Thursday, April 10, 2014

Period Charm


Photo courtesy Flickr

Casual scholarship in the history of housekeeping has paid huge dividends. Knowing, or at least thinking I know, about historic precedent gives me the courage of my preferences for floors and windows. I fitted the house with sea grass matting in easily reconfigurable squares, covered the windows with blinds woven of bamboo splints (easy to trim with a chop saw), and refreshed the original roller shades to block light. I learned many of the so-called Bohemian points of style from San Francisco matrons who were able to shop at The Original Import Store.  The scholarship came from many publications produced in England, that has long supported research and rigorous domestic archaeology centering on its inventory of stately and not so stately homes.

In this structure, I have found that the least expensive period solution is the one that has satisfied, felt light rather than ponderous, and been neutral enough to support the evolution of the rooms. The house, I finally realized, is “Jeffersonian Revival” rather than Victorian. I had wondered all along why the rooms felt and looked best when they were filled with bare necessities rather than cluttered with the proto-consumer excesses of the late nineteenth century. The eighteenth century preferred light weight furniture that can be moved to take advantage of natural light. Rooms were understood as all-purpose chambers. I find that they are indeed flexible and accommodating to any use that changing circumstances suggests. In that respect, the house lives like a traditional Japanese farmhouse, in which the family slept wherever was convenient on any given night.

Floor by floor, I have substituted paint for rugs and matting. The house lives and cleans much faster now. Turnaround time on projects has shrunk to days or hours rather than months. Eighteenth century values, classical proportions, and modular dimensions make it simple to integrate contemporary high-tech amenities with the large historic artifact that is this building.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Small Graces


Photo courtesy Flickr

Even a pit of a rental can quickly be tamed. Get rid of dead or hideous curtains and nasty carpeting. Even a pleated paper blind looks better than geriatric synthetic “drapes”. If you’re stuck with the carpet, flip it over-the sisal base is usually fairly clean and easy to look at. If you leave the nap side up, finesse a stain by excising dirty tufts and gluing in clean ones salvaged from the edges of the room. Curved nail scissors make elegant work of this repair. Vacuum with a HEPA bag. Get the refrigerator really clean. Wash the windows. Use an Italian squeegee. Pop dots of paint off the brightwork with a sharp pocket knife. Detail brightwork with pricey German chrome polish from a motorcycle dealer. Fill a miserable bathtub with very hot water, laundry detergent, and bleach. Let it sit for an hour, drain, and rub gently with white nylon abrasive pads. Dusting a dingy wall with a microfiber cleaning cloth often leaves it fresh enough to avoid repainting.

Read the rental agreement and get the owner’s written approval of your plans ahead of time.

Pull and store an awful light fixture . Substitute at least a Japanese paper shade. If you can’t do that, wash the awful light fixture. And the bulb. Make informed choices about the quality of artificial light you’ll be using. Incandescent is a source of heat. Pricey small spotlights drive good vibes into a sad space. Change the coat hooks, towel rails, and switch plates for ones you like, getting the owner’s written permission to remove them again when you move. Failing that, install cheap ones that look acceptable.

Faucets are the handshake of the interior. Good ones are more than cosmetic. A well-designed faucet saves time and effort while cooking or bathing. It’s a passive appliance that can effectively displace a bulky, noisy powered one like a dishwasher. Again, get a written understanding with the owner or manager about whether you will be able to remove your investment. A good set of faucets is worth abandoning if you’ll be using them for a year or so. They’ll save enough time and labor to pay for themselves.

If the rental is close to food shopping, it's worthwhile to swap a small under-counter refrigerator for a bulky standard unit. Doing so will double the visual size of the kitchen and add a few square feet of counter space.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ping


Photo courtesy Flickr

I’m don't game, but the term is useful in many contexts. When I’m not stumbling over interruptions, I aim for a short turn around time on a project. Recently emergency management demands for the big mudslide to the north coincided with clearing a bale of paperwork. Horizontal surfaces in the house began to silt up.

Once I helped the in-house archaeologist and a small team of volunteers excavate a hoarder’s charming cottage. It truly was charming, but chock full. The experience is one I hope never to repeat-and never to forget. Bit by bit in the years since my eyes were opened to nightmare housekeeping, I’ve been able to identify a few trigger points at which entropy enters to turn an interior into the last stages of a round of Tetris.

The trick is to pay attention to what one is doing when handling Stuff. Every gesture and action counts. Staying mindful, a bother in the face of entertaining distraction, is the lazy person’s way to get things done. Store things close to where you use them first and leave them ready to use again when you’re finished. Keep storage areas eighty percent full, so they can respire in the face of incoming and outgoing inventory.

This neighborhood is fairly dense, and the streets are lined with No Parking and Loading Zone signs. In a previous lifetime, I worked as a traffic engineer and retained enough of the rules of the discipline to understand that all traffic behaves the same. Phone calls, vehicles, and electronic communications can all be understood with the same core ideas, one of which is to support a comfortable flow with the smallest capital investment. 

Define interior Loading and No Parking zones to keep Stuff moving towards its home position. Stuff without a destination is Stuff headed toward the exit. It’s that simple. A fast turnaround time, or ping, is as valuable in housekeeping as it is on the screen.

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More after the jump.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ground


Photo courtesy Flickr

Weather permitting,I sleep most soundly in the field. Lying on an immobile surface leaves me feeling especially relaxed. A recent experiment in reconstructing a medieval sleeping arrangement unwittingly established a sleeping surface as comforting as the perfect spot in the woods.

During the Middle Ages, people slept on storage chests that lined the main room, known as the hall. Fiddling with furniture recently, I set three World War Two foot lockers along one wall in a habitable work room.I finessed the visual by covering the  trunks with a small wool rug. The grouping made a good spot to meditate off the floor. A 1914 carpenter’s chest added enough length to the row of foot lockers to turn it into a divan.

The trunks are stable because they’re full. Each of them is set on magical teflon sliding feet, so it can be manipulated on a bare floor. The little sliders are the key to the furniture mint and the lockers an unusually efficient way to use space. They provide seating, storage, zendo, and bedroom all in one, and for no money. A self-inflating luxury air mattress topped with memory foam is the mattress equivalent.

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More after the jump.