Category Archives: mid century compatible

Boom Shellac-Laca

One day shortly after moving into the house, my father in law was over and we got to discussing the fact that I was having a hard time matching the color on the floor with stain for a few spots that needed some touching up. He pointed out that given the age of the floors, they may very well be finished with amber shellac instead. I did some quick research and picked up some from the store. I tried it out and it turns out he was exactly right.

Shellac flakes

Shellac in flake form

What is shellac, you may ask? Well, shellac is a natural resin that has been used for a very long time (centuries, I believe) as a protectant for various items, not just wood. It is produced by insects and harvested as flakes. To use it, the flakes are dissolved in denatured alcohol so it can be spread evenly on a surface. You can order the flakes and make it yourself, but it is usually just as easy to purchase it pre-mixed locally, unless your needs are very specific (like you need a unique color)

Up until the 1950s with the advent of polyurethane, shellac was one of the most popular wood finishes. It is all natural, goes on quickly, and dries very hard and durable. Polyurethane is technically more durable, but is has a somewhat “plastic” look (because it is a plastic coating.) Also, if you have worked with polyurethane you know the fumes are terrible and you have to wait a very long time (up to 24 hours) between coats.

Pre-made shellac

Pre-made shellac

Of course, this meant that I had to shellac all the wood floors in the house.

Because I’m using shellac, this isn’t quite as big of a project as you may think. Unlike polyurethane, when you have a shellac coating, you can simply add another coating on top of the existing – you do not have to strip, re-stain and then put down a new top coat. Shellac, including the stuff on your floor already, can be re-dissolved with denatured alcohol. So when you add a fresh coat, what is actually happening is it slightly melts the original coat, blends them together, and they harden as one single topcoat.

Other cool things about shellac:
1. You can thin shellac as needed with more denatured alcohol.  When you thin it, it makes it more runny and easier to apply evenly to a horizontal surface like a floor without getting “lap marks” (lap marks are the places where you did two strokes side by side and you can see where they overlapped.)
2. Shellac is able to be re-coated in as little as one hour.
3. Shellac is all natural – denatured alcohol has a low odor and unlike polyurethane, you do not have to clear the room for a day while applying it. The alcohol (denatured alcohol is basically distilled spirits with a chemical to make it taste terrible) evaporates away, leaving nothing but the shellac resin when dried.
4. When you have a scratch, you can brush a little bit of denatured alcohol over the spot and it will melt the existing shellac and allow you to “patch” the scratch relatively easily.

It took about two weeks to do all the floors in the house. I went through first and ensured that any nail holes leftover from the carpet tack strips were filled, then I just tackled one room at a time. To do a project like a floor, a lambswool applicator is a must – they are cheap and allow you to do the entire floor in minutes.

Here’s the before and afters for various rooms:


Fixing Bathroom Ceramic Tile

Our bathroom is basically original. Over the year items have been replaced the wore out (the faucets were updated, though with mid-century compatible versions and about six or seven years ago my grandmother replaced the original tile floor with linoleum (I will be replacing that soon.)

The tile was in great condition and is installed the classic way – “mud set” – but when you have grouted tile you do have to do some basic maintenance on it – particularly fixing the grout. Ours wasn’t terrible, but you could see some spots where it was cracking, and there were a handful of tiles that had become loose. A few weeks ago I got ambitious and took care of it. Working with some small tools (mostly a small screwdriver), I cleared out bad grout and pulled loose tiles. There was one small section that had some issues (see pictures below), but for the most part everything was good. I re-grouted the shower – a task that you can do several ways, though I just chose to do it by hand – and then sealed all the grout. I’m pretty happy with the results:

House Numbers Are Important

When you live on a dead end street laid out in 1957, one of the cooler things that happens is you really don’t have a complex house number. Ours is 7. That’s right…just 7. That being said, I still wanted to have a house number on the front door. When I come up to someones house that I don’t know and knock on the door, if they have a house number right next to their door it’s just that last bit that tells me “Hey man, you’re in the right spot,” and not knocking on the door of the creepy neighbor who only comes out once a month, abhors daylight and smells like cabbage.

Creepy neighbors aside (we don’t have any, coincidentally. Ours are all awesome.) having a house number on the door I feel is a nice touch. It looks nice and as mentioned helps people at the door confirm they are in the right spot while standing there and it shows you care enough to pay attention to the small details. The other day I put a house number up on both front doors (the “main” front door, and our kitchen door, which also faces the driveway.) These were inexpensive ones from Home Depot, but in a very retro mid-century compatible style. I immediately liked them – I’ve seen these pop up a few times on blogs for other mid-century house folks as well. They are very modern in their lines, so they would be at home on both a “modern” house and a “mid-century” house. Installation was also very easy: Mark the holes, get a masonry bit and drill into the brick the appropriate depth, then set the posts with silicone. The finished number can be either raised or flush – I chose to have it raised.

Here are the results:

Adventures in Mid-Century Modern Kitchen Flooring

One of the things we knew before we ever moved in was that we had some work to do in the kitchen – new appliances, wallpaper, flooring, etc. We did start with some awesome things though: a good layout, a fabulous banquette and really nice Wood-Mode cabinets with every accessory you could want built in topped with nice Corian counters.

Over the years my Grandparents had put a few different floors down. The one at the time we moved in was linoleum, about 8-10 years old. I remember when it was being chosen, though I didn’t have a lot to do with it. I wanted to replace the kitchen floor as quickly as possible since we had a number of other projects depending on that being done (or were easier if it was done.) So off I went, to figure out how to get a floor that will look good, be durable, and be harmonious with the rest of the house.

Here are some before shots with the linoleum and room as it looked when we moved in:

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LED Accent Lighting Project

Getting the lighting “right” in the house is sort of a passion of mine. I am a big fan of great built-in lighting. In our old house we owned exactly two lamps because everything else was built-in. In the upstairs bedrooms here we put in recessed can lighting on the room perimeter and set them all on a dimmer – you get great adjustable light coming from many directions so you don’t have harsh shadows. The living room has great lighting already with the cornice and ceiling lights (and of course the Sputnik chandelier.)

The downstairs, however, was a different story. It has built in ceiling lights and the bar has lights, but they provide relatively harsh lighting. There are really awesome features in the bar and the fireplace that I thought would look great with accent lighting, so I thought about the best way to do it and remain compatible with the mid-century feelUltimately I landed on flexible LED strip lighting.

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