Sunday, June 30, 2013

Modernizing with color, Part 2: Light fixture make-over

In Part 1 of this post, I described how to use color unconventionally to modernize a builder-grade fireplace mantle.  Targeted use of color has become a hot trend for updating a wide variety of household items that would otherwise be too costly to replace. 
This photograph of our TV set shows what would otherwise be an extremely traditional cabinet painted blue to give it new life. 

West End Salvage is one of my favorite shows because they've substantially raised the creative bar of home improvement - and by using reclaimed materials to boot. 
In my case, I haven't done this kind of color updating with furniture so much as with fixtures.  Newer neo-eclectic builder-grade tract homes are quite schizoid right now - by popular demand, they are leaning more toward modern or contemporary designs, but they still tend to get built with a large number of residual traditional elements.  For example...
The builder-grade faucets in our house look like this: extremely modern...
...but the builder-grade exterior light fixtures are so traditional that they look like they pre-date the invention of the electrical circuit!!
Good grief - they don't call it neo-eclectic architecture for nothing!  Those two fixtures don't even belong to the same century let alone the same style

The translation on "a wide array of decorative techniques taken from an assortment of different periods" basically boils down to it being a dog's breakfast from an artistic perspective.  And "not creatively experimental" is putting it mildly. 

Screengrab from Wikipedia
Those two fixtures don't even belong to the same century let alone the same style and, furthermore, there was absolutely nothing that cross-references them.   Which, of course, is exactly the kind of nonsense that grates on my artistic nerves.  So I decided to do something about it. 
I painted the ancient-looking things in a new way.  If you compare to the dreary grey gas lamp fixture above, this repainted one looks crisp and clean and well-defined and new, much in the same way as the white Victorian chair does in the CB2 ad I showed in Part 1, and the cabinet does in the West End Salvage make-over room shown above.

Why blue specifically?  See this post on complementary colors
It's a bit pronounced when you see that navy blue fixture closely-framed in a photo like that, but in this example it's important to remember two things:
  1. When you instead see it within a massive 60-foot-wide full-frontal view of a completely beige house, that one-foot pop of color does not overwhelm.  I don't think any of my neighbors even noticed that I made this change.  (And by the way, I'm not kidding about that width.  Our otherwise-abnormally-small 100% beige house is 60 feet wide for reasons I haven't blogged). 
  2. This is not the only pop of blue in our emerging front-yard design.  It is precisely coordinated with several other objects: 
(a) This stunning focal point planter (stacked stone make-over post here) and the smaller array of planters behind it. 
(b) This other large ceramic planter we have in the front yard, of which I've done this close-up to show the navy undertones.
My efforts were not limited to gas lamp style light fixtures.

(c) Here's the before-and-after on this atrocious-looking hose rack, which I painted and re-adorned with my current favorite model of garden hose.  I think it looks much more sophisticated in the "after" shot. 

Hose hangers aren't currently sold in modern or contemporary styles.  The paint pushes them toward the modernized end of the design spectrum. 
Now look at another of those same hose-hangers on the other side of the house: would you have even noticed the hanger was navy blue unless I had pointed it out?  Probably not.  How could you notice?? It's drowning in a vast sea of builder beige.  You probably would have just noticed that the photo on the right looks "cleaner". 

And by the way, you can't really claim to be a real homeowner until you've broken out your builder's paint samples and painted your ugly utility boxes to match your house trim.  Blogger's Rules of Order
I didn't just stop with light fixtures and those attached hose hangers.  I extended this blue-ification effort with other similar objects in our outdoor space (William Moss likes to say that "repetition" is the key to any successful landscape design.  I tend to use the term "cross-referencing"). 
Another hose hanger, but it's the kind that sticks into the ground rather than bolting to the exterior wall of the house. 
And I had a bistro set that I was not willing to part with, despite the fact that it was many years old and no longer conforming to my taste.  So I updated it by taking it in the direction of non-traditional blue. 
For crying out loud, I even blue-ified the dog's dish pedestal.  Do you know what this thing is?  It's one of those kitschy wire fruit bowls.  I use it to hold the dog's bowl because fire ants are not good at navigating all those wires.  I don't leave food in the bowl, but fire ants have very good noses, and they'll come in search of the smallest food residue.  This wire is like a maze for them, and they tend not to mess with it. 

Here is my favorite weapon in the War on Beige:
Rustoleum gloss navy blue.  I've tried just about every shade on the market.  I've found other blues to be too, too blue. 

I usually do a slight overspray of everything with Rustoleum gloss black, to naturalize the appearance of the sprayed items. 
I'll close this post with the corresponding DIY sequence, because if I don't, someone will email me asking how to paint an exterior light fixture like I've shown here. 

As usual, these are the steps I did for my fixtures - yours might be quite different.  Some fixtures are not intended to be painted.  You should check with the manufacturer to see if it's OK in your case, yada yada. 

Happy painting, whatever your modernizing accent color may be. 
I disconnected the electrical breaker for the circuit that feeds our exterior fixtures.  This is a very important step for safety. 

Then, while they were still intact, I gently scrubbed oxidized powder coating off the top of them (with the bottom portion still in place so that water would not get into the bulb sockets). 
These fixtures had a bottom part that unscrewed. 
The top part appeared to be metal, but the bottom was some type of plastic.  It completely unscrewed into little pieces. 
Important not to lose any tiny pieces, including rubber washers. 
Good to set all the hardware aside in a secure location. 
Careful disassembly made for easier cleaning and painting. 
While you're doing this kind of work, don't forget to look around and enjoy your surroundings, because that's the most important part.  Coincidentally, I did this work on a day of rapidly-evolving weather that included a vibrant blue sky and this unusual cloud formation, which later morphed into a mackerel sky
Glass panes in a bucket ready for scrubbing. 
Bottom pieces laid out on a tarp and sprayed. 
We actually left the fixture itself on the side of the house for spraying, because the sealant was in really good shape and I didn't want to re-do it.  You can see the sealant / caulk near the bottom of this photo on the lower edge of the fixture.

Important to mask the bulb socket so that paint does not get into it. 
This wasn't just an exercise in style.  If you look at the upper edge of this fixture, the powder coat has flaked off, and the metal underneath is corroding (it appeared to be an aluminum blend and it was beginning to crumble).  If I hadn't re-painted them now, I would have had to spend hundreds of dollars to replace them in a year or two.  I don't like them, but I don't feel like spending hundreds of dollars would be a priority for me here. 

My teenager did the masking.  Perfect job for a teenager.  These days, teenagers aren't called upon nearly enough to contribute to the running of a household.  But they benefit from living in the household so they should contribute some of the maintenance effort. 
Mackerel magic.  Because I was painting hardware blue under a riveting blue sky, the song that got stuck involuntarily in my head was "Blue on Blue" by Bobby Vinton.  Nobody under the age of 50 has the slightest clue how frightening that is. 
The same masking technique works for anything else bolted to the house.  Here I used a hand-held shield to protect the top section of brick because I ran out of tape.
Remember that, if you engage in this type of design approach, the final result should contribute to the overall impression without calling attention to itself.  It's like eye shadow (especially blue eye shadow): if you look at a woman and visually register that she's wearing eye shadow, then she's wearing too much.  But if you look at a woman and your overall impression is that she's well put-together for no specific reason other than her entire appearance just seems to work, then she's wearing the right amount of eye shadow. 

As I mentioned above, with some pieces such as these light fixtures, I do a light overspray of black just to tone down and create some shade gradation in the blue, because otherwise it can look too plastic. 

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