Wednesday, April 5, 2017

ShiftingThe House Toward Summer

Old books about housekeeping detail the elaborate revisions of an interior that accompanied the arrival of warm weather. Presumably spring cleaning prepared wool carpets and heavy curtains for storage. Contemporary fabrics, HVAC systems, and surface finishes have eliminated many of the old concerns, but the basic idea of living differently in different seasons still makes sense.

Since my house was built in 1890 along 1812 lines, I have been able to experiment with old strategies in an original context. The materials used in this place do not differ significantly from earlier centuries. Seattle's mild and constant climate has little to do with the extremes of the Northeast coast or Deep South, but we do have extreme variations of the length of the day and of daylight itself.

Just as decades of decorating for Christmas have left a legacy of festive effects that stay in place all year, the paring of inventory for warm weather lingers over the winter. Except for a couple of rugs, carpet has been replaced by organic matting and floor paint. Fragile and complicated ornaments live in glass-fronted storage areas. Most horizontal surfaces in the house are clear and ready to serve as the work surfaces they were designed to be.

The basic principle has become to keep a house that is ready to be cleaned. Once the storm windows are down and the windows raised, it will need cleaning a little more often, but the fresh and open atmosphere is well worth the trouble. The long days and our early rising mean that putting lamps away in imitation of low-tech practice is a rational change that simplifies maintenance.

The entry is a valve that controls maintenance and life support. Changing street shoes for house shoes slashes dusting, floor care, and wear and tear. Harvesting outerwear for summer storage frees space for garden gear. 

I have not had occasion or need to drape cheesecloth over pictures and mirrors to protect them from flyspecks, but the ornamental effect is beguiling, as is the practice of draping a chandelier to keep dust off it.

High-end practice prepared a house for the absence of the owners. Keeping travel in mind ensures good sense about security and the degree of maintenance demanded by plants, pets, and garden -30-

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