Patina keeps it real

Old House Journal - - From the Editor -

“Can you tell me who made/where I can buy that lamp/wall­pa­per/car­pet/tas­sel?” is the most com­mon sort of ques­tion read­ers ask us. How­ever dili­gent we are (have you seen the small print on p. 79? lots of good info buried there), some­one will zero in on a cov­eted item of un­known prove­nance in one of the photos. We ask home­own­ers and ar­chi­tects to sup­ply source lists, but some­times fur­nish­ings are an­tique, vin­tage, or passed-down.

In this is­sue, one visit is to a 1912 house in St. Paul. The hands-on own­ers, Rich and Shirley Erstad, sent along an il­lus­trated spread­sheet of pur­chases made over the years as they re­stored the house and cor­rected pre­vi­ous re­mod­el­ing. Quite impressive! They are in­de­fati­ga­ble hun­ters of au­then­tic­ity, and it shows in their beau­ti­ful home.

Among their vin­tage scores: a glass towel rod, mir­rored switch-plates, a Bake­lite door­bell, a satin-glass lamp­shade with painted pink flow­ers, a com­bi­na­tion gas/elec­tric sconce, and a ca. 1910 kitchen pen­dant lamp. The list of hard­ware bits runs into the dozens. But those are just the de­tails. They also bought 19th-cen­tury doors (on craigslist); a huge, wall-hung, sal­vaged 1920s kitchen sink; and ap­pli­ances dat­ing to the late 1920s. Which still work! There’s a 1906 Edi­son cylin­der phono­graph that plays old songs and record­ings of Teddy Roo­sevelt. A 1920s Vic­trola in the din­ing room, Rich says, “re­ally belts out the sound.”

Here’s some­thing the Erstads wrote to me: “You have to like patina, with an old house. ‘New’ looks out of place. Sal­vaged doors have dings, light fix­tures are tar­nished. That’s what makes it look like it’s al­ways been here.”

That’s such an im­por­tant point. If most things are a bit worn, they be­gin to blend. And what a re­lief not to have to worry about the first scratch.

Three vi­gnettes from the Erstad house: doors, light­ing, and fix­tures pur­chased as sal­vage. See page 60.

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