Friday, March 4, 2011

To The Showers

Photo courtesy Flickr

Living in a vintage house means having to improvise. I’ve had a complicated conversation with the bathtub, that is often my friend in need. The shower, however, is another matter. It’s the step-child of an 1890 room, an add-on that’s been a technical mystery to resolve.

Thirty-one years’ fiddling leave me with a rounded rectangle of ceiling track hung with a pair of two-hundred thread count white cotton sheets. The space needs a shower curtain that is far longer than the standard. The top hem, which should have been folded double before I set to work, is set with brass grommets from the hardware store, spaced around five inches apart. The bottom hem does not exist. I reasoned that a torn hem would dry faster and cleaner than the sewn hems of the previous sheets (that served fifteen years), and two months’ experience says that so far, I seem to have guessed right.

Simple fabric shower curtains have worked surprisingly well and are easy to wash in the machine. The hitch in the system is mildew since I began to conserve heat. The newest curtains dry in a flash no matter how cool the room, because they are close to the freestanding heated rack that keeps the towels fresh.

The shower curtains double as window coverings, providing a translucent column of daylight that changes character with the weather. They transformed the room much for the better. A light-proof synthetic roller shade backs them up for nighttime privacy.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Style Eternal

Photo courtesy Flickr

Crumb by crumb, I’m learning about Steam Punk, a local style initiative that turned up in Yale’s coffee-table history of Goth fashion a year ago December. Living in an 1890 house and having worn period clothing a time or two, I can appreciate SP’s affinity for the period.

What I find most interesting about the late nineteenth century are the parallels with today. Traditional Japanese design generated the storage inventory of the Great Big Northern European furnishings chain and most small-space contemporary housing. The Damascus reception room produced the repetitious small patterns so typical of and successful in Victorian interiors. As is so often the case in art history, origins surprise.

The folding, canvas seated director’s chair can be traced back to King Tut’s tomb. The model we all recognize was in the inventory of Thomas Sheraton.

Sea grass matting woven into one-foot squares dates back to the Federal period in America. Rushes on the floor are medieval. Sea grass pulls a room together like nothing else, makes it easy to arrange furniture, and calms an urban interior with its natural texture and color. It’s good economy, because the units can be replaced or rearranged as they wear, and it composts at the end of the line. Protect the floor underneath with contractor’s brown rosin paper.

Black and white checkerboard floor tiles are ageless.

The loom chair is a forthright, durable high-tech version of a porch classic of the past. It was issued to British servicemen when they mustered out of World War Two.

Oriental carpets, rag rugs, braided rugs, fine Asian matting (now available in plastic), and painted floors are all period expressions.

It was ordinary in the nineteenth-century to place a narrow day bed in the corner of a room. It might have been covered with an East Indian tree of life cloth or fine, hand-knotted carpet. In the center of the room might have been a round table surrounded by matching chairs for dining or reading.

Contemporary sportswear classics can be traced back to the turn of the twentieth century. Coco Chanel adapted active wear for everyday. Kid’s slip-on canvas shoe, a true moccasin loafer, button-front classic jeans, the beret, fedora, most Western wear, the crew-neck sweater, twin-set, muffler, and other classic knits all look 1900 when worn with a long skirt. Interestingly, long skirts prevail for evening simply because they were never shortened. They’re a good way to stay warm in a cool interior.

It’s not hard to find nineteenth-century design in a thrift shop, although genuine period pieces are usually corralled into an overpriced boutique section of the store. Molded glass, fiddle-handled flatware, white linens, crochet, traditional round white china and coffee-shop stoneware, the iron skillet, most hand and low-tech garden tools, and a traditional wooden office desk are all durable works of nineteenth-century thought.

Interestingly, turn of that century houses of privilege could be nearly as sleek and light as a contemporary town house, although with different profiles on the seating and tables. The gnarly forms and over-decorated small furnishings tended to appeal to less privileged facets of the market.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

In a perfect world, there would be an electronic cuckoo clock option for the cell phone I use as a timepiece and alarm. Digital technology could offer spectacular displays. There’d be a tick tock option, also, to mark the seconds and chime the hours with a choice of one of the world’s beautiful bells.

I’d like to install a virtual Chia pet on my laptop and be able to clean a shower stall or bathtub with a truly effective pressure-washing shower head. When the tub was clean, I could finish housekeeping by washing elaborately molded plastic reproductions of Belter and traditional African furniture.

Counter top appliances would be much safer around children if there were interchangeable break-away cords in six-inch increments of length.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week I asked the heating oil company to top off the tank. The invoice they left on the back door had me momentarily considering the wisdom of fur. Not for long, but I recalled a rabbit fur hat that carried me through the coldest recorded winter in the history of Western Washington, 1968-69.

What I learned about wardrobe that winter has saved many a ton of CO2 and relieved the budget. This is the time of year when winter clothing goes on sale. It’s a good time to look for padded vests, fur-lined footgear, cashmere knits, top-of-the-line wool underwear, and meaningful hats.

The outdoor community supports the market for stylish, efficient cold weather clothing, and in Seattle, that’s nearly all one needs in the closet. I find that the Great Big Hiking Coop anticipates retail fashion by one or two years, so a small, rational spree at the store is money well invested. Their stock is well engineered, classic, and cut to foster fitness. The spring rebate covers the year's sock supply.

About six years ago, I pulled a hooded nylon raincoat lined with fake fur off a February sale rack and brought it home just because it was cool. The classic cut echoed Ransohoff’s eternal swing coat from the Sixties. It sat around for a couple of seasons until I realized that it was too much coat for Seattle most of the time. I needed a warm robe, so I cut out the sleeves, hemmed the armseyes, and found myself with a twenty-first century version of a formal nineteenth century garment of privilege.

I don’t wear it often, but when I need the long vest, I really need it. The robe forestalls the impulse to walk downstairs and turn up the heat. The key to using clothing as a substitute for central heating is to keep the arms free. Add layers to the head, feet, and torso. What I initially thought would be a grim exercise in survival has turned out to be a style romp: the most elegant winter fabrics turn out to be the most thermally efficient. Velvet is a subtle version of fake fur, cashmere is lighter, more efficient and durable than other yarns, and silk is a featherweight insulating layer. Two layers of ordinary mesh pantyhose are warmer and more comfortable than long johns.

Critters have the best solutions to staying warm. Down and animal fibers outperform synthetics or vegetables. Fur is still out of the question, but I do wonder if crunching the CO2 numbers on fur would yield an answer that ultimately minimizes cruelty for us all.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Freeze-dried Silk

Photo courtesy Flickr

I hand-washed several scarves Saturday and hung them to dry on the back porch. The weather was a rare twenty degrees, and ten minutes later the scarves were as stiff as mat board. But they weren’t dripping.

Fortunately, I had a light hand when I checked them because, no kidding, the fabric could have broken. A few hours later, they were dry.

-30- More after the jump.