Friday, June 29, 2012

Poverty vs. Elegance

Morris Graves "Hibernation" courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum, Flickr
It’s no contest. It’s not that one or the other won, it’s that there’s nothing to contest.
I like to believe that the time has come when the ravenous eye is satisfied with media, fitness, and a well-engineered wardrobe.  The rest of interior space can serve functional necessities, and exterior space supply the demands of recreation and context.

Works for me, anyhow. 
It was my good fortune to know an art collector when I was young. His sensibility and ambitions did not reflect the conventional tonnage of mid-twentieth century domestic life. He lived in a little cottage, and he vacationed in a little shack. Both places were true to their original designs, straightforward in their furnishings, and conveniently located. They were deeply rooted in their own heritage, and all the owner’s excess went into the bank.
-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr

We are just the third family to own this 120 year old house. Moving in was an exercise in domestic archaeology: I found the small existing collection of mounted hardware an eloquent map of how the previous owners had used the rooms. Something as insignificant as a nail by the furnace became meaningful when I realized that it had held a tool used to rake ash out of the boiler. A row of hooks tells of how small wardrobes were and how the coat hanger was a new invention.
The longer I live in this building, the more I appreciate the straightforward low-tech life support that is designed into it. When we moved in, a wave of our furnishings and house warming gifts washed over the rooms. Friends and family were eager to find period housing for their old things. It took a few years to sort out, and more years to manage the tidal wave of molded plastic artifacts that accompanied children. In retrospect, little of that seems necessary. 
Swapping new lamps for old doesn’t always pay off, but it’s been a hoot to try. Swapping old lamps for even older lamps can pay off in lower utility bills, healthier cooking (with lower medical bills), and vastly simplified maintenance.
-30-  More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Urban Haven

Photo courtesy Flickr

I have the good fortune to live in a neighborhood where a public art collection is as accessible as the convenience store. An annual membership is a bargain. Over the course of a long day at the worktable, I can take an hour to stretch my legs, enter through the gift shop, and study design so casually that I don’t have to feel that I’m tiptoeing into a Shrine of Culture.
Not long ago I headed up to Volunteer Park on one of those Seattle days that’s close to comatose, so gray, chilly, and still that nothing and no one appear to be moving, not even the wildlife. I made my way through several galleries and into my favorite part of the building, the wall of windows that overlooks the park. On that particular day, the gray of the light, of the gallery’s interior, and of the subtle glazes on the few, large plates on display combined with the emptiness of the building to create a space far larger than its dimensions and as peaceful as any foggy dawn in the wilderness.
-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeping Secret House

Photo courtesy Flickr

In nineteenth century England, owners of major properties would retire to a small, remote house during summer so that their staffs could do major maintenance. The smart mother of a high school friend would move her family into a motel so that a crew could do her floors or paint rooms.
We’re not wrangling maintenance on that scale anymore. What remains we can do ourselves. Still, I like to dedicate a couple of summer weeks to the to-do list. There’s always a collection of tasks that fall into the grey area between trivial and worth paying someone to do
Manual labor requires its own kind of concentration. It’s helpful to turn off the phone, clear the desk, and turn up the life support.


More after the jump.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr

Coupons don’t work for me. It’s been years since I paid attention to anything but the Great Big Hiking Co-op’s annual discount, and now that’s automated. If I were buying for a family, I might manage differently, but even when I was feeding a pod of teen-aged boys, coupons didn’t make sense.
The cords of frozen burritos came from the Great Big Discount Warehouse, bushels of grain from the Politically Correct Organic Grocery, and lettuce from the back yard. They bought their own junk food.
Earlier, I had scanned the coupons in the Sunday paper and found that we simply didn’t use most of the products that were marketed that way. I’ll take a small loss on a purchase that’s meaningful rather than waste $20 worth of time  to save fifty cents.
Buying staples in bulk saves so much time and money that it’s practical to cook from scratch, and healthier, too. As to children’s food preferences...the two I know best survived to become gifted cooks.

More after the jump.