Friday, April 27, 2012

Experts Improvise

Photo courtesy Flickr

John, the cabinetmaker I mentioned on April 17, married a daughter of privilege who was in graduate school. The two were living on a tight budget with a young baby when I visited their Crown Hill rental house.
It was a decent postwar veteran’s place, utilitarian and nothing else, furnished with a motley accumulation of this and that to hold books, accommodate guests, and turn out meals. There was none of the usual concentration on objects as focal points-nothing was worth looking at, except the baby.
Not one cent had been wasted on foolishness. The living room and kitchen were the most sophisticated spaces I’d ever enjoyed. Placement and physical convenience took priority over inventory.
The front door of the house opened directly into the living room. The entry had been modified by setting a low bookcase to direct traffic into the kitchen and suggest a mild sense of division between entry and leisure space.
In the kitchen, John had cobbled a work table out of scrap lumber and set it on cinder blocks at the right height for chopping. The top was a clean scrap of salvaged plywood. The whole thing made as much sense as any kitchen I’d ever seen.
-30-  More after the jump.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Good Butler

Photo courtesy Flickr

My life has been innocent of butlers, but I ran across an illuminating remark in some recent reading. The man who was a technical advisor for The Remains of the Day said he had coached the lead actor by telling him that when a good butler enters a room, “it becomes more empty”.
Invisible service is built into good design. It was a revelation to bring home a small stone image of the Japanese boddhisatva Jizu from a local gallery twenty years ago. The impulse purchase changed the course of my housekeeping.
I set the statue front and center on the mantle, and its serenity displaced several truckloads of entertaining, mediocre artifacts. It is astonishing how little one needs to live comfortably and what an improvement it is to edit excess.
The recently acquired induction hot plate has done the same thing. It’s sleek, fast, efficient, self-effacing, and occupies a quarter of the space of the previous system.
Pomme’s laptop did the same, and little remains of the substantial electronic junkyard except a pair of speakers large enough to hold lamps in two corners of the dining room.
Shifting the garden to native plants has had the same effect. Native species are deeply obliging, welcoming wildlife with their comforts and the gardener with their non-existent demands for attention.
-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There Is No Such Thing As "Away"

Photo courtesy Flickr

It is impossible to put something away and impossible to throw anything away. Every artifact is a piece of a living system powered by the arms that handle it. The notion of “away” blacks out judgment and leads to massive clutter, like the floating junkyard in the Sargasso Sea. We’re stuck on a shrinking globe whose frontiers grow ever more subtle.

In the late Sixties, I lived on a low-bank Clallam County beach. Friends from New York and San Francisco came to visit. The fellow from Manhattan was outraged when, following traditional Western Washington practice, I walked to an outgoing tide to dispose of solid waste that wouldn’t burn. In the last part of the continental US to be mapped, a couple of soda bottles and a soup can did not seem like much of a burden on the environment. Roger’s cries continued to echo in my ears and influence my judgment.

Dawning public awareness of limited resources has crept over the culture, but it has taken forty years. Recycling is a given, as is composting. Sophisticated handling improves life with the things you keep, too.

Declare a home position for each thing you own, and when you finish using it, leave it ready to use again. If you set it down, set it closer to its home position. This simple practice has eliminated the reshelving process that used to eat up much of my maintenance time. Just keep up a constant, gentle flow of stuff from here to there, and be conscious of what you’re doing.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Clean Sweep

Photo courtesy Flickr

As a child, I enjoyed visiting an elderly neighbor. Her living quarters were paved with doilies and punctuated with china ballerinas that sported fascinating flexible glass net tutus. Just before television, the place was a visual feast.

Not too many years ago, I tended the houseplants of an elderly neighbor when she travelled. A retired nurse, Marg lived in the middle of a ward of leafy green patients in a space crowded with the books and treasures of generations of an interesting family. No dust was in evidence, and everything was in perfect condition. She had not acquired a television until 2009.

Recently, Marg moved to assisted living, and a new tenant moved in. The blinds are open on a corner of the living room, and I see that bit of the space when I check the weather. The place has been painted a particularly appealing beige, the blinds are beige, and an equally beige sofa rests with its back against a sunny east window. In five months, one large plant has appeared in the corner. No other things are in evidence, and I love and envy the arrangement.

Staring stupidly at that sofa for a moment the other day, I realized that a messenger bag like the one I carry on the street and from room to room here holds everything a side or coffee table used to house: media center, paper book, art studio, water bottle, tissues, snacks-can’t think of a thing that’s missing, except perhaps a foot rest.

I hope the new tenant quits while he’s ahead.

-30- More after the jump.