and went for yellow. The one who first decided boldly to paint a stained hardwood rocker in the first place. Palimpsest, I tell you–these chairs are a palimpsest of summery history.
An annoying palimpsest. I’m all for authenticity, but the peely green paint HAD TO GO.
So the other day, my summer neighbor Ginger wandered over and suggested we take our four boys on a hike. I looked out, saw the four boys playing a hot game of badminton, and I said, “Aw, they’re playing badminton. Let’s not mess with that.”
“Right,” she said, clearly not too committed to the idea of a hike. Getting four boys to play badminton together in such a charming, picturesque way was almost unheard of. Plus, a hike sounded a lot like work to me. Then she said, “Well, we could always paint those chairs. You’re all the time talking about painting those chairs.”
A real bluff-caller, Ginger is. We headed off to Greeter’s hardware store, scored some wire brushes and sandpaper. We deferred paint until we could see how bad the cleaned-up chairs looked. And endlessly stare at paint sample cards.
We commenced to scraping and sanding, and it was wildly satisfying to see all the crappy paint fall off. It wasn’t coming off very evenly, however, and I started to wish we’d just stripped the chairs altogether with a big jug of cortex-eating paint remover. The chairs were turning into a Vietnam-scale project.
Ginger kept saying, “It doesn’t matter. It’s Monteagley. They’ll be great.”
The hardware guy persuaded us that spray paint, every Monteagle porch chair painter’s first choice, was not going to solve our problem, that spray paint was what had caused our problem. I decided, having never painted anything in my life, that oil-based paint, with a paintbrush, was the only real solution if I was going to avoid painting the damn chairs again anytime soon.
Picking the color took two days of retrieving paint samples and deciding whether to go dark or light. Light meant I would need to prime all the chairs, but light was obviously the way to go.
I had a moment of mourning when I finally put the primer to the first chair. To glop over all that summery history seemed disrespectful, but glop I did. I glopped for hours and hours, glopping the chairs and me and my shoes, soaking myself in mineral spirits from time to time and making just a huge mess. I got totally drunk on fumes, thought I saw Bigfoot at one point. Painting a chair spindle with a paintbrush is just terrible. If I’d had the steam, I’d have rented a paint sprayer and really gone nuts. But once you’re into a project with both feet, and both feet are covered in oil-based paint, you can’t really change your course. Days passed; civilizations around the world fell in the time it took for the chairs to dry in the humidity.
Then they were done.
They’re really creamy.
But they’re not what you would call Nice. Ginger, who conveniently moved four streets over to another cottage during this effort to avoid the glopping process, came by and said they were really Monteagley. Then she proceeded to rearrange all the furniture on the porch.
I happen to know that under this creamy paint, that there is peeling orange and green and yellow and pink and blue.
Which reminds me. What is missing from this picture?
Chair cushions. I’ll be knitting up some chair cushions, and they’ll probably be orange and green and yellow. They’ll match just great once the creamy paint starts to peel, and we’re back to cream and green and orange and yellow.