Posts by Maud Kelly (page 3)
Hello from the desk of Rejuvenation’s copywriter! Yes, I’m
the one who waxes poetic about all things historical lighting.
Because of that, it feels a bit scandalous to admit that before I came to Rejuvenation, I didn’t
know a thing about lighting. In my work as a writer and adjunct English
professor, I had spent a good deal of
time considering light itself, but pretty much solely as a metaphor. At
Rejuvenation, here’s what I quickly learned:
- The big
round mid-century modern lights in my Arts & Crafts home HAD TO GO
- Historically (and metaphorically) speaking,
lighting is really cool.
- Rejuvenation itself is even cooler than
historical lighting, because it’s committed to sustainability and social issues
down to its very core, which for me is essential, because I have a deep respect
and love for the planet and its people.
I’ve learned a lot more, too (you should see our library), but for me it all comes down to feeling really lucky to be
part of a conversation about our collective past, present, and future. And having
beautiful, useful things as the entry point to that conversation is the icing
on the cake.
Two truths and a lie:
- I am a very prompt letter writer and correspond with many
people by US mail.
- My secret desire is to play the cello.
- I’m a terrible driver: the people I’ve rear-ended include a
nun and my boss.
So you want to throw your house a party because you’ve figured out how old it is. You know the era. But when it comes to throwing a period-authentic party to celebrate your home’s birthday, you’re at a loss. Never fear: here are a few tips on a Victorian-style soiree from Demetra Aposporos of Old House Journal and pointers on a bungalow or mid-century shindig from Patricia Poore of Old House Interiors.
The Victorian Era was the age of excess, and always dressed to impress. Dinner parties pulled out all the formal stops, with multiple courses of rich (and beautifully presented) plates. The perfect backdrop? Tables layered in white (or cream) lace, linen, or cotton tablecloths, outfitted with meticulous displays of fine silver, china, crystal, and individual salt cellars, all glowing by candlelight. Top the whole thing off with exuberant, richly colored floral displays and a formally folded napkin (“The Bishop’s Mitre” or “Lady Windermere’s Fan” — both popular at the time — will do nicely) centered on each dinner plate.
– Demetra Aposporos
For a party theme, consider the times: Victorian opulence endured into the 1910s; not long after, Prohibition would introduce speakeasy parties. Simple and affordable decorations that evoke the era include crepe paper (twist and swag from a chandelier to the corners of the room) and all things natural. Use lots of flowers; scatter fall leaves down the center of a white tablecloth, or border the table with a flower garland. Keep the lighting low. Play charades . . . or the piano.
– Patricia Poore
A PARTY FOR YOUR MID-CENTURY MARVEL
Is your atomic ranch about to turn 60? Throw a cocktail party! Hide the iPod and put vinyl on the hi-fi. Food has to include Swedish meatballs and a hollowed-out pineapple on a canapé stand. (With fancy toothpicks, fasten jumbo shrimp, pitted black olives, and chunks of the fruit to the outside of the pineapple, and fill the well with horseradish-ketchup cocktail sauce.) Serve highballs — the Tom Collins was all the rage in the ’50s: gin, a teaspoon of fine sugar, a squirt of lemon juice, and club soda over ice in a tall glass. Don’t forget the maraschino cherry!
– Patricia Poore
Most likely, your house is older than you. But how old? In order to throw yourself and your home a proper shindig, you first need to do a little digging. Following are a few tips on how to best uncover your home’s true age from Demetra Aposporos of Old House Journal
and Patricia Poore of Old House Interiors.
ARCHITECTURAL RESEARCH TIPS
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
Your home’s paper trail — old newspaper clippings, home development advertisements, bills of sale, even letters to and from previous residents — can be a terrific source of information about original and changing architectural features. (Newspapers, for example, were once great social diaries, chronicling the building of, and subsequent modifications to, prominent houses.) Often, they’ll provide the perfect clues to carry out a winning restoration.
MAP IT OUT
— produced and annually updated for more than 100 years by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company — provided detailed drawings of every residential and commercial building in major U.S. population centers. Their renderings of a building’s footprint, height, roofing, windows, and more can be a great reference tool when architectural drawings are nonexistent. (Find them today at many university libraries, or online.)
LOOK FOR GHOSTS
Ghosts — the shadows of long-removed architectural elements — can linger both inside and outside the house on porches, gables, floors, ceiling junctures, archways, baseboards, and the like. Their distinctive imprints can be easily interpreted and copied, and have helped many a homeowner suss out, and exactly duplicate, what was once there.
BE STYLE SAVVY
Get educated on your house’s architectural style — and know what features typically accompany it — like a brass door knocker on a Colonial Revival, or one of hammered copper on a bungalow. It’s the first important step in your restoration arsenal, and can help you determine which elements belong there, and which were long-ago after-market “improvements” (like a late-Victorian streetlamp planted beside a Greek Revival porch, or pink linoleum counters in an Italianate kitchen).
SCOUR THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Seek out similar houses in your neighborhood. They can show you, by example, many of an era’s trends — like specific imbrication patterns (alternating courses of fancy-cut shingles) on Queen Annes, torchiere lights at the entry of Colonial Revivals, or arched board-and-batten entry doors (instead of big-box specials) on Tudors. Examples from the neighborhood can help fill in many missing architectural details on your home (from porches, balusters, and brackets to stained glass, roofing, and more).
DÉCOR RESEARCH TIPS
Through a deed search or neighborhood lore, you may know the name of earlier owners of your house. Look up that surname in your local phone book and drop a postcard to each listing, explaining your possible connection and asking for information about the house. You might just end up with a family photo taken in 1938 that clues you in on the long-lost chandelier or a plate rail since gone missing.
Interested in how previous residents furnished your house? Some clues are right there if you know how to “read” them. A floor that’s hardwood or parquet around the perimeter but fir in the center was meant to have a large area rug. Holes in header trim point to window treatments. Patches show where a stovepipe exited a wall. If the furnace room has a fancy door with colored glass and panels, it’s probably the house’s original front door, banished during modernization.
NO DECORATING CLUES?
Inspiration for exterior restoration comes from taking a look around the neighborhood. It’s unlikely, though, that many of your neighbors can help you furnish the interior with an eye to “what might have been.” Time to visit some house museums! Seek out houses of a similar style as yours, or from the same era, to see how curators have interpreted interior paint schemes, wallpapers, rugs, window treatments, and furniture. You’ll begin to see how Rococo furnishings and vivid colors complement an early Italianate house; how Mission furniture, burlap wainscot, and earth tones are perfect in a 1910 bungalow. Get a feel for proportion and precedent, even if you intend to do an updated or eclectic interior.
SLEUTHING BEFORE STRIPPING
Do you assume your painted woodwork has to be stripped to “restore it to original”? Maybe not! Much old woodwork and trim was painted from the start. Paint-grade wood is nothing special and doesn’t merit the mess and danger of stripping. Always do a sample area first. If you don’t find exemplary wood and joinery, or a telltale first layer of varnish or shellac, feel free to just clean and repaint.
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ
Surprise: Real houses don’t always look like the ones in magazines. That was as true in the 19th century as it is today. So when your decorating research says you should put three different wallpapers (dado, fill, frieze) in the dining room, consider that the advice was aimed toward urbanites in their lofty town houses. Your country house may have 7’6” ceilings! Its original owner, who bought paper and paint at the local hardware store, probably used just a border or a chair rail to add style to the walls. Decorate not just by era, but also for the house’s degree of formality.
My wife and I just got back from a trip to South America. Part of the time was spent in Peru in the heart of the Inca Empire. We traveled through the Sacred Valley visiting Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and, of course, Macchu Picchu. Being thoroughly awestruck is standard fare for such a visit, and we were. The drama, the spirituality, and the mystery of these places and what the Inca accomplished in about 100 years have no equal, at least in my experience.
But, being the practical guy that I am, what I could not stop thinking about was the quality of the architecture. Much has been made about how all these huge rocks were cut and placed with precision that doesn’t seem humanely possible. I still can’t get my head around it. And it is the end result that really tells the story. What Inca walls that were not purposefully destroyed by Conquistadors or Missionaries, or blown up by treasure hunters, remain in perfect or near perfect condition 500 years later. And this is in an area famous for its earthquakes. And, in what is most telling of all, the masonry walls built by the Europeans on top of the Inca walls have fallen down repeatedly!
Bringing me back to the point I want to make…
Perhaps using the Incan walls as the litmus test for durability is a bit extreme. But, in my view, the widespread acceptance and adoption of building materials that last for just a few years, or are simply unfit for use and guaranteed to fail in short order — think stick-on bath accessories — is equally extreme (and self-defeating and unsustainable to boot).
To wit: When wife Sue and I bought a run-down ranch 11 year ago, the prior owners had just “redone” the little farmhouse. New vinyl windows had been recently installed, probably bought at the local big box. So I thought to myself, we will just have to live with them for a while. They are crappy, won’t last much more than twenty years or so, and then we can replace them. But no…
Right away, seals started to fail, vinyl started to rip, screens were so flimsy that removing them and putting them back required more delicacy than I can muster. Here was a product that clearly wasn’t designed to last more than five years – perhaps 10 at the most before being ripped out and taken to the landfill. (And then back to the big box to buy more!) The left side of my brain doesn’t get it.
Buying a cheap pot for the kitchen because you can’t afford the quality one today may not be the right choice in the long run, but at least it is rationally defensible. But buying windows that won’t last more than 5 years? When it comes to remodeling, and things like windows that are so expensive and such a headache to repair and replace, choosing the cheap but poorly-made option is irrational. Certainly the explanation for such a self-defeating choice is the low price — and not really facing the reality of the expected life span.
But cheap designed-to-fail building materials are the norm today, sadly, and we are all poorer for it, in more ways than one. You, dear reader and customer, are probably somebody who already rejects that approach. Rejuvenation rejects that approach. Our roots in preservation and historic design are hopelessly intertwined with the idea and execution of Built to Last.
Investing in a sustainable, long-term approach to the built environment is not that different from resisting the temptation for cheap processed foods and replacing them with wholesome ones that are sustainably grown. It will pay over time; you and your home will be more attractive. It’s not easy, it involves investment and commitment. But the results, and the eventual payoff, are very nice. Just ask anyone who visits the Sacred Valley.
Holy Bat Light!
Adam West, the original Batman
Dan Dunn lives in Batman’s house. That is, he lives in the boyhood home of Adam West, Batman from the 1960s TV series. It’s a grand Federal Revival house in Walla, Walla Washington, and Mr. Dunn grew up across the street and bought the house as an adult. He renovated it to make it historically accurate, filled West’s old bedroom with photos of Batman and invited West over.
West did come over, and even signed the bedroom door: “Zap! Wow, the old bedroom!” Our Drake fixture in the foyer rounds out his homage. Says Mr. Dunn, “It’s on an articulated joint, and moves when you tap it. Kids love it — it’s great at Halloween.”
Dann Dunn's Bat Light, aka Drake
Justice For Bats!
When Duane and Cristene Justus bought their century-old farmhouse in Hauser Lake, Idaho, the owner assured them the bats were gone.
Fast forward several months. The Justuses are sitting in their yard with friends, counting bats as they fly out of the attic: “210, 211…they just kept coming,” says Ms. Justus. Turns out, their visitors are part of a little brown bat colony that’s come to that exact spot since the 1940s.
The couple agreed that while they didn’t really want them in the house, they didn’t want to exterminate them either. They turned to Bat Conservation International to learn how to be good hosts. “We sealed the attic and installed bat houses all around the property, but they still like to tuck up under the eaves, and near the chimney, and 50 will hang in one vent” says Mr. Justus. Their Sunset fixture serves as a sort of bat beacon, letting the bats know they’re welcome any time.
Which part of the country is spookiest?
The Bat Map
It’s no surprise that New England, home of the Headless Horseman, Salem Witch Trials, tragic shipwrecks, abandoned settlements, and haunted cemeteries, is the region where the largest number of our Drake and Sunset fixtures reside.
The popularity of our bat lights in sunny California is perhaps more surprising, though Hollywood has certainly has done its part to help Vampires everywhere feel just a little bit more popular.
But what’s the deal, Nebraska? Why no bats?
The view from the stage looking out at the audience.
Allen Moyer, Set Director for The Minister’s Wife, playing at Lincoln Center through June 12, 2011, knew that for this late-19th century play he needed not just a period-appropriate light, but one that had real stage presence. The Syracuse, part of our Neo-Grec family of fixtures, fit the bill.
MK: As a Set Designer, you obviously know a lot about interior design through the ages. Did you become interested in period lighting through your work in the theater?
AM: Actually, I first got really interested in 19th -century period lighting after my partner and I bought our 1859 Neo-Grec brick townhouse in Brooklyn. We decided that we would do our best to respect the period details that were intact, and to try to find appropriate, antique gasoliers, at least for the first floor parlors. After much study, searching and shopping we ended up with amazing stuff and enough knowledge about what is right and wrong. That gave me the confidence for me to ask for the impossible when I am designing a period interior.
MK: How did you come to choose the Syracuse for A Minister’s Wife?
AM: Actually, using the Syracuse is ever so slight of a cheat because the play takes place in London. There are certain periods when there’s a big difference between American and English lights, but this isn’t really one of them. The scale of this fixture was right for a stage, because a smaller chandelier wouldn’t have been noticeable enough. The lines are very Gothic, which was right for this play.
We adjusted the fixture a little bit – even though it’s big it needed to be bigger so it would really show up on stage. We put spacers in the center to space the arms — that added a total of 6 or 7 inches.
Syracuse with arm extensions, to accentuate its stage presence.
MK: We haven’t carried the Neo-Grec line for very long. A lot of people don’t really know about it, and they’re such cool fixtures.
AM: I was so surprised to see it when it came in the Rejuvenation catalogue. You just can’t find these anywhere. The finish on your Neo Grec family is so beautiful. Occasionally you’ll find them in antiques stores, but usually they’ve been stripped of their finish. Who wants to buy a 10,000 dollar light fixture that’s basically just white metal?
MK: Was the light actually used at all in the play, or was it just part of the set?
AM: We actually incorporated it into the play. In one scene the minister’s wife, Candida, spending the evening at home with the young poet while her husband is out. They sit in by the firelight the chandelier is on but not really glowing. It makes sense that when the husband comes home he would throw on the light, or in this case, turn up the gas. When we did the show in a theater outside of Chicago we had a kind of dimmer. I told the director that wasn’t historically accurate – there wouldn’t have been a wall switch. So we rewired the Syracuse so that each light lit separately.
On stage with the Syracuse
Now the scene is just great. The husband walks in, gets a tool like one that would have been used to turn up the gas, and goes to each arm one at a time and turns up the gas. Dramatically speaking, it ended up being a great moment — the master of the house takes all this time to turn on the light. It makes the scene so tense.
MK: What will happen to the Syracuse after The Minister’s Wife closes?
AM: Lincoln Center will put it in with their stock. That way future set designers working on a show can use it.
MK: What about Rejuvenation lighting at home?
AM: Actually, it’s part of my mission to get rid of bad period lighting. I’m always amazed — we live in this row of beautiful old townhouses with historically accurate everything and if you look inside they have the worst lights. But once people learn about period-authentic lighting they totally get it – you just have to show them.