Gettin' Lucky

For the most part, you can control what you do and what happens to you. Sometimes, though—maybe more often than we’d like—all our best intentions and plans don’t quite fall into place. Then there are the times when we might, for whatever reason, just have to “go for it” and hope for the best and we come out “smellin’ like a rose”! In both scenarios there is a cosmic culprit in the works: Lady Luck. Uncontrollable, fickle, friend or foe all rolled into one. Some might argue that you can make your own luck by diligence and planning and I certainly think that’s true—to a point. But I wouldn’t be bettin’ the family farm on it. So here’s a job that could have been a bad dream, if not a full-blown nightmare…without a little luck.


We have a long time customer, a building contractor named Steve from Shephenson Construction. Steve Stephenson? No…like it sounds: Steve and Son Construction. Anyway Steve and his son Greg, both excellent craftsmen, often are involved in restaurant projects, mostly upscale. As well as lettering their vehicles we have taken care of some restaurant signage for them. So one day, I walk into the shop and see this 3' x 16" sign blank up against the wall. Unfinished, made from MDO, cut to shape and all trimmed out with wooden moulding. “Where’d that come from?” I asked.

“Stephenson’s dropped it off, it’s for that new restaurant in Providence.” (Our shop in Massachusetts is located about 10 minutes by highway from Providence, the state capital of Rhode Island.) “They want you to come up with something real nice for it.”

Here we go…the old “make-the-layout-fit-the-shape” trick. Now I know, that with all the wonderful clipart CDs available many “designers” pick a shape and then fill it up with words and cool stuff. But that’s really not the best way to decide the shape of a custom sign. It can really limit creativity and tend to dictate the layout—and so it was in this case—but I got lucky. Here’s how...

Initially, Steve came in and passed on some of the information and ideas from the owner, Brian Kingsford, and a few suggestions of his own. They made the sign shape based on seeing a picture of a sign in Boston. Not that it was the same or even close, just that it had a nice shape so they came up with a nice shape for this one. They did a great job, but it made my job a little harder.

When working through an intermediary, communications can get distorted. It’s always best to work with the final decision maker during the design process. It’s not always the case, though. With all the madness inherent in a major project like building and opening a restaurant many things get delegated and more often than not one of the most important aspects of the whole thing—the sign and what it presents as the image of the business—is placed lower on the list of things the decision maker can tend to. Since Brian was wearing all the hats as owner, chef and general contractor, he certainly had his hands full.

His friend Jim Isenberg stepped up and helped out when Brian needed someone to handle calls.


Bacaro, as it would be called, is an upscale Italian-style gourmet restaurant: Bacaro Restaurant, Wine Bar and Salumeria. For the sign, they were looking for “something real nice, but not too fancy.” It’s going on a reconditioned brick building overlooking the Providence River and right in the middle of all the waterfront activity. And it had to read well from across the river also.

We had about three weeks, four tops, to deliver the sign and they would install it.

My initial thoughts were toward a “Letterhead style” sign with a nice older looking letter style, maybe a little ornate but readable and ribbons to carry the sub copy. If there ever was a job begging for gold leaf and smalts this was it. But the shape wasn’t going to give me much freedom to move. Besides, all my designs were being rejected as too fancy.

Team back. Time was going by and we had to nail this thing down. Brian had to break away to come and hash it out and see some of the things I had been trying to describe over the phone like smalts and dimensional effects compared to flat.

As always, that was the key. We met with Brian and his partner, Jennifer Matta at our shop. Bacaro is the result of their collective thinking, countless discussions, research and “drawing on napkins”. (Sound familiar?) They had a vision and they just needed to translate it to me. He explained that he wanted the sign to reflect Old World Italy in feel. “You know,” he said, “like the signs in Italy.” (Sorry, I don’t get out that way too much and it seems my perception of the look is exaggerated.) “They’re much plainer, very simple,” he explained with first-hand knowledge. Prioritizing the copy was easy: besides the name, everything gets equal billing.

He showed me a logo they were using that he had designed. It consisted of a large upper case “B” in script with the word “bacaro” running through it in all lower case script. The design was more suited to a round format and wouldn’t work on this sign shape, and readability would suffer. We discussed alternate letter styles. He was familiar with Times New Roman and would like to see that for the copy and he liked the idea of gilded raised letters and smalts. We talked about colors and he indicated that he liked a bright blue for the trim with the black smalts.

I keep my smalts in old Ball canning jars for nostalgic effect as well as smaller jars for some mixes we have experimented with over the years. He spied a small jar of black smalts with blue specks. We’ve experimented in the past with coloring smalts with paint and I think it might have been table sweepings. I knew I was saving it for something. Brian thought it was cool, so with a wink and a nod from Lady Luck, we had our background color.

We chose to use Gemini formed plastic letters. They’re guaranteed for life and the finish is perfect for gilding. Gemini offers quite a line of styles and luckily they have Time New Roman. But a problem may lie in the sizes that are available.

Back to the composer screen on Omega, I reworked the layout in the only way it could possibly go and it actually looked fine for that particular look. The size of the letters for the main copy worked out to be 15" tall. Yup, in that style Gemini offers 4", 6", 8", 10", 12", fifteen inches, 18" and 24".

Three inches taller at 18" or three inches shorter at 12" wouldn’t have worked. I decided to use 22-karat SignGold for the secondary copy to keep all the lettering gold, but stay within budget.


So we get the “go” on the new layout, but sign design doesn’t stop at what the sign will look like. The mounting method must be factored in before the final painting and lettering is even started. Due to the MDO construction, this sign was very heavy and the installation method hadn’t been discussed yet.

All I could picture, since we weren’t handling the install, was some “real nice” lag bolts with big washers right through the smalted face or exposed angle iron brackets all around.

During the discussion of the logistics of the install, Jim asked if he knew where they could rent a man lift for the construction crew. Now besides aesthetics, there are safety issues to consider here and I convinced them to let a professional sign installation company do the job. As a matter of fact, I had just the outfit for him…my son Mike and crew from Neolite Signs. Luck can’t be relied on in some situations. Skillful people with the right equipment is what’s called for here. The only luck Mike relies on is whether or not it rains when they’re doing the job.

But with the pressure on, a short deadline, a tight scheduling window and lots of other jobs in our shop, we needed some good rolls of the dice… and we got them.