Nothin’ But Blue Sky

IMG_6130What to do with a low-ceilinged, windowless basement room? Give it to the toddler, of course…

But then, it just screams for some cheer. When my friend Lisa showed me the charming mural she had painted on her son’s wall in honor of his adoption, it was inspiring. She told me how she made the cute and life-like clouds using nothing more than a sea sponge and some water-based tempera paint.

I could do that, I thought. So sometime in my feverish, flu-like state, after days of uselessly prowling the house over the holidays, I determined to accomplish some little thing, at least.

The most manageable (and thoughtless) project on my list was introducing a little whimsy to the “playroom.” It mainly functions as a toy storage area these days, given Maya’s inability to be in the basement by her lonesome. But I have hopes, my friends, that someday she will be capable of independent play, and so this is for that day.

IMG_6161First, because it’s me and this blog and all, I must point out what you know already: paint is notoriously toxic. This is a particular concern in a poorly ventilated basement. As the wonderful Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse (another Takoma Park green blogger!), writes:

Conventional paint contains many volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that “outgas” and escape into the air after they are applied. Indoors, these VOCs cause headaches, nausea, achey bones, and general discomfort. Outdoors, they contribute to smog and air pollution.

And they smell nasty, which can’t be good. The VOCs include chemicals like terpenes, formaldehyde, acrolein, phthalates, glycol, toluene, methylene chloride, styrene, trichloroethylene, xylenes, and benzene, among others. Any one of these is enough to make me gag, personally.

A terrific new guide to building a non-toxic nursery, out just today from our friends at Healthy Child, Healthy World, provides very helpful information about paint types suitable for a nursery or other rooms on p. 16 of their new, interactive ebook and less toxic options. They also have 7 helpful tips for healthier painting. Basically, the best way to go is real zero-VOC paints (i.e., ones that completely and verifiably lack toxics or solvents), or with natural, organic or milk-based paints.

Our local hardware store only stocks the zero-VOC kind, but they at least have a really good brand — Mythic, which I have used on several rooms in our house with excellent results. Mythic is a “real” zero-VOC paint, with no toxics like lead or other known toxins in it, and is also solvent free and goes on beautifully.

In fact, it’s so clean, it doesn’t need a warning label like most paints. (Lullaby Paints appears to be another great option, but I have not used them myself.) Even using Mythic, I set up a fan to speed the paint drying process, open a window when possible, and do not use the room for at least several days.

Before painting, you should also be aware that many, if not most, paints labeled “zero-VOC” can be problematic, because the colorants still contain VOCs and once they are added, then the paint is “zero-VOC” no longer. So I also always take the step of asking the hardware store folks if they actually mixed my paint with Mythic colorants.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission just sued Sherwin Williams over false claims on this issue, and won, sort of. The companies now at least have to say, somewhere, that the zero-VOC claim applies only to the base paint and that the VOC levels can be impacted by the dyes. From The Consumerist:

In truth and in fact, in numerous instances, Pure Performance paints do not contain zero VOCs after color is added,” alleged the FTC.

To settle these claims by the agency, both paint companies are prohibited from claiming their paints contain “zero VOCs,” unless, after tinting, they have a VOC level of zero grams per liter.

The companies can continue claiming “zero VOC” if they “clearly and prominently disclose” that the “zero VOC” statement applies only to the base paint, and that depending on the consumer’s color choice, the VOC level may rise.

I am sad to say that I find this agreement a bit ridiculous from a public health standpoint. I wish I shared the FTC’s apparent deep faith in the willingness of consumers to read the fine print on the can about colorants — before the paint is mixed in the store.

I think companies will likely make these disclosures on that can, and that a vast majority of consumers will nonetheless still not realize that the zero-VOC paint they just paid more for has been significantly impacted by VOCs in the dyes. Seems to me that the real solution is to require companies that want to advertise “zero-VOC” for paints produce colorants that keep that promise. But hey, what do I know?

IMG_6159At any rate, back to the fun part. For the playroom, I first painted one wall and a strip of a wall in a bright, sunny yellow. One coat was enough to do it. Then, I covered the ceiling in a light blue paint left over from a sample I considered using for Maya’s upstairs room (Ocean Falls was the color). (Yes, her bedroom is blue. And lovely.)

I didn’t bother taping for the ceiling, as the indistinct edges add to the effect. Mythic is also forgiving; a wet sponge used soon after painting will clean up any messes.

Then, using the sea sponge and a pool of paint in the pan, I painted swirls in large circles across the ceiling with a slightly darker blue, called Peace River.

IMG_6142Last, I added white clouds around the lights and all over the ceiling in various sizes using the sponge dipped in Crayola white tempera paint. This can also be easily fixed with a wet sponge while the paint remains wet. I tried to leave a little extra paint in some places for a slight texture.

IMG_6140I was pleased with the result, which adds a dreamy quality to a small, boxy room. And Maya likes it too!

Flipping a Dollhouse: Upcycling Project from a Thrift Store Find

We had a lovely vacation at the beach, thank you for asking. I’ll post my summer in photos soon, and I’m a bit sniffy about our last day at the pool today.

For tonight, though, I want to look forward. And forward looks pretty durn good, if my latest craft project is any indication.

Very, very loyal readers of this wee blog (all 2 of you) may recall an early post in which I extolled the fun to be had at thrift stores, and laid out some aspirationally helpful guidelines to ensure your thrift experience is as enviro as it can be.

Why do I care about thrifting? All this organic, sustainably raised, solid wood nonsense I love comes with a hefty pricetag, and you have to save money somewhere. So Maya rarely has new clothes on her small body, unless a Grandma gave them to her. Instead, she ruins a buck-fitty jumper most days of the week, which is A-ok with me. (And there are good environmental sustainability reasons not to buy new clothes, as a great piece by Tom Philpott, Are Your Skinny Jeans Starving the World?, made clear last week.) I love the idea of re-use, and children’s clothing, toys and books, with its expiration date of tomorrow, are perfect places to recycle.

And I’ll confess here and now to being a competitive yard saler. There’s many a Saturday morn I’m dashing about my suburban hood to beat other competi-moms to the few wooden toys out there, somewhere. There’s not much I like better these days than a really gorgeous toy for a dollar. Which is pretty sad, I know. I’m sorry to saddle you with that information, really. (You can forget it now, and enjoy your Saturdays over coffee and the paper while I’m out chasing the dream.)

I also love it when I come across a small, do-able craft project at a thrift store or yard sale — an item that begs me to take it home and craft it up a bit. Such was the moment when I first laid eyes on this plain, kinda’ fugly wooden house at my local Value Village for a cool ten dollars. 

I just knew that its destiny was to be a much nicer establishment, in the marginally better neighborhood of my house. I had some old paint (Mythic, zero-VOC) hanging around from the samples I used for Maya’s room, and figured that a little sandpaper, a judicious amount of love and a generous helping of brown paint to cover the scarred rooftops would be enough to make it spring to life as a flipped home.

In addition to the $10 on the house itself, I spent likely $15 on paint and supplies.

The brushes and sandpaper, as well as most of the paint, can also be used on future projects. For painting the brown roof, I also used Mythic paint, which I recommend and like, though it only comes in a matte finish.

Since the wood had nice markings on the sides and vertical surfaces, but was lousy on the roof and floors, that was my guide.

The first step was to use the rough sandpaper to even out the rooftop and smooth the edges on the roof to a more pleasing shape. This actually didn’t take long at all.

Next, I mopped it down to get the dust and dirt off with an old cloth diaper (because it was lint-free-ish). And taped up the windows, because I envisioned them in the light blue we had left over from when we decided to use a different blue in Maya’s bedroom.

Maya did her own watercolor painting while all this was ongoing.

After gingerly dabbing on blue on the window panes with the smallest brush, inside and out, I hit the two floors of the house with an off-white, also left-over from a project. They needed two coats to be convincing, but it eventually worked.
Last, I painted the roof brown, which also benefited from a second coat the next day.
When all the paint had dried, I used the fine sandpaper to clean up the painted areas, then rubbed organic flaxseed oil with a cloth into the remaining unpainted wood. The oil created a nice color that showed off the variations in the wood.
Finally, I took a small scrap of gorgeous organic fabric left over from Maya’s absurdly nice quilt that I had made on Etsy (from this wonderful company, no commission), and made a curtain for the doggy door by nailing it into the house. For organic doggies only (LOL).

I let the oil and paint dry for the week we were at the beach, and there was little odor from either, really, even from the start.

Basically, Martha Stewart has nothin’ on me. Seriously, I recommend this kind of tinkering. It was a terrific, small and fun project. Maya points to the brown roof and says, “painting,” so its clear that she knows it was hand-finished for her. And now she has a cheap new dollhouse, finished with a little care, that even matches the tones in her bedroom.

These days, her bunnies mostly live in it, with their faces squished awkwardly out through the upstairs windows, but I have high hopes that others might move in someday.