Perfect Approach to Restoration is Imperfection
By: Rose Bennett Gilbert
Q: We are redoing the kitchen in our 19th-century brownstone. We took down the wall between the kitchen and breakfast room, but now we are worried that we’ve spoiled the character of the old house. What kind of cabinets and fixtures should we put in to be true to the time period?
A: Restoring a vintage home authentically requires painstaking research and careful editing of materials. Sure, the rest of us old-house lovers rejoice when new owners are willing to spend the time and money to recreate the right historic attitude.
Easy for us; it’s not our time and money. Wonderful for the country: You’re helping protect our architectural heritage. Challenging for homeowners, who may be facing such an undertaking for the first time. To quote an intrepid friend, who came up delighted but dazzled from a “six-week” renovation that took nearly three years: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I am never doing that again!”
But I don’t mean to discourage you. There’s a rainbow of rewards at the end of your project. And getting there may indeed be half the fun — especially if you have a wise guide like New York designer Kathryn Scott, whose design studio helped the homeowners turn back the calendar for the pictured handsome brownstone.
Built in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., in 1864, the house boasted elegant features like ornate plasterwork ceilings. But it had been built to serve family life as it was lived nearly a century-and-a-half ago. Today’s lifestyle calls for open spaces and easy communication between them. So, the designer joined the work and eating areas, keeping the original fireplace and plasterwork.
She designed the new space to look like a library, Scott says, using age-appropriate materials, such as walnut cabinet fronts and restoration glass (waves and bubbles) for the sliding doors. The kitchen ceiling had been dropped during an earlier “updating,” so she also brought in a plaster master to recreate the ornate overhead by copying the original ceiling over the staircase.
Another way to make the new feel old: Find hardware with an antique finish. “Not lacquered,” she insists. “You want the finish to wear off slowly, just like the real thing. Hardware should change with time and take on a life of its own.”
The keyword is “character,” Scott says. “You don’t want to be perfect.” That is not always an easy concept for her clients to accept, the designer confides. “It often takes agonizing on the clients part before they can see that imperfections add character and are more beautiful and interesting.”
See more of Scott’s work at www.kathrynscott.com.
Q: What’s hot in August for homes?
A: Stalking the news last week in the aisles of the NYIGF (New York International Gift Fair), it was easy to see the BIG picture about trends. We mean that literally. Size matters if you love leading-edge decor. Gigantism is in.
For example, art studios are cutting up and individually framing huge works like flower paintings and maps. Think “Gestalt art.” You hang the separate pieces, frames almost touching, to create a decorative whole that may cover from wall to wall.
An Ohio company called Studio Vertu (www.studiovertu.com) offers the ultimate giant wall rack: aluminum keys and baby pins that are 3 feet long.
For the grandest Dutch treat in town, check out Dutch Touch of Litchfield, Conn. (www.dutchtouchart.com). The innovative owners have created a modern “guild” of artists who hand-copy, say, masterpieces by van Dyke on canvases 5 feet wide and more than 8 feet tall.
Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of “Manhattan Style” and six other books on interior design. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at creators.com.
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