Designing The Lighthouse
When I purchased Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse from the federal government in 2011, I knew the nearly 100-year-old sorely neglected building would take a lot of restoration work. First and foremost, the entire structure needed paint inside and out and there were no functioning utilities or bathrooms. But I also knew that once the building was restored and functioning again as a home, I wanted the interior design to reflect the structure’s industrial nature and continued use as an active aid to navigation (the beacon is still maintained by the US Coast Guard). It was also important that I selected pieces and colors that would reflect the period in history when keepers lived there, full time to tend the light (1925-1948). The following is an overview of the design -- organized by living space -- I chose for the lighthouse. Furniture I scoured Craigslist, eBay, and numerous antique shops for just the right pieces.
With no closets, I opted for armoires in the upstairs bedrooms – one found in New Jersey and the other (a “break down” armoire) from Tennessee.
The bedframes were antique shop finds, except for the double bunkbeds in the downstairs bunk room, which are new.
The large cast iron circular staircase placement meant the living room sofa needed a right-side chaise, which was made to fit the space. A wooden stool being used as a side table holds a display lamp filled with Lake Erie beach glass.
I opted for a swivel armchair to facilitate conversation between those sitting on the sofa and people sitting at the kitchen island or the dining room table.
The giant farm table came from Texas, chosen because I envisioned the keepers sitting down there to a hearty meal.
The dining chairs were from a Vermont school house. I bought 12 to have enough for the table and extras used as side chairs upstairs.
I turned several found objects left in the lighthouse into furniture including the original foghorn, now an end table; a steel cable wheel, which is now a side table; and another steel cable wheel that I made into a floor lamp.
Kitchen Since any vestiges of the original kitchen upstairs were long-gone, I wanted the new kitchen on the main level to be modern yet fit seamlessly into the industrial/historical lighthouse aesthetic.
I chose black beadboard distressed cabinets with a white cast iron sink and black and white speckled granite countertops.
The industrial barstools came from a warehouse in Chicago, and I recovered them with a snappy black, red, and tan plaid to match the living room fabrics.
The dishware mimics the red and white enamelware pieces I found at antique stores including the large coffeepot (lighthouse keepers needed a lot of coffee!), a double boiler, covered soup kettle, and the new set of canisters.
The sailboat flatware is a nod to Lake Erie outside.
Living Room Double Doors Originally opening east for access to cargo brought by ships, the cast iron double doors no longer work because of several broken hinges. But the upper-level transom windows were painstakingly refurbished and fitted with stunning custom-made stained- glass windows. The right window depicts a lighthouse sunrise, and the left window shows a night scene.
Laundry Room The original use of the laundry room is unclear, but a red metal stand mounted on the wall displays interesting lighthouse finds and provides storage for beach towels and other necessities.
Another antique store find, the cast iron utility sink functions well for messier clean up jobs.
Red and black metal hooks organize everything from a life ring to the dog’s leash.
Basement/Bunk Room Used for storing coal and a boiler to heat the lighthouse as well as the cistern that collected water, the basement level has been transformed into a bunk room, adjoining full bathroom, and a chic wine cellar.
The bunk room bedding brings a naval vibe to the lighthouse with nautical flag pillows and throws spelling out the nautical alphabet.
The wine cellar is not original, but certainly a welcome addition.
Bathrooms With only one original bathroom, I decided the lighthouse needed two more – one for the primary bedroom and one in the basement for the bunkroom. All three bathrooms include composting toilets due to the lack of a sewer hookup and are part of the sustainable utilities.
Taking a cue from the original bathroom’s white hexagon floor tile, I designed all three in black and white with hex tiles used for the shower floors and white subway for the shower surrounds. The original bathroom had stamped plaster mimicking white subway tile.
The three matching sinks are from a Cleveland salvage company, perhaps reclaimed from a school bathroom.
The new fixtures were selected for both functionality and their historic style.
Black pipe towel rods and hooks bring an industrial flair to each bathroom.
Simple white shower curtains with a black accent complete the black and white look.
Used as the keeper’s living room/office/communications center (note the shelf that held radio equipment), the upstairs foyer is now a focal point of the design.
The original hardwood floors were saved, repaired, and refinished in a dark chocolate brown to contrast with the white walls and hide as many flaws as possible.
The mixed wood compass rose inlay, made in Wyoming, was added for impact. Pointing due North, it’s a showstopper when people reach the 2nd floor -- many assuming it must be original.
Years of neglect and being tightly closed for decades caused large amounts of plaster to fall from the walls exposing the brick underneath. I left the walls as I found them, sealing the brick, and painting the plaster. Akin to high-end restaurant design, I call the look, “Lighthouse Industrial Faux.”
Service Level The Service or Tower Level is just 8’ x 8’ and situated strategically below the beacon. Faux leather benches and cubes provide seating for those needing to rest after ascending the many stairs in preparation for the last climb to the widow’s walk.
A bright red compass pops against the grey steel doors and a black metal sailboat looks ready to depart.
Housing US Coast Guard equipment for the solar-powered beacon and National Weather Service gear for its weather station, FAI01, affixed to the roof, the tower design includes white walls, black staircases and pops of red found throughout the lighthouse.