Doin’ the DIYs and Painting in India this Summer

We’re booking our next long flight from O’Hare to Abu Dhabi to Chennai! It’s gonna be a scorcher of a trip. We’re visiting India in late July/early August — the hot summer months I never before dared attempt in India. We’ll be cranking the A/C, as we won’t be lounging with books and cabana boys to bring cold drinks for us. I can’t do vacations like that. I gotta keep moving. I’ll be painting and fixing things up in our apartment in Chennai, the India pied-à-terre.

I’ll be adding color, like this photo of vibrant Indian color shared on Facebook to the Roots of India group:

Painting in India Roots of India Facebook

So now the prep begins! The paint color samples. The piling of stuff to pack in suitcases. The weird things we take on vacation! Drills, sandpaper, wood glue, sewing machine, nails and screws, lighting hardware, paint brushes and paints.

Here’s my local paint dealer in Chennai. They see me coming and know I’ll order 5 samples of similar colors that they argue are the same, but they are definitely not the same!

Asian Paints T Nagar Chennai

They’re just a 10-15 minute walk away from the India pied-à-terre. Don’t let the looks of the street fool you. There is good stuff here and you can do a lot of wallet damage on the way to get paint! On the way to and from Asian Paints, I can cover my arms with 24K gold bangles in another shop, and buy a vacuum cleaner and Bluetooth BOSE speakers in another. I really want the BOSE to crank up the music in the apartment. If I kept walking past Asian Paints, I would reach the silk saree shop for celebrities.

First thing I’ll do is finish the “headboard wall” in the master bedroom — a stencil feature that will serve as a floor-to-ceiling headboard. Here’s the inspiration:

India pied-a-terre Master Bedroom Wall Inspiration

Here’s the current status, as I left it in September 2015:

Gray read lavender on the wall. Oh no! It did pick up some gray/lavender in the floor tile, but it’s not the color I wanted as a base. So I covered it with Asian Paints “Silk Route” color — the perfect name for this nomadic abode.

We will get this finished! It’s gonna happen this time! A really low platform bed has been delivered, and we’ve had a queen size mattress for awhile (sitting on the floor). So we’ll have the proportion of very low vs very tall in the inspiration photo. And I found two small black Chinese cabinets on our last trip to Chennai. I was surprised to find Chinese furniture in Chennai, but there you go, we now own them and they will flank the bed as nightstands.

Second thing I’m doing is painting this stencil in the living area:

I’ll be painting this stencil with inspiration from the mud hut paintings in Gujarat, like this image from FabIndia’s Flickr — with raised patterns, beige on white, and mirror or silver — and add a little crumbling dilapidation into the mix because I like that sort of thing:

And oh, wait until you see the curtains, and the cushions … so much to do …

Beyond all the DIYin’, I’d love to squeeze a trip to Pondicherry in search of some old furniture for the apartment, loading up on block print caftans at Anokhi and Soma, and trips to the best hotels for restaurants (wine & cheese please) and something tells me I’ll be needing a spa …



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India pied-à-terre Update: The Great Headboard Debate

What can happen if your bed doesn’t have a headboard? Is it really a terrible thing to not have a headboard? Will you really get a circle of hair oil on the wall from leaning on the wall? Will you really smack the top of your brain on the wall and render yourself useless to the world, unable to earn an income, and fated to a life of being hungry, nearly-naked and homeless? All because of a missing headboard? We are having this debate.

Husband: Definitely a proponent of the headboard. Must protect the brain at all costs.

Me: Steadfast on no headboard. Design is more important than protecting the brain. Of course!!

Because, this:

India pied a terre Master Bedroom Wall Paint Inspiration

That’s the inspiration photo for the master bedroom of the India pied-à-terre. A design inspired by those mother-of-pearl doors will be painted on the wall, behind the bed. Here’s the current state of the design when I left the India pied-à-terre in September 2015:

Beginning of Wall Feature

Yeah I know, looks nothing like the inspiration! Yet! It’s the first coat of many, many layers of paint and perhaps other things like metallic foils and leaf. I have the stencils, I’ve been painting samples. Here’s a stencil after I was playing with metallic foils (I may build up more foil and pattern on the stencil itself then cut it and frame it, why not!):

Foil on Stencil

Just get me to India, and give me enough time to finish the design — it will happen!

Here’s the thing … you can’t block any of this with a headboard! Right?

I’m standing ground on being a “no headboard hold-out” in the interest of design integrity. Now, I’m not saying we put the mattress on the floor, like the inspiration photo, which I believe was a styled situation for a Vogue photo shoot, not a real permanent set-up. The mattress should be on a platform. But a platform without a headboard.

It’s hard to find a bed without a headboard. Like, 99.8% of modern beds in India have headboards. People really need to think more flexibly! So as a compromise, I’m seeking beds that have a removable headboard, or if you have to assemble the bed, a headboard you don’t have to attach to maintain structural integrity of the bed. This means lots of hours of life scrutinizing bed diagrams on Indian furniture websites — not what I expect to do with the dwindling hours of the rest of my expected lifespan. But this is how important no headboard is to me!

See, like this one from seems to have an easily removable headboard:

FabFurnish Bed

That headboard could even be turned into a console table top, so it’s not wasted.

This, my friends, is ideal:

FabFurnish Mattress Base

This might be even better:

FabFurnish Platform Bed

Yes it’s boring! But wait! Do I leave any surface untouched? I will paint tote bags from Old Navy for cripe’s sake. Give me a plain glass table top and I will paint under the glass to make it gorgeous. So you know this bed won’t stay plain!

I’ll be painting and stenciling the base of the bed. See these wooden printing blocks:

Indian Printing Blocks

I want to turn them into stencils, and then use the stencils to apply raised shapes onto the bed base, then paint it to make an old antiqued look. The process will be similar to what I did on this cabinet in my bedroom in Chicago:

Painted Embossed Cabinet

So the bed base will look like carved wood that you often find in India. I think making this vision a reality will be a fun DIY! I like the idea of applying block print patterns to surfaces other than fabrics, in different ways.

The room will eventually have layers of various patterns, but the wall feature will be the star of the show. All other patterns will be more subtle like the supporting characters of the room.

I see it all in my head.

What I don’t see is a headboard.

My husband made one point that gave me pause to … maybe consider, possibly not but really … what if you lean on the wall and over time make a circle of hair oil on the wall? Like I used to see on the back wall of classrooms in college. Yuck! His concern was for the protection of the painted design on the wall. After all that painting work, would I want a circle of head oil on it? Well, no! But here’s the thing. Are we really going to be sitting there leaning against the wall? I don’t think so. India is not an easy place for me. I crash at the end of the day. I want my head to meet a soft pillow, immediately! My husband argued he might read in bed. But is he really going to read with his head leaning against the wall, which means he’d be looking straight ahead and thus holding a book way up, arms sticking straight up, and very unnaturally? I don’t think so? I have never seen him do that in the nearly 20 years I’ve known him.

Also, pillows don’t need to be propped up against a headboard. Pillows are fine laying flat on the bed. Pillows really don’t care what they are doing.

So, no, I am not yet convinced we need a headboard.

Stay tuned in the future to see how this room shakes out!


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DIYs To Do … in India!

If you are new here, you might not know, I do DIYs on two continents! We live near Chicago but we also have an apartment in Chennai, a city in South India. I’m planning decorating supplies for the next trip in 2016. Careful planning is needed — everything has to fit in suitcases! So I gotta be careful to not exceed weight limits for checked and carry-on luggage. On our last trip we found things that don’t fit in suitcases (like long pipes for exposed pipe shower systems yeah we took those with us) can be shipped cargo with us on our flight, but there are still height/width/depth and weight limits. It’s a logistical challenge, beyond the fun creative ideas.

Right now, most apartment rooms are big white empty boxes. That can be intimidating, or a blast to dream of what to do with them! I’m in the second camp – having fun planning ideas! Today I’ll share the plan for the entry area:

DIYS to do in India

Yes, when I’m done this moodboard should come alive! It’s a mix of rustic and elegant, for some tension. It’s neutral obviously, but with lots of subtle pattern to keep it interesting. India is so super colorful, you’re probably wondering, why not a ton of color? I’ve written previously about why the apartment will be so neutral.

Here’s the entry space right now:

India Apartment Entry Area

Here’s a breakdown of what will go here …

The Door 

That door may look silly small on the moodboard. But it is a short door. I’m only 5-feet tall and I have to duck to step through it! There are previous posts about the awesome antique door here and here and here (such as, it’s so heavy it took seven men to carry it up the stairs).

India Apartment Main Door

The Walls

I envisioned creating old looking crumbly mottled walls in beige tones. But that will take lots of time to paint. And, the walls are plaster and sucking up paint like crazy! So thirsty! During our September 2015 trip, a crew of guys primed and painted the walls again, but I’m finding the walls behave really unpredictably. So they’re going to be white. I will paint the Persian Garden Damask Wall Stencil from Royal Design Studio randomly on the walls:

Persian Garden Damask Wall Stencil from Royal Design Studio

I like this stencil because it’s big — the large size is about 3-feet tall. And I could see it painted like the mud hut wall paintings in Gujarat, or Kutch. This is from FabIndia’s Flickr, showing the raised patterns:

Mudhut Wall Painting in India via FabIndia Flickr

From DesignFlute:

DesignFlute Kutch Mud Hut Walls

I’m playing with different painting techniques with the stencil. I want the stencil pattern to look old. Maybe partial patterns, like part of it faded away or broke off the wall. I’m considering doing raised stencils. But the apartment gets dusty while we’re away. I don’t want to be cleaning dust off raised wall stencils! So we’ll see. I will likely use some silver metallic paint as a nod to the mirrorwork of the Rabari mud “Bhunga” hut paintings.

Vineeta of ArtnLight blog shared a great post with more information about these homes and their paintings, if you’d like to learn more.

The Rug

That’s the actual rug we’re hauling over to India. I got it 70% off at RugsUSA. It’s the Beaumont Adileh VII2 Talisman Rug in gray, size 7’8″ x 9″6″ because the entry area is big:

RugsUSA Beaumont Talisman Rug

Why buy a rug and haul it over, when India is awash with rugs? Well, I’m looking for decent quality in a bargain rug. That’s why I struck at RugUSA’s famous 70% off sale. We’re at this apartment only a few weeks a year. So I don’t want to spend much on a rug. It’s also possible it could flood while we’re gone. So honestly cheap machine-made synthetic may be better for our needs, than a fantastic handknotted wool rug. I love great quality rugs and I fall for expensive rugs, but those are better for where you can enjoy them every day.

This rug is also thin, which gave it lower ratings on the retailer’s site, but my fingers are crossed that’s good — it should be malleable and bendable so we can squish a big rug into a small size for the flight to India.

The Chaise

Why a chaise or sofa right inside the front door, in the entry area? Many people will stop by your house. Labor is cheap in India so you hire people to do lots of things instead of DIY. It’s customary — at least among my husband’s family — to have an area to sit just inside the door for all these non-family visitors.

I’m still seeking the right chaise. That’s the fun shopping hunt in India! When I find it, I will likely stencil designs on fabric to make it personalized and one-of-a-kind.

Or, maybe a deconstructed sofa like this one from Restoration Hardware, loaded with elegant Indian silk patterned and mirrored pillows:

Restoration Hardware Deconstructed Sofa

An old sofa frame could be made to look this way with burlap and natural linen and cotton duck fabrics, exposed upholstery tacks and big stitches and staples. I can just imagine what my husband’s cousins would say though: “You can’t afford a new sofa?” There are so many things that are the opposite in India than they are from the U.S. Isn’t it funny how old-looking things can often cost more and take more work!

The Metallic Table

I am DIY’ing a table made of a tall candlestick and wood discs. I’ve done this before — see my little stenciled table shared at Paint+Pattern magazine:

DIY Side Table

This table is super easy to make! My husband already took a large gold/silver leaf metallic candlestick to India last week. I’ll take wood discs and paint them metallic, glue and screw the table together, and stencil the top. So easy, big impact! But yes, my vacation packing for India includes drill, drill bits and wood glue!

The Mirrored Pillows

I’ve always loved the look of John Robshaw Sheesha pillows:

John Robshaw Sheesha Mirror Pillows

The sheesha mirror embroidery technique is from India. But these pillows are not in the budget for a place where we spend only a few weeks a year. I found packages of Darice glass mirrors at JoAnn and instructions on how to sew sheesha mirrors onto fabric. I’m not going to copy! I don’t know yet exactly what I’ll do, but I’ll make the look my own. Maybe instead of random, I’ll arrange mirrors more orderly on stripes. Or embroider them on a stenciled pattern. We’ll see.

The Row of Men Pillow

That pillow with the little orange shapes in the middle, here it is closer and I’ve written about it before:

Good Earth Pillow

We got it many years ago at Good Earth in Chennai. It’s been waiting in storage in India for years! Little pillow, you will soon see the light of day …

The Mirror

The mirror! I love this mirror! But it is HUGE. I got it from One Kings Lane many years when they first launched, when you had to stalk the website and pounce to buy. I scored it. It’s too big even for cargo, so we’re still trying to figure out how to get it to India economically. It can’t be dismantled. I love it because it’s huge and rustic:

Mirror for India Apartment

Well, small picture, but believe me it’s big and heavy. It has peeling bark, chipping paint, and rusting  metal. I think it’s the perfect contrast against more elegant things in the space.

At this point my husband may want me to let go of this mirror idea and sell it on Craigslist, but I’m determined to get it to India.

The Water Jugs

I want to put huge impractical things in the apartment. Things with no use whatsoever other than to just sit there and take up lots of space. Because that seems fitting to me when you’re on vacation! I loved the water jugs we saw at Crafters in Kochi years ago:

India Water Jugs at Crafters

Must go back and get some. I’d love to visit Kochi during the Biennale.

The Lanterns

The glass lanterns are called hundi lanterns. If you buy them old, they can be pricey. We found one for the kitchen at a price we could do for one, but I’m not buying three at that price. I’m not hauling glass to India. So far I haven’t found a reasonable price source in India for large traditional hundi lanterns. Everyone nowadays wants contemporary lighting. For now I have stenciled some fabric pendant lanterns, and although in my mind I’m still stuck on the idea of glass hundis, these fabric lights I DIY’d are growing on me:

Nomadic Decorator India Apartment

And that there is our empty entryway!

Hopefully on my next trip to India, it will look more like the moodboard!


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Turkish Lantern Makeover in the India Apartment

Next time we’re in India, I’ll do a better job of capturing the little moments. Like the moment when we took glass sconces from HomeGoods to a lighting shop in Chennai. There’s a whole row of lighting shops in a neighborhood not far from our apartment. Most shops look the same, so you take your pick, like eenie-meenie-miney-mo. So which to choose? Our taste is a little … different. Who could deal with it? (Because, honestly, most people there argue that we shouldn’t do what we want to do.) In a flash moment, my husband noticed what looked like garden ornaments transformed into lighting, and asked our driver to stop. A place with the vision to turn garden urns into pendant lights — we should get along with them!

And we did. The shop owner doodled a drawing on paper as we talked with him, turning what we saw in our heads into a real picture. He was spot on. That moment when you can share your vision with someone and they get it, it’s always fun! I wish I’d photographed that! Or asked for the drawing. Next time …

It’s hard to see what caught our eye here, but I assure you there’s interesting stuff in this shop:

Lighting Shop in Chennai

We needed backplates to turn Turkish style glass globes into sconces, and attach them to the wall. But the plates were gold, and we needed silver, and we liked the guy, and we wanted to work with him, so I figured I’d use paint to turn the gold here into silver:

Gold Needs to Be Silver

Then began the treasure hunt.

At home in the U.S., I just go to the basement for paint needed. It’s like a whole shop in my house. Or anything I want from craft stores to specialty art stores are all very accessible. There’s even an Annie Sloan stockist nearby. But in Chennai, I don’t know where to go! So we started the hunt at our local Asian Paints store:

Asian Paints

They know us well. I was there nearly daily buying sample pots. Including metallic paints. But they said no, out of the whole entire store, they do not have this silver paint to sell to us. They said, you need automotive paint. Automotive paint? Where do we find automotive paint? Or … a craft store paint, they said. Craft store? Well I know my way around those. But it’s not like there’s a Michaels in Chennai.

Oh, but I hadn’t found Tina Arts and Crafts yet! Thankfully they are online and that’s how I found them. Because we know no one in Chennai (yet!) who does DIY or crafty stuff. You just hire someone to do whatever you need there.

Here’s the place that made me very happy — they had paints to solve all my problems!

Tina Art and Craft Shop in Chennai

I had run out of Modern Masters Antique Copper metallic paint for a project that was half-done. I needed to match the copper. Exact match. A mismatch would forever bug my eyes. (And believe me, I feel I should note that I fully realize this kind of problem in India is privilege and silly.) The Tina shop hooked me up with acrylic paint tubes in metallic bronze and metallic red to mix until I made a perfect match to the metallic Antique Copper! Can you believe? Woo hoo!

Metallic Copper Mix

But wait there’s more.

They looked at my gold metal sconce plates and suggested mixing silver powder with picture frame varnish to make a silver paint. I hadn’t ever done that before, so wasn’t sure, but it worked. It worked!

Silver Powder and Picture Frame Varnish

Varnishing Metal

It took some doing. At first the silver was too new, too blue and too shiny. Not “just right.”

Transforming Sconces

So I smeared some light copper metallic paint over the silver to warm it up a bit.

Warming Up Silver Paint

Here you can see the sconce on the left is a little warmer color:

Warming Up Silver Paint with Copper

Then I smeared some black to make it look antiqued. I mixed the black paint with water so it wasn’t too thick, it was more of a wash. See the difference in the sconce on the left:

Antiqued with Black Paint Wash

It was a pretty close match to the original silver metal on my glass globes. Here’s the final result. Ta-da!

Finished Sconce

I was working on deadline because our electrician was on his way. Thankfully the picture frame varnish mixture dried super fast. Once turned over to the electrician’s hands, the sconces were installed on the master bedroom wall:

Master Bedroom Sconces

I will be stenciling between the sconces. Here, what I expected to be warm gray paint turned lavender on the wall:

Master Bedroom Stenciling

So I changed plans and the base coat is now Silk Route from Asian Paints:

Master Bedroom

First base coat only! This is going to get far more interesting. And that’s where I had to leave things. We had a flight to catch. Until next time …


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