48. Not Just Spray Paint: a DIY Oil Rubbed Bronze Finish

The look of oil-rubbed bronze finish on metal is sleek and rustic at the same time; it isn’t black, it isn’t brown. It’s comfortable. All the hardware in the cottage kitchen is a variation of it except the Expensive Kitchen Faucet. (You can read about that here.) We bought the faucet in brushed stainless, mostly because the counter top and sink are going to be soapstone, and we didn’t think a dark faucet would look good on dark soapstone. My decorator sister agreed. She thinks the oil-rubbed bronze finish will date your house in a few years — “Oh, that is SO oughties…” Well, I might give her that — I just hope I’m not around long enough to know. And I’m still thinking of oil-rubbed bronze fixtures in the bathroom…

Brass push plate and handleBut last week Mr. H. C. brought home this wonderful handle for the kitchen door that goes down to the basement. (This is the door that will soon be Blooming Grove Green.) The handle was bright brass with a matching pull plate; a lovely simple design, but absolutely wrong color.

IMG_1300Now, I have spray painted oil-rubbed bronze finish on metal with the best of DIY-ers. I’ve done our cabinet hinges and screws, and I’ve done the light fixtures in the kitchen, and a curtain rod, switchplates, towel holders, door hinges…  But a door handle? That will be used every day? Mr. H. C. said, “So have you ever looked up how to get a real ORB finish? You know, Authentic?”

Apart from electrolyzing or electroplating metal, which I don’t think I am ready for, the best idea I found was from House of Antique Hardware. They sell a brass and bronze aging solution that takes unlaquered brass and gives it a dark old-looking finish much like the oil-rubbed bronze. We ordered a big bottle for around $25. I think we could have gotten away with a small bottle, but I don’t ever want to run out of this stuff!

Instructions specifically say that it only works on unlacquered metal, and I was pretty sure that this door handle was lacquered. It was really shiny. And smooth. So I soaked both the handle and the pull plate in lacquer thinner for about 15 minutes each; then I rubbed them carefully with the finest grade steel wool I could find.

I put on my safety glasses and my gloves – this is a nasty chemical mixture of acids, folks – and found a large plastic container. The instructions say that glass is also acceptable, but don’t use metal – you don’t want the acids to react in the wrong way with your container. Pour enough of the chemical solution in the container to cover the hardware. I did the handle first.

Items for DIY oil rubbed bronze finishing

Everything is pictured here except the safety glasses and the chopstick that I used to push the pieces around in the solution. I had my safety glasses on when I took the photo. AWYSG!

With gloves on, wipe the handle carefully with a clean lint-free cloth. Fingerprints can keep the chemicals from doing their thing on the brass. Then put the handle in the solution and be amazed. It starts to darken almost immediately. You also need a tool of some sort to fish the hardware out of the chemical solution. (I used a chopstick.)

Brass ager solution

I jiggled the handle around a bit so it would darken evenly on all sides; the larger pull plate I actually turned over several times. Leave the piece in the solution until it is a little darker than you want; it lightens with the next step.

Door handel in Oil rubbed bronze

No spray paint here!

Take out your hardware and rinse in cold water. I just used the sink, but you could certainly put a container of cold water next to you and just dunk the hardware into it. The point is to stop the chemical reaction. The water lightens it a bit. When I had done both pieces, then I got out some mineral oil and rubbed it in. That evened up the color and made both pieces a bit darker again.

You can see the shine of the mineral oil in this photo. Now you must control yourself from rushing around trying to find everything you own that is brass or bronze and throwing it in the solution. Pour the solution back in the bottle; it can be reused. I’m certain I will get much use from this bottle; however, this solution does not work on all metals. The little decorative washers that you see in the second photo came out splotchy; I don’t know if they weren’t solid brass, if I didn’t clean them enough, or why. Anyway, I spray painted them, and they look just fine.

This elegant $15 DIY oil-rubbed bronze door handle makes me smile.

*I am amending this post a few weeks later. I tried another brass push plate very similar to the one in the photo, but purchased at a different time and place. I soaked it in lacquer thinner as well. But when I put it in the solution, it was very streaky. Not acceptable. So I rinsed it off, got out the steel wool and went to work. Under a good light, I could tell that the lacquer thinner just had not gotten all the lacquer off. I put in a good 15 minutes of elbow grease and steel wool. The second time I tried it, it came out lovely — just as good as the other one. So don’t be afraid to try it again, if it doesn’t work the first time.

And here it is finished on the  painted door:

green door to the basement

This is how lovely it still looks three years later — this door handle gets touched multiple times every day.

26. Tying Up Loose Ends

There are a lot of loose ends lying around this blog and this post aims to tie some of them up into bows.
Back in July I posted eight kitschy items of Clara’s for readers to pick their favorites. The results are in, and except for the orange telephone, which was the clear favorite with eight votes, the rest of the results are inconclusive.  (There were  two suggestions to put it in the bathroom by the toilet!)

I don’t know…the bathroom was going to be the most elegant room in the cottage…

Does anyone know of a way to retrofit an old phone to be a cell phone? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could actually get it to work?
Five items tied with six votes each: The wooden butterflies, the owl switch plate, the orange metal shelf, the pantry sign, and the old California license plate.  I don’t see any recourse but to keep them all (which is what sister Diane told me to do anyway.)

The only item that no one liked — correction: it did get one vote — was the plaque with the dorky poem.
I hate to admit this because I know it is stupidly banal, but I like it. I didn’t at first. When I was taking down all the junk by the front door, it was supposed to be the first thing to go. But I couldn’t take it down; I like its sentiment and its sentimentality. Maybe it could go by the toilet too.

For six weeks now the cat, Henry, has been traveling back and forth with us. He has adapted to life in the city as a house cat fairly well. He has discovered the joys of playing with the bedspread fringe; tearing through the hall and sliding on the wood floor; canned cat food (he only gets this as a treat in Pittsburgh); and sitting on the stool looking out the window.
He has not adapted to the drive back and forth. He has now ridden up and back with us six times, which actually totals twelve different rides. Each time we think, ‘This is the time he’s going to remember’ and each time we are wrong.
He does seem to do better on the rides back to Pittsburgh, and tonight’s ride was the best yet. He actually curled up in my lap for ten minutes. Maybe he’s figured it out!
Yes, Charlotte was gone when we came back the next weekend. We both miss watching her and then feel a bit silly —
How can you miss a spider?
We are actually hoping we get to see all Charlotte’s children fly off in their parachutes this spring.
The Smell is Gone
Every time we opened the doors to the kitchen for the first time after the house had been closed up for a few days there was an unpleasant smell. Mustiness? Mildew? Cat pee? (Not Henry!) Mouse droppings? We couldn’t be sure. Oh, people were nice about it. Sisters said, “I don’t smell anything.” But we could smell something rotten in that kitchen… There were varying theories. Michael said it was the carpet. Carol said it was the cabinets. Michael said it was the floor. Carol said it was the walls. Etc.
Remember a few posts ago when I told you about taking down the wall cabinet and how delighted we were because it lightened up the kitchen so much?  Well we are doubly delighted because it has eliminated the smell!  No one is sure how or why, but we aren’t going to analyze it too much. We are just happy to stop using the Febreze!
Of course, part of the reason the smell may be disappearing is:
In addition to adding several new finish coats of paint, Michael also put up two lights. So, of course, there have to be some new pictures.

New painted ceiling and two of the four schoolhouse light fixtures. Notice the one by the door has a pull chain! Cool, huh? And very 40s!

Another reason the smell might be lessening is because I have been scrubbing the kitchen walls. They were covered with dried wallpaper paste (and who knows what else?) so in preparation for repairing them, I’ve been doing serious scrubbing. It is very much like work. But the color of the walls is kind of a nice mint green… I haven’t ruled out that color yet; I think it is very 40s too. Any thoughts?

I titled this photo “Lovely kitchen to be…”

If one squints the eyes, one can almost imagine that this corner of the kitchen is finished. Yes, this is the “after photo burnt into my brain.” The paint sample on the door is the current favorite — Benjamin Moore Lime Twist. And you can also see in this photo how nicely the old wooden top fits on the built-in cupboard. It looks like it was always there.

Kitchen Cabinet Hardware

The cabinet hardware was expensive and not easily put on. The holes didn’t match, so I had to drill new holes. Then once the new holes were drilled, the nuts weren’t long enough to go through the thick doors. It’s always something… I don’t have them all on yet, because, as Michael pointed out, we will have to take the doors back off to install the cabinets anyway, so…here’s the picture of a cabinet with finishings.

This is the cabinet that will go above the stove and have a fan installed underneath.

It is officially fall; the light is fading and there is less and less time to work. We’ve got some outside painting that has to get done to protect the wood, so kitchen work will stop for a couple of weeks, while we tend to the outside. Even though the light is fading, it is beautiful light. I read once that photographers like the light in spring and autumn the best, because the sun hits the earth at an angle and makes shadows. Here is proof: this picture was taken on the first official day of fall. These shadows lasted for about a minute and a half and I just happened to be on the porch.

Happy fall!

11. Lights, Hardware, Action?

The kitchen cabinets are looking creamy and shiny — the luscious color of steamed milk. They are ‘curing’ in the garage bedroom, and before we leave them for awhile, I have a confession to make : I spent as much on the new hardware for them as we spent on the cabinets themselves.

The bottom two handles are from an antique cupboard that we bought from the E.N. Miller Antique Mall (***** 5 stars) in Verona last year. It is the bottom to an old schoolhouse cupboard that held art supplies. We will be using it as the island in the kitchen. It has great charm, but could be considered by some to be in rough shape. More on its transformation later…

The handles are wonderful — old, heavy, off-set pulls — and I wanted those exact handles for the other cabinets. I found them online at VanDyke Restorers. I’ve blanked out how much they were individually, but the final total was about $280. (I missed out on the sale price by “thinking” about whether I really wanted to spend that much. When I made the decision to buy — a day later –they were two dollars more!)

I confess to having measured the holes on the cabinets. And I ordered 3″ handles. They don’t fit. The holes are actually 2 7/8″ apart. Stupid me, I assumed that handles were uniform on the half inch. I guess that is modern cabinetry. Carpenter husband assures me it’s only a minor glitch, but the cabinets are painted, and I’m ready to dress them up with their finery, but now we have to drill new holes. Patience is being taught here…


Painted cabinets awaiting their handles.

The next step is the lighting and that means rewiring (not MY job) before the ceiling can be installed. This is what Michael reads before bed:


Bedtime reading — It puts him right to sleep!

On to the fun stuff — the lights. Michael hung them temporarily so we could visualize and also see if the kitchen was bright enough. (Yes, at our age we like lots of light — no squiggly bulbs here!)

These are just up temporarily, so ignore extensions cords hanging from them! (We are visual learners…)

The light in the center is over the island; the ones that are pendants are on either side–over the sink and over the pass-through. (I think we will lower them a couple of inches.) I realize that’s backwards and most people have hanging lights over the island, but we tried it and like this better. It’s more symmetrical, and I like symmetry! A LOT! When I see the asymmetrical, I want to go fix it.

And now, back to the island cabinet…Michael spent many hours on these beautiful doors:

The center of the doors was originally veneer. It was warping and buckling so I scraped it off, and we decided to put thin wainscot on because that’s what is on the inside of the cupboard. They looked like this:


He painstakingly beveled all the edges and then had to get just the right stain mix to match hundred year old wood.


The mixologist at work…

We also spent time researching what kind of finish was on the cabinet and how to clean it. The librarian did the research, the woodworker did the experimenting. (What a team!) We determined it was lacquer and cleaned it with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine. They were detailed instructions and if you want the full article on cleaning and restoring shellac, lacquer, or varnish you can find it here. http://www.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/FACTSHTS/HF-LRA.053.PDF We still aren’t finished with the cupboard, but it looks lots better already, and the doors look like they were original.


With the temperature hitting 100 degrees, we were glad to work inside in air conditioned comfort.

How amazing that we have air conditioning in our humble cottage when our walls look like this:


and this:

It looks like someone took a shotgun to it, but it was really just Clara’s picture wall. It was covered with photographs. She must have moved them around a lot…


Patience is being taught here…