A freestanding folding screen of multiple panels was a staple in many a Victorian room. Screens, I understand, were swept away when “modernism” revised twentieth century spaces. Hipsters kept the odd nineteenth-century example out of a landfill. Sweetly utilitarian folding metal hospital screens still show up now and then.
Last year I picked up an ordinary retail freestanding Japanese shoji screen to see if it would improve privacy and daylighting in my 1890 house. The thing has been a champ. I shift it from room to room as circumstances suggest. The light weight structure is trivial to reconfigure, and it amplifies space in ways that are hard to verbalize.
The old view of screens was that they simply complicated housekeeping. Taping magical teflon sliders to the bottom of the panels and dusting the delicate wood with a high-tech synthetic wand is a small price to pay for the elegance I gain.
In the nineteenth century, mass education made scribes of us all, well, most of us. Every teacher of formal handwriting hears new students sharing recollections, and sometimes samples, of the fine quality of their great-grandparents’ hands. Mass computing has made typographers of us all, thanks to Mr. Jobs’ appreciation of his college course on the history of the book. See his Stanford commencement address for details.
Beatrice Warde defined the essential qualities of good twentieth century practice in setting type. The quotation cited above is cast in bronze and posted outside the entrance to the United States Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C. Jobs’ italic handwriting coach recommended the GPO manual of style.
I mount a sticker with Warde’s quotation inside the cover of whichever printer I own. By the way, the desktop of the MacBook has exactly the feeling of the printshop annex in which Jobs studied typography. The digital type pioneers Sumner Stone and Chuck Bigelow (Lucida, with Chris Holmes) preceded him in that classroom by a few years.
Printers have the oldest union and, incidentally, the oldest technology of mass production. The first print shops were set up in side chapels of European cathedrals, and the union bodies are known as chapels.
Now and then a minor painting job requires me to suit up in expendable clothing. I resent storing a pair of shoes that I only wear once a year and am equally unwilling to risk getting paint on shoes that are part of my working collection. Shoe covers are a little slippery for my purposes. The simplest and safest way to work is barefoot.
Last week, in a moment of minor desperation, I set a florid little piece of furniture on the “alley beach”, where the twice-daily pedestrian tide giveth and taketh away. I could have sold the thing, but it would have cost more time to vend than I would have made from the transaction. Moments like this have given me an appreciation of the practical aspects of charity, best managed as an anonymous behavior.
An embittered transient posted a For Rent sign on a local doorway advertising thirty square feet of space for twelve hundred dollars a month. The joke was not far from the local truth. Even generous, affordable quarters benefit from rigorous editing.
Also last week, I strolled past a sofa left to its fate on an inconspicuous corner of a crowded block. The lines of the piece were tempting, though far from practical. A moment’s consideration reminded me of the bed bugs that are challenging contemporary housekeepers. It also reminded me to consider disposal as part of the process of acquisition.
Furniture is a passive appliance. It’s hard predict how an unfamiliar design will perform in a given situation. Often, putting something to use reveals hidden qualities, like the value of the elegant little railings around the lower shelves of a tea table. No matter how close the quarters, a cup will stay secure.
Even a well-functioning collection of portable furnishings can be sabotaged by the clutter that devours time and attention. The cost of clutter can only be appreciated when it’s gone, a point worth taking on faith. When I learned of the bed bug menace, I looked around my spare interior and realized that under the best of circumstances, coping with pests would devour personal resources. Adding avoidable hiding places like layered stacks of paper would make remediation that much harder.
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.