I’m usually a baker. Or a jewelry-maker. But on occasion, I’ll scoot over into the DIY arena. There’s not much for me to do there. I live in an apartment right now, and while there’s a lot I would love to do to the building (paint the back stairway, put in a humongous vegetable garden, learn to tuck-point), there’s not much to do to the apartment itself. I’ve painted, I’ve decorated, I’ve rearranged the furniture…I’m pretty much done.
But sometimes that doesn’t stop me from starting a do-it-yourself project for the home. Maybe I watch too much HGTV or read too many home-improvement blogs. Or it might be my mom’s influence.
In any case, Saturday morning found Mom and I standing in line outside the Shorecrest Hotel on Milwaukee’s East Side. The hotel’s been owned by the famous/infamous Balistreri family for decades and overlooks the lakefront from Prospect Avenue. At one point in time it was one of the ritziest places in town, but it’s long since faded. There had been a death in the family a while back and they were holding an estate sale in the hotel.
When I lived on the East Side, Bronwen (the dog) and I would walk past the Shorecrest almost daily, and while I’ve eaten at the Savoy Room restaurant, I’ve never been inside the hotel itself. I’m a total sucker for old architecture, especially when it’s kind of hidden (one of my favorite memories from high school is when my AP Lit class got to tour the third floor of the school—like a time capsule in building form). So I really wanted to go to this estate sale—and I wasn’t the only one. We ended up waiting outside for almost an hour in the drizzle and cold. The only reason we got in that quickly was because so many people ahead of us in line gave up and left. It was pretty miserable out.
But we finally got in and rode the rickety old elevators up to the top floor. It’s in a sad state: What was once a bar and patio during the hotel’s heyday is now an attic-like storage area. There used to be mosaic floors and gorgeous arched windows and plaster hallways, but most of it’s been ripped out or stripped down over the years. The views in every direction are still stunning—most of the lakeshore and downtown could be seen. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, unfortunately.
By the time we got into the sale, most of the best stuff had been taken. There was an awesome collection of about twenty chairs with latticed wood sides and red upholstery that had sold to one of the first people through the doors. They needed quite a bit of work—all new fabric and paint or new wood stain, but the style was classic. Most of the leftovers were outdated and stained sofas, 1950s desks and Murphy beds. A few college students were there, grabbing up the sofas at better-than-Goodwill prices.
I did, however, find these chairs:
They need a lot of work. I have no idea where they’ve been stored for the past few decades, but that upholstery is not coming in my apartment—yuck. But they are very sturdy, solid wood, and very comfortable to sit in. Picture them painted (I can’t restain them due to a huge gouge in the top of one that will need to be patched) and reupholstered (without the tufting). I think they’ll be the type of classic, solid chairs that people usually spill a few hundred bucks for.
This is by far the most ambitious refinishing project I’ve ever undertaken—These chairs have springs! And separate bases and cushions!—but I’m very excited. Right now they’re in my storage locker, waiting until I find the perfect fabric for them.
In the meantime, I’ll just have to find another project to keep me busy. I doubt it will be hard.