Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson 9. Upgrades are contagious: my homemade chandelier

I love upgrades. Always have. Even when something is okay to start with, it's my opinion that better is always, well, better. It's not that I'm a particularly critical person, mind you. That is to say, I don't automatically see fault in everything around me. It's more like I view my environs with a constant eye towards improvement.

This attitude has been the basis for much of my interaction with our newly acquired Edwardian four-square. Nothing wrong with the house - just... plain. I suppose that's what happens when you strip a hundred-year-old structure down to the studs and start over. Loses a bit of character, no? So I've made it my mission to add back that which was sacrificed to the drywall gods. Hence the addition of crown moulding, wainscot panel in the dining room, and the ornamental trim in the bedroom and living room. As many of you may already understand, however, the problem with upgrades is they are prone to contagion. Once you make a substantial improvement, it can make everything around it look out of place. And with that, I submit for your approval... [drumroll]... [and here you will note I am calling upon my undergraduate education in history and french to effectuate a witty allusion]...

L'Affaire du Lustre (trans. The Chandelier Escapade)

Silk waiting to get sewn.
It all started some time ago with 42 yards of foreign silk and a dream. A dream that did not work out as planned. As you may recall, I had set out to make bold colored curtains for my then-brick-red living and dining room. After fashioning a set of turquoise and goldenrod yellow panels a for the two rooms, respectively, I had a crise de conscience and realized the error of my ways. It wasn't a terrible combination, mind you. It just wasn't me. Of course the brick red wall color never was. That's what I get for trying to design around an element I never liked in the first place instead of just starting fresh. I guess you just have to go ahead and shoot that white elephant because he is not going to go away. The best you can really do is make him a lampshade hat and call him a statement piece. And I just couldn't justify turning half of my downstairs into a pantone fiesta.
The pantone fiesta, aka the living room.
I decided right off that this time I was instead going to design around an element I did like: the curtains. Particularly, the yellow dining room curtains. So that's where I started. Surveying the room, I mentally went through what I liked about the yellow panels flanking the bay windows. I decided that what appealed to me was how sunny they made the room look and how they highlighted the antique gold finish of the mirrors and framed artwork we had chosen for the room. I also like that it highlighted the gold and sky blue color palate of our formal china.
Elysee by Bernardaud. Gilt pattern over sky blue background. Uses a solid sky blue charger.

And that's when it hit me. Could it really be that simple? Seized with this flash of genius, I bolted over to the china cabinet and removed one of our solid blue chargers. I dashed into the other room, returned with my basket of acrylic paints and started mixing madly. A few minutes later I had about a teaspoon of paint roughly the same color as the plate. A light coat on the room's leeward wall confirmed my happy suspicion: Yes! It works!

So I dashed off to the Home Depot, returned with a gallon of paint matched to my self-rendered sample, and had the room completely coated before the afternoon was through. I was really delighted with the result, but my joy was unfortunately somewhat short lived. Changing the wall color had made the room look so bright and coordinated that the plain iron chandelier above the dining table now looked like an impish little black spider spinning its way down from the ceiling. It had to go.
The former chandelier. Yuck.
And thus began the multi-week odyssey of finding the right replacement. The room had turned out to be such a graceful and delicate space that it needed nothing less than the architectural equivalent of a tiara. So that's what I set out to find. I had an exact vision in my mind of what I wanted. The only problem was that what I wanted didn't exist. I had, some months hence, found a specimen that piqued my interest. It had two drawbacks however: the $900 price tag and the fact that it was embellished with smooth "oyster" prisms instead of facet-cut prisms (read: no sparkle). So I couldn't justify the price only to have to spend more money to switch out the crystals.
Crystorama's Delilah chandelier. Right concept, wrong everything else.
 I searched and searched and could find nothing I liked as much. After visiting a local antique lighting store, I decided I would probably have to locate a chandelier base and add crystals myself if I was to get exactly what I had in mind. This proved challenging too. Antique chandelier skeletons without crystals are few and far between. Places like the store I visited love to buy them on the cheap, refinish them, add a few hundred dollars worth of prisms, and sell them for tens of thousands of dollars. Not a bad business model, if I do say so. So I turned to my old friend, the internet. Now that I was looking for a prism-less fixture, I ended up sifting through an entirely different selection of chandeliers. Finally, I found it.
Elysian Fields chandelier by Progress Lighting, co-branded as Thomasville.
There was no question. This was it. It would have to be gilt and crystals would have to be added, but this was definitely the one I saw in the dream. So I ordered it, and in the mean time I turned my attention to the living room.

A few weeks beforehand, I received my long-awaited silk shipment only to discover that my first choice shade of teal was out of stock and that the manufacturer had been so thoughtful as so send instead what he considered a very close substitute. It was, in fact, quite close. And very pretty. But it simply did not work with the red walls. The shade I had originally chosen was sort of a dull teal with a sage sheen. A pretty neutral tone. The replacement, however, was a vibrant version of the same hue. Needless to say, the juxtaposition was a comic overstatement. So I set about figuring out what color could possibly tone down the ultra-bright curtains. I settled on a monochrome palate and had some paint mixed in a sage-toned blue-green. After painting the room, I just couldn't decide how I felt about it, especially since the dining room was still red. So I decided to just leave it alone for a while.
The settee (pre-curtain hanging) and its biggest fans, our spoiled kitties. 
In the interim, I stumbled upon a really adorable little settee in almost the same shade as the wall color and was able to get it with rewards points from my credit card. I also picked up a small red end table and made some red silk accent pillows in essentially the same color as the walls used to be.

Silk pillows. Center is curtain fabric embellished with leftover crystals from my wedding dress
Looking at the room now, with coordinating furniture and accent pieces, I decided that I did not, in fact, want to change the wall color again. I still had a red and teal room, but this time it was 80% teal and 20% red, a distinct improvement over the unsettlingly combative 50/50 ratio that had so irked me before.

The chandelier arrived about 3 days later, and I quickly set about planning its makeover. I used the assembly diagram to plot out where I wanted to place the prisms and how many of each size and style I would need. The final count was 192, a quantity which I split among almond and french pendalogue shaped drops in sizes ranging from 1.5" to 2.5".
Almond prism (above)
Pendalogue (below)
While I was waiting for the crystals to arrive, I worked on changing the finish to antique gold. The original finish was a dark bronze (called brandy by the manufacturer) so I simply painted the entire frame with oil based gold leaf paint and then added some antiquing glaze and gold sheet leaf to highlight the carved features. Mr. Delta and I had picked up a large ceiling medallion on sale at a home improvement store a few months beforehand, so we applied that to the ceiling before getting Howard (our handyman) to hang the fixture. I probably could have done it myself, but I noticed when I was taking down the old fixture that the mounting box was slightly dislodged from the stud, so I called Howard to  fix the problem and he was nice enough to go ahead and hang the new chandelier while he was up there.

Room view with new paint and chandelier.
The prisms arrived shortly thereafter, and so did the mini-magnets, which I had chosen, after much consternation, as the means of affixing the prisms to the chandelier base. In other words, I do not weld. I'm crafty, but I'm not Flashdance crafty. 
Neodymium ring magnets. Tiny!!

I chose 3/16" diameter by 1/8" thick neodymium ring magnets, which have about 1 pound of holding power under ideal conditions. Although the prisms only weigh a few ounces each, I found this size to be the absolute minimum because the magnets had to stick to concave and convex surfaces on the chandelier base. Affixing the prism to the magnet proved to be the trickiest part of this exploit. Soldering proved impossible because the heat demagnetized the magnets and there was not enough surface area connection between the magnet and the prism pin to use glue. I finally ended up making little half centimeter loops of fine wire and hooking them through the top of the magnet. It took me about a day and a half to prepare all of the prisms and add them to the base. The worst part was trying to keep the prisms fingerprint and debris free. Harder than you might think even with plastic gloves. In the end I think all of the hard work paid off. It really is exactly what I envisioned in the room, and for less than the alternative would have cost.

Chandelier closeup
Room view taken from entry to living room
 I'm relatively happy with the look. I was even able to accessorize with this adorable 1920's cherub clock that I found in an antique store in Atlanta for $22. Kind of my favorite part of the whole room.

There's my clock! Also, flowers. One of my better attempts at amateur florism, probably.
Until later -----