From Frame to Cornice

Although Lowy’s expertise in framing and fine art restoration has long been a valuable resource to interior designers, increasingly the Lowy team has been called upon to go beyond finding or fabricating the perfect picture or mirror frame to help create architectural elements that complete the client’s décor. One such project took place in fall 2004, when Ann Pyne of McMillen, Inc. brought her client to Lowy’s gallery in search of a mirror for the living room. Ms. Pyne had been working on a renovation joining two Upper East Side Manhattan apartments. One of Ms. Pyne’s design challenges was giving stature to a roomwithoutarchitecturaldetailsofitsown. “Thechallenge was to incorporate my client’s traditional tastes with her late husband’s large collection of military objects and memorabilia, along with his Empire and Empire Revival furniture and a heavy mantle she had purchased,” Ms. Pyne said. “I had to figure out a way to fit these elements into a low-ceilinged apartment and make the room appear lighter.” Ms. Pyne and her client chose a finely carved, antique Louis XVI mirror frame from Lowy, which she felt worked with the client’s existing furnishings and particularly complemented the Empire pieces. Wanting to create an architectural look in a bland room with two off-center windows, Ms. Pyne suggested that Larry Shar, president of Lowy, and his master carver, Allan Webb, design hand-carved window treatments that would balance the mantel and the Louis XVI interior. The first challenge was to determine the proper design and scale of the cornices (also known as pelmets). Larry and Allan first selected a frame design from various frame samples that would complement the mirror frame. “Then we had to decide how far out from the window the cornices would project, as well as their height and what type of gilding to use,” Larry said. “Finally, Ann had to choose fabric for the draperies that was strong enough to complement the scale and ornamentation of the cornice design without competing with it.”

Cornices prior to gilding

Once the carving was complete and matched the sample, the next step was to determine the correct patina for the cornices. “The original patina of the Louis XVI mirror frame was a French antique umber, which we were able to match for the reproduction cornices,” said Larry. “This set the color scheme for the walls and fabrics, and helped to achieve the mood that Ann and her client wanted: an understated elegance.” The antiquing process involved using a mixture of amber shellac, pigment and alcohol that was applied in layers with a brush to create a depth of patina. After this application, the craftsman wiped the patina with alcohol to produce a less monochromatic look that had more movement and inconsistency, thus simulating the aging process. “The distressing techniques create a piece that doesn’t look mechanically made but rather like it’s been around for a few hundred years,” Larry explained.

The final product.

The newly formed cornice with Lowy frame sample prototype

The next challenge for the Lowy team was to convert a picture frame into a cornice. “First, the frame’s molding had to be adapted appropriately for the cornice,” Allan explained. “The view of the ornament on a cornice above your head is different from the view of the ornament on a picture frame facing you on a wall. To account for this, the shape and configuration of the molding ultimately had to become more architectural and three-dimensional than that of a picture frame.” Next, the leaf pattern that appears in the small corners of the frame had to be enlarged. “We made the carving style bolder and the volume of the corner leaves fuller,” said Allan. “The corner leaf ornament was enlarged to become a more prominent part of the overall design and wrapped around the corner of the molding. In a picture-frame format, the corner ornament is often only a finishing device; in this application, it became a feature.”

Ann Pyne of McMillen, Inc.

Ms. Pyne and her client were delighted with the results. “Although I took my client to a number of places to look at mirrors, she was taken with the care she received at Lowy,” Ms. Pyne said. “She could see it was the best: the service, the inventory and the presentation of taste in the showroom. She could see the craftsmen work- ing and how things were made. It was all very professional. The added bonus of being able to design and hand-carve the cornices at Lowy was a welcome surprise. Additionally, the cornices were delivered earlier than promised. Everything arrived earlier than promised.” Larry has seen an increase in requests for this type of custom work at Lowy. “More and more, as decorators become increasingly involved in the architecture of the rooms they create, we’re asked to develop design concepts to complement architectural features, and not just make picture frames. We’ve developed a reputation lately as being one of the strongest work-shops in New York City for this type of work by having quality carvers, cabinet makers and finishers on our staff.” Ms. Pyne felt a particular affinity with Lowy, noting that her firm has always stressed the architectural element of design. “We appreciated Lowy’s insistence on quality, not trendy-ness,” she said. “This client had eyes only for Lowy.”