Friday, March 11, 2011

Got Milk?

Photo courtesy Flickr

Old pal Mimi ordered a dozen legal dairy crates from the Big City in Minnesota mail order outfit. The shipment was too bulky to park in the house when it arrived, so she stowed it in her garage. By the time she was free to unpack and start using the crates, her husband had filched six to use in his shop.

I call that success.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stop Pretending and Have Some Fun


Photo courtesy Flickr

That line is from a music critique, but unfortunately I can’t find the reference. It says what it says better than anyone else, though.

This neighborhood is where the art students live. Programmers live here, too, now, and New Yorkers often settle in while they’re going through urban detox.
I’ve lived here since 1972 and have been stealing, er, sampling ideas from the neighbors ever since. What I have learned is that there ain’t no such thing as a proper room. There are rooms that work and rooms that please, rooms that are a thumb in the eye, aka learning opportunity, and rooms that snooze.

In 2011, the most important thing that matters when I’m putting a space together is the carbon implication of the choice I’m about to make. Where gloal warming is concerned, a local thrift store is unquestionably the high-end choice, second only to collecting a clean and appealing piece from the curb.

A wise, hip, and experienced matron advised the younger me to be careful about what I brought home from a thrift outlet, because it was likely to become part of my permanent collection. It is true: when my son went away to school, he lobbied for the chartreuse Fifties porcelain lamp that is a sitting cat with good posture and a small, equally chartreuse planter box at its feet. I didn’t know whether to be proud of him or not, but I’m glad the lamp found a good home where it can continue to serve as the requisite single piece of kitsch.

When Ettore Sottsass’ Memphis was exciting the world of international design, someone left a sculpture stand in the alley. It seems to be 1915 or so, and it’s pure Memphis. I don’t sculpt, but it holds a mean reading light and tucks into any corner.

A graduate student in landscape design opened my eyes to the visual romp that is glossy shelter literature. Years of casual reading have taught me that the most interesting and often very influential interiors are ones that designers assemble for themselves from improvised materials.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Anvil Revisited

Thomas Edison drafting setup courtesy Flickr

A year ago this week, I discussed houses and anvils, the place where everything lands when people get home. Managing the sorting and work that accumulates around the anvil accelerates turnaround time and transforms odious chambermaid tasks into easy achievements.

I’ve had a devil of a time finding a convenient way to manage the flow of paper in the house. The economic and social changes of the last thirty years have shifted the burden of clerical work from business to individual, and I have little patience with that kind of detail.

Friday I picked up a small low-tech drafting table finished in a warm dark furniture brown. It melted into the study without a ripple and has become the anvil of infotech. It’s heaven to have a standing work surface that can be approached from any angle, and I find the setup evaporates clerical work, turning minor intervals of jittery boredom into productive time. The combination of small, freestanding graphic “axe” and cordless WiFi laptop/scanner demolishes the paper midden and gives me something to do after four, when I'm brain dead.

The study is the only room I heat regularly during the winter, and at dinner time, it's a simple matter to lower the table top and use the surface for dining. Ordinarily it's bad practice to eat in a studio-bad for the eater, because of the heavy metals in art supplies, and bad for the work because butter is the mortal enemy of work on paper. However, I purged the studio of toxins when a baby was on the way and decided butter was an OK risk for everyday notebook exercises.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Logging the Domestic Interior

Photo courtesy Flickr

The Olympic peninsula used to be the world's main source of timber, and when a project was going well, locals would say, "Now you're logging!" Our frame of reference has changed so much that the phrase hardly functions any more, but the concept’s fundamental. A work site was known as a logging show, and understanding work as a performance furthers efficiency. A good job site has a musical quality to it.

Inertia works for us and against us, and it’s a personal call which it will be. When the house is decently tuned, I can start routine cleaning at the far end of the attic, work ridgepole to basement sump, fence to fence, check out the garages, and be done in an hour or so.

Being able to do that takes constant, minor attention to clutter and excess, but it’s effort well invested. Clear-cutting an interior creates a literal fortune in usable space, healthy air, and home production opportunities.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Washday Miracle

Photo courtesy Flickr

Every year or so I cruise the aisles of a neighborhood supermarket checking for new products and things I may have overlooked on my usual skates for procurement. It’s a good micro-vacation on a slow day and a pleasant alternative to constructing yet another list.

And every year or so I pick up a small bottle of dishwasher anti-spotting liquid. It’s the best laundry additive I have found.

I keep a small inventory of washday products-only detergent and bleach. ‘Don’t seem to have major stains anymore, but when one did show up, I just took whatever to the local dry cleaner and let the experts take care of it. I said good-bye to a few dollars, but escaped maintaining a year-round cluttered shelf of toxins.

Used alone in the first load or two after I bring it home, the rinsing agent does a fine job of getting clothes clean. On general principles, I add some to the dishwashing liquid that I use by hand at the sink, and then use up the bottle mixed with detergent in the regular laundry stream.

Over the years, I’ve found that different cleaning agents remove different fractions of soil, so it’s effective to change products now and then. Ammonia’s a good back-up, the best degreaser for pillow cases and T-shirts. Ammonia can transform third-world dyes into something strange, so be cautious how you use it.

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