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Friday, February 7, 2014

Step by Step: Breaking Down a Big Project

Julie Owsik Ackerman

So often, when faced with a big project, I freeze, completely overwhelmed, unable to move forward. This especially applies with something that is new to me, such as painting and reupholstering my dining room chairs. Though I admire those who possess crafting skills, I do not have those skills myself. I tiptoe into art stores like an anthropologist, waiting to be rebuffed by the natives. But with my house, I inherited six sturdy chairs that were perfectly usable and hideous. I hated them.

Off and on I shopped for a new dining room set, but other home projects always took precedence. Then one day a few months ago, I saw a photo in a magazine of a chair very similar to mine, transformed into something I loved. It had never occurred to me that these same chairs, painted, with new cushions, could be beautiful. In a fit of optimism, I ripped the page out of the magazine.

Shyly, I showed the picture to a craftsy friend. Not only did she love the idea, she offered to help me. The next week, she drove me down to 4th Street in Philly, where there is apparently a fabric district. (Who knew?) With a vague notion that I wanted a large tropical print, we scoured various shops until Shelley spotted a gorgeous sky-blue fabric imprinted with green, yellow, pink, white. I adored it. I brought it home, unsure I could really complete this project, but determined nonetheless.

A week later, I took my next small step, walking to the hardware store. I brought the fabric, the picture from the magazine, and asked for guidance. The salesman/paint guru steered me away from spray paint, picked out brushes, clothes, and primer, and agreed with the reddish/fuschia paint color I wanted, making a custom mix for me.

As often happens, once I started moving, momentum carried me along. Home from the hardware store, I spent hours that weekend sanding, cleaning, priming, and painting. With just one coat and no cushion, my vision began to appear - chairs that I would love.

Encouraged by my progress, I made a trip to another mysterious store - Joann's - where I obtained foam and batting for the cushions, without the faintest idea of how to assemble them. Enter another craftsy friend, Elizabeth, who laid out all the materials, fearlessly cut into the fabric, showed me how to trace a pattern, assemble a cushion, wrap it in fabric and staple it together. Then she watched as I did the second cushion (myself!)

To my continuing disbelief, I now possess four dining room chairs that I adore. (And two in the basement that still need painting.) The new chairs have transformed the entire first floor of my house. I almost can't believe what a big difference they make. Every time I look at them, they lift my spirits and remind me that with help and humility, I can accomplish things that seem impossible.

What is your home is begging to be transformed? What is your first small step?


  1. Julie, love that you tackled this project and love the results.
    And I chuckled about who know about the fabric district on 4th St. I KNEW. Years ago for my sisters wedding, we bridesmaids decided to have our dresses handmade. Off we went to 4th St on a day my mother wasn't available. Hours later we returned home with yards of white poplin speckled with HUGE yellow daisies and sunflowers. Mom went nuts. Suffice it to say my sister was lucky to find a coworker willing to buy the fabric to make family room curtains. My mom supervised the next dress outing.

  2. Julie, my entire house is ready to be transformed. I have always espoused the "small bites" method, as I, too, am often overwhelmed by the scale (and cost) of large projects. But picking out the paint color, or just cruising the aisles at Lowe's, or wandering through rooms crammed with bolts of fabric (those fabric stores on 4th Street are like art galleries to me) can be a start. Love your chairs' makeover. Bravo!

  3. Julie, I totally relate to your former status as a stranger to crafting hobbies and talent. Ever since my sixth grade nun told me I had no artistic talent I have shied from trying anything crafty. I think that's why I take solace in writing for quenching my creativity thirst.

    Finding someone who complements your strengths is key; I think that's why we seek out friends who can complete us.

    The new chairs are fabulous. I bet they remind you of Hawaii, the surf, and the good life. And best of all, personal growth.