Friday, March 21, 2014

As Is


Photo courtesy Flickr

One of the joys of living in a development property is freedom from serious basis improvement. When the imaginary buyer I am aiming to please owns a back hoe, less than ordinary values apply. The long and happy years on this site have afforded many opportunities to experiment with housekeeping and design strategies that are suited to an enlightened, if I may say so, tenant rather than an ambitious homeowner.

The many rented abodes that preceded the house taught me the value of making the most of what I found in a given place. Even a relatively shabby interior can be made decent simply by detailing the windows, popping dots of misdirected paint off the brightwork, and getting the walls, ceiling, and floor altogether clean. Detail corners and crevices with a brush-nylon janitor’s model for stout work, a natural bristle toothbrush from the health co-op for fragile paintwork.

The other day I tacked the least improved part of the house, a half-basement dug in 1949 and apparently painted only once. The space is not child-friendly, and I use it for projects. All that was necessary to extricate it from Hallowe’en was a quick damp wipe of the bare light bulbs and windows. A carpenter had installed lengths of hanging pegs along the walls, and on them I mounted spare director’s chairs, an extra set of featherweight plastic sawhorses, and a couple of long extension cords.

The floor is now free of stored anything in anticipation of the arrival of warm weather and the storm windows.. A work table adjoins an empty storage cupboard: the vacant shelves offer handy support to the odd project. 

On The Day It Gets Warm, we sleep in the basement . Hammock hooks allow me to loaf in glorious leisure.

The basement closely resembles a coffee shop in the basement of a famous Paris hardware store. I showed a picture of that space to a couple of clerks in the go-to Righteous Value outlet on the Ave, and one said they dreamed of having a cafe in the store, menu including heavy labor favorites like gourmet mac and cheese. I hope they get their wish.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Color Vs. Function


Photo courtesy Flickr

A graphic design instructor taught his class to construct the most rigorous work by composing in black and white. It's easier to modify a severe design than make a weak one more rigorous. Over the last few years, my wardrobe has shifted toward black as I have moved my attention from matters domestic to knowledge work. It’s simple and efficient to have a default color that’s easy match and that will disguise blots of ink.

A monochrome wardrobe can be unusually compact. Eliminating color as a variable enables one to focus on the design and engineering of various garments. Their use or lack of use becomes obvious, as does quality. A passel of expressive scarves fills in the monotony, and the right bag says whatever seems necessary to say on a given occasion.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Staples


Photo courtesy Flickr

Display industry powder-coated welded wire grid panels have proved to be surprisingly useful around the house. I winced and paid for a pair of seven-foot panels to hinge together and use as a coat rack in the front hall. That application didn’t pan out, so I hung the slender structures out of domestic way for a couple of years. Their price was a factor in keeping them around, although I bought them on the assumption that the steel could be recycled.

The time came to refit a bed, and I was happy to discover that the panels made a good base for a new foam mattress. They recapture several cubic feet of house from the bulky box spring they replaced, are self-cleaning, offer no habitat for pests, and keep the mattress well-ventilated.

A third panel recently became redundant. I stowed it in the basement shop and found that laid across a featherweight pair of folding plastic sawhorses, the grid nicely supports a collection of dairy crates holding gritty this and that, a couple of tool totes, and a pair of dairy crates that collect waste. The four-inch (or so) grid will never need dusting. The assembly stands to one side of a generous funky work bench.

The work room holds surplus folding director’s chairs from the original Award Wining manufacturer. They’re worth the extra cost for the quality of the wood and the grace of their turnings. These director’s chairs are equally comfortable for a six-four two hundred fifty pound sitter and an eight-year old child. They respect space when in use and store compactly when not in use. The classic director’s chair is a portable throne. King Tut was buried with one, and the model on the current market appears to have originated with Thomas Sheraton.

The ubiquitous shop light with an aluminum shade solves many lighting needs. Buy one with a heavy duty Bakelite socket, and burnish the shade now and then with pricey German chrome polish from a motorcycle shop. The clamp of a shop light makes a superb super-clip when shucked loose from the rest of the assembly. I support a winter door curtain improvised from an Oregon Rodeo blanket with five such clips. The gripping end is broad enough to secure an unsewn pleat or two to make fitting simple. I stole the idea on a visit to a downtown artist's building: someone had strung the clips on a lightweight cable across a towering 1900 hallway and curtained it with a heavy tarp.

Commercial grade dairy crates are excellent hold-alls, self-cleaning file folders for stuff. The 24 quart model is a recording industry standard, but I prefer the 16 quart cube obtained from a legal source. I find it calming to have only one color. Crates make good improvised furniture, if your interior and mother can tolerate them.

All these staples are identical and versatile. They calm the production areas of the house by eliminating confusing visual cues and needless physical variables. I've had decades to edit the several truckloads of furnishings local friends and family have shared with us. A few choice vintage pieces support the leisure areas and remind me that labor is nothing unless supported by the grace of skilled manual production.

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More after the jump.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tech Report


Photo courtesy Flickr

Because the neighborhood is developing so rapidly, I have put all but necessary home improvement tweaks on hold. Several recent experimental shower curtains failed. Off the rack versions don’t fit, and the synthetic sheets I had been using hold too much water for too long under the reduced solar circumstances we now enjoy.

The local Plaidie Hardware Chain sells a truly lovely opaque white tarp that is reinforced with a gentle pattern of embedded fiber. The weave recreates the engaging rhythms of grass-cloth wallpaper. I cut a couple of tarps into slightly overlapping rectangles that fit the circumference of the tub and height of the ceiling. An unloaded glue gun bored holes into a finger-pressed double-folded hem at the top of each panel, and I was in business. It was trivial to hang the panels from the curved ceiling track that echoes the shape of the tub. The melted plastic margins of the mounting holes should suffice to keep a reasonable tug on the curtain from tearing through the panel. The panels themselves transmit an ideal quality of light.

I simplified one corner of a sitting room to eliminate an awkward vacuuming pattern. Doing so removed a pleasant source of ambient light-a table lamp with a silk shade, carbon fiber incandescent bulb, and dimmer. Old rooms need several sources of modest light placed relatively low in the corners to keep Frankenstein shadows at bay. I finagled a mounting arm over the space where the table lamp had stood, fitted a shop lamp’s Bakelite socket with the bulb, and hung the assembly inside a modest paper globe from the Ave’s Japanese boutique. With the shade’s gently irregular wire ribs, the light is warm, lively, and whopping good value. 

One floor in the house is covered with Fifties asphalt tiles, indestructible and unfortunately composed partly of PCBs. I plan to paint the floor when the last layer of commercial polish wears off. In the mean time, I realized that cleaning the floor with a reusable cloth might be unwise. I slinked out of the Buck Store with a package of ultra-cheap disposable pre-moistened cleaning wipers that have turned out to be sensational value. They have shaved precious minutes off detailing the bathroom. I can pull on a set of disposable nitrile gloves, start high in the room, wipe down whatever grosses me out, and then toss the contaminated wiper. The process seems anti-green, but it’s so efficient I will contemplate honest ways to rationalize it.

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More after the jump.