My mom painted me a step stool when I was little enough to need one. She was an avid reader of Beatrix Potter books and I was her number one listener so I imagine that the characters on the stool are Mrs. Tittlemouse and Babbity Bumble but I’ve never asked. I still have the stool today, thirty-five years later.

My mom has long had a talent for sketching characters–for many years now, she has written and illustrated a delightful line of crass, Latin tales involving a Roman youth named Poopius, which I hope someday she’ll publish–but this stool is special to me. Perhaps because, for all of the houses, spouses and moves over the years, this one item has remained in tact. It’s hasn’t always been well cared for, it’s scratched, stained and one or another leg has broken off and been re-affixed over the years but it’s mine and I love it.

For the better part of the past two decades, it has been out of circulation, relegated to a dusty corner of a basement or in storage somewhere. But, 3 years ago, when our daughter was the age that required and desired anything to elevate her vantage point, I dusted it off and put it back into use.

It was perfect for reaching the sink, the counter, the toilet; it came in handy when I needed something from a high cabinet; it made a great seat for her at the coffee table during snack time, arts and crafts or any time she wanted her own little perch. In general, it was just plain old useful. But it was old, it was dingy and it was “mine.” I felt she needed something “hers.”

When our son came along two years ago, it dawned on me that perhaps he also might need a step stool someday but maybe not right away. Then, in November, a leg that had broken off several times before broke badly enough that it was no longer safe to repair it. At about the same time, our son started dragging the little plastic bathroom stool all around the house so he could reach better. I realized the time had come for their own step stools.

So, in December, I went out and purchased two unfinished wooden stools from A.C. Moore for $24 each. I returned them two days later when a coupon came in the mail for 40% of your entire purchase on a specific day during a two-hour window. On the specific day, within the two-hour window, I went back and purchased them with the coupon. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to paint on the stools but I bought a few small bottles of acrylic paint and some brushes as well as two cans of spray paint in desirable colors (Rustic Red and Sunny Yellow).

Buying spray paint–which requires a 50F-80F, dry location for application–during an unusually snowy, New England winter that wouldn’t get above 35 until mid-March was a really stupid move. I intended to do this project as Christmas gifts for the kids but the spray paint thwarted me. I had to wait until mid-March for a day warm and dry enough to paint them.

Anyway, fast forward four months and over the past three weeks I have somehow managed to find enough time to get the stools done. Here’s how they came out

I’m pretty pleased. Trying to decide what to paint for each child, what would be timeless, relevant and treasured was tricky but I think, with some input from DH, in the end, we chose well.

Our daughter got a chickadee because, when my children were born, I assigned each a bird. Obviously, our daughter is a chickadee, our son is a nuthatch but two bird stools didn’t seem special. I kept the bird for our daughter who fits everything about a chickadee’s personality, small in stature, rugged, tough, outgoing, friendly and reliable. Her stool went pretty fast because painting on the light-colored stool meant I didn’t have to layer on the acrylics. For my son, who loves trains, cars, trucks, pretty much anything with wheels, I decided to paint his favorite storybook character (The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle) instead.

He’s loved this book for as long as we can remember. It’s the first one he repeated words from, the first one he memorized whole sections out of and he sits looking through it almost every day. It’s a very sweet book and he’s a lot like the helpful Little Blue Truck. His took me much longer both because painting on a dark stool meant I had to do many layers of acrylic to get it right; in addition, I guess I’m better at nature themes than vehicles because I just couldn’t quite seem to get it right. I think it passes though. Here’s a close up of his stool with the Big Green Toad perched atop Little Blue.

In the end, the stools didn’t get done in time for Christmas, or either of their birthdays but they are getting them on a special occasion, they’re getting them for Easter. Hey, at least they got done.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elizabeth
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 08:53:50

    Gorgeous! I am so impressed–they are so unique and beautiful, and I know they will be cherished through the years, just as yours was. Wonder whose tiny feet will step on them in another 35 years? It boggles the mind.

    Now, are you setting up a shop so can I commission one? 🙂


    • growingmuses
      Apr 20, 2011 @ 22:15:02

      Commission away, can I bill by the hour ;o) What would Rosy or Buzzy want on a stool? I bet Buzzy’s stool would put me out of business, I’m not very good at Viennese architecture…


  2. slightlywonky
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 08:56:48

    THESE ARE SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!!!! WOW! Amazing job!!!! I’m sure that Ella and Parker will treasure these stools forever, just as you did with the one that your mom lovingly made. Great work, Kai. Seriously. They’re GORGEOUS. Be prepared to start taking orders for them!


    • growingmuses
      Apr 20, 2011 @ 22:12:27

      If I thought I could make money doing this, I’d quit my day job (oh wait, I guess that would mean putting my kids out to pasture, hmmm). It’s like you with knitting, you could never adequately recoup the time it takes and the material fee in the price of the end product but thanks for liking them…YOU on the other hand, could turn out stuff like this in a few hours and make a pretty penny I bet (or at leas enough to fast track the completion of your studio and the down payment on a press ;o)


  3. Chris Lee
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:18:29

    Hi Kyla –
    You probably don’t remember me, but I am a friend of Kip’s (and Michelle Damboise). I stumbled upon your blog from Kip’s Facebook page and have been enamored by it! I only keep up with one or two blogs – and yours is one of them. I love it and I really love your stools! SO cute – they came out awesome and the story about them makes me love them even more. I hope both your kids still have them in 35 years!!


    • growingmuses
      Apr 20, 2011 @ 22:09:49

      Chris, I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me. It’s one thing to have friends and family read my posts and support my writing whims but when people I don’t know as well (or sometimes even at all) read my posts and like what I write, that really makes me feel accomplished. Thanks for letting m know and thanks for reading!


  4. cecile
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 09:59:10

    I do not ever again want to hear you say that you are “not the crafty type”, Kyla ! They are beautiful.


  5. Rachel
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 15:56:55

    Amazing! You are truly a talented artist. You could do well with those at WMF Marketplace 🙂 Or anywhere else, since I’m not sure you’re in that anymore. What a great project!


    • growingmuses
      Apr 20, 2011 @ 22:06:51

      Wow, that’s really kind! I know I’m not really an artist because these sorts of things, though they ultimately bring me great satisfaction, take so long in the execution that the end product really should be more refined than it ever is. Hah, WMF marketplace…I guess that would mean I’d be subject to even more Wellesley folly than I already am, dear me. But coming from a friend with a great deal of talent, I deeply appreciate your kind words. I miss you!


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