Friday, May 31, 2013

Kitchen Archaeology - Wallpaper and Paint in a 1920s (and 1950s) Kitchen

1920s wallpaper fragment in my kitchen
I recently had a small fire in my kitchen (before you ask--yes, I'm ok; I am the bozo who started the fire by pushing a cardboard box from the counter onto the stove top, which pushed the knob and turned on the burner beneath the box).  It was a small fire, but the damage has caused quite the project in my house.  I'm suffering through what I am sure are all of the typical miseries of a kitchen renovation.  I'll spare you the painful details. 
Yes, that is some of my personal collection of Dansk back in the butler's pantry--no casualties reported.
The fire was on my stove and burned the microwave above and a tiny bit of the cabinetry above.  Somehow this has necessitated ripping out an entire bank of very solid 1950s cabinets.  This seemed frivolous to me, but I am learning that questioning one's contractor about such matters is not advisable.  So yesterday, some nice Mennonites (the local cabinetry gurus) came and ripped them all out so that they could be copied.  And look what was behind them.
Am I the only one who gets excited about things like this?  I find it fascinating to see old and original decorative schemes in situ. A quick bit of history:

1920s kitchen from an Armstrong linoleum ad--breakfast nook, butler's pantry, free standing stove.  Would that my kitchen were this big! Find the image here.
My house was built in 1928.  The kitchen is by no means large, but has a breakfast nook (very popular in the '20s) and a butler's pantry (with more storage than I will ever need).  Kitchens in the '20s typically had freestanding furniture and appliances and often some pretty bold colors and patterns throughout. 

1950 kitchen by Curtis Woodwork--find it here.
Judging by the cabinetry and general layout, the kitchen was likely remodeled in the 1950s.  Upper cabinets, everything built into nice tight lines, bulkhead above the cabinets, scalloped valance above the sink and rounded shelves to the sides--I've got all of that. 
So when I see the wall behind the cabinets, I'm guessing that the adorable wallpaper is pre-1950s (when the cabinets went up) and possibly original to 1928, as I don't see evidence of paint or anything else behind it.  The red on the right side is a bit of a mystery--it apparently pre-dates the 1950s cabinets (it goes up to the ceiling behind the bulkhead), but is only on the right.  Maybe it was a wallpaper and red paint combo? The cabinets were built in place, and unlike today's cabinets, were right against the wall so they did not need a back piece.  Those big white areas are the backs I saw when I opened the cabinets. 

Since new cabinets are going in, I've specified that thin backs should be added instead of trying to scrape down the walls.  I like the idea of leaving these remnants intact. 

This project has given me a new appreciation for Retro Renovation, a great blog about mid-century homes.  I followed it casually in the past but it has become my bible as I consider floors and hinges and pulls and curtains...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memorial Day - World War II Sweetheart Mementos: Frames, Jewelry and Souvenirs

World War II reverse-painted glass frame
One of my favorite recent purchases is a small reverse-painted glass photo frame.  It dates to the 1940s and says ‘Remember Me’.  The photo, with hand-painted details, depicts a young man in a naval uniform.
Photo from inside the frame above
When removed from the frame you can see that he is wearing a flower lei, holding a ukulele, and standing before a grass hut--all indicative that this was shot in Hawaii, where the US had several naval bases, and sent home to a sweetheart or family member.
A pin with pendant frame by Coro, from SoCalJewelBox
Small frames like this one were one of many souvenirs and mementos given during World War II to help loved ones remember each other while separated.  Jewelry and other trinkets could help ease the anxiety of separation and give tangible proof of sentiment.  Military and patriotic motifs, lockets, frames and forget-me-nots were all popular for these tokens of affection.
Set of rayon handkerchiefs
I’m a little obsessed with Hawaii, so I’m especially taken with wartime souvenirs from the islands.  Hawaii had long captured popular imagination as a tropical paradise, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought it to the forefront of the world scene.  The events of December 7th became the rallying point that pushed the US into World War II and Hawaii became the gateway to the Pacific theater.  Thousands of military men and women sent home all manner of souvenirs from jewelry to postcards, maps and dolls.  ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’ pins, hula ‘nodders’ and aloha shirts all found their way back to the mainland.
'Mother' locket pin from 52ndstreetvintage
Aside from Hawaiian items, women on the home front might wear a pin that declared their status as a mother or sweetheart of a serviceman, with lockets and frames being especially useful for pictures.
Allies pin by Coro from NoItAll.  The letters refer to the American, British, Chinese and Dutch alliance during World War II.
Flags have always been a patriotic symbol and during war time they were even more popular.  Military emblems and motifs for different branches of the military, bullets, torpedos and planes all found their way into jewelry and other items.
Mexican silver forget-me-not bracelet with Army emblem, from SoCalJewelBox.  Each of the links could be engraved with a loved one's name. 
Forget-me-nots are also found in jewelry, and sometimes the small, five-petaled flower is a subtle love token--not everyone speaks the language of flowers. 
Small pocket mirrors for photo booth pictures
Most of these souvenirs were fairly inexpensive and made in large numbers, but they are getting harder to find today, especially in good condition.
Air Corps silver charm from CuriosityShopper
Trifari airplane pin from JackpotJen
Patriotic frame

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mid-Century Modern Brass - Lighting, Candlesticks and Objects

For some reason, brass has always had a pretty negative connotation for me in terms of decorating.  I’m not sure why this is, because it has a rich history--lovely brass pulls on 18th-century furniture, ornate hardware from the Aesthetic Movement and even brass beds all come to mind.  The swanky ‘70s designs of Gabriella Crespi and Paul Evans?  All good. 

These days, however, I am cursed with some ghastly brass lighting fixtures that came with my house when I bought it--you know, the ones from the 1980s that are sort of formal, pseudo-Georgian, living-in-Colonial-Williamsburg, brass-and-glass affairs that are just not to my taste.  And I’m not against brass, in fact, I am looking for some cool mid-century brass fixtures to replace them.
I need ceiling fixtures, so naturally all I have found is table lamps that are to my liking. 

An aside:  Mid-century lighting seems to suffer from a serious dearth of solid attributions.  In my search for more information on these pierced brass lamps, I generally come across three names:

I sometimes see any brass lighting pierced with tiny holes very optimistically attributed to Paavo Tynell, the Finnish designer of some rather splendid chandeliers and other fixtures.  I’d love to think that was true, but I do not think this is right.

The other name often bandied about is that of Gerald Thurston, a designer who worked for Lightolier.  Some of his designs are certainly well-documented through Lightolier advertisements and catalogues, but again, if it is pierced brass, his name gets thrown out there. 

Gaetano Sciolari? If it is chrome or brass and has a swank vibe to it, it must be Sciolari, right?  As with Tynell and Thurston, the designer’s name becomes an adjective more than an actual attribution and simply helps to quickly identify the overall style and look of a piece. 

I like mid-century brass items of all sorts, such as these Swedish brass candlesticks by Ystad Metall.

And some designed by Jens Quistgaard for Dansk:
And how about some brutal brass?  Curtis Jere (not an actual person, but a composite name of the two designers) created many brass wall sculptures and others emulated their style.  The piece below is not by Jere, but signed and dated 1972.
Even cheeseball brass from Home Interiors can look pretty good in (very!) small doses.

Just as I was getting ready to post this, Apartment Therapy posted about brass lighting--read about it here


© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg