The office overlooked South Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan. It was located on the fourteenth floor of the historic sixteen-floor Conservatory of Music Building. And, it came as part of the package agreement for the woman to manage the literary services division of Cosmopolitan Translation Bureau (CTB).
At first glance, it appeared that the view was the space’s only asset. The 15-foot by 42-foot open space featured very tall, unobstructed windows; a 15-foot high, discolored white ceiling; faded light green walls; chipped wood molding and wainscoting; and, badly scuffed green asbestos tiled flooring.
Discarded, outdated office furniture crammed the space. Every piece showed signs of extreme wear. Bulky steel, also antique wood, desks, chairs, file cabinets, and bookcases. Hidden behind and under some of the clutter were two leather sofas, fireside chairs, and two large upholstered arm chairs.
Before the work could start, the space had to be emptied. Most of the furniture was sold, or donated to smaller tenants on other floors of the building. Also, the building’s janitorial crew went in and thoroughly swept, cleaned and mopped the floor to get rid of built-up dust, dirt, sticky substances, etc.
PAINTING IT: CTB’s founder Professor Steen hired my father to re-paint the space. Four Saturdays, he drove into the Loop. He supervised the painting and decorating of the office. It turned into a modified restoration.
My father’s “crew” consisted of (1) Armando, CTB’s senior translator and an Encyclopaedia Britannica consultant; (2) Ed, CTB’s resident security officer and delivery/pick-up person; and, (3) me, the “go-for.” (I was ten.)
The project was divided into four Saturdays, and ten phases. Each work day ended with a clean-up of the area. All products, supplies, tools, etc., that would not be used again on the project, were packed up, and removed from the space.
SATURDAY No. 1
- AM. Cleaning and washing: Ceiling, walls; doors, windows, frames, sills; molding, wainscoting, dado, baseboard; fixtures.
Products used: Degreaser in warm sudsy water; vinegar in warm clear water.
- PM. Prep work: Spot patching, caulking, filling; two light, gentle sandings.
Products used: Restoration fillers, shellac stopping (eg. wax fillers), animal glue (for wood repairs), extra fine sandpaper (320 grit to 400 grit).
* End-of-day Clean-up. During the following week, the building’s janitorial crew went into the work area. They vacuumed, then mopped the tile floor again.
SATURDAY No. 2
- AM. Priming: All surfaces, previously painted.
Products used: Painted surfaces – custom-composition, thinned paint blend, developed by my father. Note: In the paint can, the product looked nearly clear. It went on like a white watercolor. By the way, commercial products were too costly.
- PM. Staining/sealing: Wood doors and frames, window frames and sills.
Product used: Special stain (formulated in 1887) used for furniture restoration; also large or built-in wood amenities. My father “thinned” the product using a formulation used by restorers with the Museum of Natural History.
Color: Edgewood Walnut.
* End-of-Day Clean-Up. Then, area was sealed off till Saturday 3.
SATURDAY No. 3
- AM. Light sanding and buffing: All surfaces, except ceiling.
Product used: Sheets of finest grades sandpaper (gotten through friend at Museum of Natural History), attached to sanding block on extension poles. Note: Very labor intensive; required very controlled light touch.
- AM. Surface dusting: All surfaces and areas.
Product used: Clean, very soft cotton t-shirt fabric. (My mother purchased a bolt from fabric store.)
- PM. Finish painting: Ceiling, walls.
Products used: Ceilings – Antique white; walls – Mint green.
* End-of-Day Clean-Up. Then, area was sealed off till Saturday 4.
SATURDAY No. 4
- AM. Finish painting: All molding, trims, wainscoting, dado, baseboard.
Products used: Sherwin Williams Antique white, special blend, semi-gloss; artists brushes, ½ to 2-inch brushes.
- PM. Finishing varnishing: Doors, frames; window frames, sills.
Products used: Clear, low-gloss varnish; polishing mop (brushes).
- PM. Painting and decorating clean-up.
Much of the clean-up had been done on Saturdays 1, 2 and 3 after each work day. Still, the final clean-up took time – and special care.
The varnish was still drying. And, some of the trim paint was “sticky.” So, we had to watch that we didn’t kick up any particles (eg. dust), or touch any of those wet surfaces.
On-site tool and equipment cleaning was kept to a minimum. Used paint and varnish brushes were wiped off with clean cotton rags. Then, they were placed into their respective wet-solution carriers. Paint and varnish cans were wiped clean, and sealed tightly. Materials, supplies, tools, and equipment were packed up, and placed on carts in the hallway. Dropcloths were folded carefully and also put onto the carts.
One week later: Moving Day!
The following Friday, A&S’s managing editor moved into the office space. Already in place were the furniture pieces that had been rejuvenated or restored by the furniture crew.
The pieces included one leather sofa (forest green), one arm chair (dark green slipcover with white piping), both leather fireside chairs (black), three wood desks with pull-out typewriter shelves (mahogany-stained oak), three swivel office chairs (repaired by Ed), two smaller bookcases (mahogany finish), two floor lamps (circa 1950s), and, two table lamps (one of them a Tiffany, retrieved from an unused office next door).
Two faded 12-foot by 12-foot oriental area rugs appeared one week later. Professor Steen sent Ed out to purchase a solid area rug (dark green) for the narrower entry area. Ed donated a wood-trimmed upholstered settee from his apartment on the 16th floor.
Over seven years later: Law firm moves in!
The space kept its restored look for over seven years. At one point, Professor Steen sub-leased the space to a young law firm. By that time, he needed to retire. And, A&S had been merged into a full-service communications firm, located two blocks north.
The law partners turned the space into a modular-type office suite. They maintained the restored ceiling, walls and trim. Plush wall-to-wall carpeting – a soft blue-green – was laid throughout the space. Then, they used a custom, wood-grained paneling wall system to create four lawyer’s offices – two with that Lake Michigan view. A secretary’s office and front reception set near the front entry.
The “million dollar view” from those tall, tall windows was preserved. The open window treatments featured dark green velvet tie-back drapes, with matching cornices and tie-backs.
Final note: Eventually, the building owners (Conservatory’s board) invested in the total restoration of the historic property.
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This blog is dedicated to my father – and to the historic Conservatory of Music building, South Michigan Avenue, Chicago.
Thanks, everyone, for visiting “Painting with Bob.”