Ye distant spires, ye antique tow’rs

We found the perfect spire for our belfry today.

[Well, if that ain’t a sentence you don’t hear every day.]

We went junking at “Wisconsin’s Finest” antique flea market (leave it to a marketer to describe flea-anything as “fine”) in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. More than 500 dealers laid out their vintage Mason jars, wooden snow shoes, rusty farm implements and galvanized buckets at the county fairgrounds in an event that occurs only four times a summer. I’ve been waiting for this first showing of the season for seven months.

Tyler asked me what I was looking for, and I said I just wanted to look, which typifies the gender differences in shopping. A man hunts for something specific, a woman looks around until something catches her eye.

sire in situ
Quick! We need to buy it before that random stranger snaps it up!

As it turned out, a spire caught Tyler’s eye. This steel spire with Victorian era fleur-de-lis detailing had been salvaged from the turret of a decrepit late 1800s mansion in Vilas County, Wisconsin.

sire in history
This is our belfry in one of the earliest photos we’ve found of our church.

We’ve discussed over the past year how we wanted to finish the top of the belfry (it’s now just flat above the top shingles), and we’d sort of determined we wanted to replace the spire that was once on top of it. Tyler sourced a manufacturer of fiberglass spires for traditional churches, and we thought we might pursue that when the time came. Just the pointy top, no cross.

Here’s a close-up on the “lily petals” on the spire.

We liked the size of this beauty (about six feet) and the fleur-de-lis detailing. Fleur-de-lis is French for flower of the lily; it’s a stylized emblem of the French monarchy that appears in all sorts of modern design. Though it has no Victorian details, our building was built in the late Victorian era, about the same time as the mansion from which the spire was salvaged.

We’re guessing this damage occurred by lightning or during salvage.

Our junk spire needs a bit of straightening and a coat of rust-proof paint. We’re thinking we might paint the petals gray and the rest of the spire white.

Tyler is working on siding the garage right now, but after that, he’s focusing on siding the belfry, so for now our new-old spire awaits its new home in our great room.

spire in sanctuary

As we were leaving the fairgrounds with our booty, one woman remarked, “I hope you didn’t pay what it’s marked” (we didn’t, you flinty tightwad) and another woman said “how cool it that!” (thank you for noticing our good taste).

I didn’t know what we’d find today, but I’m so pleased, I’m marking my calendar for next month’s finest flea market!

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Today’s headline is the first line from a poem by Thomas Gray: Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.

Everything you find is in the last place you look

Our story so far: Following a Craig’s List lead, my husband and I drove ninety minutes north to find an antique safe we could use as a night stand in the master bedroom of the 126-year-old church we were turning into our home. But the one the seller showed us was too big.

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“A smaller safe? How big?” the seller asked.

I pantomimed a box roughly two feet tall.

“I might have something like that,” he said. “I’m sort of a safe collector.”

He led us to his house and through a sitting room where two safes performed duties as end tables.

“Yes, those exactly!” I said, pointing.

“They’re not for sale.” Me: Crestfallen again. “ But I have a couple more that might work.” Me: Interest piqued again.

Clearly, this guy was something of a safe aficionado. How could we be so lucky to connect with a genuine safe collector with not one safe but several?

Heavy, man.

We followed him through the sitting room and into the attached garage, where he pointed out three different safes tucked behind and under various garage items. Two of them were very similar black safes dating to the early 20th century—the stuff of matching provincial nightstands. And, he was willing to part with them.

We struck a deal after a bit of dickering (not much dickering—the seller knew the combinations to the locks, which makes them more valuable—repurposing a safe as a night stand may have been inventive but it wasn’t cheap).

But now we had to get them into our pickup. The safes weighed four hundred pounds each—the hinges could be manipulated when the safe was open to remove the handpainted door, the seller told us, and one of those weighed a hundred pounds.

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Tomorrow: Overcoming the physics of heavy safes. Read about it here.

This $46.25 deal has the potential for greatness

Our story so far: I was stressed out about bathroom vanities for the church. When we finally chose a plumber, he needed to know where to rough in the vanity faucets, and to determine that, we needed three vanities quickly. I checked the master bathroom vanity off the list by investing in online cabinets.

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We scored vanity Number Two for the upstairs bathroom at a second-hand store.

My brother-in-law had once turned a dresser into a vanity for a basement bathroom, and I loved the combination of an old piece of furniture with a sleek stone countertop. I had also once converted an ugly old dresser into a beautiful credenza with several coats of paint. I couldn’t use this idea in the master bathroom because it would have been impossible to find a eleven-foot-long piece of furniture. Likewise, the wall assigned to the upstairs bathroom vanity was eight feet long—it would take a very special piece of furniture to fill that space.

One Saturday, after spending hundreds of dollars on lumber and loading it into our truck, Tyler and I arrived for a lunch date a few minutes early, so we explored the nearby second-hand store. We couldn’t pass one without looking for something we might need for the old church, and here we found not one piece of furniture but two.

upstairs vanity furniture
They’re a little (a lot) beat up, but I see potential.
The mirrors, unattached.

The first dresser was the ideal height for a vanity with an undermount sink. Tyler confirmed it would work. It even came with a mirror. But it was only about forty inches wide. The second, taller dresser also came with a mirror; it was about thirty inches wide.

Together, they were about twenty-five inches short of the expanse we needed to fill.

But the price was right—$185 for the pair.

veneer to save
Maybe the wood-grain veneer on the top drawers could be saved?

Oh, they were beat up, all right. The shorter dresser has a terrible stain on the front, and the taller one was missing veneer, but I intended to paint it all anyway. Some of the intact veneer had a beautiful wood grain look I thought I might be able to preserve by painting around it. The mirrors themselves were in good condition, but the frames needed paint, too.

As I stood in front of them debating whether the work required to redeem these dressers was worth it, the proprietress sensed my interest and struck up a conversation.

“Oh, that would make a beautiful vanity,” she said, describing how she’d turned other pieces of furniture into vanities. “And they’re 75 percent off today.”

The frugal Midwesterner in me couldn’t pass up a deal that good. “Well, I could throw them away for that price,” I said.

The proprietress wrinkled her nose. “Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that.”

“I mean I can’t pass up such a good deal,” I said. “But what do you think I could put between them to fill the space? A basket maybe?”

“Hmm, let me think about that,” the proprietress said.

checkbook drawing
More chicken scratch, this time on the back of a checkbook.

I went to lunch and chewed on this dilemma. I mean, I had to figure out how to make the $46.25 deal work. I couldn’t pass this up. And then suddenly I knew: If I removed the mirror from the taller vanity, it would fit perfectly under the sloping eave on the second-story, and then I could create a little make-up space—complete with mirror and stone to match the top of the sinked vanity—between the two pieces of furniture.

I returned to the second-hand store with a less money than we paid for lunch and asked the proprietress to hold them until we could return with an empty truck. A few days later, we added the beat-up dressers to the rental unit. At some point in the near future, the HVAC guys would be done haunting the basement so I could do some painting.

This left the guest half-bath, aka the powder room. The vanity in there would be most used by guests, so the pressure was on.

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Tomorrow: Vanity Number Three wasn’t as good a deal as Vanity Number Two, but it still was meant to be. Read about it here.