Illumination at the Lighting Showroom

Light imitates art.
Light imitates art.

So we bought this old house in Providence, as you know already if you have been reading this blog.  It’s in fairly good shape: quite comfortable inside, has a new kitchen, central air conditioning, and acceptable plumbing.  There is ample opportunity, however, for updating some of the rooms to make them a bit brighter and more appealing.

We have plenty of windows, but could use some better interior lighting.  We thought we’d start by getting a new chandelier for the dining room, and also add some recessed lights and a ceiling fixture to the living room.  This should give us a lovely layering of light throughout the downstairs.  Our electrician agrees, and can install these lights for us, but after inspecting the house he gave us the bad news that he needs to replace our overloaded breaker box and much of our wiring.  Although we had hoped to hear that our wiring is safe, efficient and ready for any kind of demand, the news was not entirely unexpected.  (Kind of like how I always hope my doctor will say, “You are in great shape, and you can eat ice cream more and exercise less.”  And he actually says, “You should get a colonoscopy.”)

Since we have to get that electrical stuff done, we figured we’d go ahead and replace all of the lighting fixtures throughout the house that we don’t like, i.e., most of them.  We went to the lighting showroom with a list of the rooms that we want to transform into clean, well-lighted places.  Our very helpful sales rep, Mark, let us wander around the showroom gazing up at lights for a while.  Then he listened patiently to our rambling and not-always-coinciding descriptions of the types of lighting fixtures we like, explained about LED vs. incandescent lighting, and brought out catalogs for the three of us to page through.

For our foyer, Jeff and I both liked a pendant light from Hinkley called “Mondrian”.  It’s interesting but not too dramatic, a composition of clear and semi-opaque glass rectangles and squares fitted into a metal box frame.  Here’s an advertising photo of a hipster couple lounging under two Mondrian lights.

Extreme coolness
Extreme coolness

I jotted down the name, and we continued looking at other options.  After a while Jeff said, “I think I like that Mandarin light the best.”  I said, “It’s Mondrian.”  Mark said, “Do you want me to look up the model number for the Mandarin light?”  I said, “Yes, but it’s Mondrian, not Mandarin.”  Jeff said, “I thought it was Mandarin.”  Mark said, “Yeah, it’s Mandarin, like the chicken.”  I said, “No, it’s M O N D R I A N, you know, like Piet Mondrian, the artist?”  Blank stares.  “C’mon guys, Mondrian, the painter who did those abstract paintings with colorful rectangles and squares.”  More blank stares.  I searched using my phone and brought up a couple of images to show them.  Jeff said, “Oh yeah, that looks familiar.”  Mark shook his head, and called out to another sales rep, “Hey Billy, come over here and look at this.”  Then, “You ever see anything like this, what’s it, not Mandarin but something else?”  I said, “It’s Mondrian.”  “Nope, never seen anything like that,” Billy replied after looking at the images displayed on my phone.  “But we don’t get out much around here!”

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue
Piet Mondrian: Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue

We had a good laugh, then finished selecting the rest of our lights.  As we were getting ready to leave, Mark said, “You guys are funny.  You should come here more often.  And I learned something about art today!”  As we were driving home, Jeff said, “That Monderan light is going to look great in our foyer.”  And I, ever the straight man, said, “It’s Mondrian.”

Our current chandelier: shabby chic or just shabby?
Our current chandelier: shabby chic or just shabby?
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Remodeling Blues

My very blue bathroom
My very blue bathroom

Our ‘new’ old house in Providence RI has a very blue bathroom.  I never planned to have a bathroom with blue fixtures, but the color scheme is familiar.  Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I spent time in blue, green, pink and even red bathrooms at the homes of friends and relatives.  Although my family’s home had beige bathrooms, my mom decorated with cheerful colors in other parts of the house.  I remember orange shag carpeting in our family room, leaf-green trellis patterned wallpaper in the hall, and climbing strawberry vines on the dinette walls and seat cushions.

Fast-forward to 2016, past my previous suburban home in Bethlehem PA with its quiet beige and pale gray bathrooms.  I now own a bathroom with two blue sinks, a large blue corner tub, and blue wallpaper with a tiny red and green flower print.  A merciful previous owner tiled the floor and two of the walls with shiny white ceramic, painted the window, door and baseboards white, and hung white Roman shades.  Other than that, all is blue.

Not just any blue, either.  According to our plumber Angelo, this is “Regency Blue”, a color used by American Standard in the 40’s and 50’s.  Angelo was here last week to solve some plumbing problems, probably the first of many such visits.  When he walked into the bathroom he said, “Wow, look at this!”  He told us the color name, and said that he still sees some of it around the neighborhood.  “You used to be able to get the matching Regency Blue toilet, but unfortunately you can’t get those any more.”  So unfortunate, I thought.

Before moving into the house, Jeff and I commented to each other a few times, “That blue bathroom has to go.”  We continued feeling that way for the first few days we were in the house.  Then we started saying things like, “It’s really kind of quirky.”  And, “The blue is pretty, especially with the white tile and trim.”  And, “That wallpaper actually works in this bathroom.”

I did some research on vintage blue bathrooms.  Here’s an image from a 1957 American Standard catalog showing a Regency Blue bathroom, featuring the unfortunately now-unavailable matching blue toilet in the foreground.

1957 Regency Blue bathroom
1957 Regency Blue bathroom

Five years later, the 1962 American Standard catalog shows Regency Blue fixtures complemented with purple accessories, to prove that it “harmonizes with almost any color!”

1962 Regency Blue bathroom
1962 Regency Blue bathroom

Harmony or discord?  I think I prefer my blue surrounded by clean bright white.

However, the lady shown in the advertisement below is having a lot of fun in her blue Cinderella tub, so maybe yellow and pink are the accessory colors to pick.  Or maybe she’s just happy that the day’s housework is finished and the casserole is in the oven.

Cinderella tub advertisement
Cinderella tub advertisement

I’m not sure yet what the future holds for my blue bathroom.  Its vintage look has charmed me, and my attitude about tearing out and replacing things is changing.  My friend Sandy G told me, “If someone GAVE me a NEW house, for free, I would sell it and buy an old house with character.”  Another friend, Ellen J, who has lived in and renovated many old houses, sums it up nicely, “An old house is like a person.  You don’t necessarily want to impose your will on it.  Let it speak to you.”  Wise words.  I am listening.