I’m an irresponsible DIYer.
I’m a foolhardy DIYer.
I’m a happy-go-lucky DIYer.
Yes. That’s it.
When I notice that something needs fixing, I like to try to tackle it myself. And I’m usually pleased with result by sheer fact that I’m the one who did it. I can forgive all manner of sins if I’m the one who’s committed them.
On my blog I tend to write a fair bit about solutions because I like to find solutions. I like to put in a bit of elbow grease, to muster a degree of sticktoitiveness, to do a bit of puzzling. But the solutions I find are almost never perfect. They’re usually scrappy. There are unhemmed curtains hanging in my windows and crooked hardware on my dressers. There’s a headboard that’s propped against the wall, not secured to a bed frame because it’s an antique and handmade, and the proportions don’t line up perfectly with a modern Queen-sized bed. There’s a rag rug in Faye’s room with bits of broken rag and a sheepie thrown on top to hide them. When we bought the rug it smelled like forty-five dogs had been lounging on it for the past twenty years. We had to wash it twice to get it back to useable. The quick paint job I did on my bedside table eight years ago is chipping and repair job I made once to the small drawer is due for another look. The neatly organized spices in my kitchen still tumble when I’m pulling out the ingredients for a pot of chili.
I get a lot of questions from readers asking how I’ve gotten something to work just right. On Instagram, or in the comments in this space, or directly into my email inbox, readers write wanting to know how I’ve managed to get something to work. I always want to offer encouragement. And often there’s a trick or a solution that’s worth sharing. But I think my most helpful answer might be that I mostly get things to work by embracing imperfection.
How do I keep my straw market basket clean? An occasional wipe with a warm rag and a blind eye to the more general daily dirt. How do I keep my white bedsheets white? An occasional hopeful wash with an oxygen booster and a blind eye toward the evolving color. How do I keep my daughter from climbing out of her wooden high chair? Daily encouragement to stay seated and resignation that’s she’s a determined little monkey.
I’m not critiquing a desire to get things right, I’m just saying that there’s a different approach that can work as well.
The approach that encourages charging forth semi-recklessly. To give something a try even if you’re not sure that results are going to be perfect. To ask for help when you need it and when you can find it, and to trust your own ability to give something a go when that’s the only recourse.
Some of my earliest childhood memories involve my parents fixing things. When I was very small, my parents still owned the three-family house I was born in and even though we lived elsewhere, we’d spend afternoons there while my parents made little repairs for tenants. My sister Cait and I would steal away to the home of the elderly sisters who lived next door in search of treats. Or we’d fill up a plastic kiddy pool and sit mesmerized by Kelly and Megan, the big girls who were neighbors on the other side. My mom and dad would come in and out of the house, toting tools and vacuum cleaners and tubes of caulk as they patched and painted and did whatever else was required of them. When I was seven, we moved to the house that my parents still live in. They’ve spent the past 25 years making improvements to that place.
Still, when I go home to my parents’ house, my dad always has some little fix to show me. He’ll lead me to the basement stairs and swing open the door.
“Remember how that used to stick?”
Dramatic opening and closing of the door. Flourish of the hand. Mouth agape and eyebrows raised waiting for my approval.
This cycle of problem and solution and flourish of the hand to showcase the end result has been repeated over and over and over again. Even in cases when the end result is not 100% polished. There have been other lessons that my parents offered along the way, but it’s cheer in the face of a fix that’s still a little wonky that stays with me more than any other.
These photos are of the recent project that I embarked on to fix the set of four chairs that James and I bought for our very first apartment. This isn’t a tutorial because I’m not convinced many of you might have the need for a tutorial on how to add leather seats onto old wooden chairs with caved in seats, and because I’m not convinced that the method that I used is one hundred percent the right one. But to me, it’s perfect.
Before I began the project, I removed the broken pressed fiberboard from the old caned seats and emailed a few leather-working friends (Alice and Lissa and Abby) to get their advice on replacing the seats with leather hides. Their counsel was invaluable and I ended up taking Abby up on her offer to cut and finish the seats for me. I sent her a tracing by post. She sent me photos of the hide she might use by email. I gave her enthusiastic virtual thumbs up. I paid her to cut and finish the seats in her studio in Oregon where there was space and tools and patience to get them right. I put them into place in their new home in Brooklyn where there was some space and a few tools and where I eked out the required patience.
I rigged a support system with jute webbing and a borrowed staple gun. For every successful staple I put in, I pulled out a wrinkled one. I made a return trip to the upholstery shop on Orchard Street for more upholstery tacks when I realized I’d need more of them to get the seats to sit flush to the chair. I smashed my thumb with a mercifully cloth-covered hammer. I ended up with a wrinkle here or there. I have no idea how the things might age.
In the end I have four new seats on four old chairs. No one’s fallen through them yet and they have just the simple, homespun look that I was hoping for.
Because they are simple. And homespun. And just a little bit wonky.