Friday, January 28, 2011

Solid Waste

Army surplus photo courtesy Flickr

An acquaintance works as a handyman on a large collection of affordable apartments. Rob was an Air Force mechanic, and he’s got a keen sense of what will fall out of the sky and what will not. A few weeks ago, he griped about clearing out yet another unit that a departing tenant had left full of broken chipboard furniture. Rob’s as green as they come, and his sensibilities were deeply offended by waste that will not recycle.

Disposables are a great leap forward in the evolution of home furnishings. A quick squint at the design arguments of the Sixties makes it apparent that the great big box chain solved every problem, and brilliantly. Craig’s List is the black swan in the equation: when there’s an immediate aftermarket for just about anything, it’s worth getting a little more involved with quality.

A non-profit I have frequented for many years is going through a change of administration, and the new crew really gets the new marketing and distribution system. Recently they reconfigured their building to reflect changes in the programs they offer, and they threw their first garage sale to raise money for a social room. The sale got people’s quarters cleaned out, and the proceeds went into used furniture from the List.

The new meeting room is beautifully furnished with contemporary tables and chairs and quite an entertaining sofa. The pieces are solid and solid value, well worth maintaining, comforting and supportive. If they were mine, I’d put magical sliders on the feet of each chair and the sofa to relieve strain on the joins and to protect the floor and the ears of the users. When wear and tear begins to show, it will be a small matter to touch up the finishes. If the sofa still appeals, it can easily be recovered with hot-melt glue and a fabric of the moment.

-30 More after the jump.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Tipping Point

Photo courtesy Flickr

There’s a downside to efficiency: a house that’s easy to clean is also easy to ignore. HEPA air filters, shoes off at the door, and semi-tidy habits produce a place that can be maintained with a lick and a promise every couple of weeks. Gross cleaning, ordinary dusting and vacuuming, doesn’t address the subtle film of “house breath” that eventually occludes every surface.

It can take years for this to happen. Imperceptible bits of gunk and minor chips impair painted surfaces, finished wood gets its share of dents and scratches, and suddenly the place looks low-rent. It’s just as easy to tip a house back into good condition. The fixes also work wonders on a new place that hasn’t been rehabilitated.

Old-fashioned spring cleaning tackled the miserable, carcinogenic coat of soot that gas light left on every surface. I run across remnants of it now and then when I’m working on an obscure area of this 1890 house, and the stuff ain’t pretty. House breath, on the other hand, is trivial, if you ventilate carefully when you’re cooking. That’s why it’s easy to overlook.

Making things right is just as easy: wipe down surfaces with a high-tech polyester terry detailing towel. Often, water is enough to get things clean. Rubbing alcohol, the Italian housekeeper’s secret weapon, degreases and disinfects in one step. I keep a bottle by the stove. Vodka does the same thing, and is even more versatile. A janitorial supply outfit will sell you a gallon of the best thing going-neutral pH, no rinse detergent. Consider it a labor cost. A gallon lasts me five years or so.

My trusty photographer’s equipment dusting brush, that looks like a shaving brush on steroids, makes short work of details. A nylon utility toothbrush from the hardware store dislodges stubborn gunk, and a make-up artist’s specialized cotton swab get what the brush can’t. Use a dental pick on hard cases. Disposable vinyl gloves make it easy to start working knowing that it won’t be necessary to manicure afterwards.

A model-maker’s set of paints makes it easy to touch up nicks, if you don’t have some of the original paint stashed away. The same swabs can apply paint. A penetrating oil finish will revive old varnished woodwork-get an expert opinion before you go after the stuff in your house.

If you inherited someone else’s sloppy work, take the time to remove paint spots from brightwork and glass. That single procedure is often enough to bring a room back to life. I use a small penknife and vacuum up the residue. Biker’s German-made chrome polish is the best thing I’ve found for any metal.

There’s huge economic value to this kind of detailing, and it’s worth putting in some time on hands and knees. To protect fine motor skills, set a timer if you don’t work like this very often.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Home Improvement

Deft's catching up on housework this week, dear readers, but there's good material in the pipeline. In the meantime, one of the first blogs, July 22, 2009, lays out some basics. More after the jump.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shoemaker's Child

Deft's in reruns for a few days to catch up on housework. Good stuff's in the pipeline. Try "Perfectionism", from July 27, 2009. :)

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More after the jump.