Monday, September 23, 2013

History of Furniture: The Three Louis and How To Spot Them

For anyone not versed in antiques, historical French furniture can be a daunting blur. A Louis-this-number chair or a Louis-that-number settee... to some it all ends up sounding like the numbing "wah-wah" of adults talking in "Peanuts" cartoons.

But there is an easy way to tell the difference between the three Louis (yes, the plural of Louis is... Louis!) and it has to do with reading the silhouette and details. Once you know these simple flags to look for, you too will be spotting Louis XIV chairs and Louis XVI settees.

First, we want to talk about the Kings themselves and the personality of their respective reigns. Then this will help you understand why the furniture looks the way it does, and how these political--and therefore cultural--qualities at the time manifested themselves in the furniture.

1) Louis XIV, or Louis Quatorze (kah-TORZ, which is the number fourteen in French) was also known as "The Sun King." He believed in "divine right" which put forth the idea that God alone is responsible for putting a King in power. He reigned from 1661 to 1715, the longest continuing reign of any monarch in a major continental European country. He turned Versailles from a hunting lodge into a stunning palace and moved his court there, thus centralizing his rule and bringing the aristocracy to live with him at the newly renovated and monstrously sized palace. He managed to gain complete control of France and eliminate feudalism. For this reason (and many others), he was seen as extremely powerful. All architecture, art, and furnishings for Versailles (which became the de rigeur style of the day) were meant to reflect his might. So chairs are rigid, heavy, masculine with a very strong presence, nearly throne-like. Identifiable details include os du mouton (OH-duh-moo-TON, or "lamb's leg" in French) legs and stretchers so named because of their curved shape reminiscent of a lamb's hind leg, upholstered seat backs, legs set in a straight line with the seat, and a general boxy shape. This sturdy style was the last of Medieval furnishings.

2) Louis XV, or Louis Quinze (kanz, fifteen in French) was the great-grandson of Louis XIV and ruled from 1743 to 1774. It is argued that his reign was a success or a failure, depending upon which historian you believe. What is clear is that he was quite a womanizer, which is not at all unusual since monarchs had official and unofficial mistresses, but beyond that, he apparently led a decadent, debauched life full of idle pastimes (he is remembered as a "do-nothing" King). As with any period in history, whether cultural, political, societal, or artistic, the pendulum swings back and forth: periods of austerity or conservative periods are always followed by periods of excess, followed again by a societal and cultural tightening. As we just learned, the style of Louis XIV was heavy, large, masculine. So it makes sense that the style of Louis XV would be softer, more elegant, more feminine, more refined...and considering the lifestyle of the King, more exaggerated, more extravagant, and indulgent. Identifiable details include the absence of the stretchers we saw in the Louis XIV pieces, cabriole legs (a delicate serpentine shaped leg that curves out at the top and in at the bottom) also known as an S-scroll leg, short arm rests that end before the seat edge, a gently angled upholstered back framed by a wood moulded frame, and details of shells, ribbons, and baskets or bouquets of flowers.

3) And now we come to our third Louis: King Louis XVI, or Louis Seize (sez, sixteen in French) who reigned from 1774, when his grandfather Louis XV died, to 1793. We all know him as the husband of Queen Marie-Antoinette whose life ended, along with her husband's, during the French Revolution. When Louis XVI took over as King of France at nineteen years of age, the monarchy was in serious trouble, plagued by crippling debt, and a growing hostility from both the aristocracy (who blocked his reform efforts which would have made life more fair for those less fortunate) and by the general population who came to mistrust and eventually despise any form of monarchy. Louis XVI was an inept and indecisive ruler so the style at Versailles and the silhouette that grew up around his reign was compensatory and harkened back to the classical days of ancient Rome (the ruins of Pompeii had been discovered a few decades prior and were under excavation) and especially ancient Greece. This connection to a sense of lofty, glorious history was camouflage for a weak monarchy in peril. As I mentioned previously, the pendulum swings, and in this case the sinuous ornamentation of the previous Louis was toned down and restrained. The sense of Louis XVI furnishings is one of cool restraint, logic, and reason. Identifiable details include mostly straight lines with a near-total lack of any curves, straight legs with fluting that deliberately look like Classical Greek columns topped by square capitals which often contain a rosette, simple square or oval backs, repeated geometric motifs in the carvings, and Greek-style wreaths, garlands, drapery, lyres, and urns.

Now that you know a bit more about the reign of each King and therefore the sense of style associated with each one, I hope you will be able to spot a Louis XIV, XV, or XVI piece pretty easily. Start by identifying the characteristics of the silhouette and you should be on your way!

Happy designing!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kitchen Transformation By Fiorito Interior Design: There IS Hope!

The scope of a residential interior design project can vary greatly. Sometimes small changes are requested, but quite often, very big changes are asked for (and needed). I love it when clients see one of these completely overhauled and remodeled spaces for the first time--and I love the look of delight on their faces. If they have allowed me to work with them and bring elements to the project that they otherwise might not have thought of, the end result is a delicious surprise for them (and for me too), proving that there is hope for seemingly hopeless spaces!

This kitchen remodel was one of those projects. My clients had bought a home with a very dated kitchen, and while I am sure this was a very nice space in 1974, it was not going to suit the current needs of my clients who are very active cooks.

As you can see, the length of the original kitchen was cut in two by a peninsula, creating two awkward areas. The prep/cook area was tiny by anyone's standards...a double oven, range, fridge, dishwasher, and sink were shoehorned into a little square barely big enough for one to turn around. On the other side of the peninsula was an eat-in breakfast area hogging valuable real estate. Desperate for more space, and with a large, separate, formal dining room just off the eat-in area, the only choice for my clients that made any sense was to remove the clumsy peninsula, gut the entire space, and expand the kitchen to fill the entire room. Doing so allowed me to add a second prep sink (a feature the husband loves) along with much more storage to create a true, functional gourmet kitchen.

The wooden base cabinets sport a Whiskey Black stain while the uppers have a warm cream finish. This two-tone approach allows the kitchen to seem more like a room to be lived in, more like an extension of the home, rather than just a "place to cook." If all cabinetry had been wood, it would have been much too heavy for such a large space. Granite counter tops of Juparana Persia and a glass tile back splash add a traditional yet modern feel. Over-sized floor tiles feature a decorative marble mosaic insert. All doorways were arched, slider windows were replaced with garden windows for my clients' beloved orchids, and all-new stainless steel appliances top off this extremely elegant yet casual kitchen. And finally, I did a completely new lighting plan that actually allowed my clients to see what they were doing: the original kitchen had only two lights and a faux-stained glass pendant over the table, hardly enough light by which to scramble an egg. I put in recessed spots and adjustable fixtures in the skylight so there would be light at night, along with valuable and necessary under-cabinet lighting.

We also reclaimed an adjacent laundry room (relocating the washer and dryer to the garage) for a new, luxurious butler's pantry which provides even more storage as well as a small staging area for catering.

So if you are stuck with an out of date kitchen, do not despair. With a well-designed space, there is hope. Give me a call...I'd love to help!

Thanks for reading and happy designing!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Let's Talk About Color: Four Color Schemes To Know And Love

Color is among the most basic and primary of elements in interior design, but somehow it ends up being the one that frightens, mystifies, and stymies people the most. Hopefully this post will ease any discomfort or anxiety you may have about working with color. If you know this information already, please bear with us as we explore hues, tints, tones, shades, and color schemes!

I am sure we all remember this from grade school, but there are three primary colors. They are called primary since all other colors are derived from combinations of these three. Red, yellow, and blue are the "original" colors.

When you combine any two of these, you get secondary colors: orange (from red and yellow), green (from blue and yellow) and purple (from red and blue).

And then if you combine these secondary colors you get--yes, you guessed it--tertiary colors! When we continually combine, the colors are more subtle, richer, and more complicated, like Red Orange or Blue Green.

Now I'd like to introduce you to an invaluable tool: the Color Wheel. You can buy one at any art supply store. It is literally a wheel that allows you to turn colors and see what combinations produce what colors. Look at the wheel below and you can see, for example, that the front side shows, at the twelve o'clock position, what happens when you mix blue with orange. At the two o'clock position, you can see what happens when you mix black with yellow: you get a sort of olive green color.

This leads us to a very handy trick when dealing with color, which is technically called a "hue." If you add white to any hue, you get a "tint," if you add grey to any hue, you get a "tone," and finally if you add black to any hue you get a "shade."

So here is where the fun comes in. Once you know the basics of color, you can apply it to interior spaces in the form of color schemes or palettes. There are four major color schemes I want to cover, and the first and simplest is the Monotone color scheme.

When we hear the word "monotone" applied to color, we tend to think of a room that has a white or neutral color palette. But a Monotone color scheme needn't mean a lack of color. In fact, it simply means a single hue, whether that hue is white, red, or even green.

Above bedroom by Anne Coyle. Photo used by kind permission.

From there we graduate to a Monochromatic color scheme which means tints, tones, or shades of a single hue. This can be used to great effect, especially when used with traditionally "calming" hues like blues or greens.

Now we can add more hues to our color schemes. An Analogous color scheme is one that uses several colors next to each other on the color wheel. You could stay calm and relaxing with a combination of yellow-green, green, blue-green, and blue. Or you could do something bold like yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green. Take a look at these rooms that feature exactly such schemes.

Above living room by Amy Lau.

Next up is what is known as a Complementary color scheme. Complementary refers to the fact that two hues are opposite each other on the color wheel. Look back at the color wheel above and see for yourself some classic combinations like red and green, and blue and orange. It is possible to create a very pleasing and engaging color scheme from complementary colors. In the first two examples below, you can plainly see that red and green do not automatically mean "Christmas." We have cultural and societal conditioning toward certain colors and combinations, but when red is tempered with a bit of orange, and the green is toned down, the result is actually quite sophisticated.

There are advanced color schemes like a Split-Complementary or a Tetrad, but for now I hope this tutorial about color will get you started. When you use a color wheel, it is so easy to establish a color palette using one of these four major color schemes. And here is my Design Mantra #3: there are no bad colors... color schemes can be inspired by nearly anything under the sun: a pillow, a piece of art, a garden, a favorite outfit, a place, or even a time period. But that's a post in itself...

Until then, thanks for reading and happy designing!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Master Suite by Fiorito Interior Design, Part Two

In my previous post about this project here, I shared photos of the exterior demolition and construction of the addition to the house. And now, as promised, here are some shots of the interior.

But first, let's take a look at what the space looked like when I initially encountered it. You will see why my clients were eager to be rid of what they (and I) considered to be a very unmasterful master bathroom.

Like many California ranch homes built in the 1950s, this master bathroom was not really a "master bath." The concept of a "master bath" as we know it today didn't really exist then. My clients, who only two years ago purchased the home from the family of the original owner, were saddled with a small, dysfunctional space. Chief among the dysfunctions: a vanity only 30" high (my clients had to stoop quite low to lean on the counter), and an inconveniently placed window that forced the too-low vanity mirror to reflect only the waist and partial torso--not the face--of anyone standing in front of it. (When I see things like this, I can only shake my head wonder what on earth the builder was thinking.)

A separate water closet with a pocket door was also the spot for a very narrow shower. That, my friends, was a master bathroom in 1956. And so my work began. As I mentioned here in the last post about this project, an extension of the space allowed us to create a true master suite which will include a greatly enlarged bedroom area, and a generous sized bathroom with a jetted soaking tub, a very large walk-in shower, a double-sided fireplace (facing the tub on the bath side), and a luxurious 8' long vanity with double sinks and a storage tower.

The bay window you saw in the last post will be the home of a generously proportioned jetted tub. Above: the framing of the walls, addition of windows, construction of the tub deck, and installation of the marble tub deck and face.

The adjacent spacious shower is going to rival the focal point of the tub. In the first few photos above, you can see the shower after being "hot-mopped" (a way to waterproof the shower pan) and the walls made of a version of waterproof sheetrock. The entrance to the shower is flanked by a pair of columns, topped with a gentle arch. For the shower walls, I designed a wainscoting effect with beveled panels, all crafted from lavish Crema Marfil marble from Spain.

And tiling began this week. The first element to be installed in the shower above the Crema Marfil wainscoting was the gorgeous mosaic vine border made of Bursa Beige marble from Turkey and white Thassos marble from Greece. This border will also serve as a back splash for the double vanity under a mosaic wall of the same material.

Like I said in the last post for this project, I am so anxious to see the final result.

Thanks for reading and happy designing!