Friday, August 9, 2013

Deft Rec

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last Friday I finally called my partner and asked him to meet me at the Market between busses home. I’d had errands to do downtown and thought it was high time we grabbed a quick meal together at the end of the week.

It took twenty years of cogitation and twenty seconds to make the cell call. Learning to use the city is a gradual process, and one that revives the folkways my mother taught me during her original Mad Men days downtown.

Wise locals avoid the Market “after they throw out the first fish”, but we like to connect with ur Seattle between work week and week end. Breakfast at the Market is a joy that requires getting up and getting dressed. Friday fish and chips, it turns out, is a good time to decompress when the second shift of servers are still fresh and countless visitors have not yet realized they’re hungry.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Leading The Blind

Photo courtesy Flickr

This 1890 house has long been a development property, so I’ve put the interior together using mostly low-end off-the-shelf design. The first thing I discovered after moving in thirty years ago was that the bohemian staples of the Fifties and Sixties were period and modular to the house. Classics like sea grass matting woven in squares, bamboo blinds, imported East Indian printed cotton cloths, and Japanese paper lanterns were to go-tos for the nineteenth-century housekeeper.

Nearby development on the block has changed the views and our need for privacy. The same development makes it imprudent to spend much money until we have a sense of what it’s like to live with the new population. I love the problem, because it gives me a chance to do what I like to do best: figure out ways to live like an enlightened tenant in a structure I actually own. Over the winter, I fitted non-woven agricultural fabric to the windows. The Remay panels work well and may stay in place for quite a while, but a few windows need a more versatile covering.

The kicker here is that I no longer own a car and it doesn’t make sense to call in a designer. A mission that might take a day or two visiting big box stores now requires planning and forethought. I surfed various vendors for hours before renting a car for a long day’s raid at Southcenter, where I could finger the blinds in the wishbook. Some were disappointing, some were good surprises, and when I place a mail order, I will now know what I’m getting.

I have yet to pull out the ladder and play draper, but it’s a hoot to fiddle with a design problem like this one. It looks as if one of the cheapest and most easily available blinds, paper reinforced with long splines of split bamboo, will be the best solution for all but the most-used windows. I’m happy to say that I can pick up the paper blinds on my way home from the gym at a small Japanese boutique that’s been selling bohemian classics to students since the early Fifties. The blinds are featherweight, light enough to carry on the bus, and will recycle when they look weary.

Afterword, Septermber 2014: The Great Big Home Improvement Center by the stadia offers an acceptable collection of blinds and clerks that know how to cut them to width. I can bus down and cab home.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Is This Vacuum Necessary?

Photo courtesy Flickr

The canister vac coughed and died a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been temporizing with a dust mop on the purposely bare floors of the second story. Since the house is an antique, from 1890, I like to experiment with equally antique cleaning techniques to see what I can get away with.

Last summer I pulled the matting off the upstairs hall and out of the one carpeted bedroom. Then I painted the floors and stepped back to see what would happen to the surface. Nothing happened, much. The paint is well and truly dry this year. There are no signs of wear in the cow paths, because we take our street shoes off at the door. 

Sans vacuum, I’ve been dry or damp wiping the floors with dedicated cheap washcloths held at the business end of a janitorial “Scrubby Doo”, a sponge-mop sized plastic plate molded with little gripping teeth that are designed to secure abrasive nylon pads like the ones sold to scrub pots. I use the least aggressive white ones. The Doo fastens to the business end of an elegant Italian anodized aluminum telescoping maintenance handle. Buying the rig is a bother, but it’s much cheaper to use than the proprietary system sold in grocery stores. Oddly enough, janitorial supply outfits are good places to buy cleaning materials.

Cleaning professionals talk about “diluting” the amount of dust and dirt in an interior. Leaving shoes at the door is the key. That subtracts 97% of the burden. Vacuuming the air is more important than vacuuming the floor. It’s better not to vacuum at all than to use a machine without a HEPA filter. No kidding. It looks as if damp-wiping bare floors while the air filter runs will do just as good a job of keeping the place decent as using a vacuum. The process is quieter, faster, uses less electricity, and requires a far smaller investment in tools that take up less space.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Maintenance Month

Photo courtesy Flickr


August is no time for business in Seattle. The city is too popular with visitors from the sweltering east and south to be able to count on uninterrupted work time. I use casually scheduled chunks of time during the week to tackle maintenance chores that disrupt interior space. A lick and a promise will hold the place for the rest of the year.

Long ago, I owned a VW bug that was old enough to vote. It had been a gift of the beloved aunt who bought it new in 1965. I realized over time that the car was becoming less and less competitive for contemporary road conditions, but I loved it, we loved it, the family loved it, and visitors who regretted disposing of their own bug (and youth) would ask if they could just sit in the front seat for a while.

Every few months, I’d start itching to sell the car, so I’d detail it. Then it would feel so good, I’d keep it for another six months. Eventually, the realities of ferrying children here and there led to a safer vehicle, but I have not forgotten the lessons I learned about maintenance.

The area of housekeeping between swipe and make-over is very profitable. Green rules, and obviously it’s greenest to make the most out of the things one already owns. A few hours’ fiddling with cleaning and polishing agents and touch-up paint will renew any but the most weary space and work the laptop kinks out of one’s back and shoulders as well. 

This is a year to temporize on maintenance, because the neighborhood is developing at warp speed. An interlude like this one is a heaven-sent opportunity to experiment with low-impact responses to changing needs for privacy, lighting, and heat. Over time, I’ve learned to keep the place ship-shape with almost nothing and for almost nothing, as long as the structure is sound and the paint in good condition.

-30-  More after the jump.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Divinely Comfortable But Beat To H*ll"

 Photo Roman dining couch courtesy Flickr


Friday’s post brought the above response from the owner of the sofa. I added the following: if it's divinely comfortable, preserve it by patching the scratching, so it doesn't deconstruct. Use a hunk of jeans or something with plain edges, then glue on a layer of salvaged carpet so the cats can work it in peace.

A piece like this can evolve over years into the upholstered equivalent of traditional Japanese patchwork, that added and reworked sections of cloth in simple rectangular units, as large as the stock would permit. Upholstery manuals and interior photographs from the late 1940s show similar economy: the seat of a chair was often covered in a different fabric from the back and arms. The examples I remember are from houses of privilege. The key to reuse is knowing the history of the thing, because cloth and padding can harbor microscopic pests. Presumably, this sofa is a veteran family piece that has been through a gradual process of demotion. 

After I blogged the other day, I realized that the lines of the couch are stylish and pureI don't think there's any such thing as beat to hell on a good piece of furniture. Our eyes get conditioned by new merchandising, but there's a respectable tradition of making the most of what one already has, and where this couch is concerned, that's quite a lot.

One school of thought about furniture holds that it's valuable to have things that are broken in, that show the comforting evidence of long use. The green aspects are obvious. Divinely comfortable is not always easy to find. Even a promising new piece from a high-end store can have its limitations, so one that's a known quantity is valuable in ways that are not obvious.

The hip retail chain ”ologie” offers old French upholstered pieces that are stripped down to their bones and webbing. Even a skeleton is valuable, if the structure is sound, and it’s fun to have a chance to rediscover the evolution of upholstery. Diana Phipp’s “Affordable Splendour” is a good tech manual for hacking padded furniture. Searching Flickr for "empire sofa" brought up a good collection of images of upholstery frames.

The gist of Phipp’s advice is to choose a piece with a sound frame, preferably heavy for its size to indicate good wood, with existing upholstery in good condition. If the seat is sagging, flip the piece over and get into the innards, lashing the springs together with heavy jute twine or zip ties. Re-do the webbing, hot glue a layer of muslin or landscaping fabric to the bottom to exclude bugs and rodents, and then hot glue a new covering in place. Phipps paints the original cording to match the new fabric, but I usually hot glue new line in place using something from the mountain climbing section of the local outdoor co-op.

Finish the feet of a used sofa with shoe polish, if they’re wood. Add teflon magical sliding castors to protect old glue joints from racking as the piece is pushed here and there.

Handle furniture by the rails that support the seat. That’s often a two-person job, and it’s worth the trouble to wait for a helper to show up.

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