Friday, October 12, 2012

John Hunter

Photo courtesy Flickr

This is a good time of year to mention  Mr. Hunter’s autobiography, one heck of a good read. I first went through it in the Fifties. The content would not go away, and I read it again about five years ago.

John A. Hunter was born a son of privilege in the British Isles. As a teen-ager, he poached game on his father’s lands to feed hungry tenants. As an alternative to prison, he was packed off to Kenya, becoming a professional big game hunter when the continent was still undeveloped.

Hunter mentions the lions who became known as the Ghost and the Darkness, about whom a  movie was made not long ago. Each chapter in his book centers on one particular hunt, and the volume is as influential as any I have encountered. David Quammen’s Monster of God is a worthy sequel.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Bohemian Classic of the Mad Men Period


The burlap revolution is upon us: it’s washable and no longer dirt cheap, but still as cool as ever. Burlap was the fabric of choice for curtains and wall covering among the black turtleneck set.

I bought some burlap for a project a few weeks ago and promptly realized that it would be useless. Yesterday I skirted a side table in the dining room with the surplus fabric and discovered that it’s the best thing yet to use around sea grass matting: the colors are identical and the feeling they generate, of calm natural space in the heart of the city, is identical, too. With split bamboo blinds, there’s a legitimate spirit of tea in the room.

Lately I’ve seen burlap used to upholster the back and sides of seating, a canny penny-pinching move that’s easy to accomplish with a glue gun and the stuff that melts really hot. Keep water gel dressings on hand.

Colored and bleached burlap is a little iffy for my taste: the pigments can be harsh, and I simply dunno about the white. The stuff I’m using at the moment is a pleasant natural light tan, probably bleached from the grayer tan of the unprocessed jute used to weave it. Presumably a coffee bag is the parent color. 

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thrift

Photo courtesy Flickr

Brand the goods, not the customer.

There’s a local song about Goodwill celebrating everything marvelous about its bulk outlet that sells clothing for pennies a pound. I haunted the place for a while in the late Nineties.

The bin room is a sensational place to learn costume. One regular was an East side matron of privilege who conducted a running tutorial about brand and quality. She usually had a full cart, and I never did figure out why she bought in such quantity. No matter. Another regular always wore a particle mask and rubber gloves when she shopped for the babies and expectant mothers in her congregation who were strapped for cash. In my time, the goods were $1.26 a pound. I picked up a $400 cashmere sweater for about ninety cents and wore it for ten years. 

My role model for choosing to live in the central city raised her family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. She could have bought anything she pleased, but haunted thrifts herself and advised me to be careful about what I brought home, because I was likely to bond with it for the rest of my life. I still have the odd piece from my thrift days, but I learned the hard way why the one exceptionally kind regular used a respirator: my nose acquired an unfamiliar flavor that took years to dissipate. I grew cautious and began to shop in more predictable venues so as not to lose increasingly precious time.

The bottom line for any acquisition is the cost per use. A good thrift score can have value measurable only in a lab. Factor in time and travel for shopping and the cost of the number of cubic inches it takes to store something.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roots Furnishing

Photo courtesy Flickr

Taking shoes off at the entry is the key to the mint.

Setting a mattress on the floor is as basic as it gets and best done in a space with eye level views to the outside. It can be a desperate gesture of privation or a statement of values. Sometimes the two are quite close. Hipsters used to place a mattress on the floor and cover it with an East Indian bedspread. I never appreciated that design cliche until I saw a photo of the reception room of an East Indian palace: the floor was covered in white fabric and furnished with mattresses and pillows. High thread-count cotton drop cloths from the Righteous Value hardware chain would serve well and be easy to wash in a commercial machine. Non-skid rug matting would make them safe to use.

The Great Big Hiking Co-op’s luxury model self-inflating air mattress with an upper memory foam layer is more comfortable than bulky conventional bedding, easier to handle, and less likely to become infested with uninvited six-legged travelers. Rolled, it takes up less room than a pillow and can be used as a bolster on a sofa.

A good rug satisfies a room. The hand-knotted wool rugs of the Middle East are truly magic carpets. Learn your rugs. A trained eye can find a bargain now and then.

A standard bed pillow of mixed feathers and down is a good deal at the Great Big Discount Warehouse chain. It’s helpful to have only one size of pillow and to cover them all in one day-legal neutral fabric. If I were starting over, I’d use portrait linen.

Unbleached muslin laundry bags make good lounging pillows filled with sleeping bags and down garments that aren’t used often. I add a tag to the drawstring. A custom laundry bag is not hard to fabricate.

Shop lights supplement ceiling fixtures. A white plastic shade gives gentle, supportive illumination. Choose a Bakelite socket and be careful about watts. 

Any stable table will serve if it is covered with a floor-length cloth. High thread-count cotton drop cloths are decent and appealing. Burlap will do, as will a heavy brown paper drop cloth or a more colorful one that’s non-woven wiper fabric bonded to polyethylene. Adjust the height of the table with a set of plastic bed risers. The board and trestle is table at its most fundamental. That’s plank and sawhorse in contemporary English. I’d substitute a cheap folding plastic utility table.

Improvise seating with a stack of legally-acquired milk crates or deep plastic storage bins. I sometimes use my over-designed grain and flour bins at the table. A rolling office chair can be a surprisingly useful as a dining chair. 

Wise critics appreciate the look of an interior that has been accumulated. 

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More after the jump.