Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lovely, Subtle, and Renewable

Photo courtesy Flickr

Seattle enjoys several boutiques and one big grocery chain that offer traditional Japanese amenities. In our neck of the woods, Asia is the old country and was the go to source for affordable housekeeping accessories. Affordable is a variable now, but the value of the textiles, tabletop accessories, and minor arts remains unquestionable.

Japan’s ways of managing life in small space are so thoroughly integrated into Western architecture as to be unrecognizable: any trip through the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain will turn up countless square feet of modular units lifted straight from the Tokyo playbook.

More now than then of late, I’ve been stopping by Capitol Hill’s boutique to scout their inventory. During the awful year after the tsunami, the place felt cold and bare, but the shelves have come back to life. It’s a good spot to pick up a long-range Christmas present, and the display techniques are so valuable a source of ideas that buying something feels like paying for art direction.

My immediate neighborhood is developing at warp speed, and ensuring visual privacy, if any, here in the house, is an exercise in flux. Japan can do more with a sheet of paper than any culture I know, and I’ve been surprised and delighted to find that the strategies that made me comfortable as an undergraduate are again making me comfortable and relaxed in long-established quarters. 

When looming oversight appeared last fall, I hustled out to the nearest garden supply and brought home yard after cheap yard of featherweight agricultural fabric, veiling windows against the eyes of the construction crews. I did so assuming the measures were temporary and that come spring it would make sense, probably, to invest in more substantial goods. I’m still improvising, though, pending one full cycle of the year’s new light and shade patterns and pending developments with the new tenants on the block, as well.

It’s fun. It’s incredibly cheap. And shifting trends in the design community’s appreciation of Furnishing Light have opened the doors of recognition to what was only sad expedience back in the day.

The boutique has a number of bamboo poles fixed over the display windows. They are used to hang textiles and mount other merchandise on offer. Bamboo is inherently so beautiful that I have never been able to bring myself to part with a good length of it. I grew black bamboo for years, snapping the branches off green shoots to produce clean, non-snagging supports for drying laundry. I manage laundry differently now, but the poles stay on hand, ready to display textiles or do this and that around the house. The same garden outlet that sold me Remay carries lengths of timber and smaller bamboo that would be bargains at nearly any price.

Working fast the other day, I curtained a dormer window in ten minutes by draping a veil of Remay over a piece of bamboo and setting it on the narrow shelf over the glazing. I’m still a little nervous about the safety of the Remay, though, and will repeat the flame test I performed last fall when I broke out the first package.

High-end design strategies of the Seventies taught me the value of natural textures in a densely urban interior. The innumerable minor variations of form in something as simple as a bamboo blind add unpredictable visual rhythms to interior light that I find calming and engaging. I never weary of looking at gentleman bamboo, as it is known.

Squares of seagrass matting, natural-colored burlap, artist’s linen, paper shades for electric light, and a few hand spun and woven textiles complete a modest inventory that assures peace of mind in the face of nanosecond change. For now.

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