Let’s Twist Again

“I despise that chair. Take it out of my sight!”  These words spilled from a haughty antiques dealer’s lips over 30 years ago; the fateful day that I purchased my favorite chair and fell hopelessly in love with Old World craftsmanship.

 

antique chair

Gothic Revival Chair with Barley Twists

 

I remember browsing in an antiques shop on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island.  The curated wares were close to museum quality and sported price tags with numerals that resembled my last college tuition bill.  I don’t recall what that dealer looked like.  However, I do remember that she was well rehearsed at ignoring unqualified buyers like myself.

 

shops

Shops on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, RI.  The antiques shop where I bought the chair closed many years ago.

 

To spare each of us further embarrassment, I planned my quick escape.  As I reached for the door knob, a Gothic Revival chair in a state of serious disrepair stopped me in my tracks.  When I admired the graceful anatomy of the barley twist legs, I couldn’t help but mutter aloud, “I love this chair.”  That’s the moment Madame Dealer perked up and made her infamous proclamation. To which I replied, “Please let me pay you something, anything.”  She chortled, “Fine.  Give me 20 bucks.”  Soon I was nudging that barley twist chair into the open hatchback of my Mercury Lynx. I pulled away from the curb that afternoon feeling euphoric.

Father-Daughter Dance

There was one thing my father loved more than restoring furniture.  And that was teaching others how to restore furniture.  With great ceremony, I brought the chair home to Lynnfield, Massachusetts. Dad met me in the driveway and gently pulled the chair from the car. His compassionate gesture reminded me of an EMT pulling a patient from an ambulance.  He set the chair down on the lawn and carefully examined every inch of torn embroidered upholstery, bulging copper springs, and stray pieces of loosened fretwork.  “Prognosis?” I asked.   He looked over his eyeglasses and said, “This is a great chair. We can fix it.”

tools

That weekend I received a crash course in the art of furniture repair. There were spirited discussions about linseed oil, turpentine, triple zero steel wool, wood glue, clamps, batting, jute, staple guns and gimp. There was a blissful excursion to the hardware store to find a hammer with a magnetic end to hold tacks.  And there was a mandatory hunt through the remnant section at the rear of a local fabric store.  “Whenever you reupholster a chair, always check the remnants first,” Dad said.  When I reloaded the born-again barley twist chair sporting an ivory damask fabric into my car on Sunday evening, I thought to myself, “Who uses the word despise?”

twist chair

Through the years, the barley twist chair has always occupied a place of honor in our home.  The upholstery has changed with decorating trends.  Today it dons a precious fragment of 60-year old Egyptian cotton that previously enjoyed life as a jib on a vessel that sailed along the Chesapeake Bay.

Twist of Fate

All these years later, we are restoring Restmere. While delving into this home’s extraordinary history, we learned that when Adolph Audrain lived here during the early 20th century, most rooms were decorated with Gothic Revival furniture that he purchased in France.  When Prohibition prompted Audrain to move to France, he sold Restmere and all of his furnishings.  Maybe the barley twist chair was among the collection and has returned home to Restmere?  Who knows? As a nod to Audrain, the barley twist chair presides on the stair landing beneath a stained-glass window depicting a knight.

overall stained glass

 

A Worthy Companion

On a recent visit to our favorite antiques store in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, we found a hall table with barley twist legs, brass claw feet, and four brass griffins that support a shelf.  The price tag attributed the table to furniture maker George Hunzinger.  But we think the table may have been made by the Merklen Brothers.

Restmere Entry Hall.jpg

 

 

table 3table 2.jpgNeedless to say, the chair and hall table stir a great deal of curiosity.  We are still trying to learn more about barley twist furniture made during the Victorian period.  All information is welcome.

In the meantime, here is what we know…..

Barley Twist Furniture History 

Although barley twist conjures image of sugar candy, the classical sculptural form applies to architecture, sculpture and furniture. Here is a blog that does a wonderful job detailing the  History

Historians believe that hand-carved barley twists legs have Spanish, Portuguese and Moorish origins. Barley twists became a popular design element during the Jacobean period from 1603-1688.  In the 18th century English craftsman learned to use a lathe to create the intricate twist and soon William & Mary chairs, chests and tables featured a variety of open, closed and double spirals.

 

jacobean barley twist

Jacobean Style Chair

william and mary

William & Mary Bench

 

Barley twists experienced a revival during the Victorian period from 1830-1890.  American furniture makers including the Stickley Brothers, George Hunzinger and the Merklen Brothers were producing chairs, tables, beds, mirrors, and clocks with barley twists crafted from walnut, mahogany, and oak.

 

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Merklen Brothers Table

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Stickley Brothers Chair

 

Today variations on the barley twist furniture continue to serve as statement pieces.  Whether newly constructed or crafted a century ago, I hope that you will add a piece of barley twist furniture to your home.

new chair


Let There Be Light

Friends always say, “Be sure to take pictures of the project” or “Make sure you blog about the process.”  Truth-be-told, rejuvenating a historic home grabs ahold of your time, energy and money.  Even though we truly love this extraordinary journey, seldom do we place the word spare before any of those three previously mentioned words.  When the dust settles, like many restoration-minded souls, we wholeheartedly believe that Rejuvenation = Happiness.

exterior

I appreciate your patience and interest in Restmere. Should you become restless while waiting for the next post, I hope you’ll visit another restoration blog….one that’s on a more impressive scale than Restmere:  www.chateaugudanes.com  Restoring this French Chateau will certainly inspire your creative spirits!

Every day we uncover more fascinating history about Restmere. For example, we recently learned that Edith Wharton (my favorite author) was related to the original owners and visited the home.

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Work continues at Restmere. We are remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms. Every click of a nail gun and buzz of a power saw is music to our ears.  The distinct melody of progress.

Lighting the Way

dragon-light

Before this phase, we restored, relocated and reinstalled several antique light fixtures that were found in the home.  When architects Richard Upjohn and Richard Morris Hunt designed Restmere in 1857, they planned for gas lighting fixtures.  While repairing ceilings and plaster over the summer, we discovered original gas fittings for chandeliers and sconces throughout the entire house. Unfortunately, none of the original fixtures remained, so we can only imagine what type of lighting originally defined the Van Rensselaer’s décor.

Since the advent of electricity, a succession of light fixtures were installed in Restmere.  Some were very good.  And some were not so good.  The provenances ranged from stunning antique French crystal chandeliers to big box store clearance bin flush mounted lights and ceiling fans.

dr-chandelier

Taking Stock

To make sense of the lighting, we began by creating an inventory of all the fixtures in the home. Next we decided which fixtures were worth rescuing and which fixtures warranted a quiet burial in the dumpster. An old newspaper article given to us by a neighbor provided some important clues.

article

We now believe that Adolph Audrain introduced French lighting to the home when he resided here in the early 20th century. We think his collection included a bronze chandelier with dragons and glass shades, a pair of bronze sconces with winged mermaids, four gilded sconces with hand blown glass candle covers, a ten-arm crystal chandelier, and a gilt bronze chandelier with a crystal bowl shaped design.

dragon-detail

Oddly enough, some of these fixtures seemed as though they had been moved to other rooms by various homeowners after Audrain move to France.  For example, the Gothic dragon chandelier was hanging in the dining room, when it seemed more appropriate for the library with a Medieval carved limestone mantel.  And the elegant crystal chandelier and mermaid sconces seemed to have been relegated to a spare bedroom on the second floor when they could’ve really made a statement in the formal dining room.

dr-sconce-2

lr-sconce

To map out a lighting plan, we studied each room and determined which antique fixture would suit the space best. We kept saying, “What would have Audrain done?” Our plan may have driven our electricians crazy.  I recall them ascending ladders to closely examine the fixtures and wiring, then descending the ladders muttering the same two words to themselves over and over again, “Horror show, horror show.”

Here’s the great light shuffling plan:

  1. Move dragon chandelier from dining room to library. Remove ceiling fan.  Center dragon chandelier in front of the Medieval fireplace.
  2. Move crystal chandelier and sconces from spare bedroom to dining room.
  3. Move crystal chandelier in living room three feet so the fixture can be centered on the fireplace.

Before any fixture could be relocated and reinstalled, Tom Powers of Genuine Antique Lighting in Boston had to restore the fixtures, which entailed repairs to decorative details and rewiring. To avoid becoming ensnared in traffic on the Southeast Expressway Tom came up with an interesting plan.  We would leave a fixture on the front porch before retiring to sleep.  He would depart Boston at 1 a.m., arrive at Restmere at 2 a.m. and return to Boston with the fixture.  A few weeks later Tom would return the restored fixture to our porch at 2 a.m.  Many may argue which nocturnal creature makes a more beautiful sound on a summer evening. Is it a hooting owl or could it be a chirping Cicada?  For me, there is nothing more lovely than the sound of tinkling crystals being gently set beside a wicker porch chair.

lr-chandelier

After the antique fixtures were restored, we turned to Tom to help us find more period lighting to replace the budget-friendly modern lights we removed from the house.

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He suggested this circa 1870s gas fixture that had been modified for electricity for the entry hall.

slag-light

He recommended this circa 1900 slag glass fixture for the library.

kitchen-pendant

He thought three of these vintage pendants would make a statement suspended above the island in the kitchen.

Don’t Forget the Switches

switch

The light switches were another design element that we had to consider.  When we bought the house, we were charmed by the vintage mother-of-pearl button switches that adorned many of the rooms.  Push the top button, the light turns on.  Push the bottom button, the light turns off.  Sadly, the switches did not meet code.  Good news though, the House of Antique Hardware  sells push button switches in a wide variety of styles and finishes.  Additionally, the switches come with a dimmer.  Sign up for email notices and you will receive promo codes for a 15% percent discount.  This certainly adds up when you need to purchase many switches.

Lighting is such an important design element that really requires some careful planning to create the perfect ambient and task lighting.  Also, for the safest results, always work with electricians and experienced restorers.

Stay tuned to see pictures of the new kitchen.

 


A New Chapter for Homes of the Brave

Reports of Demolition are Greatly Exaggerated

downing

Perhaps Mark Twain would have appreciated Restmere’s mistaken fate. When Antoinette Downing and Vincent Scully wrote “The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island” in 1952 they listed Restmere as being demolished.  Just like Twain, reports of a demise were an exaggeration.

exaggeration2

Architect John Grosvenor and I recently purchased Restmere and have embarked on our next rejuvenation project. Each day we uncover clues about the Italianate and Stick Style house built along Beachview Avenue (now named Miantonomi Ave.) in Middletown, Rhode Island in 1857. The many notable figures and events associated with Restmere are truly fascinating and we look forward to sharing details with you in the coming months.

restmere

In the Beginning

Historic

Architects Richard Upjohn and Richard Morris Hunt collaborated on the design. The house was originally built for Hunt’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Howland Van Rensselaer.  The neighboring estate designed by Upjohn was built the previous year for Hunt’s other sister-in-law, Mrs. Howland Hoppin.  The twin estates shared ten acres of park-like grounds. J. Weidenmann showcased the estates in his book “Beautifying Country Homes” published in 1870.

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The Audrain Years

Audrain Building Ben Jacobsen Photo.jpg(Ben Jacobsen Photo)

In the early 1900s Restmere was sold to Adolphe L. Audrain. Audrain was an art and antiques dealer who commissioned Bruce Price to design the Audrain Building in 1903.  The commercial building represents one of four Gilded Age buildings that form an architecturally significant block on Bellevue Avenue. The adjoining buildings include Travers Block designed by Richard Morris Hunt; Newport Casino designed by McKim, Mead, and White; and King Block designed by Perkins and Betton.

Price drew inspiration from the Renaissance to create an iconic two-story edifice defined by broad arched windows that rise through both stories and a roofline distinguished by a terra-cotta balustrade with lion sculptures. The building is faced in red brick with jewel toned terra cotta trim. Street-level terra-cotta ornamentation is relatively restrained but increases at the arched second floor windows and cornice. The first floor was originally designed to feature six retail shops and the second floor accommodated 11 offices.

Coincidences Mean You are on the Right Path

John Grosvenor led the design team at Northeast Collaborative Architects that restored the Audrain Building in 2014.

Oddly enough, John and I recently learned that Audrain lived at Restmere for about 18 years. Audrain expanded the home by adding bay windows in the library and a second story bedroom.  He also introduced central heat, indoor plumbing and electricity.  Many of his chandeliers and sconces remain in the home.  Audrain added stained glass windows to the stair landing and bathrooms and an exceptional hand-carved limestone mantel to the library.

overall stained glass(Andrea Hansen Photo)

living room(Andrea Hansen Photo)

limestone mantel(Andrea Hansen Photo)

During Prohibition, Audrain sold Restmere and moved to France. He was quoted in numerous newspapers in September, 1920 as saying, “I am driven out of this country. When the American people regain common sense, which will be in about six years, I will come again to reside.”

United States Navy Connection

Audrain sold Restmere to Rear Admiral William H. Howard. Howard sold Restmere to Admiral Kalbfus.  In the early 1950s, a real estate developer bought Restmere and subdivided the remains of the five-acre estate into small lots where modest ranch houses would be built.  Restmere was slated for demolition until the Myer family persuaded the developer to sell the house to them. Fortunately, he did.

Did Bob Dylan Sleep Here?

 record

Another interesting chapter of Restmere’s history took place in 1964 when George Wein rented the house to accommodate Folk Festival musicians. According to urban legend, Bob Dylan, Joan Biaz, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and other folk artists jammed on the porch and recorded an album. The album cover features a photograph of the musicians gathered on Restmere’s front porch.

In 2005, The Myer family sold the house to Howard and Shirley Schiff. The Schiffs were tremendous stewards and managed to keep many of Restmere’s original architectural elements intact, while upgrading mechanical systems, restoring the porch, and painting the exterior.

An Architectural Gem

 main entry(Andrea Hansen Photo)

We certainly inherited a treasure. Our rejuvenation plan includes restoring the flooring, painting the interior spaces, re-wiring the historic light fixtures, and renovating the kitchen and bathrooms.  We also plan to reimage the landscaping to feature a private enclosed garden with walking paths.

knocker(Andrea Hansen Photo)

foyer doors(Andrea Hansen Photo)

Foyer(Andrea Hansen Photo)

bath stained glass

bath tile

fireplace grate

newel post

mirror detail

outdoor light

An adventure is unfolding. Stay tuned as we post pictures of this rejuvenation project.

 

 



A Woman’s Place

Nantucket-Preservation-Trust-markers-0141-687x515

Historic house signs, markers and plaques always seem to grab our attention. Whenever we stroll through historic neighborhoods in New England, we always pause and take notice of a wooden or bronze sign displayed near a main entrance that reveals bits of history as to who built the house and when.  Sometimes an occupation such as sailmaker, barrister, or reverend graces the sign. As we stand on the sidewalk admiring the lettering, we can’t resist imagining what life was like for the original occupants so long ago.

james_scott_plaque-300x214

Oddly enough, one important element is often missing from historic house markers. Namely, a woman’s name. Historians explain that women’s names did not appear on deeds unless they were the primary owner of a house. As a result, only the owner is immortalized on a historic house marker.  Putting all bureaucracy aside, we all know that women have always played a pivotal role in domestic affairs.

house While researching the Sherman House, we learned that the house was built for Isaac Sherman and his bride Elizabeth Sherman in 1811. Isaac worked as a butcher and his shop was located in the Brick Market.  The Shermans raised ten children in their lovely Federal home located in the heart of Newport’s Historic Hill neighborhood.

brickmarket1772newportrhodeisland_full Brick Market

The house remained in the Sherman Family for about 70 years. Every time we run our fingers across the intricate detailing on the mantels and chair rails, we cannot help but think a woman’s touch was involved in their selection and care.

mantel

To honor dear Elizabeth Sherman, we decided to break from tradition and craft a more fitting sign. When people pass by the rejuvenated Sherman House they no longer have to cherchez la femme.  Now they can simply take notice of a custom sign that proudly states:

sign

We hope our sign will inspire other historic house owners to put more brave women in their place…..proudly on a plaque.



Ode to Old Brown Furniture

 

Federal-Furniture

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot……..

Happy New Year!

On New Year’s Day thousands of kind hearted and adventurous people gather at Easton’s Beach in Newport, RI to take the Polar Bear Plunge and help raise money for A Wish Come True.

polar bear plunge

Another popular New Year’s Day tradition is Lighthouse Promotions’ annual antiques show held at the Venus de Milo in nearby Swansea, Mass. Rather than brave the frigid Atlantic and those treacherous mimosas, we marked 2016 by fighting the crowds at the cozy, warm indoor antiques show.

antique show

Booth after booth was brimming with this year’s must-have treasures including blue and white pottery, Asian antiques, vintage jewelry…….and believe it or not……old brown furniture.

Basons-ceramics-blue-and-white-porcelain-font-b-antique-b-font-guanyao-crack-glaze-font-b

Asian_Furniture_1

vintage-antique-jewelry1

For those of you who still love antiques, you may share my concern that brown furniture has been deemed an endangered species.

The Economist recently published an article entitled “Out With the Old” proclaiming that the bottom has fallen out of the antiques market. Experts blame the downfall on millennials who advocate a less is more lifestyle, celebrate the tiny house movement and cherish mid-century modern furniture. As the mother of two twenty-somethings, I’ve seen them wrinkle their noses and roll their eyes when I bring another piece of brown furniture into our home.

DANISH-MODERN-MID-CENTURY-MODERN-AWESOME-TEAK-LONG-CREDENZA-EAMES

Truth be told, I do go a little weak in the knees when I see a Danish teak credenza that was crafted during the Kennedy Administration.

But I have not completely given up on antique brown furniture. Neither should you.

These mahogany, rosewood, walnut and maple relics embody Old World craftsmanship that cannot be duplicated. Their inlaid and hand-carved designs serve as vestiges of our past. And at this very moment in time, brown antiques are shockingly affordable.

Many dismiss antique brown furniture because they prefer light, bright and airy decors; the kind you find in hotel lobbies. Flip through the pages of decorating magazines or browse Pinterest and you’ll have no trouble finding exquisite details camouflaged by gallons of white latex paint.

Why not give brown furniture a second chance? Attend an auction.  Visit an antiques mall.  Explore a flea market. Experience a nostalgia tug. Be Detective Brown.

Your family’s health is another good reason to buy brown. Highly toxic lead paint plagues antique and vintage furniture. Chipped, peeling or cracked lead paint will release poisonous lead dust into your home and put your loved ones at serious risk.  Before you consider buying a shabby antique, conduct an instant lead test.  You can purchase lead test kits at your local hardware store.

lead check

lead paint

The chipped lead paint on this cupboard is highly toxic.

Go Brown!

Here are some brown antiques that look on the bright side…….so to speak.

empire mirror

Antique Ogee mirror with mahogany frame. The glass reflects light and brightens the room.

mirror

mirror detail 2

Antique Federal mirror. The pediment, urn, flowers, carvings, and inlaid detail are lovely.

marble table

Antique marble top table.

sail chair

Antique mahogany chair. The seat is upholstered with a vintage cotton sail.

stickley

Antique Stickley Rocking Chair…..an icon of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

chest

chest detail

Vintage chinoiserie chest of drawers. The decoration is so romantic.

cropped inlaidAntique inlaid table.  Each piece of wood painstakingly set in place.

inlaid

Let’s make 2016 the year that beautiful brown furniture becomes fashionable once again.  Cheers!



Before & After

Rejuvenating a home takes time.  During the journey, we always hope that projects could be completed as quickly as they seem to happen on home improvement shows … in one hour’s time with three commercial breaks.

Since July 2014, we have been working very hard to bring an 1811 Federal home back from the edge of ruin. The major structural improvements include new windows, roof, siding, insulation, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems.  Now as the crew paints the exterior we are nearing the homestretch. Perhaps the best compliment we received was from a contractor who said, “You just gave this home another 200 years.”

Our hearts are glad.

I hope you will enjoy this series of dramatic before and after images.

Some of the exterior improvements include the roof, chimneys, downspouts, siding, windows, porch, entry door, lighting, fence and formal garden.

before sherman

sherman exterior

sherman garden 1

sherman garden 2

sherman garden

Awkward 19th Century Addition That was Replaced with a Kitchen and Dining Area

New kitchen features island designed around original summer board, antique chandeliers, antique corner cabinet, and antique transom window and sidelights.

addition

addition 2

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antique windows and ceiling clerestory windows kithcen

dining and windows

Family Room

New chimney was built, original hand hewn beams were exposed, original floor was restored, and antique glass-fronted cabinets were added.

den before

Den 2

den vertical

Front Parlor

Original molding, wainscoting, mantel and flooring were restored.  Antique sconces were installed.  And a new bookcase was built.

front parlor b4

front parlor

Entry Hall

Original stairs were reinforced. Original balustrades, newel post and railings were painted.  Flooring was refinished.  New grass cloth and stair runners were installed.

1st stair b4

1st stairs

1st stair before

2nd stair

Master Bedroom

A gas fireplace was added to new chimney.  Original mantel and flooring were restored. Antique windows serve as the new headboard. We also added a dressing room and master bathroom.  We rescued a claw foot tub from the addition.

mb b4 mb before

antique glass

mb 1

master bedroom

bedroom and dressing room

dressing room

tub

Sitting Room

Gas fireplace was installed in new chimney.  Original moldings, mantel and flooring were restored.  A new closet was added.

sitting room beforesitting room

Guestroom

Flooring, moldings and mantel were restored. Wallpaper was removed.  Original chimney brinks were painted black.

guest room be4 guest room before

guest room

Attic

Original unfinished attic was transformed into a home office.  New railings, skylights, bookcases and window seat were added.

stair from attic

attic stair

attic


Why History Matters

 

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The interiors of the 1811 Federal are complete. The new porches have been constructed. The landscapers are now working feverishly building hardscapes, laying sod and planting gardens. The house painters are on standby, ready to redefine the exterior. Each day the house looks and feels more and more like a home.

kitchen

Throughout our rejuvenation project, so many people have wondered why we would invest so much energy in rejuvenating a 200 year-old home that we found precariously close to ruin. Couldn’t we build a new house instead?  Wouldn’t we prefer a modern open floor plan? Why connect with the past?  Why does history matter so much?

den

Many of the answers can be found in this wonderful documentary from the Newport Historical Society.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to understand why rejuvenating homes of the brave is rewarding on so many levels:

I look forward to posting images of the finished project in the coming weeks!