From nifty '50s into the '90s

June 06, 1993|By Beth Smith

When Bill Bigel decided to move to the suburbs, he wasn't expecting to step into a time capsule. But that's what happened when this director of residential design for the H. Chambers Co. bought a 1956 ranch house.

"The house was a Mamie Eisenhower rancher," says Mr. Bigel. "Except for paint, I don't think it had changed since the Eisenhowers were in the White House."

His goal was to bring the interior design of the living room into the 1990s.

The first things to go were the dark, knotty-pine mantel and paneling that flanked the fireplace. Mr. Bigel designed bookcases for that wall; woodwork specialist Chip Connor of the Connor Co. built them.

"I wanted the bookcases to be very architectural, much more modern than traditional," says Mr. Bigel.

A small lamp positioned in a bookcase created a "friendly little spot," and a painting by Grace Hartigan slipped easily into the niche between the bookcases. A semi-shag, wall-to-wall carpet also was removed; its replacement is a grayish-brown, cut-and-loop textured carpet. Contemporary molding replaced a curved-wood style that had been popular during the '50s. Mr. Connor made wooden blinds to replace the sheer draperies that had covered the bay window.

For a finishing touch, nine recessed lighting fixtures were installed. At night, these highlight Mr. Bigel's furniture, including an art-deco end table that once belonged to the chief of protocol for the shah of Iran. Mr. Bigel's newest acquisition is a Chippendale-style side chair created in aluminum by Baltimore sculptor Paul Daniel.

With his living room in place, Mr. Bigel has turned his attention to other rooms in the house. But as he opens up the spaces to the aesthetics of the 1990s, one thing from the 1950s remains in its place. Over the kitchen sink still hangs a commemorative dinner plate depicting a smiling Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.

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