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Archive for the ‘Antiques’ Category

The Pianist, The Painter, The Singer, The Statesman

Periodically, my mother’s interior design class toured Chicago area properties.

On one, day-long tour, they visited three luxury homes that set on Evanston’s high bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan.

One home featured fine examples of classic contemporary design: simple lines, solid colors, smooth finishes, subtle textures, geometric patterns, and sleek woods, tiles, glass, and chrome.

From its trimly landscaped and broadly sweeping circle driveway, to the double set of solid red lacquer front doors, to the nine-foot main hallway that trailed through the house, to the four glass doors at the rear, that overlooked the lake.

The sprawling, one-story structure suited its owners: a concert pianist and conductor, and his wife, an artist and author.

The music room stood out. Its two most striking amenities: the magnificent black lacquer Steinway concert piano and the 12-inch square, black and white marble tiles that covered the floor.

Features also included the following:

1. dome ceiling with a huge globular skylight;
2. solid black marble fireplace;
3. two walls lined with white-enameled bookcases, stuffed with books, bound volumes of sheet music, also wood and ivory artifacts;
4. couches and easy chairs upholstered in matching white-on-white striped damask.

All of the other sixteen rooms featured equally elegant, yet comfortable appointments. It was a home that clearly represented the personalities of the owners, and met their needs perfectly.

Shortly before the design school students’ visit, the owners had decided to retire in that house. And, they’d put their South Florida home up for sale.

Nearly twenty years after touring that home, my mother was led into the luxury apartment of a former opera star, Adeline Arrigo. Interestingly, she had performed with the concert pianist on philharmonic stages throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

Madame Arrigo resided on the second story of a red brick, three-story walk-up built in the early 1900s by her husband’s Sicilian family. The South Racine Avenue building, located on the southeast side of Chicago, set across the street from University of Illinois’s Chicago campus. And, the three-story building had five large apartments – all occupied by “Arrigos.”

The focal points of the two bedroom apartment were the portraits of Adeline and her husband, the late Victor Arrigo. On every wall, every shelf and every table top were representations of the owners famous lives. Adeline, the opera star. Victor, the Illinois statesman that drafted, then championed the Federal Fair Credit and Collection Act. (Note: A stronger version of the law is in effect today.)

The traditional apartment also featured:

1. 12-foot high, white-sponged stucco ceilings;
2. white plaster, also deep red painted, walls;
3. tall wood-paned windows in each of the eight rooms;
4. white marble, wood-burning fireplaces in three rooms;
5. crystal chandeliers;
6. lustrous hardwood floors; and,
7. large oriental area rugs depicting eighteenth century country scenes.

The apartment was appointed with elegant, yet comfortable seating in every room. In the living room: deep red velvet-upholstered sofas, and black leather fireside chairs. In the bedrooms: European-designed settees and chairs, covered in deeper pink or soft rose moiré. Plush velvet upholstery covered the dining room chairs. And hand-sewn satin, moiré, and crushed velvet pillows set on every piece of seating.

The two distinctive period homes – the sprawling contemporary house of the 1960s-1970s, and the large traditional apartment of the 1940s-1950s – provided a very similar peak into elegant yet understated living. In their respective spaces, the owners and residents had created environments that supported their need for creative thought, good taste, peace and contentment. All had surrounded themselves with meaningful symbols of who they were as persons. And, what they represented.

The Chicago area featured many architectural and design masterpieces. I never had the privilege to visit the residences described above. Yet, I have had the opportunity to work on many similar homes. In doing so, the greatest pleasure has been in meeting the unique persons that have lived there.

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Fine design deserves to be preserved with the hand of a fine painter-craftsperson.
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Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

Copyright 2017. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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Painting It: Restoring an Antique Finish

If you are looking to retain the value of an antique, do not restore the finish. Leave it as it is.

 

If the future dollar value doesn’t impress you, a new finish, if done properly, will revive an old and worn out look into a complete marvel. Just don’t take it to Antiques Roadshow.

 

Primarily, I recommend “refinishing” to those individuals who have no intention of selling or trading off their antiques. When a particular item is to remain in your home, its condition sould be of significant importance.

 

Too, you may be interested in restoring it to preserve the integrity of the piece.

 

In order to judge it properly, you will need to assess the exact needs of the object. Examine the following:

 

  1. Are there any structural repairs that need to be done? Examples: wood- veneer replacement, re-molding fabrication, joinery, etc.
  2. What is the condition of the hardware? Examples: glass, handles, knobs, hinges. Do they need replacement or reconditioning?
  3. Does it need a thorough cleaning? Recommended: Citrus type cleanser or mild detergent.
  4. What is the condition of the stained, clear-finished surface? Is there an uneven stain pattern? Are there defects in the clear coat (crazing, alligatoring, cracking, etc.)?

 

METHODS OF ANTIQUE SURFACE RE-FINISHING

 

You can remove aged or failed finishes in one of two ways:

  1. Dry sand surface, using # 80-#120 grit sandpaper, depending on the roughness of surface.
  2. Apply varnish remover to loosen all layers of finish. Key here: Treat the surface gently. Try not to scratch the wood at all, or too deeply.

 

BASIC STEPS FOR REFINISHING AN ANTIQUE SURFACE

 

  1. Clean the surface. Use lacquer thinner, or another high evaporating type solvent. Let this dry thoroughly.
  2. Determine the color of stain that you wish to use. Based on the lightness of the stain, you may have to bleach the wood so that the new product can penetrate the surface evenly.
  3. When the surface is dry, apply stain using a two-coat application with a rag and/or sponge. Let dry between coats.
  4. After 24 hours, apply multiple, thin coats of sanding sealer or shellac using spray method. Sand surface between coats, and use tack cloth.
  5. Select either a solvent-based varnish or polyurethane, or an acrylic clear coat as a top coat.
  6. Apply several finish coats by using an HVLP spray system. Lightly sand between each coat. At this point, you can use either a # 400 grit sandpaper, or emery cloth.
  7. After the surface has cured 48 hours, you may apply a polish or wax, specifically designed for wood.

 

In refinishing quality antique pieces, try to prevent scratching the wood surface. The general idea is to remove as little of the existing finish as is necessary. TIP: If a stain color change is planned, the bare wood tone after stripping must be as uniform as possible.

 

Also, by selecting a matte varnish or polyurethane finish, you will be able to camouflage any minor imperfections in the wood.

 

As a form of Nuveau furniture design, separate pieces of wood can be finished with completely different colors of stain and finish. Few people try this. But, the end result exceeds all others. It is highly decorative. And, it has similarities to the Folk Art style.

 

Finally, if you want to retain the full retail value on the antique market, don’t do anything to the piece, other than clean it. And do that very carefully!

 

Final notes: As I’ve learned, each antique piece presents its unique set of signs that it should not be refinished. Each piece presents its unique set of challenges to the person that will be refinishing and/or restoring the piece’s integrity. It is always wise to listen to both messages.

 

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Wise is the painter/finisher who respects the true, and deeper, character of each antique piece.

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Thank you for each visit that you’ve made to “Painting with Bob.”

Copyright 2017. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

A True Antique Story: Pub Back Bars and Front Bars

Greek immigrant and saloon owner, Mr. Bates, owned the largest, l-shaped parcel of land that surrounded our wooded property. On the land set a gold mine of Sothby’s-quality antiques.

 

Some pieces set inside and under the vacant, dilapidated cabin in the dense woods adjoining ours. Some were hidden inside the tunnel of an underground bomb cavern.

 

Most of the antiques were crammed into the two huge boxcars. Both set in an untilled field, camouflaged by a dense overgrowth. Located less than one thousand feet from our fence line.

 

The cabin site housed dozens of wooden cigar boxes. They were filled with old currency from the U. S., Greece, British Isles, etc. Some boxes were stuffed with matured U. S. Savings Bonds – over one hundred of them.

 

Ceramic, porcelain and earthenware dishes, pots, pitchers, vases, and trays set on the floors in both rooms. Also, many old pieces of flatware: sterling silver, silver-plated, gold-plated.

 

Old saloon and bar furnishings filled the boxcars. That included three complete bar sets; fixtures, mirrors, picture frames, wall mural panels, etc. Also china, crystal, glassware, and cooking accessories.

 

One boxcar contained eight or nine rolled up imported oriental rugs. And, over six wooden crates of fine tapestry.

 

The other one housed two complete front and back bar systems. Both were constructed of rich, solid mahogany, and similar in design. Each back bar measured at least 21 feet in length, and 17 feet in height.

 

The Back Bars featured inset twin beveled mirrors, fluted columns, intricate relief carvings, and built-in drawers. Also, small cupboards and three glass cases. Both were appointed with brass trim, hardware and railings. One unit included built-in steps to reach those higher areas.

 

The Front Bars of both sets featured a brass beer drain board and a polished counter top. And, each included brass boot rests/bars.

 

Over the years, the heavy key locks on each boxcar were broken or cut off repeatedly by thieves, or “snoops.” Little was ever taken. Perhaps because most of the pieces were so cumbersome. And unusable somewhere other than inside a bar or pub. Or, a huge residence, or museum.

 

At some point, the attorney for the elderly property owner engaged our closest neighbor and us to keep a close eye on the property. And, its contents. We were “enlisted” to watch out for all trespassers. (A little more about that follows.)

 

The hardest part of that job was spotting the intruders that snuck onto the wooded section. First, they had to slip or sneak through our woods. And, the entire wooded area was unusually dense, even in the winter. Also, hunters wandered – trespassed – onto the back of our property, then onto the neighbors.

 

Another problem: Some of the intruders were the grown nephews and families of old Mr. Bates. And, reliable sources had informed us that the three nephews eagerly awaited their inheritances.

 

But, a funny thing happened as their greed grew. The owner set up an interesting system of trusts for his entire, massive estate.

 

The nephews would receive access to the estate only after the youngest child of any nephew reached eighteen. And, at the time of the owner’s death, the youngest child in the group was under age one.

 

By the time Mr. Bates said his earthly goodbyes, his attorney faced a much easier job of settling the estate.

 

The elderly owner had already sold off most of his real estate in town, including the saloon. Nearly all of the antiques had been lifted from the boxcars. The cabin and underground cavern had been looted, and fallen apart from gross neglect. (Too, the most forceful nephew had died of a heart attack.)

 

Even at the end, our family possessed special access to the Bates tales. From school days, my father knew the attorney. And, my mother and the attorney’s wife belonged to the same philanthropic sorority, Tri Kappa.

 

Still, I was not prepared for the trivia that hit my e-mail Inbox last week. One of the “authorized looters” of those boxcars was a young Greek bar owner in South Florida. The furnishings that he had lifted were shipped to Florida, and set into his family’s pub in the early 1990s.

 

Today, that pub is owned and operated by his two Baby Boomer sons, and their adult children.

 

Thanks, Mr. Bates. What a fantastic idea for the plot of a mystery novel!

 

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Own your day, and value its contents.  rdh

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Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

 

Copyright 2016. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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