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the architourist

Dave and Shauntelle LeBlanc's heritage kitchen.Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

The world is becoming less colourful. And there are statistics to prove it.

Recently, the Cultural Tutor posted a number of tweets documenting the rise of greys, beiges, greiges, blacks and whites, and the alarming decrease of vibrant colours in product and interior design. A chart of car colours by year showed that, while today “greyscale” colours make up three-quarters of “cars produced globally, it was about 50 per cent” as recently as 1990. Two parking lot photographs backed this up: a candy-coloured one from the 1980s and a drab one from today.

Dulux paint’s most popular colours in 2020 were “Polished Pebble”, “Chic shadow” and “Goose down,” and another graph showed that neutral colours are “by far the most popular” in off the rack clothing. As a final shocker, the Cultural Tutor posted a graph showing the colour of “every day objects” from 1800 to 2020, and it appears that blacks, greys and whites are choking the rainbow out of existence.

Perhaps that’s why I waited 10 months for a wood-burning fireplace to arrive when it was only supposed to take four, and my kitchen renovation was delayed by a few months because it wasn’t easy getting pink cabinet paint.

The two made it their motto that 'Life is Too Short for Beige.'Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

It ain’t easy being green. Or turquoise. Or yellow. I get it. We live in a world where the dominance of car leasing means no manufacturer wants to end up with an unrentable fleet of purple Plymouths. Folks change houses so often they subconsciously decorate with home staging in mind. And grey and black clothing helps takes colour theory out of a busy morning.

But my wife, Shauntelle, and I have made it our motto that “Life is Too Short for Beige” so much so that, when we renovated the kitchen of our downtown Toronto condo in 2011 and I profiled in these pages, we took it as a badge of honour when one Globe reader commented that it looked like “a bus terminal from the 1960s” due to the vintage yellow and red tile backsplash and Formica countertops.

So, when we purchased our retail/residential building on the Danforth in 2018 and it had a failing, falling apart, all-white kitchen from the early 1990s, it didn’t seem strange to rip it out and replace it with a gently used 1962-63 Eaton’s Viking kitchen in turquoise with yellow laminate millwork. What was silly was that I’d found it while surfing Kijiji with “all of Ontario” activated rather than just the Greater Toronto Area, and this stunning specimen happened to be in a cabin near Thunder Bay, a 28-hour round trip (for a full account of this epic journey, Google “retro kitchen road trip”).

Not that that stopped me.

The couple approached a few kitchen places.Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

Unfortunately, because we had a store to build and open (Ethel – 20th Century Living), the Thunder Bay kitchen, with its tiny twin sinks (and no dishwasher) and woefully inadequate storage (one cabinet) was where I, the family cook, toiled for the next 3½ years. Yes, we approached a few kitchen places, but few wanted to take on a project that involved building new stuff around old stuff, and fewer still seemed confident with plastic laminate. One even ran screaming when we told him we had two marble panels from Canada’s tallest building, the 72-storey First Canadian Place, that we wanted to use as a partial countertop (in 2011, 45,000 marble panels were removed and replaced with glass panels in one of the largest façade retrofits ever done).

Thank goodness I bumped into Giovanni Cirinna at Gelato on the Danny & Espresso Bar across the street. Not only is Mr. Cirinna an experienced tiler and all-around nice guy, he’d just taken over Avonlea Kitchens + Bathroom Concepts two blocks away and was looking for clients. While some of our choices may not have been his cup of, er, cappuccino, he kept his eye rolls to a minimum while we discussed the best ways to increase storage, add modern niceties such as a much larger and deeper sink, a touch-on/touch-off faucet, or a range hood, all while keeping the overall retro appearance (of a sixties bus depot).

Thanks to websites such as Pam Kuber’s Retro Renovation, I was made aware that Panolam Surface Systems had reintroduced Nevamar Brand’s Venus laminate, which was a perfect accompaniment to the Thunder Bay stuff, so an order was placed. It was also around this time that another order was placed for a completely unrelated-to-the-kitchen item.

Shauntelle’s favourite colour is turquoise.Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

In 1960, Malm Fireplaces, Inc., began producing freestanding “mod” fireplaces in Santa Rosa, Calif., and still crank them out today using the old metal-bending machines. So, a visit to their local representative, Toronto Home Comfort on Lawrence Avenue East, got the log rolling. There, we were made aware that iconic colours, such as red or orange, could only be obtained if we chose a gas unit, since those are powder coated. Wood-burning units, we were told, are finished in porcelain enamel, and those colours produce toxins that have been outlawed by the state. Good thing Shauntelle’s favourite colour is turquoise.

Mr. Cirinna and his guys stepped in and put up the fake fieldstone wall from local manufacturer Stonepark Inc. (in the 1960s this was called “flagcrete”) and the hearth’s starburst tiles in anticipation of a late February/early March fireplace arrival.

It arrived from Malm at the end of July; while supply chain issues were part of the reason, the fact that we chose turquoise might also have been an issue, since the porcelain workers failed at their first attempt to fire the colour properly.

It seems even in the world of retro-styled fireplaces, colour is a thing of the past.

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