Friday, October 24, 2014

Room As Gallery


Photo courtesy Flickr

Or is that gallery as room? A few months ago, I decided to hang a small collection of pictures in a room that was otherwise empty. The plan was to set up a studio for dry projects. The space proved so comfortable and appealing I added a sleep/study arrangement. In the process, I discovered that fixing pictures first establishes a lively space. Adding pictures last just nails the lid on the coffin.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Someone Else's House 2.0


Photo courtesy Flickr

Examining a twentieth century interior with sixteenth century eyes disappears problems like opponents in a computer game. An acquaintance is contemplating using her Fifties tract house for home craft production. Her stepson visits now and then, so a dedicated guest room is in order. The house is a classic example of affordable veteran’s housing. Originally it was a one-story symmetrical concrete block unit with a simple roofline set on a concrete slab. Concrete floors injure backs, but synthetic foam shoe soles remediate the difficulty, as will resilient foam shop mats and carpet pads. Over the years, remodeling and additions morphed half the building into a small but relatively complex accumulation of rooms and traffic paths.

As is, the place is comfortable but a little awkward. Like most post-war housing units, it is remarkably efficient for the number of square feet it contains. A few superficial changes in the way the rooms are used would add up to major remodeling for peanuts. Fifties houses were rendered obsolete by the bulky appliances and longer, lower, wider automobiles that accompanied the cheap resources and mind-bending prosperity of the Sixties. Current small space and green design brings the original good sense back to the original housing. It’s crazy to ignore an unfashionable North End suburb with low taxes that is eighteen minutes by frequent bus from the heart of downtown and direct connections to the airport, train station, and all ferries.

A classic European principal room housed the hearth with a private sleeping area for the dominant couple in one corner. Anglos used four-poster beds with heavy hangings. On the Continent, sleeping cupboards were common. The original garage of the tract house in question was enclosed and transformed into a living room that opens on to an enlarged kitchen. One end of the living room opens into a large storage area, some vestige of a previous closet/entry structure. It would be trivial to set up the master bed in this ell, and it would be luxurious to sleep in sight of the hearth. 

The arrangement would save heat. A simple spring-loaded curtain rod would support ready-made tabbed velvet window hangings. A short hanging on a lighter rod set over the first would conceal tabs and secure the space from drafts. The archway between the living room and adjacent kitchen could also be simply curtained or screened to provide additional privacy and conserve even more heat. Curtains seem expensive but are cheaper and more flexible than structural work. Aluminum-shaded shop lights come with large clamps that do a good job of holding heavy hangings, like wool blankets. It’s cost effective just to shuck the clamps free of the sockets and shades. The clamps fit over adjustable, spring-loaded curtain rods. The roof over this section of the building needs maintenance. It might be that leaving the ceiling open would simplify repairs and add the dignity of open beams to the main hall. Hall it is, although small. English hall houses were often no more than two hundred square feet and housed many people.

Redefining the master bedroom into a master suite would free the space in the original structure to turn on a dime. A cement slab is an ideal floor to support high-tech epoxy-coated adjustable storage racks on heavy castors. The units are not cheap, but they replace the “house carls” or domestic roadies of the Middle Ages, who stood by to set up and take down production and meal arrangements as the needs of the household demanded. They also did the housework. Central storage liberates an interior from the clutter that inhibits flexible command of the space. Cubic inches ain’t cheap-concentrating storage is the way to make them earn their keep.

The original front door of this house opened directly into the living room. That space now functions as a generous passage, a perfectly reasonable and efficient way to take advantage of what it has to offer on the way to the kitchen, bath, and workshop set deeper into the structure. It could also serve as a waiting area and holding space for freight, a traditional way to use an entry when most production took place under a private roof. 

The entry traffic pattern zigs and zags, but the angles are good places to set whatever is being toted from place to place in the interior. A traffic engineer would call them switching points, a good spot to set a chair or small table. To the left of the entry are several sleeping rooms, just waiting to become far more than places for individual hoards. The front room has good daylight and is well-situated to become an office and consultation space. The current master bedroom might well be dressing room central, storage central, and extra sleeping area via the right sofa. Mobile storage racks can be curtained to serve as room dividers. A third room could be reserved for guests. 

I find it helpful to separate personal storage from sleeping quarters. Doing so makes it easy to accommodate visitors without disrupting my morning coma and work routine. Empty or nearly empty storage space in a room allows it to expand or contract with varying demands, eliminating much of the stress of change.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Winston And Eleanor


Photo courtesy Flickr

The recent PBS series about the Roosevelt family tossed out a telling comment about housekeeping. Mrs. FDR grumbled about Winston Churchill coming to stay on  notice nearly too short for her to arrange and furnish a guest room to serve his convenience.

Hospitality of state is not an issue for me, but the state of hospitality is always a consideration. It’s relaxing to found the interior on simple essentials rather than to encrust it with layers of fixed amenities and visual enrichment. I enjoy managing a facility that’s flexible and easy to clean.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Daybed


Photo courtesy Flickr

One of the morning electronic design newsletters featured a double-height living room in a Manhattan high rise. Two big names put the space together, and one of the features was a familiar staple of the nineteenth century: a flat, padded surface wide enough for comfortable sleeping. The one in the mail was part of a modular upholstered seating system, but there’s no essential difference between it and the freestanding twin bed that was a staple of every Victorian parlor. A common room furnished with a congenial table and chairs with a sleeping area in the corner supports hard-working community life and adds value to every expensive cubic inch of home. The illustration is made up of scraps of tribal rugs. Scraps of any tribe, like the Yankee, would do just as well.

It’s trivial to add decorative short legs or locking castors to a box spring, top it with a mattress of some kind, and cover the two with a parlor-legal textile. Futon over box spring is surprisingly comfortable. Diana Phipps uses grand, whole skins of good leather (not a bad investment). A friend inherited several bearskins that would be a blast in the corner of the room that houses her wood stove. One of the established American designers can be counted on to market parlor-worthy spreads in the Christmas Miracle Department Store chain. A high thread-count putty colored cotton dropcloth from the Righteous Value Hardware is a good default choice.

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More after the jump.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Potluck Wedding


Photo courtesy Flickr

Recently it was my privilege to attend a wedding that was put together on very short notice. The ceremony grew from a small-room gathering of couple, witnesses, clergyman, and several guests to a modest celebration of around forty accompanied by harp, refreshments, and local crow flyby.

Temporarily bed-ridden, the bride organized the ceremony with her smart phone. Room service kept distractions at bay, and enthusiastic friends and family did the leg work. In four short days, herself pulled the details together to afford the community a lovely gathering that focussed on what really matters.

A potluck wedding seems like a sane compromise between elopement and home ceremony. After that, the sky’s the limit.

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More after the jump.