Friday, October 27, 2017

Kitchen Improv

A foodie friend with a decade of commercial experience recently moved into much smaller quarters. She inherited a small, decently remodeled space with little more than six or seven feet of counter and good quality cupboards. I was delighted to find that she and her partner had cobbled together a slick collection of serviceable accessory units out of heavy duty chromed wire shelving and butcher block tops.

Sharp knives, good pots, and running water are the essentials -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dedicated Time

The closer I model my calendar on the comforting repetitions of primary school, the lower my level of stress. The secret is to leave generous margins, about half the available time.

Weekdays are structured around a workout schedule, as good an armature as any. Each week of the month is focussed on one topic in the domestic support system. One is for making and keeping appointments, two is for administration, three is finance, and four is procurement. I try to get tasks out of the way by nine.

I designated this month for a larger focus on finance, and the schedule is working out so well that Big Topics are taking over other months, too. December, predictably, is for family. So is August, because the northwest beckons those who swelter. Visitors share the time with home improvement, but they don't overlap.


I doubt that it will be long before I begin to designate dedicated years -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bang For The Buck

Recent casual reading on line brought the news that the market for silver, quilts, and what they called "brown wood" is nil. Sounds like new lamps for old to me, but I would never quarrel with the market preferences of any age group.

The last time I looked around, there was very little visual information about the brown wood vintage. Presumably, the term refers to the eighteenth century. I inherited my beloved grandmother's period reproductions and unwittingly scrounged quite a few pieces on my own. The style has served me well in this eighteenth century architectural design I call home.

My furniture is made of good, solid wood. Its judicious proportions make the most of the delicate spaces in the house. An eighteenth century domicile was used as was convenient for the inhabitants. Single purpose rooms did not appear until the staggering excesses of the nineteenth century.

The most I've paid for brown wood is $19, although I did break the bank on upholstery thirty years ago. The pieces that look so formal to a late twentieth century eye are low-tech appliances designed to serve the working needs of a household that usually made its living under its own roof. All I have to do is clear the paperwork away to look ready for a feast.

It would not be surprising if young persons who grew up with a hovering housekeeper shooing them out of the parlor should choose less vulnerable furniture finishes, but I believe in using the good stuff. It's nearly always the most durable in the long run. I've inherited my share of dings and scrapes and added a few of my own, fortunately to a small item. I can finesse my way out of trouble with shoe polish, markers, and "bright wax". In a perfect world, I would have my own workshop just for French polish, but so far my reality is perfectly comfortable.


Northern Europe came a little late to the brown wood party, and its climate created a hunger for light. King Gustav painted the stuff white, and that's still a viable option. Consult your friendly local used furniture appraiser to make sure you don't vandalize a prize. As to silver and quilts, well, use the silver if you have it. Stow the day's cutlery at the bottom of the stack so you never have to polish it. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt, sometimes an albatross, sometimes a graceful gesture of welcome to a special houseguest. Do right by storing it in a special purpose box from Higher Academe Products and by washing it in no-rinse detergent from the same outfit. As with brown wood, a knowledgeable appraisal is a good idea -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Harmony, Contrast, Balance, Order, and Unity

The title sums up gestalt values for a successful visual design. Applied to house cleaning, those points save a lot of trouble.

Several years ago when developers were reconstructing this comfortable block of turn of the twentieth century houses, the kitchen floor became, as it were, terminal. We were not sure of the future here, but the Thirties linoleum was moldering in heavily used areas and was beyond tolerance. I realized that there wasn't much difference between painting linoleum and painting the canvas recommended for making an old school floor cloth. 

Linoleum is a layer of pigment mixed with ground cork and linseed oil steamrolled over burlap. I reasoned that maintaining a layer of floor paint might not be any more bother than applying and removing successive layers of wax, so I painted the lino the same color as the other painted floors in the house.

Three years has been enough time for ordinary wear and tear to generate some noticeably shabby areas. Added to the marks of time on the original varnished fir wainscoting and the fading polish on a couple of senior pieces of furniture in the room, it became apparent that it was time to do something. The kitchen comes first. 

My partner volunteered to paint carefully delineated patches on the floor, as I had planned when the paint was new. I reasoned that a genteel accumulation of patches on areas of heavy wear would grow increasingly interesting to look at and prevent heaping gobs of excess paint from piling up along the margins of the room.


So far, so good, although a little more patching is in order. Nothing says progress like the faint odor of fresh paint. The wainscoting still has to be refreshed with "bright wax" and/or teak oil. I spent a coffee break anointing a tiny brown wood table with a Down East furniture polish from the woodworkers' specialty supply in the southeast. The effect is delightful, as is the scent of the product. With a vintage brass tray protecting the top, the ca. 1870 table has become a much-needed accent in an otherwise practical space -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Housekeeping Tight And Loose

Moving into new quarters sometimes demands finesse. If the place is not in perfect repair, there may be makeshift arrangements that look like the devil. Keep things literally squared away to reassure the neighbors.

The example that comes to mind is a tall, geriatric fence whose front gate is held closed by a bungee cord threaded through the pickets. Hardly ideal, but when the bungee cord is set on a true horizontal, a welcome message comes across. The same holds true for the length of plywood that enables a hand truck to access the wood shed when the ground is muddy: square it off. The wood can be managed a little more loosely, but not the footing. Once the place is truly in order, one can relax a little.

My experience of rural living has mostly been off the grid. All life support systems must be managed with careful rectitude, but the microscopic margins of error used in high-tech areas of the city are irrelevant. Check the Boy Scout handbook for basic sanitation. Before electricity, any competent housekeeper used the same skills to keep the family healthy. In "Home Comforts" , Cheryl Mendelson describes the sheer poetry of the manual skill of hanging laundry. 

Tackle non-biodegradable debris in the garden as soon as energies permit. Stow toys and tools when they are not being used. Install geraniums by the front door and keep them watered and trimmed. Swap for evergreens over the winter. Things will look responsibly managed no matter what the pressures on time and budget.


Certain aspects of living in the woods can legitimately be more relaxed than SOP in town. Shoes and coats at the entry can be haphazard. A splinter or two on the hearth rug need not be vacuumed right away. Aim for an air of comfortable relaxation. In the boonies, a quarter mile outdoors might be a reasonable margin of error. Indoors, perhaps an inch or six -30-
More after the jump.