Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Reefer cubby vent

I was sitting in my son’s flat in Verona, Italy while eating a sandwich and I glanced to my left and saw his oven. It is a SMEG. While my reefer is not a SMEG – they are too expensive and too tall – I was, nonetheless, reminded of my new refrigerator and the recent work I’ve done on its enclosure. Have a look:

My crude method – a Sharpie and a can lid.

Tales of Trim

OK. It’s been awhile. I suppose because the subject matter fails to inspire gushing. I mean, we’re talking about trim here. But while the subject may cause yawns, I must admit this stage of Sparta’s rebirth is exciting. As each strip of trim is applied I feel more confident that this project will be completed. Believe it, I have had my doubts these past few years.

Ripping the 3/8″ Baltic birch to size
Stained and cutting crude angles
Nothing a little wood putty can’t hide
Note the nice two-tone ply edge

So I am finished with interior window trim. Which brings me to my next challenge. First, an aside. One of the benefits (and dangers) of having a blog detailing one’s labor of love is receiving unsolicited advice. On several occasions both of my readers have weighed in with something like, “Have you thought of ?…” . Well, no. Actually I haven’t, but now that you mention it. And that’s how it starts. My brother-in-law, Jim, has been useful in that way and now my brother, Bill, has jumped into the fray, creating heretofore unimagined complexity. The subject was kitchen counter trim and initially my solution to the back-splash edge was going to be aluminum “L” strips. Yeah, the matte silver didn’t match the copper sink but, whatever. Bill said to me “Why don’t you use copper. It will look better.” Gr-r-r-r. So I accepted his challenge only to find that copper trim is hard to find. And when you do, it’s expensive. My janky solution was to take my aluminum “L” strips (Oh yeah, did I mention I had already bought them) and paint them. Oh, but were it just that simple. No. aluminum doesn’t take to paint – or vice versa. In fact, paint just sloughs right off. So I had to vigorously sand each strip to make it more receptive to treatment, spray each with self-etching primer (5 coats), then spray with copper paint (4 coats) and finally 3 layers of clear top coat. Jeesh.

But it looks great. Note protective plastic on Formica. Oh, and dumb finger over view finder.
Not the cleanest corner. But…

Thanks, Bill. No. Really. Thanks!

Tid Bits

What color blind moron thought this was a match?!?

Maybe if I wanted my seams to glow in the dark.

I emailed Cabinet Maker’s Warehouse and they offered no better match to finish-off my Formica seams – just a refund. So I am left with a few options. Find a better product elsewhere or go with aluminum seams like I did in the shower. Or, if I really want to make myself crazy, find a dark green tint and try to doctor this stuff up to a closer match. Option three sounds like a fool’s errand.

Meanwhile, on a more positive front, the 3/8″ Baltic birch has been ripped, sanded and finished. I have begun cutting it down to make my interior window trims. One down, sixteen to go.

I am using brass screws to make a nicer look.

Of course, in true janky fashion I am using a mitre box and hand saw to assist this process – painstakingly slow.

The search continues for a suitable piece of land to put Sparta. I am looking in Quincy, Ca. to be near my daughter. Maybe we’ll start a family compound, circle the wagons and fend off the assault of progress altogether.

“When I’m 64”

Culled from the Internet, here are just a few of the facts regarding this classic Beatles tune:

  • Paul McCartney wrote the music for this when he was about 15, and used to play it when The Beatles were still known as The Quarrymen. He put lyrics to it later in honor of his father’s 64th birthday.
  • McCartney wrote and sang the lead vocals on this song which asks if a woman will still be with him when he got older, when he was 64 years old. On May 17, 2006, Paul and his then wife, Heather Mills, separated, finalizing the divorce in 2008. McCartney turned 64 on June 18, 2006, so the answer to his musical question with regards to Mills, would be no.
  • John Lennon said of this: “I would never even dream of writing a song like that.” [probably because he couldn’t fathom being with Yoko that long]

Why the interest in this old ditty? Because today is my 64th birthday. I vividly remember listening to Sgt. Pepper’s way beck when and thinking “God, 64 sounds OLD”.

Well, it does beat the alternative.

Janky postscript

Lest you think I am content with sloppy workmanship and will settle for jankiness in my life, let me update you all. I just bought a nice Makita 6″ cordless circular saw so I can now cut straight lines, more or less.

These lines look pretty straight and the going is so much easier than with my janky jig saw.

While I could probably benefit from a long straight edge to measure rip cuts for trim, I settled for a thin piece of Baltic Birch to draw my lines (I can’t cut all the jank from my life).

Well, at least I am using good wood

But I will not sit still for that rough edge and cavernous gap surrounding my kitchen formica. I invested in some caulk specially matched and tinted to “Laquered linen”‘. Not perfect, but OK.

Note green at tip

That’s all.


Of the many advantages that older age entitles, I like the pass we get while criticizing new culture shifts and conventions that evolve in our wake. Instead of beings haters* or heretics, we’re simply deemed grumpy and unworthy of grasping the nuances of or appreciating the devices of modernization. Take language, for example. One of my pet peeves is the acceptance of sloppy and stupid words that creep into the American lexicon. A recent example is “ginormous”. Added to Webster’s dictionary, I suppose it fits nicely between gigantic and enormous to better define “huge”, but I thought “humongous” was perfectly OK. Seriously, the Oxford Dictionary contains 171,476 words. Do we really need another so patently redundant? Granted, some new words are useful as they describe things that are new to our culture – like “cannabusiness”. I get it. We need a way to define the burgeoning demand and retail activity resulting from pot legalization. But most new words are weird or lazy. How about “meatspace”? Inserted in the dictionary last year, it means the physical world as opposed to the virtual realm. Gross! The lazy words usually eliminate the need for other useful ones. Take “hella”. While not yet in the dictionary, it has come into common use in Norcal (lazy shorthand) to emphasize magnitude. For example, instead of saying “a hell of a lot”, millenials often say “hella”, meaning the same thing while eliminating the need for a preposition, indefinite article and a noun. Brilliant! But the most troubling of new words is not so much creepy, lazy or redundant. I suppose I can live with those. The new Webster word that most disturbs me is “unfriend”. Yes, anyone on Facebook has used the term (guilty as charged) and it has its applications. But what troubles me is what it suggests about friendship in our cyber-culture. Is friendship nowadays so easily acquired and disposed of that it can be discarded with a mouseclick (usually because of who they voted for)? Oops, my bad. Nobody uses a mouse anymore.

Having said all that, I must confess to my affection for a slang word recently introduced to me by my daughter. I was in her beautiful Airstream the other day admiring the workmanship that went into her amazing restoration. I commented on how difficult it would be for me to achieve such precision in Sparta as I was doing everything with a jigsaw. She said, “Seriously, Dad. Get the proper tools. You don’t want your work to look janky!”. I knew exactly what she meant and could think of no better term. While it is not yet in Webster’s, janky gets my vote for the 2020 edition.

Leslie’s beautiful Airstream.

Lovingly and painstakingly crafted
Warm and inviting

Tom’s work.


I guess I’m why caulk and putty were invented.

*another new and useful term

A Spoonful of Sugar

There are countless examples of serendipity throughout my Sparta experience. Of course, other nouns may also apply – luck…karma…divine intervention. In any case, the past three plus years have been filled with unexpected blessings. It started with finding her in that lonely pasture in 2016 – in my old hometown no less – and has continued to this day. The biggest twist of luck came two years ago when I decided not to move Sparta to a remote location in the mountains above Calistoga. I was working as a chef at a retreat center there – a job which I enjoyed – but after a particularly nasty row with an overbearing boss I quit and decided to never work for anybody again. Plans to move Sparta there were scuttled and two months later that place burned to the ground in one of the most devastating wildfires in California history.

Naturally, most of my good fortune has appeared as little things – the right tool at the right time, a perfect fixture found at The Restore, cans of discontinued stain pulled from the Shermin Williams’ dumpster, enough to finish the job. I know this sounds insipid but through this process I’ve realized that good things come NOT to those who wait, but to those who are out beating the bushes, actively engaged in a project marked by passion and perseverance. Here is the most recent example: a random email from alerting me to free stuff in my neighborhood. I opened the link and voila – free slats for a full sized platform bed. Just what I needed to get started on Sparta’s sleeping quarters.

Time to grab some birch planks and build a frame

In the same link I found these two chairs – and with a coat of paint (color tbd) will give a midcentury vibe to my dining nook.


Mid-century Danish Farfalla

Bentwood Chairs   1960’s

Set of 2       $1,675 

Ok. Just kidding. I found knock-offs, not originals. But I only paid $20 for the pair.

Cold Spot

Hi guys. Just a quick update to say the Galanz refrigerator is in and I am very happy with it…at least, cosmetically. I just plugged it in so will report on its performance next time.

I used a piece of leftover cabinetry from Sparta and it fit perfectly as a surface atop the reefer bracket for the unit to stand on. It is secured with a couple of stout bolts and slathered with multiple coats of poly. Everything has gotten crazy amounts of polyurethane on Sparta. Moisture will not have its way with my girl.

Note bolts in back securing board to steel reefer brace. They got cut off with a Dremel.
Perfect for the space. I will design a birch surround to finish the look.
Thanks to the extensive use of plastic (a mixed blessing) this refridgerator only weighs 100 lbs.

So long!


I worked at catering for 7 days straight, so Sparta got back-burnered. However, while I was away I coaxed Cristina into refinishing interior window frames. That’s progress.

With a good sanding, stain and oil-based poly these came out OK. Darker than the new interior walls, however.

More counter fun

Cutting up laminate is a bit like public speaking – no matter how many times I’ve done it, it still makes me nervous. Particularly when I have no pieces remaining large enough to do another kitchen counter.

But, the process is pretty straightforward. Measure, measure and then measure again. Turn the sink upside down, yada, yada, yada.

Cut to the pilot holes. Apply silicone caulk liberally between the lines.
Position, press and hold.

I came up with a method for minimizing the gap between counter sections. Screw and glue two 1″ x 2″ blocks on the underside of the counter near the intersection. Drill big holes through them and insert 4 -1/2″ lag bolts. Position the counter pieces right side up and turn bolts until they are good and snug.

The remaining gap can be filled with green caulk. Or I could go old school and use an aluminum trim piece.
The carpet matches the drapes, so to speak.

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