Friday, March 30, 2018

A Little Funk Goes A Long Way

Northwest painter Bill Cumming shared his aesthetic with a figure drawing class in the Seventies. A little funk, it turns out, is also a heck of a lot of fun

I invited a design-oriented millennial visitor to tour the upstairs bathroom, that recently experienced open-wall surgery. I wanted him to see lath and plaster from the back so he can understand keys, the sloppy gobs of base coat that hold the stuff in place. I mentioned I had been told that lath and plaster offers better fire protection than the wallboard that replaced it after World War Two.

I also pointed out the full-dimensional rough-cut framing lumber, straight-grain Doug fir from a six-hundred year old tree. That timber was a strategic resource in the age of sail and the cause of European claims on this region. Full-dimensional rough cut means slivers and a two by four that measures two by four. The wood is nearly as strong as steel and makes drill bits smoke. The plumbing company sent a guy who owns an old house himself. We employ descendants of the plumbing company that served the original owners of our house.

Millennial suggested simply covering the open wall with Plexiglass, an extremely tempting concept. I fear the fire marshal might not be amused, though, so I plan to hang a truth photo over the wall after it is rebuilt. The fine wainscoting will be secured with obvious brass screws to make future repairs less time-consuming. I hope future painters observe Navy discipline and refrain from covering the bright work.

I was pleased to point out that the one area of the bathroom floor that has always been most difficult to clean was simply not there any more the last time I did maintenance.


A few years ago I experimented with rehabilitating hairline cracks in the plaster by caulking them and tracing the lines with gold, as if I were repairing ancient ceramics. Areas of blistered paint I scraped gently and dabbed with soft color, like leaf shadows. A fine-arts trained house painter loved the effect, and so did the gallant young plumber who cleared the drain over the, urk, kitchen ceiling. The plumbing bill covered what it would have cost me to redo the bathroom ceiling, because I decided to stick with finessing cracks and peeling paint as I have been doing -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Old Luggage

Before the Boeing Airplane Company took over travel, mass market suitcases were made of old growth (six hundred years) cedar covered in Tolex. Not long ago, there was a wave of such luggage in local thrift stores. A few pieces made their way to the attic, and one of them made its way back to the main floor, perhaps to be of use. A nomadic acquaintance who made his living teaching and painting fine art stored his life in old suitcases that he transported in a used commercial van. Now that I comprehend the durability of Tolex, I appreciate the technical insight behind his choice of transit case.

A brief inspection reminded me that the suitcase is an attenuated version of a steamer trunk. It's designed to serve the same need to protect high-maintenance fabrics and present them in wearable condition. There's an elaborate internal structure to secure folds and hold hangers. I'm delighted no longer to have any use for such complications and equally delighted to have the opportunity to experiment with a mini-trunk. 

Cedar is no slouch at protecting textiles from pests, although the lignin in the wood means the storage is not archival. The rectangular profile of the case means that it will stack. I can rest my legs on it while reading, set it on end as a side table, and store bedding or emergency gear in the thing. The piece doesn't warrant fussy restoration, but using it to conceal field gear or small goods will be a thrifty way to take advantage of good value in vintage furnishings. This was never a suitcase to boast about, but the old custom of covering luggage with a protective quilted case might be revived using hot glue to tailor a cover from a moving pad. The quilts had bound openings around the handle. I'd consider using gaffer's tape to that end.


Tolex is an early synthetic fabric that has both an interesting history and an entertaining current inventory on offer. I just wipe it down with a damp cloth. The early vinyl edging can be refreshed with biker's chrome polish from Germany or, conceivably, tooth paste. Brass locks can be refreshed the same way. Working on instinct rather than archivist's expertise, I'd wash chemically aggressive polish residue from vinyl edging and anoint the stuff with artist's wax medium or the wonderfully benign leather conditioner sold under the brand name of a Detroit luxury car. The Tolex might benefit from a coat of wax, too, or of the protective automotive spray designed to protect vinyl that is famous for repelling ash from Mt. St. Helens. Consult a specialist if you think your piece might be of some value, and keep in mind that there is concern about health hazards associated with vinyl. I have a hunch that a protective coating that prolongs the life of a piece will also isolate toxins from the surrounding space -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Non-kitchen

One of the first things I realized after moving into an 1890 house designed along 1812 lines was that the bulbous appliances of mid-century suburbia ruined the interior volumes. Over the first years here, the condo appeared and with it, small space appliances from Asia and Europe. As washing machines, music systems, and cookers became ever more elegant*, I came to understand that a return to an appreciation of small space was completely congruent with this eighteenth century structure.

I enjoy experimenting with life support systems. After I saw and coveted the elegant two-burner Swedish propane field stoves that the local hiking vendor had on the shelf, I fantasized about discarding the electric stove that had come with the house. The double-wide energy-hog blimp of refrigeration that claimed 
a quarter of the kitchen was long gone, as were the washer and dryer that had been parked under the sink.

For several years, I stared at the ceiling during breaks and visualized deploying the propane stove on the back porch and using small appliances in the house. It didn't hurt to have a partner with lab experience who appreciated state of the art self-stirring hotplates and longed for a serious hood.

One day the oven died in the middle of a batch of bread. I hitched up the buckboard and headed off to shop, coming home with an electric kettle, a convection oven, a set of racks, and said field stove. The gear cost twice what a new stove would have and halved the electricity bill the first month I used it. It paid for itself over the course of the next few months. I substituted an induction hot plate for the gas cooker several years ago, one of the smartest moves I've made, although it necessitated revising the batterie de cuisine.

The first time I threw a party, I cursed myself for a fool until I realized as I wound through the preps that deploying small appliances here and there effectively quadrupled the work space at my disposal. I can set up multiple work stations so that more than one cook can do preps. One of the joys of small appliances is that they tend themselves. They can also be stowed out of the way when I'm finished with them.

Recently the family parlor off the kitchen has been transformed into a domestic version of a coffee shop as I and family geeks tap keys all day. Hesitantly, I set up a printer in the pantry, worrying that grease and debris might compromise the equipment, but it's been a non-problem. When I'm not using the induction cooker it lives next to the printer, an unexpected high-tech association with, apparently, no inherent conflicts. The cooker is easy to clean with window spray. The flat top means I can stack laptops on it when it's time to charge them.

An inexpensive counter-height refrigerator occupies the site of the electric stove. The flat top is as useful as that of the induction cooker for staging projects. 

In effect, deconstructing conventional twentieth century kitchen facilities has restored the essential eighteenth century qualities of this architecture. Originally, human hands did the work, and they did it during daylight hours. Like meal preparation in the field, setting up was a flexible process, and the equipment was relatively light and mobile. The nutritional demands of knowledge work-six light meals a day-are easily met in the new system.

It can be daunting for a visiting cook whose motor sequences are conditioned to a fitted kitchen to work their way through the set-ups here, although a gang of friends with commercial food experience had no trouble using the unfamiliar room to stage a going away party. There is no incentive for an expensive  kitchen remodel on this property, and the neighborhood has at least ten grocery stores within walking distance. One hour delivery of fresh food is a phone call away. It's trivial to prepare simple meals and repair to one of the many nearby bistros for a big feed now and then.

Fused extension cords are the key to the mint.


*See Paul Hawken The Next  Economy  -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Paring the Household

It is inevitable that minor changes accumulate until it is suddenly time to clear things away. Increasing density in the neighborhood has brought welcome conveniences and a pressing need for guest parking. To that end, I am revising the corner of the garden that is not as secluded as it once was.

The outdoor fireplace has gone to the proverbial home in the country. The historic garage structure that serves as a summer house can also hold a car, so I edited clutter to allow a close fit of a visiting sedan. The contents that remain are on wheels because the fit is that tight -30-


More after the jump.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Window Shopping

Now and then I check the digital offerings of the workhorse brands that let me run the house with minimal hassle. For my pedestrian purposes, the Great Big Hiking Co-op seems to be the general store of choice with their straightforward, cleverly designed, incredibly versatile and durable goods. The fusion of urban and field gear is running apace, and I could not be more content with the basics I already have.  Lightweight, low-maintenance, compact high-tech clothing, carrying gear, and (increasingly) home furnishings amplify my facilities, stretch a dollar, and generate leisure time. I have never regretted an upgrade that originally seemed extravagant.


From a different vendor, a not-cheap under-seat tote with spinner wheels is the unsuspected winning substitute for a motor vehicle. The thing stands upright in narrow store aisles. It pairs neatly with the Co-op's open tote from Deep South America and the secure shoulder bag that is a sleek fusion of messenger and fashion. Seek a bag that, ahem, does not cause clothing to ride up. I can stow the shoulder bag and tote in the spinner and set off for the day knowing it will be easy to get back to the house with as heavy a load of shop as I am willing to haul -30-
More after the jump.