In the late Seventies, Seattle’s Own Northern European Fashion Chain decorated its display windows with trees I have yet to see bettered. Living Colorado spruces were lit with strings of pinpoint white incandescent lights. Individual dried straw flowers were stuffed gently into the dense branches of the spruce, where the physics of the materials held them secure.
That’s all there was, and that’s all that was needed. I tried this myself one year, and it’s simple, easy, less expensive than other formats, fire safe, and naturally elegant beyond description.
Every year there’s a conflict between the Christmas glitter palace and the earnest dowdiness of green responsibility. I’m tapering off shiny, but it’s going to take a lifetime.
Some years ago, I saw a period movie with a scene showing Katharine Hepburn as a dowager queen in some medieval European time, wrapping or unwrapping a gift of state using a piece of fabric. The visual was disappointing to an eye trained in glossy red paper and shiny disposable ribbon. I’ve fooled around since with re-usable textile packaging. Some has been a hit, some not so much. I pick up cotton bandannas when I run across the right ones and use them as furoshiki, a traditional Japanese tote. Flickr’s a good source for examples. The local academic book store stocks little burlap bags that have been useful, as have its flashy mylar bubble-wrap mailers that seal with hook and loop.
The Original San Francisco Import Chain is offering Japanese mulberry paper gift wrap in jewel colors. The paper is soft, flexible, and easily reusable. Frugal matrons used to iron gift wrap, and the current product is well worth the trouble. It could also simply be dampened and smoothed out. Yesterday I put a parcel together using a full sheet, folding under the outer edge of the first wrap and then folding under the excess at either end. I secured the wrapping by taping a torn strip of choice bookbinder’s paper around the ends, but any reusable ribbon would work just as well. Some of my buys came packaged in heavy clear acetate boxes. I cut the them down to make transparent gift tags-the marker script on them floats entertainingly over the soft colored wrapping. The boxes themselves are reusable and would be elegant lined with a sheet of colored tissue or the colorful crinkle-cut substitute for packing popcorn.
I find more and more staples are wrapped with reusable ribbon, that I save over the year. I don’t cut this stuff, but configure the bow to use the whole length.
My mother and aunt lobbed the same piece of silk-screened locally made gift wrap back and forth every Christmas for nearly forty years. Each year the gift got a little bit smaller, and some years it was cunningly concealed in an extravagant additional layer.
World War Two generated some elegant procurement by the US Navy. To the all-time middy blouse and pea jacket were added a female uniform from Mainbocher (Chuck Yeager’s friend Jacqueline Cochran put that submission on the most beautiful model in a field of dumpy candidates) and simple stainless steel flatware from Tiffany. I would collect it, but it’s rare now.
The Original San Francisco Import Chain, home of preppie classics, is selling close copies at a very good price. Last week’s potluck convinced me to replace the stainless flatware I’d handed off to the heir when he set up housekeeping. As fate has it now and then, the next day I ran across the import copies. $84 set me up with service for twelve, including serving gear and doubles of the forks and spoons that get the most use. Having two means I don’t have to do scullery duty between courses. The low price means I don’t have to hover over the inventory.
Casual entertaining early in the month is like the false labor that precedes the real thing-a good opportunity to get systems in tune and ready to go. Recent events produced impromptu gatherings at the house and led to what Army bureaucrats call after-action reports. No big deal, but I rediscovered the value of subtraction in getting the house ready for the coming stream of visitors. When the dining and food service areas are stripped, the tabletop becomes its own ornament, and it's easy to concentrate on presenting a meal.
This place was designed and built long before the Fifties notion of casual living intruded on traditional meal service. I keep rediscovering that it’s easier to put food on the table and afford guests a relaxing time if I just prep and serve courses myself. It’s that simple, and no one argues when I encourage them to stay seated.
I also rediscovered that disposable table ware is more trouble than it’s worth. I’ll save the paper and plastic for the emergency and field kits.
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.