Find a Harmony Between Old and Modern Objects

Mixing antique and contemporary elements is an enduring look and helps to pull together different styles in furniture and objects you have and which don’t seem to get along.What is key to harmonising these odds ‘n’ sods you might have bought over the years, or which were donated to help you set up home, is art and photography. An approach is to combine an old cabinet that doesn’t have the cachet of antique but might be categorised as vintage, and a modern artwork, a poster or black and white photo hanging above. One of the most striking combinations I’ve seen as an example of this was a quite dingy Victorian washstand that had been eaten by woodworm but still had its marble top intact, and on the wall above it an unframed abstract painting. Eye-catching, balanced and at the same time an example of making what you have work — rather than slinging it in the skip for something new.

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It also works counter-intuitively. An old painting in an elaborate gilt frame sited above a very modern cabinet, table or contemporary streamlined sofa has the same effect. But bearing in mind that few of us have a supply of inherited gilt-framed paintings, an obliging car boot sale will throw up a tatty but fancy frames that, with a spray of gold paint from your art supply shop, will encase an old family photo. Also remember that thanks to new technology, old tattered photos can be restored and enlarged significantly without losing resolution. A simple and modern metal frame surrounding the picture will provide a lovely contrast and will tie in with a modern furniture piece beneath. My own version is very simple. No worthy, gilt-edged art or French polished antiques here. My humble arrangement occupying a spot behind the sitting room door is an old — not even fashionably vintage — mahogany veneered dining trolley on castors. My father as a very young man gave it to his older sister as a wedding gift and she in turn gave to me. What it lacks in beauty and monetary value, it makes up for in personal connection, history and the love and thoughtfulness with which it was given.

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A collection of modern family photos in chunky rectangular brushed metal frames costing €3 each from a well-known Scandinavian retailer, zig-zag around the wall above, keeping within the parameters of the trolley’s length. If displaying family photos, old or new, is not your thing, interesting objects are an alternative. A sculpture, even a manufactured plaster imitation version, or a hollowed out stone bowl will, like the art/photography and furniture combo, provide a new focal point in a room, taking the eye away from the flat-screen television in the corner. Quirky or out-size mirrors are an option. As well as being attractive they are also functional. Don’t forget rugs either. If you’ve ever bought a really beautiful one and hesitated to put it on the floor, knowing it would be walked on, ask yourself if it would look good on a wall. Later, if you fancy a change it can revert to its original purpose. * Next week it’s the new trend of organic modern A LITTLE MOREART PROMPT* Try something that is neither art nor photography on your wall to provide visual interest, practicality and an alternative focus to the space. Furniture fashion brand Obi has come up with a calendar version for each day of the week since chalkboards became fashionable in kitchens and family rooms for lists and appointments. Approx. €120 at www.obifurniture.co.uk

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Small art galleries, craft fairs and pop up craft shops are excellent spots for picking up prints and limited editions that won’t traumatise your wallet. This arresting little print by Pat Byrne straddles childhood and adulthood, printed on upcycled 1830s English encyclopaedia pages (€20 unframed at Jam Art Prints) Grand Day for the Insects is a sophisticated limited edition print for those who are free of arachnaphobic tendencies. Made by New Zealander Kelvin Mann, it was inspired by our National Botanic Gardens. (€113.50 unframed at Printmakers Gallery, Dublin) A fantasy canopy bed is in the fine detail of Caroline O’Donohue’s etched print The Elopement (limited edition €330 from Graphic Studio Gallery) Fine art printmaker Marta Wakula-Mac’s Nude III recreates the body with simple lines for a delicate aesthetic (unframed €180, framed approx: €275 at SO Fine Art Editions) Aoife Hanrahan’s Deer stencil on plywood offers something novel and contemporary (€80 at www.stencilize.ie )

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Riding Out an Electrical Storm
We delved into a few urban driving legends last week. Let's pick apart two more: the safest place to be during a lightning storm is in your car, and red cars attract more speeding tickets than less-colorful vehicles.You've undoubtedly heard this saying. But you might not know the real reason why it's safer to be in a car than being outside during a storm."It's not because of the rubber tires, as people often claim," said Daniel Davis, a physicist who narrates the Boston Museum of Science's famous lightning show. "You're safe riding inside the T, for example, and the T has metal wheels. You're very safe inside a plane. Most commercial airplanes are struck by lightning once a year on average and there's very little damage. They're airborne, and the rubber tires have been pulled up into the fuselage."Cars and other metal structures are predominantly safe havens from lightning for two distinct reasons, Davis said. First, they are great conductors of electricity. Second, when cars and the like are struck by lightning, the current stays on the outermost surfaces of their metal frames. No matter where you touch inside the car, you won't get zapped."The charge is pushed to the outside skin of the conductor. It's called a skin effect," Davis said.The science behind this phenomenon goes something like this, explains Davis: A bolt of lightning might last but a second, but during that moment, the intensity of the current fluctuates several times. The current might start at 100,000 volts, jump up to 1 million volts, then slide back down to 500,000 volts, all within a second. The fluctuations create a magnetic field in the object that's being struck, such as your car, and that magnetic field pushes the current to the outside surfaces of the object."We do a very similar demonstration at the Theater of Electricity in the Museum of Science," Davis said. "We have a [human-size] metal bird cage with one-quarter-inch-thick iron bars that's struck by our 1-million-volt Van de Graaff generator. Visitors regularly touch the inside of the cage as it's being struck and they don't feel anything. Certainly, they are not harmed."Davis added a few points of caution, however. A car will conduct the electricity from a lightning strike with the windows open or closed. But if you were to stick out your hand, the charge would likely jump to your skin.While being in a car is safer than being outside during a lightning storm, it's probably only slightly safer than being in a house. (A house's electric wiring and plumbing will soak up the charge from a strike.)Likewise, you might be "marginally safer" in a larger vehicle than, say, a Mini Cooper, according to Davis.
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