Painted Thonet Chairs and Long Term Vision

There are a lot of rules in design, and I’m picking them up randomly by listening to design trained people talk. One insight I heard and keep coming back to is the koan of quick-cheap-easy.

The triumvirate of PRODUCING things is quick, cheap or easy. (You can almost swap cheap and quality, because they have a really strong relationship.) The idea behind the triumvirate is that you can have one or two points, but not all three. Let’s say I want to have a painted house: I can get it done quickly by pros, and that’s easy on me, but it’s not cheap. Let’s say I want to renovate my kitchen, and I want it to be cheap: it’ll take time to wait for sales (not fast) and I’ll probably choose to install it myself (not easy).

Everyone wants all three, me especially. Quick is good, cheap is good, easy is really good. I love easy. However, with a house we’re going to have for thirty years, I have to choose slow. If slow is the name of the game, I can also release my death grip on easy, and enjoy the bargain hunting thrills of cheap.

These are all good things, but when I think of letting go of easy, I think of letting go of hiring professionals for work that’s hard but still DIYable. I’m an under-achieving perfectionist: I’ll quit if I think I can’t get things flawless. Why do I quit? Because my vision of perfection can be hella intimidating. Maybe if I’m working within the framework of cheap, gradual and “elbow-greasy”, I can deal with the issue of perfectionism. Living with perfectionism is hard, and like I said, easy feels good. That’s when hiring a professional answers all questions and drops the anxiety levels right down. But professionals might not be necessary when there’s no time limit, and no pressure.

We don’t have the house yet, so instead of packing up (ridiculous thought! totally silly!) I’m setting myself up for a first project for the Apple House, aka the Drunken Earl of Sommersby, aka the Finnish Beach Party. (Yes, we’ve been coming up with nicknames for the house.) To be honest, I don’t know why I started with chairs, but that’s me and that’s the thirty year plan. Take advantage of opportunities when they happen, and be open to things happening out of order.

First there was this picture on Pinterest, from House of Turquoise:


I was researching dining rooms, painted dining room tables, and this blew my mind. I adore the mints, the peppermint, the forest green, the hits of turquoise glass… WHAT A COLOUR PALETTE. But what I really love are the thonet chairs. Thonet chairs are usually plain wood, but when I saw this picture I felt like I was seeing the perfect colour palette for a chair with those curves and swoops. Can’t explain it anymore than that. Mints, pastels, and bentwood: it feels right.

Quick and not cheap options? Buy a thonet chair or chairs from any online source.

Not quick and maybe cheap? Find some thonet chairs secondhand online. First, though, you’ve got to find them. They can be knock offs, that’s okay, it’s secondhand. If the seats are caned, it’ll either be in good condition or you can get them redone. While you wait for a set of these chairs to come up for sale, research people who can redo caning. When they show up online, go get ’em before someone who knows furniture gets heart shaped eyes and snaps them up.

That’s what I did. I was so surprised to find four bentwood chairs, secondhand, listed on I don’t think they’re actual thonet chairs, but that’s fine with me because instead of one bent piece of wood across the back they have two bent pieces of wood that I think of as “hearts”. Anything that makes me think of a heart without overtly referencing one has a place in my life. Not only were they heart-y, there were four (four matching chairs! swoon) with newly caned seats. FLAWLESS.

Here they are, paired with a vision for their future.


The wood on the heart-y bentwood chairs is in great condition, very blonde, a nice silky finish with only a little character. Since that’s the case, I can see myself partially painting them like the chairs on the left. (Picture source: The “dip painted” look is a trend right now, it won’t last forever, but it’s probably going to work for me when I need some touches of accent colour to pull a room together without covering up the existing finish on the chairs.

What’s fun about this is that I’m planning to use the chairs in the kitchen, in some kind of “eat in” set up. The kitchen plan, though? No money for it. No floor plan yet. No materials chosen. Haven’t moved in. No guarantee that there’s going to be an eat-in area.

That’s the unexpected freedom of the thirty year house: gambling on what you MIGHT do. I have a long schedule, I can gamble a lot. I can develop an idea of things I like (such a list) and grab them when I see them for the right price, even if their eventual use isn’t guaranteed.

It’s a worthy trade off.