No kidding. I’ve long thought that the first mowing of spring was like walking in salad, because the grass was so lush and tender. Decades of gradually introducing and encouraging edible weeds have left me with a tenth of the lawn I used to tend and a greensward that is mostly edible.
Last Thursday was the first gem of an early spring day. I walked up to Volunteer Park on my morning break. The neighborhood is still as elegant as it was when it was developed around 1910. There are several fine old carriage houses set beside mansions on the tree-lined avenue.
There’s a certain magic to a carriage house. It can be the haiku version of the big house without the obligations. As I headed home, I realized that we have a carriage house, too, but it’s a horseless one. The building is tiny and probably a rare surviving example of one of the first Model T pre-fab garages. For that reason, the in-house archaeologist troubled himself to reinforce and preserve the building. We use it as a warm weather daytime retreat.
Last December, I got a rare look at a gigantic suburban garage. The house is set close to the north end of Lake Washington in a hilly split-level development. The garage is a cavernous two-story hall easily large enough for three vehicles, six with those stacking machines. The space is pillared with not bad twelve by twelves. To my eye it is far more interesting and elegant than the padded and carpeted high-maintenance "comfort" of the conventional interior.
Garage culture is evolving in ways that are fascinating to this full-time pedestrian. The emphasis on music and high-tech domestic amenities makes a world of sense. Insect Motors ran a commercial yesterday that showed a family selling off the junk in the garage to make room for a new car, as witty a piece of commercial art as I’ve ever seen.
I got to know a man trained in cabinetmaking at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, the country’s oldest trade school. One day he mentioned that he’d been commissioned to make a classic Chippendale chair. John said he couldn’t make one for less than $5,000 1980 dollars. He ticked off the reasons why the work would cost that much, and it all came down to structure and durability. It may be that the medieval view of a chair as a throne might still be valid, if one considers quality.
That said, what’s good to sit on? Expert Galen Cranz says nothing, “As a species, we are designed for movement.” (Daily Kos 2010/04/25) In her Chair she advises not to sit on anything more than twenty minutes and to choose a support that allows the knees to be a bit lower than the pelvis, to keep the abdomen open and free to breathe. Cranz began to consider seating when one of her classes at UC Berkely was assigned an unfinished lecture hall. The students lounged on carpeted, terraced risers that had not yet been fitted with desks, and their experience set her thinking.
A recent issue of British Conde’ Nast’s World of Interiors features an interesting Seventies tract house. The owners gutted it, disabled the central heating system in favor of a couple of solid fuel stoves and another couple of electric heaters for guests. They covered the floor with painted hardboard.
I really dig this house. The living room is furnished with two pallets, plank platforms on short legs. One’s the size of a day bed and the other the size of a double bed. They’re spread with vintage linens but not upholstered, and they flank a wood stove.
The double pallet has a futon rolled up at the head. This design integrates Japanese and Western architecture. In traditional Japan, the floor is the main piece of furniture. As any starving student knows, living on the floor is good for posture, flexibility, and core strength. Living on a Western floor is also squalid, but not just because people track the street in on their shoes. High western window sills fail the sitter on the floor.
A good sized shin-high platform in a Western room elevates the floor itself and enables the behaviors that turn resting into fitness. Setting the platform close to the heat and infrared relaxation of a wood stove is elegant and inexpensive. It would be simple to salvage planks from shipping pallets and set short metal legs from the Great Big Northern European Furniture Chain as risers. Furniture on legs frees space visually, but the cube of a skater’s fun box would also work well.
In WoI's house, miscellaneous sturdy conventional chairs are set around a long dining table not far from the solid fuel cookstove in the kitchen. Like the pallets, the table is also cobbled together from salvaged wood and painted a greyish white. There seems to be no living room as we know it.
I overheard someone grumbling about the stacks of paper crowding his workspace and shortly after was able to spend my morning bus ride mulling about a post. Paper has its charms and its limitations. After Rome lost Egypt, scribes apologized for writing on vellum, aka calfskin,* rather than the traditional cellulose-based papyrus. Recently I had some minor legal work done, and as I handed the court’s certified copy to a frisky bureaucrat, he doubted its validity, held it up to the light, snapped a corner, and criticized the lack of rag content in the stock.
Good paper feels like money. Use the good stuff when the message is important. “Whooper” is a reliable brand. Look for hundred percent rag and neutral pH.
About those stacks: the vertical file was invented in the late nineteenth century, so a stack can be considered a classic way of managing paper. It’s not very effective, though. Speed of retrieval is what counts with written information. Computers win, hands down, for anything that won’t be important in a hundred years. I have considered spraying certain household principles onto a wall or carving them into a small boulder.
Incoming paper is in the long run a more urgent health issue than any of the usual scut work thought of as housekeeping. Paper piles up because important messages are on the pages. A pile of important messages quickly becomes a pile of unfocussed anxiety and denial. Open mail the minute it arrives, shred what should be shredded, and route the pages to the person who manages the various topics. Knowing that most of what crosses my workspace is disposable, I don’t hesitate to circle key words with a bold marker, so I only have to read something once.
This is an area where being lazy and selfish are useful qualities. My relevant daily paper files live flat in a lockable drawer that’s about four inches deep. That’s all the paper there is, except for a two-inch thick archive in a fire safe. The local academic bookstore sells several very efficient filing formats. My current favorite is a hard-sided accordian paper file from the travel notebook specialist stocked with five-in-one style paper file folders.
Late afternoon is a good time to manage clerical chores. I’m brain dead after three and settle in with coffee and a bright interview show to deal with details. Live topics go into live files, window envelopes go into a storage envelope with monthly dividers-the flap is clipped back so I can just stash something into a section.
Once I realized that my paper midden held ticking time bombs, allergens, and a good reserve of old-fashioned fear, I forced myself to read, scan, and digitally file everything that was relevant. My shredder runneth over.
*The real stuff looks like smooth white blotting paper.
Five generations' keeping house in Western Washington know how to get the job done. Deft Home is the fruit of thirty years’ independent research with casual scholarship, deep-time experience, and no ties to commerce.
Deft home is about doing things the easy way, doing things you won’t get tired of, doing things in little specks of time, and doing things effectively so you won’t have to do them again. It’s also about working with things you already have or have scrounged, about respecting tradition and family legacies, and about making time to enjoy your living quarters. It’s about dignity, self-reliance, and innovation. Especially, Deft Home is about respecting the basics and the labor it takes to keep them right. Hope you enjoy the site as much as I enjoy developing the material.