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A Room With a View

A do-it-herselfer sets her sights on carrying off a dream remodel--in her powder room.

October 31, 1999|KATHY PRICE-ROBINSON | Special to the Times

After living in her 1950s Woodland Hills ranch home for 14 years, Cathy Nordlund set out last year to do something she had never attempted--gut and redo one room to her heart's desire.

But because of her pragmatic disposition--she was trained as an engineer--Nordlund was mindful not to undertake too big or too risky a job. Therefore, the powder room seemed like a good candidate.

It was not only small, it was ugly.

"Spray-painted yellow on fake marble" is how Nordlund described the counter, which sat on bland white cabinets. The only remarkable thing about the room was that when the door was opened, it hit the toilet.

Norlund looked through "millions" of decorating magazines before deciding on a Victorian theme, even though nothing else in her house is even vaguely Victorian.

"I was going to do whatever I wanted," she said.

And, she thought, it would blend fine with the brick flooring that she and her husband, Robert, had

previously added to the entryway, hall and this powder room.

But during her contemplation of fabulous Victorian bathrooms, it finally dawned on Norlund that they shared a common virtue: "The wonderful light from their wonderful windows."

Nordlund's powder room, however, was window-free and would remain so; the room has no exterior walls. And she could not add a skylight because of the second story above.

At first, she thought of adding an old window frame to give the appearance of a real window, but with more magazine research she started to notice examples of trompe l'oeil, French for "fools the eye."

Finally, she had her solution. She would hire an artist to paint a faux window on the wall. "Wow, I'm onto something," she recalls thinking.

That settled, Nordlund had other concerns, like finding an antique buffet to replace the faded vanity and a mirror for the wall above it. She would need to pick out the perfect sconces and decide on a toilet and sink to match the era.

But most of all, Nordlund was anxious about painting the walls to look old and mottled, which she planned to do herself. She found complete instructions for the three-step, three-color process in a book, but she fretted about the outcome.

"I did a lot of agonizing," she said, "I thought it would come out blotchy and horrible and not serene."

Still, she pressed on, testing the process and her colors on paint chips.

A Blend of Cream and Two Yellows

For Step 1, she chose a latex enamel in a buttery cream color, which she painted onto the walls. The color for Step 2 was called "summerset yellow," a paint she had used in her upstairs bathroom.

Following the instructions, she added to the paint a glazing compound from the hardware store, then rolled the mixture onto a 2-foot-square section.

Before the paint dried, she blotted up some of it with cheesecloth. She added glazing compound to the third step's color, "snapdragon yellow," then she daubed it on the wall with cheesecloth.

She described the emotional process: "You do a 2-foot-by-2-foot section and you're all paranoid and sweaty and then you start going and you don't look back." It turned out better than she had imagined.

For the trompe l'oeil window, she felt much more certain of the outcome, especially because she made a detailed drawing of it for the artist, Doreen Behnke of Newbury Park.

The drawing shows a white casement window 46 inches wide, 40 inches high and 5 inches from the corner of the room. One side of the window is open to a bucolic backyard scene showing the family's Rottweiler, Molly, and Nordlund's two children, Bobby, 9, and Samantha, 7. It was husband Robert's idea to show a plant with dropping leaves and a dead bug.

"That's real life," she decided.

She considered the artist's fee, $200, a bargain. After it was done, Nordlund installed a real knob on each faux window, choosing a smaller knob for the "open" window to create the sensation that it's farther away. "I'm an engineer," Nordlund explained. "That's how I think."

The most expensive item in the remodel was the early 1900s oak buffet, for which Nordlund paid $1,200 at Old Friends, an antique shop in Canoga Park. That included refinishing, replacing the back splash and cutting a hole in the top, and in the top drawer, to accommodate the white porcelain sink.

To protect the wood from water damage, Nordlund had Old Friends cover the wood with three coats of varnish and she choose a sink that had cutouts for the faucet and handles, instead of having those set into the wood.

Though the antique mahogany mirror was only $125, the two antique brass sconces framing it were $400, a price Nordlund struggled over. She had found a pair of less desirable sconces for $200 and "went back and forth" about it until she finally declared of the more expensive pair: "I want these sconces."

To further adorn the walls, she hung her collection of old wedding pictures from both her and Robert's sides of the family. The oldest dates to 1862.

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