Thursday, July 14, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

On a recent outing, I confessed to my companion that I had rid myself of the freezer, cut my power bill in half by doing so, and now use the freezers of the nearby supermarket and the Big Box Warehouse Store. I think their power rates are cheaper than mine, and certainly the turnover is superior.

A cousin on Bainbridge used to sweat power outages until the family invested in a generator to protect the contents of the freezer. Can’t quite see the economy in that.

Keeping depth in the larder is an unquestionable virtue. Thomas Conran’s Kitchen Book has an inspiring chapter on the subject. Over the years, I have found that dried and canned foods are more versatile, compact, and cheaper to store than frozen things.

The old ways of preserving food are nearly invisible. Jam is preserved fruit. Pickles are preserved vegetables. Hard tack is dried bread. Cheese is preserved milk. Beans are beans. A real ham requires no refrigeration, even in the tropics, and wheat, I am told, stores indefinitely.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Bedspread

Photo courtesy Flickr

Most of the floors in the house are covered with squares of sea-grass matting from the Original Import Store. I learned about sea grass from a San Francisco aunt who was married to a career Marine. She said it was convenient to reconfigure the squares after one of their frequent moves.

Sea grass, I have since learned, is an old product that is period at least back to the Federal Era in the US. The matting is a pleasant light drab color. I have never tired of the way it pulls together a room of mixed furnishings and sets off the colors of other elements. Sea grass wears well and can be composted at the end of its useful life.

I read somewhere that the way to “lose” a bulky piece of furniture is to make it the color of the floor. Ten years ago in a local department store, I stumbled across a designer cotton blanket the exact color of the matting, something of a miracle, because I’d been looking for fabric for fifteen years.

A coarse weave, the blanket is more sturdy bedspread than coverlet, and the price took my breath away. I brought one home anyway, in king size, and it was so just right that I returned for another the next day.

The pair of spreads are the hardest-working furnishings I own. They have greatly amplified the ways I can use tables, beds, and upholstered seating. At the moment, one covers the dining table. It’s a long skirt to the floor that’s a lap robe in winter, saving heat. I still need it this July, so it’s still on the table. Between the spread and the light tablecloth that tops it is a layer of flannel-backed protective vinyl.

The other spread is currently working as a bed skirt, minimizing the visual impact of the chunky cube we sleep on. The designer’s line of bedding has one foot in the boudoir and the other in the living room, a fine green way to take best advantage of expensive space.

-30- More after the jump.

Stone Way

Photo courtesy Flickr

When we took on an untouched 1890 house thirty-one years ago, we supported the restoration with three vehicles: a motorcycle, a Bug, and one stout and battered pick-up truck. Once the grunt work ended, we got rid of the fleet. Now the mercifully rare episodes of laboring on the house are organized around tradesmen’s wheels.

In 1980, I walked into the local paint shop, that had been in business since the Twenties, and explained that I planned to buy one gallon of paint a month for the rest of my life. That prediction turned out to be fairly accurate. Sadly, the shop, a favorite of the professional design community, folded its tent and moved down to the industrial flats, a spectacularly inconvenient bus destination.*

Canny homemakers in the North End have resorted to Weekly’s since my mother was a frisky young thing, and last week’s pedestrian journey to the home of penetrating teak oil proved that things have only gotten better for the DIY community.

A short extension of my ordinary bus ride took me a few blocks north of the paint boutique. As I ambled downhill past the collection of plumbing showrooms and custom cabinet makers, I realized that I can now find anything I might need for the house on one street strategically located between the transfer station and Home. I can relieve the strain of a backbreaking Saturday’s project with burgers from the all-time local chain, where NBC interviewed Bill Gates, and bizarre plastic toys from Trick and Puzzle Central on 45th.

You just never know when a harmonic convergence will turn up.

*Happy 2015  note: the paint shop is reincarnate on the north hill, and it appears that its fine colorist is still on the staff.
More after the jump.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

As Long As

Photo courtesy Flickr

The first thing the owner of an old house learns is that opening part of the structure is exploratory surgery. Our first restoration project segued into a thirteen-year-long sequence of light construction and painting. It took us a while to define the “as long as” syndrome.

When the roof was off and open last week, the crew boss asked if we planned to insulate. The place dates from the days when wood was so abundant anything with a knot was just burned as waste.

Yes, I had planned, but not as part of the roofing job, because we didn’t know whether we would find horrors of rot overhead or masonry that needed attention. The roofing job was completely straightforward, and I’m looking forward to insulating as a separate project.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let Me Tell You About My Operation

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week we had open-house surgery. A well-practiced roofing crew tore off a hundred and twenty-one years of shingles in one breathtaking ten-hour session. They worked like rockers playing full on the whole time, in eighty degree heat.

Five days later the house is tighter than it’s ever been, I can shift to wringing my hands about other leaks in our systems, and I am proud and happy to know that the experts overhead found not one rotten rafter. That’s the most telling biography of the house that we have uncovered.

The roofer’s memo of agreement recommended clearing out the attic, and we were happy to have a small nudge in that direction. The space wasn’t cluttered, but I found a truckload of miscellaneous leftovers from restoration projects, and now the top floor is a blank slate.

An old friend warned me to expect a houseful of cruddy grit from the tear down, so I nervously pulled shades and shut windows and internal doors. There’s no sign of infiltration, and I think the old-fashioned attic story kept the fallout confined to that one area. Perhaps the severe dry heat of the first two work days created air currents that drew debris upwards.

We truly lucked out on the weather, and Saturday’s wrap-up of the job was occasion to celebrate no injuries, the wonders of plywood sheathing, and the ambition and competence of a well-recommended family company. The real celebration will wait until the rains of October, but I see no reason for concern.


More after the jump.