Binding the Past

I don’t like being organized as much as I get cold sweats when something is a mess. Disturbed, obsessive, bizarre? Yes. One of the tools I use to keep track of household issues is a set of binders. I have one for permanent work, such as construction, painting, and major appliances. I have another for small appliance manuals, furniture care, and transitory issues. This is an incredibly simple thing to do and makes a huge difference when I need to find out how much the last termite inspection cost, or what exact color the yellow guest room is. It takes 10 seconds to use the 3-hole punch and insert new information.

The binder is made up of different sections: contact info and business cards, paint swatches and diagram, construction records, major appliance information, and ongoing work. I use the handy plastic sleeves for cards, swatches, and items that don’t fit easily. A binder is a gift from the gods.

I have another binder trick, which points to further psychological distress. Rather than keeping piles of old magazines, I trim out the articles I want to keep, put them in 3-hole plastic sleeves, and keep them in binders also. This saves a huge amount of room, and makes finding that article about Mount Vernon an easy task.


Such a Tool

I’ve been trying to decide why I can’t sit still on the weekend. I could sit by the pool and read magazines or history books. I could watch endless hours of I Love Lucy. But I don’t. I relentlessly weed the cactus garden. I touch up paint throughout the house. I reorganize the garage (as my brother says, “reorganize” is the scary word here). I scrub the ceramic tile around the pool. A friend told me I do these things, not because I have an industrious Puritan streak, but as a way to sublimate emotions. This makes sense to me. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly aware of my emotions, so I have no idea what I’m sublimating.

As I pondered this last weekend, I noticed that the tools were a mess. Some were in the garage, some were in the laundry room, and others were in the rumpus room. So I took over one of the closets in the foyer. This closet started life on the 1955 blueprints as a “powder room.” When we first moved in, the closet had a little vanity and mirror, with lambs applying lipstick wallpaper. I guess the idea was to stop in before leaving the house to check makeup application. I desperately tried to save the silence of the lambs wallpaper, but it was falling apart. I installed pegboard, hooks for extension cords, mounting to hang the ladder, and painted everything. I didn’t labor over the paint color; I simply took some extra paint from the paint cabinet. I put a rolling Metroshelf cart in there with shelves for chargers and bins of nails and screws. Now I have easy access to all the tools. No more trudging all over shouting, “Where in the hell is the mallet?”

A Contextual and Theoretical Christmas

Traditionally, we’ve always put a tree up right after Thanksgiving. This year, I need to buy a new one. The previous tree was white and had yellowed to a urine tone. In the past, I was forced to buy either a “lifelike” traditional tree, or a white one. But if a tree is artificial, shouldn’t it look artificial? Isn’t that a tenet of modernism, truth in materials? Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, this points toward a colored Christmas tree.

Fortunately, today, companies like treetopia sell colored Christmas trees. If you want a pink tree, you are now not forced to buy just a sad two-foot Barbie tree. This is disturbing to guests, or to use in the office, unless you have a young daughter. Like a visitor from the Soviet Union walking into a supermarket for the first time, I’m overwhelmed by the choices. Pink, blue, orange, or seafoam: which color is best? With the magic of Photoshop, I simulated the tree in its environment. I’ve found this to be a good tool for picturing possible furniture, landscaping, and hair color. Some of you are probably screaming at your monitor, “No you idiot! None of the above! Bad taste! Bad taste!” But I counter with my adherence to modernist theory.

Stop the Madness

There are few things in life that really enrage me. One is when people turn on their turn signal only after the light has changed and I am stuck behind them. The other is when someone on HGTV decides to renovate a perfectly good bathroom. “Look at this atrocious 1950s bathroom,” the designer says, “We’ll get rid of that turquoise bathtub and make a relaxing spa retreat.” I want to go through the television with a baseball bat and knock some sense into them. First, the turquoise fixtures are impossible to find now. The sea-foam tile is built to last during an atomic war. The bathroom is efficient and stylish. Second, why does everyone want a “spa retreat” in his or her bathroom? I like to use my bathroom for hygiene and then leave. I don’t want to linger, light candles, stare at the wall, and soak in filthy bath water. It’s just plain disgusting.

I am guilty of the crime of renovating a pink mid-century bathrooms. I will, no doubt, be run over by the karma train for this. I tried valiantly to save the bathrooms. But, the fixtures had been replaced and didn’t match the tile. The bidet was odd and not needed, and the flowers on the tile pushed it over the edge from mid-century sweet into sickening old age home. The tile that ran up the wall to the 6-foot level also left the impression of being in a Frances Farmer insane asylum hosing down room.

I did my best. I found style appropriate sinks and faucets at Waterworks. I used plain white square tile, as opposed to something hip like glass pebbles. And I put in a terrazzo floor that might have been chosen in 1953. This should not be taken to be an absolution by the renovation people on HGTV. I am begging you to please stop destroying the national treasures of pastel bathrooms and replace them with faux Asian bamboo retreats.

The Big Cold

Before I started BurningSettlersCabin, Bill Drenttel asked me if I would do an article for Design Observer on refrigerators. Bill specifically wanted to see designer’s refrigerators. So I sent notes to a bunch of friends and asked them to send me images of their refrigerators. Immediately, Marian Bantjes sent me her photos. Thank you Marian. Then, nothing. I asked again, and everyone said, “no problem.” But nothing ever arrived. It seemed that I had asked for something too private to share. I have no idea what others keep in the fridge that is so shocking. We found a stack of frozen Big Macs in my dad’s refrigerator. Maybe famous designers are doing the same, but can’t reveal that.

I love my refrigerator, and have no issue showing it. It’s a Sub Zero Pro 48. When I have guests, they invariably ask, “Sean, just how do you keep your refrigerator so neat?” The secret is plastic bins. Keep all the mustards in one, and all the miscellaneous condiments in the others. Anything oddly shaped is kept separate. I worry that my refrigerator is too big, but we have 7/8 sized refrigerator at work, so it evens out. My advice to everyone is not to use plastic bins in the fridge (although you should), but to look into every designer’s fridge when you visit. Just what is so shocking and terrible that everyone runs when asked?

The Hallways of My Mind

The happy hall of different colors

As we've previously established, I'm not particularly good about sitting still. I try to sit by the pool and read a magazine, but after 5 minutes I notice that the patio needs cleaning, or there are weeds in the cacti garden. When it rains, I'm forced to find things to do inside. Fortunately, the work never ends. I have a dark hallway in my house that bugged me since we bought it. It's an interior hall and perfect for attacking someone if you plan a mugging. I tried painting it white and this made it seem like being in a dark hallway in a mental hospital. Then I found an article in a 1965 Sunset magazine that gave tips on brightening up a house. "Try painting each door a different color," was a small throwaway piece of text.

What could be better? This would take hours. Each door would need to be taken off, cleaned, and painted. And I would need to buy several cans of paint, and rewash the brush for each door. It turned out to be a larger undertaking than I imagined, but idle hands are the devil's playground.

The dark mugging hall

The many colored doors after

in process

Brighter, happier hallway

More hallway

The Blue Door