Friday, February 13, 2015

Bulb Trumps Fixture


Photo courtesy Flickr user StockMonkeys.com
This neighborhood is developing at warp speed. It’s been a challenge to keep the property looking equal to the dozens of new units that dominate the street scape. The interior has suffered as patterns of daylight and air circulation have shifted. Though little major rearrangement has been necessary, I’ve had to rethink every space.

One straightforward change rescued the kitchen from slummy oblivion: I simply replaced the spots in the little Bakelite socket/aluminum shaded pendants I had shucked out of shop lights and illuminated the kitchen counter with pricey Edison-base quartz halogen bulbs.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Housekeeping From Fiction


Photo courtesy Flickr user Thrift Store Addict
A scene in Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon transformed the way I keep house. If memory serves me correctly, he describes a Peninsula farmhouse whose front parlor is festooned shin-high with extension cords to serve the many computer desks that fill the space. I mentioned the room to a friend with multi-children who pointed out the pale blue wire looped around her exterior siding so that the kids could network their PCs. Fortunately, the wire matched the shingles.

There is a time to set pride to one side. The payoff can be huge.

Another friend enjoyed the most serviceable and inexpensive kitchen island I have ever seen thanks to her cabinetmaker partner. George had set a worthless table on cinder blocks and covered it with a layer of raw plywood. The place was a rental. Sheer smarts had transformed a relentlessly ordinary late Forties Cape Cod tract house into a sophisticated minimalist interior. I doubt that they had spent more than $25 of their student income on amenities.

In the early Fifties, I read a girls’ magazine that published housekeeping DIY articles about making furniture out of orange crates. Working with throw-away materials is a good way to experiment. Not seldom, an expedient solution becomes too dear to discard, and the design community formulates a term, like arte povera, to recognize the new reality.

In the early Seventies, a wise friend passed on words of wisdom from her even wiser mother: be careful what you bring home from a thrift store, because it might become part of your permanent collection. A bolder contemporary claimed that every domicile needs one piece of kitsch.
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More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Put It Where You Want It


Photo courtesy Flickr user gainesp2003
I don’t recall retrieving a great deal of housekeeping advice from sides of vinyl, but Weather Report gave me today’s title and a license to handle furniture like toys, valuable toys.

Last week’s combination of viral jitters and excessive leisure produced some meaningful and instructive innovation in the interior. This is not always the case. A cranky back had me sleeping on a couch that was not entirely comfortable. I pulled the venerable innerspring cushions off the seat, set in a hiker’s inflatable down pad, laid on a luxurious folded wool blanket, and slept in bliss. The set-up was so promising, I topped it with a folded duvet, unintentionally recreating the puffy down seat of the couch’s eighteenth century French prototype.

I am not fond of heavy cushions that tax fine motor skills when I handle them. I’ll stow a pair of sticky-palmed work gloves in the side of the seat. Experience has taught me to retain key parts of fine old furniture and to make changes that can be reversed. Chances are I’ll finesse a new seat cushion out of custom-curved foam. In the meantime, I’m enjoying instant hide-a-bed and daytime seating that is the right distance from the floor. I’ll make sure that whatever I improvise does not surprise a visitor.

Three redundant sofa cushions are a liability in nearly any interior. Dim memories of the Sixties surfaced to remind me that a substantial box cushion set on carpet is good support for sitting cross-legged on the floor.

One room over, the armchair mate to the sofa transformed into a far more comfortable seat with the cushion removed and another substantial wool blanket folded into place. With a carpenter’s chest pulled into position, it will make a first-rate chaise longue.

Four hundred dollars' worth of Oregon Round-up blankets doubled the usefulness of a sofa and chair combo that cost half of what my grandparents' first house was worth. The blankets will extend the working life of two first rate pieces of seating that have paid for themselves many times over already. Most importantly, the changes are better suited to the small space concerns that are at the heart of so many young households today.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Rope Locker


Photo courtesy Flickr user JustinJensen
Ferenc Mate’ (apologies for my ignorance of the correct typographic rendering of the accents of his name) offers many boatbuilding tips that are just as valuable in the house as they are afloat. He points out the wisdom of hanging coils of precious rope in a specially designed deep well in the hull.

The locker’s individual hooks are the only adequate way I have found to store the various lengths of extension cord and insulated wiring that fill this geeky interior. It would not be excessive to dedicate a closet to the stuff, although so far I’ve been able to get by with wall-mounted hooks, accessory hooks on the high-tech rolling storage racks, and S or plant hooks that hang from clothes poles.

Be patient handling cords and line. Learn the correct techniques for coiling (not from me, I’m afraid), and respect these seemingly insignificant accessories for the great force multipliers that they are.

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More after the jump.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Custom Sweater Every Day


Photo courtesy Flickr user Huzzah Vintage
A nearly monochromatic wardrobe minimizes the cognitive burden of getting dressed. Over the years I have accumulated nearly every classic iteration of a black or beige cashmere sweater. Turtleneck, crew neck, cardigan, and shell work together to assemble something that’s just right for the weather and for what I expect to be doing. I pull the look together with a low-profile scarf.

Cashmere is a workhorse fabric with the lowest cost per wearing of any upper garment. I like it because it’s just as useful on a hike as it is in a downtown high-rise.

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More after the jump.