Thursday, February 23, 2017

Put A Little Money Into Lighting

Seattle enjoys a pair of lamp shops that have been doing business since the Twenties. At one, I discovered the value of a silk shade. It gave me the most bang for the buck of any furnishing dollar. Decades later, the other clued me to a shortfall in local interior design training. A veteran clerk commented that the intern on the staff had told him her curriculum includes only a disproportionately short section on lighting. If I were starting over, I'd design the lighting first. I am aware that light is easily half of any visual. The technical details are beyond my scope of interest, but I have been willing to spring for rarified Edison base bulbs in a search for ways to bring my 1890 interior into viable 2017 service.

The house pre-dates electricity. Every spring I thank the wisdom of the first owner who decided that gas light had to go. It was the soot of gas illumination that generated the need for traditional spring cleaning. When I moved here in 1980, conventional wisdom about lighting wasn't much more advanced than the old notion of improving it by putting a larger bulb in the ceiling fixture.

By 1980, I had enjoyed nearly a year in low-tech interiors, where firelight, kerosene, and candles made the hours after sundown productive. It's been a hassle coming to terms with 1812-style Boston rooms that are designed to use shadow as an element of form. Conventional frosted incandescent bulbs flatten an interior, and the energy-conserving devices I have tried make things even flatter. They are better suited to new wallboard and foam upholstery than to the ancient textures of straight-grain Doug fir and veteran lath and plaster.

The designer who worked with President Carter had a gift for the country style that suited my Eighties urban farmhouse approach. He advised setting small, low sources of illumination around a room, and that trick began to bring my spaces to life. On a lark, I picked up some quartz halogen Edison base spots. Their intense, focussed light transformed the business end of the kitchen and lifted the curse of obsolescence from this noble old structure.

The Wallingford lighting outlet carries a broad range of contemporary classics that are familiar from ads in glossy design magazines. I popped for a not-cheap LED task light that illuminates (in every sense of the word) reading and writing spaces. With that light and a collection of thrift shop prizes, I can pour lumens into a space as if I were infusing it with paint. The right light bulb will do for an old wall what plastic surgery does for an old face  -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Worth The Trouble

I decided to invest in a set of replacements for my grandmother's 1948 dinner napkins, that are not showing noticeable signs of wear even now. The table should be good through 2060, if the owners keep the things out of a dryer.

The new set of hemstitched Irish linens left me wheezing when I paid for them, but they cost about the same as the motley collection of substitutes I have toyed with since I started keeping house in 1966.

Forget cotton and blends. Use top of the line linen or fresh dishtowels or bar wipes for best value and performance. Even take-out is enhanced by a generous, protective cover on the lap. Guests can relax when they know they're not likely to go home wearing the first course.

Line dry linen and iron from the back to raise the grain and minimize abrasion. Never iron a fold, since a tubular fiber like linen will crack. Pull the hem straight very gently, since worn hemstitching can become a conveniently perforated tear line if mishandled -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Practical Extravagance

Sticky tape does not age well. Get the most out of the finest by using low-tack drafting tape and no-residue gaffer's tape for ordinary applications. It will cost more per unit of tape but save space and the cost of acquisition -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Inorganic Beauty Supply

The house geek loves to fiddle with electronics. I've been passing on four-grit nail buffers, that he loves, and he's been buying pointed cotton swabs and nail lacquer for labeling and touch-up for years.

The supply store downtown had a sale on a locking equipment trolley. The price was low enough to make it worth taking a chance, and I no longer can imagine life without one. It's child proof, featherweight, obviously well-tested, and versatile. Himself allowed me to integrate the domestic detailing gear that overlaps in many areas with what is necessary to bring a vintage circuit prize back to working life.

Adding the smallest fire proof storage cabinet would round out the inventory. As it is, I house flammables in an outbuilding. Perhaps a small fireproof document safe would do  -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Cook loves pepper. For Christmas, I risked complicating the kitchen inventory by surprising him with three small cylindrical impact grinders full of white, green, and pink peppercorns.

Cook was happy.

Cook surprised me with a panful of exceptionally flavorful fried boneless chicken last week. It was cooked old-style and finished with a sour cream gravy thickened with the granulated flour that topped the New Orleans style direct to the meat initial seasoning. A spectrum of pepper flavors takes conventional down-home cooking into new territory. It's still gentle and easy to produce, but as interesting as the fast-lane cuisine of neighborhood restaurants -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Internal Roustabout

The last time I went to the circus I found the roustabouts more entertaining than any of the acts except for a line of dancing Italian clowns. I roust a good bit of household stuff over the course of any given week.  The more energy I put into setting up for a coming Monday, the smoother the flow of the next few days. Constant minor tuning of the interior prevents chaotic reconfiguration when things change suddenly -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Shower Curtain

A long-ago decision to add a shower to the 1890 clawfoot tub generated a series of illuminating design decisions. I installed a rounded rectangle of hospital curtain track on the ceiling over the tub and paid for the first of five custom shower curtains*.

The least expensive, simplest to acquire, most durable, and easiest to maintain of those curtains is also the one least likely to impress a visitor. Changes in the solar exposure of the house necessitated a curtain that will hold no moisture after a shower. In a moment of expedience, I tried a thin waffle-textured plastic painter's drop cloth that cost just a few dollars. I folded the top edge, hammered hardware store brass grommets into place for a few dollars more, and trimmed the bottom edge along the convenient and accurate fold lines of the plastic.

I expected to replace the curtain by now but a recent discovery has extended its life indefinitely. Inserting a spray bottle mechanism into a pint jar of white vinegar allows me to refresh the inner surface of the curtain without having to remove and wash it. Once I figure out how to modify the visual, perhaps with agricultural polyester or a mylar survival blanket, the room should be back in prime condition -30-

*The first currtain was white nylon that transmitted supremely elegant light. The second was made from white cotton sheets. The third, that lasted years longer than the first two, was made from white polyester sheets. All three had to be washed and bleached in a machine, and all three failed from mildew. The learning curve spread over twenty years. The fourth was cobbled together out of a fiber-reinforced white poly tarp. The light was gorgeous, but the thing was too stiff to be practical.  More after the jump.