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Glamorous Swans

Brass SwansThe large brass swans on the hearth called to me. Up to that point we had only acquired unique and unusual furniture to paint. But these tall swans looked amazing. I’ve seen them labeled Mid-Century Modern or Hollywood Regency style. They exuded glamour and personality despite a few dings. I couldn’t believe our luck and snatched them up. Unfortunately they were brass, extremely popular several decades ago, but not so in vogue these days. Real swans have an average lifespan of about 15 years, but these lovelies easily surpassed that and are still going strong. One thing was clear: time for a makeover. The day arrived when we settled the female, called a pen, into our car’s back seat, seat-belted her in, and headed for the beach. Lugging her into Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach — they are surprisingly heavy — I showed her to Pat. Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach If I haven’t described Pat before, she embodies enthusiasm, creativity and encouragement. A visit to her shop inevitably refreshes my spirit. We talked about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint colors and some new products from Artisan Enhancements. The eyes would be the key to this project, Pat advised. Make them regally Egyptian. In her enthusiasm, Pat picked up a brush and began painting an eye violet, then blue, soon adding eye shadow and black mascara. Just practicing.


Armed with inspiration, we headed home. Zinsser Shellac went on first because it just makes life easier. I started with the male swan, or cob, and mixed Artisan Enhancements’ Pearl Plaster with ASCP Pure White. I simulated feathers with long brush strokes. This was a strikingly different look from my previous time using Pearl Plaster when I gave a pair of elephants rough skin with Fine Stone and finished them up with a pearly shimmer. Studying the finished product, I decided the cob wasn’t pearly enough. I covered him with a thin coat of Pearl Plaster. It provided a lovely iridescent sheen. Painted Swan I applied a mixture of Old White and Arles to highlight their beaks. But the eyes. Ah, the eyes challenged me. When I know I must draw a straight line, my hand plays tricks. After failing to achieve the look I wanted, I turned to index cards and practiced with multiple brushes to get it right. Statistically, one has to achieve success eventually but it took me a while. The day finally came when I decided I was, in fact, satisfied with their eyes. I lightly brushed Pearl Plaster over them, using a cloth to wipe away any thickness. Painted Swans 1 The final step: finding a way to accentuate those long necks. Amanda, the floral designer at Michael’s was delightful. She found ribbon that matched the eyes, eye shadow, and snowy feathers, and created the beautiful bows. She suggested a nautical theme with a rope and strands of shells but I didn’t want to go in that direction. We agreed on the ivy, which she carefully arranged, and topped off with delicate white butterflies. And here they are. They’ve shed their outdated brassy coats and donned softer, fluffy feathers. Their eyes are so expressive and Amanda’s ivy and ribbons complete their  ensemble. They could hold their own at any red carpet event. Painted Swans 5 Painted Swans 3     Let us know what you think about the swans. If you’d like to receive our posts, just sign up below.

Ann Marie and David

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Tam O’Shanter Pitcher

Tam OShanter Pitcher 5

Our Tam O’Shanter pitcher sold yesterday. Yes, sometimes we actually acquire pieces that don’t need repair, paint, stencils or gild. They are lovely all on their own.

David discovered the pitcher at an estate sale. We are nowhere close to being experts on pottery, although we’ve acquired several pieces over the years. This small green pitcher had markings on the bottom, but we couldn’t read them. Perhaps it was yet another day when we both forgot our reading glasses. At home we examined the markings with a magnifying glass and plugged what we could read into the computer. We learned that our pitcher was made in 1835 in Hanley, England, by W. Ridgway & Co.

Tam OShanter Pitcher 1

We bought it because David liked it and the price was right.

I began to research it and the story that I unraveled captivated me. The scenes on the front and back of the pitcher are based on Scottish poet Robert Burns’ popular narrative poem of 1791, Tam O’Shanter. Old Tam had experienced a harrowing night and relayed his tale to his angry wife once he arrived home.

Tam, a hale and hearty farmer, drank and dallied far too long in the local pub at market day’s end. As the clock neared midnight, lightening flashed overhead and rain drenched the countryside. Tom’s horse, Meg, carried her master toward the bridge to be crossed on the long ride home.

Bagpipe music wailed near a ruined church. In that roofless church Tam, too drunk to be terrified, witnessed Old Nick himself, and warlocks and witches dancing around an immense blaze. The furious music led to frenzied dancing and soon the witches, hot and sweaty, shucked down to their short undergarments. A jolly Tam cried out in appreciation. Alas, he alerted the evil throng. Pitch blackness descended.

Gallant Meg galloped madly for the bridge and safety, because everyone knows that witches can’t cross running water. With the bridge looming, a witch strained forward to grab Tam but Meg put on a bust of speed. The witch missed Tam but pulled out most of poor Meg’s tail, leaving only a stump.

Tam O'Shanter painted by John Joseph Baker (1824-1904)
Tam O’Shanter painted by John Joseph Baker (1824-1904)

What a great story! How could Tam’s wife be upset when he narrowly escaped death?

One side of our pitcher features a relaxed Tam at the pub. The ale flows while the hearth’s fire warms the room.

Tam OShanter Pitcher

The other side shows Tam on his frantic midnight ride home, galloping just ahead of a witch. The two scenes offer a strong contrast between the warmth of friendship and the chilling terror of ghosts.

Tam OShanter Pitcher 3

The pitcher’s overarching handle depicts a witch’s hand grasping at a horse’s tail. Can you spot the hand? The one that yanked out poor Meg’s tail? Scottish thistle, flowers and leaves drape the neck of the pitcher.

Tam OShanter Pitcher 4

I searched ebay to get an idea of comparable prices and saw wild fluctuations. I needed an expert appraisal. Finding a suitable site required even more research. Ultimately, I selected Value My Stuff. Within 48 hours I had an online appraisal by an expert, many of whom had worked for Sotheby’s and Christie’s, a certificate, and an online link for any customer wishing to read the appraisal. I was very satisfied. Has anyone else used this service? I’ve got to say, we sold the pitcher pretty quickly, and within the range that the expert suggested.

I’ll miss seeing the Tam O’Shanter pitcher in our shop but I was delighted to learn his adventurous tale.

Ann Marie and David

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Elsa Elephant Flashes a Stylish Makeover

On my last visit to Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint stockist Pat Stone-Smith suggested new color combinations, so I bought a few sample pots for experimentation. Paris Grey is lovely, but I am beginning to tire of it.

Paris Grey
Paris Grey

I switched to Paloma, a grey color with a hint of purple. Believe me, although it’s in the grey family, it feels like a big difference. I decided to pair it with Henrietta, a pinkish lilac.


I wanted to paint elephant bookends. Actually, she–Elsa–is a single elephant split between the bookends. She has a lot of personality and looks very playful. I believe she is a female Asian elephant, due to her she lack of tusks. Hand carved and hand tooled, each side of Elsa perches on a book. You can see how the books have lines on their covers and spines and simulated pages. Elsa is already shellacked in this photo so there will be no bleed through of the dark wood. I’ve already dabbed a splotch of Paloma on her head. Elephant Bookends Unpainted Elephant Bookends Unpainted 2 As I sat painting her, an email arrived from a friend seeking elephants for her unborn grandson’s nursery. She had just seen my pair of elephants online and wanted to buy them. I told her about the elephant I was working on and offered to paint the books any color she wanted. I quickly sent her a photo with books to reflect a little boy’s library. She decided to purchase the pair of elephants but not the bookends, so I continued on. Elephant Bookends Elsa’s pizzazz comes from the gold foil. I used Artisan Enhancements foil, size, and clear finish. The foil went into the hand-tooled areas. I highlighted Elsa’s eyes and finished her off with Annie Sloan’s Clear Wax and a buff. Elephant Bookends Painted 1 Here she is with the gilded pages showing:Elephant Bookends Painted 2 I loved using Henrietta, a color that’s perfect for females of any age. I am the sole female in our household, so I don’t get to do frilly very much. Even though Elsa’s an elephant, she suggests femininity and daintiness. And I just know she will guard the books left in her care. What’s not to love about this little lady?

Ann Marie and David

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Victorian Plant Table Gets a Silvery Makeover

Small Victorial Table With Silver Foil 2

This table has passed through at least three generations of my family. As a child in Rochester, New York, I watched my Grandmother display her Christmas poinsettias, Easter lilies and Springtime lilacs on this and similar tables in her front room’s windows. When we moved to Florida, my mother put it next to her bedroom chair. Each night, she’d close a well-worn book of prayers and inspiration and place it on this table alongside her rosary. My mother died in August, at the age of 93. As a result I inherited this table and a few other pieces of furniture.

I am in the business of transforming outdated furniture and accessories into contemporary, new delights but this little lady presented a challenge. I had to make her fun — like she belongs in the 21st century — while respecting her heritage.

David hauled her outside for a Before photo and I have no idea why he felt compelled to shove that unsightly rung under her.

Small Victorian Table unpainted

My sole bit of restoration consisted of smoothing wood filler over the big, unsightly screw in the center of the table top. Any other dings were left out of respect. This girl has lived a long life and deserves to show it.

Since Jacksonville sits on the Atlantic Ocean, Annie Sloan’s Duck Egg Chalk Paint seemed a solid choice. For whatever reason folks here seem to prefer Louis Blue, Duck Egg, and Paris Grey. While the Duck Egg gave her an interesting base color, the silver foil from Artisan Enhancements set off the fireworks. I love the ease of applying the foil. You just brush the Size on, working one section at a time. Once the Size becomes tacky, lay the foil over it (shiny side up) and rub, usually with my fingers or hand. I wanted the Duck Egg to show through and it did, but the silver added shimmer power.

Small Victorian Table Silver Foil  2

I let her sit for about 24 hours before brushing on a thin coat of the Clear Finish. Another coat went on a couple of hours later and, voilà, perfection. She looks stylish, contemporary and functional.

Small Victorial Table With Silver Foil 3

I’ve purchased more foil, in silver, gold and copper, because I have plans to revitalize a few more pieces. If you haven’t tried Artisan Enhancements’ leaf and foil products, get some as soon as you can. I think you’ll be thrilled with the results.

Ann Marie and David

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Elephants, Fine Stone and Pearl Plaster

Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant — the only harmless great thing.    John Donne, English poet, 1572-1631 Artisan Enhancements Fine Stone and Pearl Plaster I’ve rambled around the world but I’ve never been on safari in the Sub-Sahara to witness majestic creatures in their own habitats. Until I achieve that dream, I’m quite capable of transforming inanimate animals into whimsical delights. I found a couple of carved elephants at the estate sale of a well-traveled couple. Here’s the Bull: Carved Elephant from Namibia He looks fine, right? But I wanted to revamp him. My elephants became willing — and I’d like to think cheerful — accomplices in the new Artisan Enhancements techniques I learned recently at my Annie Sloan stockist’s shop, Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach. I carried Lady, the smaller wooden elephant, with me. They were carved in Namibia, a south African country on the Atlantic Ocean that boasts the world’s highest sand dunes and Africa’s biggest game reserves. Their big ears identify them as African elephants and both the male and female have tusks for digging water in arid lands.

I showed Lady to Pat Stone-Smith and asked her advice. Yes, I could simply rub her down with oil but I wanted to try something new. Pat studied her and suggested using Fine Stone to create the illusion of thick, rough hide. I’ve seen images of Fine Stone pushed through a stencil, but I’ve never imagined it used as Pat was recommending. Here’s a stenciled image from Artisan Enhancements’ website: Artisan Enhancements Fine Stone Pat mixed Paris Grey with Fine Stone and I began coating the elephant. When I set her aside to dry, Pat painted the tusks Old White and the eyes, Graphite. Lady Elephant transformed into a pièce de résistance when Pat smoothed Pearl Plaster over her. She shimmered opulently. I think a Lady Elephant deserves that. Pat took a few swipes with sandpaper for the distressed look. Later on, I undertook the conversion of Bull at home and am pleased to say he whole process didn’t take long at all. Elephants with Artisan Enhancements Fine Stone and Pearl Plaster I put them in our shop at Avonlea. Won’t they make a memorable gift to an engaged couple – an elephant never forgets — or provide a charming addition to a living room, or offer steadfast friendship to a young adventurer?

Ann Marie and David

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Hi-Yo, Silver

Sing it from the mountaintops. I’ve discovered Artisan Enhancements Foil — silver, gold and copper — and I love it. I attended a workshop with my Annie Sloan stockist, Pat Stone-Smith, and learned several stunning new techniques using Artisan Enhancements products.

You can see how it transformed this horse, whom I’ve named Silver. I ordered him online a few months ago, and he took weeks to reach my home. After much anticipation, I opened the box and faced disappointment. Yes, he reminded me of a horse from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, but he lacked heft and drama. The “estate stone” he was made from seemed a fancy name for polymer resin. I considered sending him back.

Chinese Horse

I put not-yet-named Silver on top of a chest already filled with other animals for me to work on. I’d look at him each day and try to come up with a solution. Maybe I could cover him with gold leaf, just to flash him up.

At the workshop, Pat suggested silver foil. “Use Paris Grey to wash him and add the silver foil to highlight his bridle, saddle and hooves.” Huh. Interesting. The silver foil was priced reasonably — only $3.99 a yard. That just left purchasing the Size, which is a glue that adheres the foil. I already had Clear Finish.

Back home I added a little water to Annie Sloan’s Paris Grey pain and washed my equine until I was satisfied. I’ve rotated him in this photo for full effect:

Chinese Horse 2

Next came the silver foil. Liquid size quickly covers the areas for the foil to adhere. Just one coat of the size does the trick. The directions suggest waiting 45 minutes for it to become tacky. They aren’t kidding, if the foil goes on too soon it won’t stick.

He’s dazzling. Silver got the first of two Clear Finish applications about 48 hours after the foil went on. Remember, wait two to three hours between coats. The Clear Finish seals in the tackiness of the sizing and provides a high screen. If you want a matte finish, it’s recommended you try Clear Topcoat Sealer.

Chinese Horse 4

As an enthusiastic convert, you can guess my next step: I cast about for something else to undergo a silver foil transformation. I found a small gold mirror with plenty of detail. I painted Old White over the crackled part of the frame, then Paris Grey over the rest. I brushed the Size on the details and placed the silver foil. This project took a lot longer than the horse because the many details slowed down the process. But it looked good. I waited about 24 hours before putting on the Clear Finish. I Clear Waxed everything, and used Dark Wax on the Old White.

Silver Foil Mirror

If silver foil can add this kind of pizzazz to Paris Grey, imagine what it (or gold or copper) will look like on a darker base color.

I still have silver foil left, but I’m putting it in my drawer because my next few projects don’t need it. Or do they?

I’m excited to tell you about the Open House we are having at our Booth 76 in Avonlea Antique Mall on Saturday. We plan to show off our wares to friends (lots of invitations went out) and the regular customers.

One last thing: David and I are heading to Kentucky in a couple of weeks, specifically, Whitley City. We’ll head up I-75 from Florida, through Atlanta, Chattanooga and Knoxville. Can you recommend any fabulous antique shops or flea markets, either along the way or near Whitley City?

Ann Marie and David

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Bringing Leo To Life

I’m beginning to feel like a zookeeper because I keep gathering up animals — wooden, brass, bronze, iron — at my thrift shop haunts and estate sales. Swans, geese and a horse greet me at home. A lion, rooster and Chinese duck wait at our Avonlea shop, and our hand painted mallard duck just sold. Have you ever amassed an unexpected, but quite lovely, collection of items? I am not sure if this is a new direction or a pleasant diversion from wrestling with heavy furniture.

I just finished hand painting the carved African lion, so I love him best right now. I can imagine an artisan painstakingly carving this piece of folk art. Just look at the intricate detail on his mane and face. He is ageless. Unpainted Lion 2 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mistaken Leo the Lion for my boisterous male cat. Boston, my big boy, weighs about 17 pounds but Leo easily surpasses him in mass. Once I applied the paint, my two boys shared a remarkable similarity. All too often I found myself petting an inanimate object.

I found mighty Leo at one of those warehouse estate sales, where you never know what you will discover. Typical for me, someone had tucked this beauty into a dark space at the far side of a pair of ho-hum sofas and end tables. I had to crawl over them to set him free. In terms of weight, he is a beast. I don’t know what kind of wood he is carved from, but it had to be a solid block, dense and heavy. He was in rough shape but we had an immediate connection. How could no one else have grabbed him up already? “Come on, Leo,” I said. “I’m lugging you up to the holding area. We’ll get you tidied up and find you a good home.” Hand Painted Hand Carved African Lion 1 Once we got him to our house, David and I studied him. Poor Leo possessed only his back teeth. Really, he looked more like a hippopotamus than the King of the Jungle. Not to be deterred, David immediately volunteered to carve and shape four new front teeth. He did a beautiful job. African Carved Lion Painted 3 The original wood — maybe mahogany — just didn’t bring forth Leo’s outgoing personality. I needed to carefully hand paint him. After shellacking Leo, I used Annie Sloan’s Arles for the body. For his rich, magnificent mane, I mixed Emperor’s Silk and Olive. Old White covers his teeth, and the tongue is a blend of Emperor’s Silk and Arles. I used clear wax on Leo’s entire body, and dark wax to highlight his glorious mane. African Carved Lion Painted 2 I think the result is stunning. Power, strength and plenty of charm. I envision him presiding over a living room or study — or how about in the bedroom of a young adventurer who appreciates daring escapades with magical animals? If you are interested in Leo, he’s currently on display at our shop in Avonlea Antique Mall.

Ann Marie and David

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Moving Into Your First Vendor Space When the Sky Is Falling

Iris Abbey, we are delighted to announce, is a vendor at Avonlea Antique Mall in Jacksonville, Florida. Avonlea boasts the largest air-conditioned antiques mall in the region, a big plus, because this summer heat is brutal.

Avonlea Antique Mall

We took a few months to decide on the move. David’s retirement came first, then my mother’s hospitalizations. We continued to meet regularly with Mary Habres, our SCORE mentor and expert in marketing. If you have access to a SCORE office, I urge you to use their resources. They exist to help small business owners.

Mary recognized the need to showcase our wares beyond our website, which has a rather modest following. She made two recommendations: talk with the exceptionally friendly folks at Avonlea about renting vendor space, and upgrade our website.

It took us a few weeks to commit to this adventure. We debated the size booth we’d need and agreed that a small, cosy space would be fine. Unfortunately, by the time we gave Avonlea our good news the space was long gone. My dream took a nosedive.

Amazingly, less than 24 hours later, the Avonlea rep contacted us with news that a space would open up in mid-July. No hesitation this time. We jumped at it.

While waiting to move in, I went into overdrive. I checked, double-checked, and rechecked to make sure each piece of furniture was as perfect as possible. Did we have enough smalls? We needed more smalls. Time to visit a few more estate sales and, by all means, keep painting. I transformed a dark, dirty cast iron doorstop, for instance, into this bright fellow whose details now pop.

Rooster Doorstop

David began to look paler and feel terrible. He groused, but went ahead and scheduled a medical exam. The results landed him in the hospital. After 5 days, 4 pints of blood and a battery of tests, there still was no smoking gun. He left the hospital and faced other outpatient tests. My favorite had him swallowing a camera pill that took thousands of pictures as it wound its way through his body. No results on that yet.

The Avonlea rep phoned during the hospital stay and gave us the green light. Very exciting, but impossible. I was ready to weep. But we could still pull this off with a small delay.

Two days after David returned home, I bounded into my car and headed to Avonlea, a 5-mile drive, to finalize the details of our move. I sat with hundreds of other drivers in bumper-to-bumper, 5 o’clock traffic near an I-95 entrance ramp. An 18-wheeler bulled into my lane — he didn’t see me — and ripped up the driver’s side of my car. Thankfully, because we were barely moving, I escaped without injury. I’m sure if we were driving at speed, I’d still be ricocheting. After several hours, a downpour and darkness, the tow truck hauled my totaled car away. And I sobbed.

Ann Marie's Car Wreck

This was not an auspicious beginning for our new business at Avonlea, what with the sky falling and all. When we moved in a few days later, everyone was tremendously kind. I feel very relieved and excited to be ensconced there.

Here is our gorgeous green buffet with gold wax now on display in our booth:

Drexel Esperanto Buffet

So, let’s look for the silver lining. We prevailed in the face of adversity. We are getting an SUV soon. Iris Abbey has a new website, so spend a little time checking it out. A big thanks goes to Elizabeth Pampalone, the Jax Computer Chic who possesses spectacular computer skills.  We now have a booth at Avonlea Antiques Mall and look forward to helping you locate that perfect item for your home or a thoughtful gift for a favorite someone.

We have wondrous, unique things to show you.


Ann Marie and David


Our First Market

Rustapalooza, our first market, is Sunday in San Marco. We’ll be ready for it but David and I have dealt with horrendous respiratory infections this week. Kudos to our son, Michael, for picking up the slack.

Here are some of the items that we’ll have for sale at the vintage market:










Got to go, so that we can finish more merchandise. Remember, Rustapalooza runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring cash and we’ll see you there!

Ann Marie and David


Pampered Pets


We love animals. Though four spirited yet beloved cats currently make up our household, dogs have always been important in our lives. Recently my son, Michael, acquired  a hexagonal side table for a project, and during his research he came across an interesting re-imagining of this rather drab piece of furniture. He suggested we try our hand at making a pet bed. It was an intriguing idea. We’d seen plenty of those hexagonal side tables from the 1970s in thrift shops, many remaining unbought and unloved and just waiting for a makeover. Here are his inspirations: Side-Dog-Bed-pets-home-decor Rusted Treasure did these DIY End Table Dog Beds We set to work. Off came the doors and on went the Zinsser Shellac, just in case there was a chance of bleed through once we painted. Image

I looked through my fabric stash and found a couple yards of green with small diamonds. I based my paint choice of Annie Sloan’s Old Ochre on the colors of the fabric. Image

My new peacock stencil from Muddaritaville became the focal point on the top, but after staring at it I convinced myself it needed something more. I decided to stencil a small peacock feather at each of the angles. I was delighted with the result; it seemed to draw the focus to the peacock by providing a frame. Image Image Image Once I painted and stenciled the wood, I waxed it with Clear Wax. I cut a piece of fabric using the top as a template. Using Mod Podge, I  glued it to the inside bottom. Image I trimmed it to size with an X-Acto knife and a pair of small scissors. The sides required two pieces of fabric and more Mod Podge. Image

David and I headed to Joann’s to look for upholstery tacks. We found two kinds: the individual tacks and Dritz Nailhead Decorative Trim which is a long strip of fake tacks that only required one tack every several bumps. Since this would be David’s project, he opted for the strip and later was glad he did. I mean, this is a bed for a pet. Did it really need individual tacks nailed in with painstaking precision? Image

Once everything was assembled, David thought we should paint the inside ceiling, just to finish it off. A cat or dog shouldn’t have to stare up at raw wood while trying to fall asleep, right? We added a luxuriously fluffy bed (20-in. diameter) that we bought at Petco and keep far away from our cats, who are always on the lookout for new places to nap. Image This cushy baby will be on sale at Rustapalooza on March 30. Hopefully, one pet owner will be very happy. Happy First Day of Spring,

To see another of our luxurious pet beds, click here.


Ann Marie and David

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