Friday, August 10, 2012

Gerrit Rietfeld Furniture

Photo courtesy Flickr

Recently, a back hoe had a go at a 1910 house in the neighborhood. Even the guys who do demolition flinch at destroying old wood of such quality. The very morning I was listening to the final creaks of the place that had sheltered one family since 1948, I ran across Rietfeld’s furniture on the Internet.

The planks in a house like the one that went down could produce knock-down kits of fine reproduction design. During the Depression, Rietfeld designed an affordable suite of “crate” furniture that recently auctioned at Christie’s for $7,500.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eye Candy, Hand Candy

Photo courtesy Flickr

The electronic pipeline sluices eye candy at us faster than we can process it, but hand candy is another matter. It’s just not that ordinary to find an object that’s worth the effort of handling it.

Pomme products are the exception, as are whole eggs, pets, vegetables, quality textiles, certain fixtures, and whatever treasured artifacts one might have stashed around the house.

Visit the bait section of your local general store to get an idea of the effect of visual stimulation on commercial packaging. It wasn’t all that long ago that even toys were sold in simple containers, if any. 

It was my privilege to spend long visits with a pair of grandparents who let me handle anything in the house-sometimes supervised, sometimes not. Little fingers need to experience a wide range of materials fabricated with a wide range of skills. I rent my kid’s plastic German dollhouse, and it is furnished with many small antiques that would otherwise just complicate housekeeping. A cloisonne stamp box becomes a chest, a do-it-yourself scale digital grand piano from a kit tells of a Christmas afternoon with a soldering iron, three tiny ivory mice remind children that elephants once had been considered a commodity. 

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Downspouts

Photo courtesy Flickr

Because this is a development property, we have always pussyfooted with home improvements. It’s been easier, for example, to fiddle with conserving water than with salvaging it. This approach is especially satisfactory because it has allowed me to experiment with techniques that are as useful for tenants as for owners.

Last fall I put lengths of flexible plastic drain pipe under the two west downspouts and used storm runoff to replenish the ground water under the half dozen dwarf apple trees in the front garden. The pipes simply lie on the surface, and I shift them a few feet every month or two. They’re not inconvenient over the winter, barely noticeable, and in any case far less ungainly to look at than a rain barrel.

When the lawn is growing, I set the drain pipes aside and let summer’s minimal rainfall flow into the original system of underground tiles. Yesterday I took a good look at the orchard and realized it’s in better shape than ever for less work and less money. I asked a handy-guy to do the installation. His fee and the cost of materials amounted to less than a month’s utility.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Good Sport

Photo courtesy Flickr

Half-attending to Olympic coverage last week, I caught an arresting fragment of a story: an athlete had auctioned off his gold medal on E-Bay to donate the proceeds to tsunami relief. 
$17,000 was a drop in the bucket of need, but I suspect $17,000 goes much farther in Japan than it might in another country. Japan’s tradition of frugal elegance saves circles around any other culture that I know.
The day I heard that story, I had been shuffling small furnishings around and had set several pieces in the upstairs hall. I happened to glance that way and realized that the ordinary retail shoji screen, paper lantern, and shabby heirloom art nouveau tea table recreated a turn of the twentieth century vignette. The unintentional arrangement clearly illustrated how the sheer intelligence and beautiful abstraction of paper engineering fills and enriches interior space.
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