Friday, May 13, 2016

Lampooning The Landscape

An impatient person walked past the house and remarked that the front bank "looked like abandoned property". Apparently the passerby had an eye for native plants. The snowberry that now owns the streetscape is pasture beloved of the endangered bumble bees that have lived here at least since 1980.

Surf "pollinator pathway' to gain perspective about the local environment. Hoist a beer, or at least a water, in honor of the governor's new initiative to replace much of the lawn at the capitol building in Olympia with the original landscape design of a meadow.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kitchen Curtains

Living in an 1890 kitchen has given me the chance to experiment with the oh-so-economical decorating solutions of  1890. When the kitchen was a hard-working low-tech production space, it was common practice to place a gathered curtain across the open space under the sink. 

Several years ago, I decided it was time to veil the devices that live in that handy parking spot: recycling bin, shredder, washing machine, and laundry spinner. I hate to sew and had little time to spare for the project, anyway. Waffle-weave kitchen towels from the Christmas Miracle Department Store had served so well as casual pillow cases that I bought a row in another color for under the sink. Four screw eyes and two lengths of shock cord made up parallel lines for support. I hot-glued top sleeves into the towels, threaded the shock cord, hooked it into place, and presto!
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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Building Blocks

My domestic inventory has been accumulating for some time now. I've had plenty of time to experience the value, or lack of value, of everything in the collection. Like a wardrobe, one choice builds on the previous one, and with care, it is possible to accumulate everything one needs, or indeed wants, with minimal hassle and investment.

I've had the advantage of four generations of hand-me-downs from both sides of my extended family. Well-designed low tech artifacts are my stuff of choice, followed by ultra-light state of the art backpacking gear so that I am always prepared for emergencies. 

In Nomadic Furniture, designer Victor Papanek shared the wisdom of pairing one piece of ancestral furniture with folding chairs. Super-luxurious self-inflating car camping mattresses with their own layer of memory foam cushion seating, beds, and pallets on the floor. They are modular with Oregon Rodeo blankets and standard feather pillows.

I have never found a folding table that is stable enough to let me relax when I'm using it, but the classic board and trestle of the Middle Ages has not been bettered. Stools with flat wooden seats work as side tables and lamp stands as well as for seating. 

One good table lamp with a silk shade is the functional minimum to communicate domestic intent. Papanek filled out his collection with seven balanced-arm lamps.

The floor is actually the main piece of furniture. Get that right, and the rest will design itself.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Throw-away Lab

A couple of hours' chat with the development director at my old elementary school set my wheels spinning. It may have been the coffee and the flashbacks. We were discussing plans to establish  what she called a maker center, a space where kids can construct projects of their own devising. 

Pomme's chief of design, Sir Jonathan Ive, is the son of an English silversmith. Each year Ive's birthday gift was a day in his father's shop constructing the project of his choice with experienced assistance. Before starting work, he had to present detailed drawings. I hope the school can assemble a corps of mentors.

If I utter the word design in the presence of someone who makes his living at it, he tends to grind his teeth and say polite things, just as an interior designer does. The world is crawling with amateurs, though, and every dollar one spends is a vote for something.

About twenty years ago, a broadcast story about a legendary building at MIT caught my ear and eye. It's number 225 or something, a surplus frame unit left over from World War Two. The space is famous for the disruptive innovation it has generated, because people working on projects feel free, say, to cut holes in the floor to accommodate oversized pieces of experimental gear. Steve Jobs studied the history of the book in just such a building and went on to innovate circles around Gutenberg.

The school is looking for millions of dollars for the project. I hope I can appreciate the social and economic realities behind the goal. Me, I'd buy one of the houses across the street, strip it out, lay sacrificial flooring, wire it waist-high to a fare-thee-well, ensure child safety, and fill the thing with the hottest toys around. I'd put in an overhead grid of cheap, movable lighting units. Technology changes so fast that a formal facility will be a fossil before the paint dries. If an existing building will not do, my first instinct would be to put up a large sheet-metal garage/workshop unit or portable classroom, landscape it into invisibility, lash on solar and water salvage for the nearby restrooms, and get the kids to "work" as soon as possible.

My ambition would be to impress prospective parents with the good sense of the school's spending priorities and to keep the neighbors happy about the facility. It might not hurt to have a wall of big photographs or a web site with a tour of working studios so that white collar parents can get a look at the business end of the culture.
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Monday, May 9, 2016

The Payload

A young friend chuckled as he told me about a careful inquiry to his domestic partner. They had been sharing quarters for a couple of years before he asked about the dresser that dominated one wall of their bedroom. It was a faux-Mediterranean piece from the Seventies. He was delighted to learn that his partner loved it as little as he. She had found it on the sidewalk when she had little else in the apartment.

My friend said they unloaded the thing and realized that the proportion of cubic inches of working storage to exterior dimension was ridiculously small. They replaced it with a unit from the Great Big International Chain. 

The story reminded me of past thoughts about dressers, child safety, and clothing storage. Concerns about children being hurt while climbing on dressers have led to advisories about fastening them to the wall. I have a modest counter-proposal: replace the dresser with a storage unit that has a bulk-to-content ratio of nearly one to one. It is far less expensive than any dresser, stores empty in the space of a thick magazine, can be set filled into a suitcase, and requires zero maintenance. 

The miracle in question is a hanging shoe bag made of nylon pack cloth. I have used nothing else for decades. A small table serves at the bedside, for eating, and for folding clothing. Secure vulnerable garments from moth by storing them in a trunk (with suitable child safety for the lid) or zippered bag.
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