Commissioned Art Adds Final Touch to a Tiny Bath Update
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
Last month, I added the final touches to a bathroom update. It was in a 1959 San Francisco flat in Cow Hollow where most bathrooms of that era, and in that city, are itty bitty. I was able to open it up a bit by removing the soffit at the top of the shower enclosure and also installing a remote-controlled skylight. This bathroom was charmingly nostalgic with yellow tiled floors, walls, and countertop. Even the commode was yellow. My client, Barbara, had kept it in beautiful condition all these years. However, I understood her desire for an update.
I’ve been working with Barbara since 2002. Year by year and room by room, we’ve remodeled and refurnished her flat. This always included a trip to the Design Center. So, when it came to looking for new tile, we returned to one of our favorite showrooms, Country Floors. We chose a 3-inch by 9-inch, glossy-white subway from Sonoma Tilemakers for the wainscot and shower walls. It has a lot of character because of its hand-molded shape. For contrast and safety, we chose a smaller, matte, smoky-gray tile for the shower floor.
No matter the style of room, I like to add some kind of “wow”. In Barbara’s case, it would be her floor. Together, we chose an intricate pattern of waterjet-cut marble comprised of individual pieces of taupe, gray, and white stone from a collection called “Talya”.
We custom-designed a vanity with a quartz top and a matching storage cabinet. The walls and ceiling were painted taupe with a slight gray undertone. Once the new lighting and plumbing fixtures were installed, the project was complete – almost. The room still needed artwork. Barbara and I both like watercolors and watercolors made sense in this softly-hued space. We also both like clear colors, not earth-toned, and appreciate white or pastel empty spaces in the images. Given these characteristics, I knew just who to call - artist, Lisa Livoni.
I first met Lisa in 2011 at the Yountville Autumn Invitational where she and other painters were showing their work. As I toured the room, I kept circling back to Lisa’s station. Her images were fresh and made me feel light and happy. So, when visitors were asked to vote for our favorite artist that day, my choice was easy. Just as I was writing her name on the ballot, Lisa walked over to introduce herself and we’ve been friends ever since.
When I told Barbara about Lisa’s style, she drove up from the City to see one of her paintings in person. Her enthusiastic reaction came as no surprise. The only problem was that Lisa did not currently have anything that would work on Barbara’s bathroom walls. No problem. We could commission her to paint images based on what she already had but change a few colors and sizes. Given Barbara’s pale color scheme so far, I suggested pops of pink and purple.
We naturally expected variations in the final pieces and trusted Lisa’s intuition. Our only steadfast requirement was size because the paintings would go on walls that had light switches and tiled wainscot.
During the commission, Lisa would keep me up-to-date and describe her process. Her first step was to draw each image and then xerox several copies on which to practice. She explained, “This helps me work out colors and any problems. I then redraw the image on Fabriano Artistico rough watercolor paper, hold my breath, and then just go for it. I can’t be tentative.”
In watercolor painting, there is no going back. It’s virtually impossible to correct mistakes as artists cannot paint over water as they can with oil and acrylic. Lisa, in fact, painted one of Barbara’s images twice. She didn’t like the color placements and started over.
Lisa also explains, “I paint ‘alla prima’, that is, in one sitting. I start in one area and darken or correct a color while it is still wet. I don’t go on to the next area until I’ve finished the one I’m working on. I need a wet edge to move to the adjacent area and this is why once I start a painting, I don’t quit until it’s finished. No interruptions. I often do make slight corrections once a painting has dried and before I cut it off the watercolor board.”
After much anticipation, Lisa completed the paintings which were just as luscious and cheerful as expected. Barbara later met me at Napa Valley Frame Company where owner, Kim White, helped us with mats, fillets, and frames. The images measured 12 inches by 12 inches. All along, I had imagined turning these squares into rectangles by making the mat and frame longer than wide. I liked the twist.
Kim increased the bottom of each mat an additional one-half inch more than the top. Why? She explained that, because of the perspective in which we will see each painting, the bottom will always seem shorter than the top. So, she compensates by making it a little longer. (This is similar to the reason why Michelangelo made the right hand of David overly large. The statue was originally meant to be place on the roofline of the Florentine Cathedral. If the hand had been sculpted in proportion to the body, it would have looked too small to viewers on the ground as they looked up.)
Although Barbara’s bathroom is still itty bitty, it now classical, stunning, and fresh with big personality and style – including commissioned works of art.
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