Ask the Experts

By staff June 1, 2002

Q I've recently started collecting Bakelite jewelry. How do I clean the pieces?

Mid-century antiques dealer and store owner Jack Vinales answers: Welcome to the club. I have 17 Bakelite radios in my home collection and not a day goes by that I don't sell a piece of Bakelite in my store.

Clean your jewelry with silver polish or Lucite cleaner on a soft cloth. Soap and water works fine, and so does window cleaner as long as it contains no ammonia. A toothbrush gets into crevices of highly carved pieces. A yellowish deposit will come off, and that's good because this confirms the piece is genuine Bakelite. The yellow is oxidation. Bakelite colors holds up well, although white turns to butterscotch over time and blue goes to nearly black. These patina changes are highly prized by collectors. Red, yellow, green and black are the most collectible colors for Bakelite hinged bracelets. And polka dot is always popular. A good one can be had for about $700. Its original price was about 25 cents.


Bakelite is named for Leo Bakeland (1863-1944), a Belgian chemist who invented phenolic resin, an early form of plastic that could be molded and carved. Bakelite was manufactured in New Jersey until the beginning of World War II, when the war effort demanded conversion from decorative objects to military products. Then plastics came in, and Bakelite was never again produced. There's only a finite amount of Bakelite out there, and competition for it is keen.

Q I collect vintage bar items-odd cocktail shakers, whimsical glass swizzle sticks-but don't have a bar in my home. How can I display my amusing objects?

Interior designer Paula Prewitt answers: It depends on the style of your room, but here are three possibilities. Convert an armoire into a bar area by adding glass shelves and lining the interior with mirror or wallpaper. Another option is to invest in a butler's tray table and use it as an end table. Group several of your items on the tray. Store the objects you don't have room for and rotate the collection periodically. A French marble-top pastry table with an iron base would be a great display area and focal point. Put your swizzle sticks into a crystal glass so that they can be seen in a vertical arrangement.

Q Are there certain shades of white that designers return to in residential projects?

Nancy Ebel-Collum of Nancy Ebel Interior Design says: "I rely on White Umber by Porter Paint. I use the oil-base satin finish, which is a warmish white that won't yellow over time. White Umber is terrific with pastel walls or bold colors, and its reads just fine in both traditional and modern room settings." Terrance Leaser of Norwalk, The Furniture Idea, reports that: "The Ralph Lauren palette of whites is one of the most beautiful, and I use a lot of that brand on walls. I like a satin finish Latex on walls so that you can wipe them down when necessary. For trim, it's Porter Paint White Umber, and I like the semi-gloss Latex because of easy soap and water clean-up when applying it. White Umber is soothing and won't absorb surrounding strong colors."

Designer Beth Boyce relies on Sherwin-Williams Antique White for her white walls. For woodwork, crown molding and other trim, she advocates Sherwin-Williams Dover White.

Robb & Stucky interior designer Treanne Michel has success with Benjamin Moore Bone White, which is warm and creamy. "I suggest doing the walls in a flat Latex finish and the trim in the same color of Bone White but at 3/4 strength. Select semi-gloss Latex for a traditional room and high-gloss for an ultra modern look. Then for the ceiling I'd use the same Bone White at 1/8 strength. This gives you three different subtle shades that work beautifully together." Michel says tinting the primer the same color white as your paint may save you a coat.

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