Friday, November 16, 2012

People of the Floor

Photo courtesy Flickr

Casual reading of a history of Japanese architecture revealed that in early days, the culture was divided into people who had floors and people who lived on dirt. Now and here, it takes a visit to a campground to remember the distinction, and the privilege. And also the convenience.

A family homestead cabin still has its original puncheon floor, split logs laid directly onto the soil. They were covered by genuine linoleum in the 1920s, and the puncheons are a telling and expressive history of the family, along with the peeled pole crib set into a corner of the front room. Knowing about puncheon construction makes sense of the occasional incomprehensible period floor that doesn’t feel like anything one’s ever walked on before.

Early days as a military bride took me to many subsistence-level apartments, and the first thing I learned about making a place habitable was to get the floor in prime condition. All too often, I found a thin dirt floor laid on top of a wood one.

Family Jobs seems to make the most of its floors. Steve’s iconic photos are posed on his floor, and Isaacson’s biography includes comments on the history, and absence, of furnishing. Googling superyacht Venus brought me designer Philippe Starck’s comments about the vessel’s interior: the furniture is loose and there is nothing that is not necessary. There are no trophies posted to impress visitors. I did notice that the bridge, if that was the bridge, sports a row of six or so computer screens.

As it happens, the yacht’s appearance coincided with a floor painting project here in the ‘hood, and I am finally able to put into words what I’ve been intuiting for some years: digital culture is so rich and rewarding that it displaces most of the static furnishings that complicate cleaning and administration. While the paint dries at its leisure, I have plenty of time to meditate on what, if anything, to put back into the space that now has a pristine floor.

A side bag carries the daily necessities (phone, computer, water bottle, reading light) each of which used to demand a table and often a duplicate in another room or rooms. Now moderate ambient light suffices in a space, and I simply sling the bag over a convenient support and get to work.

Reading lights powered by solar-charged batteries have displaced several tables and lamps, allowing one featherweight tea table to serve several rooms from its home spot in the hall. More important than the absence of the tables is the absence of electrical cords, the clinging vines of housekeeping. I can now vacuum three rooms in less than two minutes, while a HEPA air filter vacuums the air. 

-30-  More after the jump.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr

For starters, find and use the hottest hot melt glue. Keep a sheaf of water-gel bandages on hand in case of contact. Reverse hot glue with the glue gun or an iron. A dry cleaner can remove glue residue from fabric, but not all of them want the bother of a job like that.

If you’re working with a conventional piece of furniture, start by peeling off the decorative elements that hide the structure of the existing covering. One of my sofas was a hand-me-down frilly piece of pseudo-chintz. I sheared it of ruffles and loose polyester pillows and discovered the clean, integral lines of the basic design. The seat is now a self-inflating air mattress with a memory foam top from The Great Big Hiking Co-op,  covered with two vintage brown herringbone wool blankets.

Diana Phipps' Affordable Spendor has a chapter on lashing together wounded springs. Basically, just get in there from the bottom and lash them back. Phipps got me started with her advice to work with a piece whose existing cover is in good condition, although she used a needle and thread. Phipps paints existing cording for a good match. She uses artist's oil, though I'd try matte acrylic to spare the fabric oil's destructive effects. With Phipps in one hand and tools in the other, I turned four thirty-six hours into a replacement for a $5,000 upholstery estimate. Now that I know about zip ties, I could probably call that twenty hours.

If a piece has severe cat damage, I’d glue a patch on the fragile areas and cover the scratching areas last (for easy replacement) using their favorite fabrics or synthetic carpet. It might be convenient to tack industrial grade hook and loop fasteners in place to hold the scratching surface.

Fabric is woven with the threads at ninety degrees from each other. The trick in managing woven fabric is to structure it so that stress follows the straight up and down or cross grain of the threads. Upholstery fabric is designed so that the patterns run the long way on the bolt of yardage-that means visualizing sideways. Calcutta Corners is a good source for new material. The existing fabric on a piece will tell you how the grain is managed. Just press two fingers here and there on the surface. When a straight line appears between them, you're on grain. Place the grain truly horizontal or truly vertical on the frame of the piece you’re working on.

I've used real batik, kangarooo skin, scraps of leather, old wool blankets (my favorite), and new cotton velveteen. I prefer to recycle, and I think used denim would make a wonderful patchwork. Check out Japanese patchwork for elegant poverty. Having cats to factor in would open the project to amusing devices like sheet aluminum. Recently I saw a couch covered on the back and sides with simple burlap, but cats would have that to pieces in no time.

To cover cushions, tear strips of the fabric four inches wider than the cushion is thick. Sew cording into the strips to set protective edges just at the thickness of the cushion, then tack the strips around the edge with dots of hot glue. Then secure panels of the fabric on the main planes of the cushions. Conceivably, it would make sense to stow an extra few pieces of cushion cover to have fresh if needed.

Cover the under seat with thin neutral solid yardage and cover the base of the piece the same way or with cheaper non-woven stuff to keep out vermin. I think bedbugs all the time, now, and if I were upholstering something, I'd glue folds of dark muslin inside the joins between arm and back or back and seat so the bugs couldn't crawl into the main body of the piece. Scraps of stretch nylon might work just as well.

It's hard to find trim that isn't cheap, shiny, and disgusting. Check Phipps, local museums or design books to get a view of good work. World of Interiors is reliable. I use folded strips of the main fabric or cording, often just twisted stuff from the dime store or climber's avalanche cord from The Great Big Hiking Co-op. Phipps has details. You can twist your own cording from any yarn: cut a double or quadruple length of yarn, tie it to a doorknob, and twist away. Then hold the middle of the length and let it curl around itself. Tie it in a knot to hold the conformation. The Co-op is selling glow in the dark tent cording designed so that people in the field won't accidentally strike the tent when they get up at night.

Look at upholstery manuals from the library. Ones from the Forties show interesting ways to economize by covering a seat with a different fabric. 

Refresh the finish on the feet, and consider adding Magical Teflon Sliders, which act like wheels, save stress on joins, and protect the finish on floors. I often finesse blemishes on finished wood with shoe polish or marker. "Brightwax" or SeattleFin are the woodworker's equivalent of wrinkle cream.

A quick and dirty rehab would be to vacuum a piece, add sliders, and tack on a high thread-count putty-colored drop cloth from the Hardware Store, possibly installing intermediate spots of Velcro. Stabilize the placement of a loose cover by tucking tight rolls of newsprint between the base of the seat and the sides.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Racing Down

This is more feather than down-check the fuzzy parts. Photo courtesy Flickr.

In an idle moment, I found myself observing a piece of first quality down that was lying on a clean, bare floor. It took a good few seconds to believe that the down was not a live, long-legged spider.

A couple of deliberate breaths moved it around the surface, and I found myself wishing there were four year olds in the house. They’d have a whee of a time playing down soccer or racing two specks of down. For starters. Heaven knows what else they’d come up with.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wooly, Bully!

Photo courtesy Flickr

Over a week-end breakfast, I glanced at the in-house archaeologist lounging under his Oregon Rodeo blanket, and also lounging on the Oregon Rodeo blanket the covered the couch. I realized that for less than a thousand dollars, he has, over several years, furnished the house in the casual Victorian Western style that suits it and us best. The blankets are a collectible investment, save significant amounts of energy, are versatile, comfortable, and fold flat for storage.

It is no wonder that the tribes measured wealth in blankets. A good blanket is as fundamental as it gets. One sees such a blanket lashed behind a cowboy’s saddle in period films, and now and then I see one rolled on top of a transient’s rig.

In this maritime climate, damp chill can easily threaten life and health. First-rate wool is the best defense, and since I’ve been conserving heat in the old, low-tech style, there’s always a layer of wool next to my skin in the cool months. This year’s crop of blanket designs includes one model that instantly warms and comforts. It’s nearly a full inch of wooly loft, and we cling to its nap like baby monkeys to a fuzzy board in a psych lab.

The mill has a seconds outlet in Washougal, Washington just off I-5. 

-30-  More after the jump.