Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tupa Life

Photo courtesy Flickr

A tupa is a traditional Finnish country house, a peaked-roof rectangle with shoebox proportions and an entry at the center of the front elevation. Usually made of logs, it’s housing at its most basic. Tupa-format structures succeeded the Cape Cod veteran’s cottages that carpeted Seattle after World War Two. Inflation was high in the late Forties, and developers produced affordable one-story concrete block units built on cement slabs. The original roof of thick cedar shakes relieved the industrial textures of the masonry. A friend bought one of these houses for its yard. She installed a kiln and is planning to begin production soon. 

A house like this is far from fashionable, but like the Capes, it’s a sleeper. The tupa evolved in a near-Arctic agricultural and forest economy. Winters were spent mending reindeer harness and building sleds in the family room. If I had a reindeer harness to mend, Maxine would be the first person I’d consult. She may inadvertently have bought the ideal house for someone who works a full-time job and produces handmade work out of her dwelling. All she needs to bring the landscape up to Finnish speed is plant a lilac or three in a small group in the front yard. Maxine’s time and resources are hard-pressed: the utilitarian minimums that result are truer and more valid than decorative layers that would simply invalidate the original rigor and integrity of her building as it stands. 

Cement floors and concrete-block walls do not scream gracious living. Cement floors and concrete-block walls do scream contemporary practicality, though, and they also scream Japanese appreciation for a building that won’t catch fire. A friend asked if Maxine’s inner walls are finished. I don’t recall, but an original log building might have sported canvas liners painted in imitation of neo-classical paneling. Current Japanese masonry interiors are sometimes hung with down comforters to modify humidity and baffle sound. The Big Box Home Improvement Chain sells inexpensive quilted moving pads of recycled materials that are black on one side and a deep Northern European blue on the other. Elizabeth Gaynor and Kari Haavisto’s Finland, Living Design lays out the late twentieth century design vocabulary that includes generous use of quilted fabrics. Contemporary resilient shoe soles and orthotic inserts take the curse off the cold cement floors that used to hospitalize (no kidding) the women who did standing housework and child care all day. Resilient shop safety mats aren’t half bad to look at, either. Digital communications deliver the wealth of culture that used to be communicated via wallpaper, square footage, and high-maintenance landscaping. Current small space and green design add sophisticated amenities that run circles around old-school mid-twentieth century housing. 

Japan and Finland are cultural cousins, each with a profound and living craft tradition. Maxine’s collection of heirlooms is right at home in a tupa. A rocking chair and kerosene lamp equivalent would pull it all together. Her front door offers a straight shot through the building to the kiln. The architecture echoes the “screens passage” of a traditional English hall house, a utilitarian entry space midway between kitchen and social areas. The screens passage evolved into the stunning entry area of a stately home. A screens passage was a purposely chilly storage area. The tupa version was lined with coat hooks.

I was thinking about Maxine’s production plans as I stumbled into last Sunday morning’s blog writing session. My first coherent thought of the day was relief at remembering house policy not to make beds on the Sabbath. I considered my own flow of work and realized that it makes sense to displace domestic tasks that pop up in front of projects that are more involved with the greater culture. 

Parallel work flows for craft production and for life support keep each enterprise from inhibiting the other. Think velocity. Leave each physical object ready to use in the next stage of a project. Set up so you don’t have to stretch, stoop, or lean off balance to do a task. Store a thing where you use it first. I find it helpful to corral parts of each project on a cafeteria tray or in a legally acquired commercial grade dairy crate. With HEPA air filtration systems and toxins separated from living space, little else is necessary to keep all the balls in the air.


No comments:

Post a Comment