Once upon a time, sort of long ago, I found a bookcase. Or at least I must have, because I know I didn’t buy this thing and I’m sure it wasn’t given to me. I’ve picked up a lot of street furniture in my life, a pastime which has kept me on the very path which let me straight into the Society Wolf den.
The fun thing to know about me having a long history with discarded furniture, though, is that I didn’t have a car for 10 out of the 16 years I’ve had the habit. Yeah, it’s really funny to think back and watch the movie in my mind of all the times I lugged some stupid (or awesome, usually awesome) piece of furniture blocks and blocks and blocks back home with me. They always fight, they’re always difficult, and more often than not you end up with some weird grease or goo or undefinable liquid on your hand or arms or worse your clothes but at the same time, it’s always been worth it. Even that time I wrestled one of those 6’ “industrial” plastic shelf units - the sort you get at your local giant hardware store - that was covered in someone else’s really boring stickers (Chiquita. I’m not kidding - who even?), like, a mile home. I only used that thing for a year but shit - a year of use, for free? Sounds fair to me.
When we first moved out here to Beautiful Beverly, we had no car. Not having a car was a convenience in the city, but out in these semi-burbs, it's a problem. We purposefully sold a good amount of our furniture before moving, deciding to become Adults and buy or build furniture with intention and purpose, rather than finding junk pieces here and there to fill little gaps in storage and organization without any cohesive process or plan. After the first week in our new place, though, we realized how severely lacking we were in shelving, due to the loss of older pieces and the fact that our walls are made out of some sort of drywall that is essentially good as sand. With the amount of books and crap we have between the two of us, stuff that goes on shelves is like, 70% of our belongings.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand which, believe it or not is not my penchant for adopting misfit furniture. This post is about this bookcase, this functional and somehow endearing bookcase that I know I found on the street but don’t remember where when or why, who had been robbed of his beauty by some cruel freak with a spray can. This is the story of how this blue beast went from shabby to chic in one afternoon, with nothing but materials found around my house.
Good ol' piece of furniture, like you probably have in your basement or old bedroom or something. Get ready to make that thing gorgeous!
This is an example of how sometimes you just need to rev up an old piece and give your space a quick update - and how you can do that without spending a lot of time or money. There is a time and place to be meticulous (restoring anything professionally would be an example of one of those times), however there's also a time when cutting corners actually isn't a crime. I took a look outside my kitchen window and realized that I had a yard, and a patio, and some sand paper and spray paint and patterned paper. And a beautiful day. And so I set out to save this little fella's life, in the jankiest of ways. No car, and no hardware store in walking distance, I had to rely on what I had in house. And to my surprise, it turned out beautifully.
A WORDY SEMI-GUIDE TO JOOJING UP SOME GOOD BONES My list of tools found around the house in desperation:
two half dead sanding blocks, no sandpaper, a magic eraser
one can of blackboard spray paint
one can of 99cent white spray paint
one teeny little half empty can of pink spray paint
a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of water and soap
a roll of blue painters tape
some paint brushes, just in case
a portfolio of patterned paper
3m double-side tape
a beautiful day (and a face mask!)
Optional, but very helpful: Harry Belafonte, a beautiful sunny day, a lovely little garden, and some fresh fruit.
First, I cleaned and sanded him. I used a spray bottle with soapy water and some sponges to wipe him down, cleaning him of any obvious gunky material. Once he was cleaner than before, I started sanding the surface down, trying to get at least a semi-even surface. This thing had been attacked with a paint can, and there were huge dried globs of that awful smurfly paint that I didn't bother to sand all the way down (ugh, wrists).
Remember, this is janky-fab - we ain't got no wheels and only minimal sanding supplies. Had I had access to a Paint Aisle, I would have done this properly and we'd have a much more "professional" looking product. But you know what? It wouldn't be as fun, or as easy. And sometimes, like a lot of DIY4yourself times, fun and easy is where it's at. That's why I did a blog on this weird personal project - because I want to let y'all know that you can do this stuff too. Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with buying a primo recycled piece (in fact, please, do! we sell some gorgeous things!), but that making a purchase is not the only means to this end.
You should know that DIY is called that because you really can Do It Yourself, and sometimes things that look really professional in a home setting actually were whipped up in a back yard.
Sometimes DIY means letting go of precision and using what you have around you in the name of freedom. Instead of getting out a ruler and tediously marking the width of my stripes, I used the fixed width of the painter's tape to determine the gap.
Once I was all taped up and ready to go, I began to paint. Following are a bunch of images of that process, with explanations in the captions below.
I'd like to lead with a little hindsight, however -- PAINT THE WHOLE THING YOUR BASE COLOR FIRST. Obviously the type of paint you are using and the colors will affect this process (how opaque are the colors? how vibrant are they without a dark charge underneath? or will a lighter color charge the dark more?), but painting the entire surface one color means you only have to block one set of stripes to spray, not two. Instead, because I'm a dingus sometimes, on the first side, I had to block for BOTH the white AND the black stripes, which was difficult and a waste of time. So, let my face palm be your lesson preemptively learned.
GOOD THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN SPIFFING UP WITH SPRAY PAINT:
wear a mask and work in a well ventilated area
wear clothes that can get stained
protect the surface you're working on
make sure any tape used for design blocking is firmly pressed down, and that all edges are adhered to surface below
use a tape made for painted surfaces
block off any abutting areas that are not being painted - you can make screens out of almost anything, old papers, paper towels, cardboard, cereal boxes, whatever - be sure to close off any gaps with tape
spray evenly! spray with a good pace! keep your pace, keep your distance! these things really make a big difference
have patience and let it dry (no, i mean REALLY dry!) before going and doing a second layer or more blocking - you'll be thankful you did
do everything in stages (this project is not a good example of what is normally a religious practice for me) - if you have four sides to paint blue with white stripes, paint each side blue and then paint the stripes
A GALLERY OF IMAGES CONCERNING SPRAY PAINTING THE BOOKCASE
So, what next? I'm sure you're relatively suspicious as to why I would have left the insides unfinished, especially considering they happen to be the most offensive areas on this thing. But let us remember that this is a janky-vision joint, and as a result, I was working with limited materials. No appropriate paints (these spray paints were a last ditch) and no interesting contact papers, I turned to something I have a shit ton of - PAPER.
Yes gurl, you heard me right. Patterned, decorative paper. Why not? Paper is durable, easy to cut to custom size, and simple to work with. And in my studio, plentiful. Using paper also allowed me to use one of my favorite supplies of all time - 3M High Tack ATG tape - a true marvel of a thin double sided adhesive. No, 3M definitely doesn't pay me, though for the amount of business I've sent their way over the last decade they should! It's amazing stuff, ask any framer.
To be honest, I didn't get too precise here either. I laid the paper into the base and creased it at the angles so I knew where to trim. I didn't have enough interesting pieces of large paper to do much more than the backsplash, so I used a bunch of 12x12 sheets instead. I applied only a few strips of adhesive, though of course, you could do more. But for a quick project, this served me just fine. This puppy has been serving as a cookbook case for three months now, and looks just as sweet as he did on the day of his rebirth. I love him.
And so here we are, at the end of our story. I love this funky little accent piece and get loads of compliments on it from visitors. This was one of those projects that reminded me how fun it is to work a project spontaneously, how freeing letting go of meticulous details and doing something just for fun can be. Whether you're an experienced craftsperson or someone who's always wanted to bring new life to that old rocking chair sitting in your den - we can all learn the pleasure of bare bones DIY.
One of the biggest benefits of thrifting, junking, salvaging, and general fascinating-stuff hunting is meeting the humans attached to the items we eventually sell. A few months ago, we were hunting just south of New Hampshire, rambling around Salisbury and Amesbury. We happened upon Mill 77, a great antiques mall with dozens of booths selling a wide range of objects. Walking around the floor we found ourselves drawn to multiple items in one small booth - in particular: a porcelain Betty Boop doll wearing a fantastically crocheted red dress that turned the doll into a toilet paper holder (yes, really), and a PVC nuns habit costume. After picking up Betty, we took a closer look at the nun’s costume, and found not only the preacher’s matching costume but a bin full of ziploc bags, each one containing a polyester bathing suit or jumpsuit that literally screamed I’M FROM JERSEY 1989 BITCH!, all meticulously kept and in stunning condition considering they were worn, and worn well.
Now, I’m not in the habit of buying polyester, or undergarments for that matter, but I was not able to stop looking through this bin. These outfits were amazing and the fact alone that they were being displayed in what was otherwise a very quaint and quiet antiques mall warranted further inspection. Just the two American Flag pieces alone - the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny Jersey Shore bikini and an all-over printed bell bottomed deeeep V halter-top jumpsuit - were enough to keep me looking. Brett and I started talking about everything we were looking at, discussing the finer aspects of the small pieces of fabric, and sharing a soul-level search as to why we would be considering purchasing someone’s used (albeit amazing) stripper costumes. What was it about these little bits of neon synthetic material that was so alluring? Why in dogs name were we even handling them (exceedingly clean they were, but still)?
A few minutes into our discovery, the proprietor of the booth came over to sell us on the pieces, and mentioned off-hand that they had all belonged to her daughter; everything from the nun’s habit to the fuzzy pink bikini had been used in her performances. Intrigued, I probed more - curious as to why they were being sold, what they had been used for, and why a mother would be selling her daughter’s skivvies. The story that unfurled was the stuff of a thrifter’s dreams - the sort of provenance that explains the quiet energy that emits from strange objects we find ourselves attracted to. It was also a sobering reminder of what it means to be a steward, and how those of us who recycle objects as a part of daily life are participants in a picture bigger than our individual experience. That we truly can, and do, carry on legacies, however big or small, by simply keeping, sharing, or passing on something imbued with powerful memory.
Pat, the owner of the booth, is the mother of Pink Snow. Born Selena Crabbe, Pink was the founder of the theatrical erotic rock band known as Erocktica.
When we first met Pat, she talked about Pink in the past tense, but with an energy that made it sound as though she was still earthly present. Pat told us story after story: about the time Pink was 16 and desperate to see Bret Michaels perform, so Pat went out and bought two lime green bandeau tops (one for Pink, one for her sister - they had to be equal), repurposed them as mini skirts, and sent her girls off to the show with dreams of meeting their idol. How Pink realized she was meant for the stage, not the office (Pink had a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence, studied at Thames University, was an avid member of the Atlas Society, and was posthumously graduated from Mass School of Law) and brainstormed with her mother to take the name of her group from PORN ROCK to Erocktica. How her daughter was a mainstay of the Mermaid Parade, how beautiful she was, and how she grew up to meet her idols - making friends with Gene Simmons, Hugh Hefner, and her original crush, Bret Michaels. Yet, despite sharing so much, Pat remained cryptic about her daughter’s passing, and left me wondering what had happened to Pink Snow. I took her silence as a boundary and respected it, and let my curiosity take a back burner.
After hearing Pat's stories and learning the reason for the bright and heavy vibes radiating off of these bits of nylon, we - of course - bought everything. Initially I had selected only a couple of plastic bags worth, but after hearing Pink’s life story we knew we had to keep the collection together. We thanked Pat for everything, hugged, and promised to come back soon with pictures of us in the costumes. Once we left the building I immediately began to google Pink Snow and Erocktica, and was taken to learn that Pat’s past tense had been correct, that the world had lost the bright light in Pink Snow only a year prior, in November 2012. She left behind a husband, a young son Sebastian, her mother, and a lot of grieving family. Before I found an obituary, though,
I found link after link of blog-eulogies from friends and fans, all remembering their friendship and connection with Selena, solidifying her legacy as a kind and special person.
I found picture after picture of a wild and profoundly fascinating woman - stripper-rockstar-activist-lawyer-performer-mother-friend. Google Erocktica for yourself and see (warning NSFW x 1mili) - this woman burned BRIGHT.
A few weeks later we returned to Mill 77 and stopped by Pat’s booth to say hello. We told her we had learned all about Pink after our last meeting, and gushed about what a wonderful woman she must have been. Pat told us more stories - all about how she and Pink loved to go on cruises together, and how they had made incredible friends in doing so. Pink’s son, Sebastian, who is only two, has not only his own biological family, but a family of fans and friends of his mother’s, many of whom have written letters directly to Sebastian (which he’ll read when he’s older) telling him all about his mother and the amazing life she led. We marveled at the way in which such a powerful spirit is being kept alive in so many ways, and how fortunate we are to be a part of the continuation of that legacy.
I don't know what we'll do with all of her outfits, though I would love to sell them to some fan and donate the proceeds to charity. I've pulled them out when friends have visited and I've spent a surprising amount of time admiring them and thinking about all the life that was lived while wearing them. It's emotionally ephemeral objects like these - scraps of paper, rotted old books, used bikinis, hair and bones - that are always the most intriguing for me. Mundane objects, even when they're loud and showy like Pink's costumes - are so integral so their owner's life that they become charged talismans of a life lived. While it's easy to dismiss a piece of scrap paper or someone's old fuzzy thong as trash, the truth is that sometimes that very thong can be the key into a life that you can only be blessed to have learned about. As a buyer of vintage and second hand goods, I have had the privilege (for the better half of my short life) of finding keys into doors of fascination I never knew existed. Thanks, Pat, for letting me through this one.
Rest in peace, Pink Snow.
NOTE: This was originally published on SocietyWolf.com. Below are the comments that were left on that original blog post.
David Snow5 months ago· 1 Like Beautiful story about my former wife
(in response) Ellen Arnstein5 months ago· 0 Likes Dearest David, thank you so much for your note. It meant so much to me, I can't even say. I think of Selena/Pink often, as if I had known her. I hope that you and your family are well. Sending love to you all!
Beth Baker2 years ago· 1 Like I just stumbled across this article and want to thank you for writing this. I was a good friend of “Pink Snow” when she was simply my lovely friend Selena. We met in London in 1997, while we were both studying abroad. This is a lovely tribute, and I know Selena and Pink would both love this.
(in response) Ellen Arnstein5 months ago· 0 Likes Thank you so much for your note. How fortunate you were to have known her! <3