Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Air Shaft

Housekeeping week continues with a look at ventilation. This is a good building-there’s no junk at the bottom of the air shaft. It’s also a rent-controlled building, so it might not be realistic to expect careful detailing on this window of very old textured glass.

The building was originally a small hotel of luxury suites. Conceiving of the apartment as a choice short-term rental rather than an inadequate substitute for a tract house gives the space a chance to shine on its own terms.

It’s amazing that the glass is as clean as it is, since there are around a hundred and twenty years of paint on the sash. The light that shines through this window is a little dreary, because there’s urban fallout on the outside of the panes. If I weren’t pressed for time, I’d detail the landlord’s glass with carefully tested paint remover. I’d probably get written permission to test the process and then use a soft brush to get the glass clean.

Failing that, I’d spray the glass with window cleaner, let it sit for a minute, and use a soft brush to get the texture as clean as I could. It would probably take several rounds to do that. I’d wash the brush, dry it, and burnish the glass to get it dry and clean. I might have to repeat that process, too. Cutting short the natural bristles of a cheap disposable paint brush will give you a good tool for this job. Hold it by the ferrule like a toddler grasping a spoon.

This window deserves a navy curtain: two spring-mounted rods from the hardware store holding in tension a simple panel of, say, unbleached muslin about twice the width of the sash. Sew two tubes near the top and bottom wide enough to slip in the spring rods. A local dry cleaner may have a seamstress on the staff who can run a couple of straight seams for you, or you can sew by hand along a a pencil line. Google how to sew by hand. Leave an inch or so margin outside the top and bottom tubes to form a casual ruffle when the curtain is installed. The ruffle will forgive minor misjudgments of length, and it will block air flow from the shaft, allowing the curtain to function as a low-tech filter.

An urban curtain like this one should have a backup unit, because fallout from the street will quickly dirty the one in place. This is good: it means that soot is not going up the tenants’ noses or onto the floor. Soak a dirty curtain in cold water for an hour or so to loosen the dirt before washing it. The so-called “glass curtains” that hung between the window and the draperies in old-fashioned interiors were there to screen the daylight view and filter sooty air. In the Fifties, these curtains were made of a nearly indestructible fine white nylon mesh, one of the first uses of nylon, inspiring when fresh and deeply depressing when dingy. A fine mesh would filter the air more freely than light cotton muslin.

If you want to do only the minimum, it would probably work to get a couple of spring rods and a package of cheesecloth from the grocery. Use double-sided mounting tape to lash the cheesecloth to the rods, finagling ruffles or at least a flap to screen the sill from grit.

If there’s very little energy for this project, finesse a curtain, wash the window, and skip the detailing. But do something, because what’s here looks neglected, and filtering the air will eliminate most of the maintenance in this space.


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