Thursday, February 14, 2013

June Toon

I advised a calligraphy class to choose stamps for invitations with caution: someone had used the whooping crane stamp, and many of her friends assumed she was expecting a baby. A student added that she had recently received an invitation posted with the John Paul Jones “I have not yet begun to fight” issue.

Last week I confessed my ignorance of biblical scholarship to a hospital chaplain, who said a woman wanted a quotation about love having no fear on her wedding cake. She cited chapter and verse to the baker, who misunderstood the reference and called asking if she really wanted that wording. She assured him that she did, and the cake arrived embellished with another quote from John about a Samaritan woman who had had several husbands and was cohabiting at the moment.

It took a few days to digest this lesson. The frame of reference that serves me best, I believe, is that of the printer. The lesson is, never transmit copy over the phone

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dream House

Photo courtesy Flickr

A couple of blocks away, ground level commercial space in the corner of a new apartment building has stood empty for a couple of years. Often as I walked by, I could see myself living there with the display windows covered by pale sheets of something or other. News is that a French-trained pastry chef is about to open a bakery. I tremble, not having entirely shed the pounds that I picked up at Treats, that stood on the same site during the Eighties.

The space has very good light, and it faces a pretty little park to the north. It’s on the crest of the Hill, and it faces north and east. I groused to the in-house archaeologist who brought the news that my own plans for the space had been interrupted. It is a good thing to be able to brainstorm living quarters with a casual anthro type who’s willing to consider setting up housekeeping in a rock shelter or pit house. He agreed that a large diameter sharp yellow expeditionary dome tent, minimal bath, and straightforward kitchen counter would have turned the space into a livable, productive, and perhaps even skateable environment.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Floor Plan?

Photo courtesy Flickr

A recent virus renewed my acquaintance with daytime broadcast television. There’s an engaging interior design show aimed at the heart of retail procurement. The projects are interesting, although I would make different choices. The narrator was reconfiguring a condo, and she used the term floor plan, one I hadn’t heard in years.

I grew up listening to my mother and her best pal evaluating the floor plans of various twentieth century pieces of architecture. I drew quite a few of my own on a school tablet, until I realized the topic was boring. Improving on an existing floor plan meant dedicating massive amounts of capital or searching for a new house. It wasn’t until a student showed me her rental house, with an entry hall improvised from a cobby bookcase, that I realized that floor plans are made to be broken. My friend was from a privileged home, and her partner had trained at the rigorous North Bennet Street School in Boston, the nation’s first trade school. Clearly, the two knew their way around a good idea as well as my mother and her friend knew their way around a show house.

The French and Italian terms for furniture translate into “movables”, and, for heaven’s sake, quit while you’re ahead. Any room can be used for any purpose, once you stop nailing the feet of furniture into position. Dormant, as they say, furniture appeared as an overstuffed nineteenth century response to kerosene lamps, surplus cotton linters from textile mills, and fabulous new wealth of empire. In earlier times, seating and work tables migrated to be close to daylight.

That’s still a healthy idea. Teflon sliders and a bare floor make it so easy to reposition furniture that bumpers are in order. Under other circumstances, shift heavy furniture with two people. Lift any chair by the rails under the sides of the seat. Concentrate the complexities of small furnishings in one room on each floor of the house, and turn to display screens for visual riches. Pieces designed with enough reserve that they don't shout "living room" or "boudoir" support flexible use of a space. You can still shout "living room" or "boudoir" with accessories or works of art.

Designer Billy Baldwin commented that Italian style is to arrange furniture without regard for the walls. Once I saw my friend’s entry channel improvised from a low bookcase, I began to hum “Put it where you want it” as I revved up to reconfigure a room. We live far more richly in a space that responds to changes in preference and demand.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Floor Miser

Photo courtesy Flickr

A friend recently toured an interior of high and current privilege. Her pithy summary gave me a new perspective on design. The E-mail said, “Absolute simple elegance!” I like the idea of absolute simple elegance very much. Super-janitor Don Aslett recommended storing nothing on the floor, and I now see furniture as unwelcome competition in the morning dash with the dust mop. A piece has to make my life actively sweet to hold its place in a room.

Marion’s phrase stopped me dead in my tracks, and I’ve been considering it in odd moments in the days since it first arrived. The work she was looking at is new from the base up, generously funded, and custom to a fare thee well. I’ve been considering how, or whether, absolute simple elegance is relevant to a low-carbon life lived in an existing 1890 structure.

The Shaker tradition turned out low-tech versions of absolute simple elegance, and much of my household is based on Shaker precepts: use what you already have and choose efficient methods to free energy for matters of the spirit.

I've been a barnacle on the same piece of real estate since 1980, and my decisions have evolved from frivolous, complicated improv to an increasingly minimal, or more accurately, essential, interior and garden. Last fall’s decision to paint floors in lieu of flopping mats down on them generated two fresh and spare spaces in which to experiment.

It now takes one minute to dry mop a day’s dust off the newly painted room and hall. Dry mopping generates a subtle polish that does not glare. The necessary furnishings in the spaces are fitted with Magical Teflon sliders, that act like wheels. Now that the paint is thoroughly dry, even the bed leaves no marks when I slide it here or there for convenience.

Minor rearrangement of furniture on a bare floor allows me to take advantage of every square centimeter of space. I need only pieces that are in active use. With storage of small artifacts and wardrobe concentrated in one room on each floor, the closets are empty and free to hold spare bedding and guest amenities.

State of the art electronics live in my side bag. The original room lighting hangs from the ceiling or wall. Fixed lights are not inconvenient, because I can easily shift a chair or the bed to read or work. A featherweight tea table serves the whole second story when an additional surface is needed. The beds have memory foam mattresses that do not tilt when someone sits or lies on them. Consequently, bed trays and work setups are reliably stable.

New construction in the neighborhood has affected privacy, and I look forward to simplifying the coverings on the windows. I think I can get away with a simple set of Venetian blinds and strip the room-darkening roller shades and matchstick blinds that have served so long and well. As the neighborhood grows more dense, the city more livable, and we move closer to our original intention of living in a production space, a minimalist high-tech window is starting to seem like a good idea.

I love being able to clean in a minute. Freshly dusted surfaces add the elegance to the absolutely simple.

-30-  More after the jump.