Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Modernist Housing

The students in my 1850-Present course have turned in proposals for their modern house projects, in which they invent a client or clients who commissions a spiffy house.
We have:
An Art Nouveau house probably situated in Brussels
A house in Barcelona inspired by Gaudi's Park Guell
An Arts & Crafts house in Dayton, Ohio
A Prairie School house in Springfield, Illinois by Frank Lloyd Wright
A Prairie School house in Springfield, Ohio for the son of former governor Asa S. Bushnell (whose mansion is nearby)
A Prairie School house in Albany, New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
A Cubist house (group is large, may need to split and do two houses)
A 1950s Southern California house for a wealthy bachelor, complete with music room
A mid-century house in Pacific Palisades (also Southern California) influenced by the work of Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig, and Charles & Ray Eames
A mid-century house in Greenwich, Connecticut for a French fashion designer
This sounds good to me, although I am sorry not to see any Art Deco in the mix.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Relaxed Alertness

I made an offer on the recently pictured house and accepted the counter-offer. Mortgage stuff now underway and inspections scheduled. Meanwhile:

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): I have compiled a set of four affirmations that I think will keep you on the right track in the coming weeks. Try saying them at least twice a day. 1. "I am cultivating Relaxed Alertness, because that will make me receptive to high-quality clues about how to proceed." 2. "I am expressing Casual Perfectionism, because that way I will thoroughly enjoy being excellent, and not stress about it." 3. "I am full of Diligent Indifference, working hard out of love for the work and not being attached to the outcome." 4. "I am practicing Serene Debauchery, because if I'm not manically obsessed with looking for opportunities to cut loose, those opportunities will present themselves to me with grace and frequency." (via Freewill Astrology)

While I try to live like this in general, I think a little more Serene Debauchery could be beneficial. Ms. Spots is the most skilled practitioner in the household and has Orion and me wrapped around her little toes. All she has to do is lie down and someone is likely to rush over and fulfill her wishes. Admittedly, at times she gives one or the other of us a special come-hither look. But she doesn't have to in order to get her message across. On the other hand, when it comes to Relaxed Alertness, Ms. Spots excels at Relaxed while Orion excels at Alertness. The full weight of Casual Perfectionism and Diligent Indifference is on me, since the rabbits don't work.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Photos

Readers have expressed much interest in the house pictures, although mostly not via the blog. This afternoon I had another opportunity to photograph the said house (we are preparing the offer), so here are some of the better photos.
Below, the front parlor fireplace.

The front parlor has two sets of pocket doors.

View from the bathroom into the kitchen:

The anaglypta ceiling in the kitchen:

A corner of the dining room:

Dining room cupboards:

The back stairs and pantry door:

The laundry area:

West upstairs room:

East upstairs room:

The lilacs and dogwood in the back yard:

The garage:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Strong Possibility

The house-hunting game is nearing its end, or so we hope. There are three or four top candidates, each structurally sound (as far as can be ascertained pre-inspection) and each with many appealing features. None of them looks much like any of the others beyond being two-storey and having a yard of some sort.
I have not succeeded in getting many photos, as my camera batteries have been unreliable--evidently the rechargeables are nearing the end of their rechargeability, and I suppose I've recharged them quite a few times by now. Still, I do have at least a few passable pictures of one of the houses, although not of every room.
The photo below shows the first room one enters. While I sort of like the wallpaper, I think it is a pattern better suited to a smaller space, and if I bought the house I think I would do something else, although not necessarily right away. I am more a paint person than a wallpaper person, but I'm open to new possibilities.

The wallpaper seen below, in the front parlor, is wallpaper I expect I would keep. I would never have thought of doing it myself, but the forest of exotic birds has considerable charm. The front windows (facing east) let in pretty good light and so the main question is whether to lighten up the ceiling. Both rooms seem like fine places to put bookcases and pictures and the piano I intend to get. Note the area with couch seen through the door in the second photo: it leads to the stairwell and the couch is under a window, making a potentially good spot to sit and read. I wouldn't object to having a little couch like that, assuming it was comfortable. I would change the color in the stairwell but it should continue to draw the eye.

The kitchen, below, is small but seems very well laid out. I like the cabinetry, which is ample and at good heights for me to reach. There is a window over the sink and everything seems convenient. A window to the left of the sink provides somewhat of a view of the magnolia tree in back, if I remember correctly. The kitchen also has a very fine white anaglypta ceiling.

The dining room, which was the original kitchen, provides additional storage space and if I should embark on making piecrust I would probably do it there. The south windows provide good light and look out onto the side yard and the neighbor's garden. I would put in an anaglypta ceiling to match the kitchen's and ask if the cabinet in the corner could stay.

At the back of the house one finds a utility room with washer, dryer, and plenty of space for rabbit gear. It is a sunny and pleasant room suitable for starting seedlings and lying around petting recumbent rabbits. (Any seedlings would have to be out of reach of the rabbits, obviously.) While I am not a big fan of yellow walls, they work well with white trim and I think I would keep the current color scheme and only perhaps do a lighter shade.

The upstairs was, except for one room (not shown), originally attic space but now has three rooms plus walk-in closets. One of the closets would need to become a bathroom, but I understand that there is sufficient space for the conversion. The bedroom has its enchantments and could accommodate some bookcases, but I am unsure what I would do with the color scheme. Fortunately the current colors would be acceptable for a start.

The eastern upstairs room is not ideal for bookcases, or at least tall ones, but other than that it could be a very pleasant place to work. The yellow patterned wallpaper, while not something I would ever have chosen on my own, actually works well in the room and I might keep it.

Not shown: the downstairs guest bedroom, the bathroom, the upstairs west room (potentially a fine place to read or watch films), the basement, and the yard. The front yard, typical in the historic districts, is very small and mainly has flowers and some shrubs. The side yard has a walkway and some plantings, and the back yard has a small patio, a larger grassy area, a big magnolia tree, several white lilacs, some roses, and miscellaneous other plants. It has space for fruits and vegetables and composting.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Students in Action

At least three of my students (possibly more?) were creating art for everyone to watch during last night's big arts fundraiser. I was impressed with their work, less impressed with the results from my cell phone camera. Maybe I really do need a pocket-sized digital camera too. There was no way I was going to take my big camera to something like that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Things We Like (and Don't)

Since I've now signed a contract for tenure-track employment, it's house-hunting time. After all, if I want to get that $8000 first-time buyer tax credit, I've got to sign a house contract by the end of the month.
Real estate is plentiful around here, and it's pretty affordable as real estate goes. While I gather that McMansions in the suburbs are wildly expensive, those are of no interest to me anyway. An interesting house with a yard, within walking distance of places to eat and other useful businesses, is what I have in mind. Proximity to a bus stop and/or freeway is also good.
Books and articles about real estate always talk about what sorts of renovations and upgrades add value to a house. I find I am only in partial agreement with the prevailing wisdom. I do agree that it is wise for the seller to make some cosmetic fixes that make a place look appealing. But I'd rather see things like freshly planted annuals than a remodeled kitchen or bathroom. While I'm not likely to be drawn to something that looks like a wreck, I'm also not likely to buy something that's just been fixed up with whatever someone regards as the latest decorating trend, whether it is low-end or high-end.
What would I like to see as far as updates? Well, I am all in favor of good insulation. I did not enjoy seeing my heating bills this past winter, especially since I spent most of my hours at home either wrapped in an alpaca cape or wearing layers under three insufficiently warm blankets. I would also be all in favor of a European-style tankless water heater. And I would be happy to see some solar panels even though this isn't the sunniest part of the country.
What don't I want to see? I certainly don't want to see new carpeting. If the carpeting is cheap, I'm just going to want to rip it out, and if it's expensive, I'm still going to want to rip it out but I'll feel like I have to use it for years first. I have no objection to buying a house with old and ugly carpet, because rabbits like carpet and they can enjoy racing around on a nasty carpet while I figure out whether the flooring underneath is desirable. Carpeting, in my view, is basically a magnet for dust, fur, and moths. It's also never in a color I want on my floor. It may be an inoffensive color, but it is still never in a color I really want. Rugs are the solution here. I will pick out my own rugs, thank you.
I have alluded to my general desire not to see remodeled kitchens and bathrooms. As far as I'm concerned, they can have plumbing and cabinetry from 1890, 1920, or 1950, so long as the plumbing actually functions. I will then have the option of keeping it or updating it according to my own preferences. I grant that one does see some very appealing updates, and at times I respond favorably, but very often my reaction is "That's nice, but I don't want it." I cannot count the number of elegant bathrooms I've seen lately, all of which have brown tile. The first couple of times I saw this, I was impressed, because admittedly it's good-quality tile, and furthermore, I wasn't used to seeing brown bathrooms, so it had a certain novelty value. I've now realized that every bathroom in this city remodeled within the past five years apparently has the same brown tile. Designers in this city have a thing for brown, in general. I do not. None of my towels go with brown. Brown is not a color I'm anxious to see first thing in the morning. I've concluded that while I could go for a brown-and-black half-bath off my living room, I don't want a shower lined with this ubiquitous expensive brown tile. I can get my brown bathroom fix every time I stay in a conference hotel or go to the local restaurants and cafes. I mean, some years back I complained because my apartment had pink tile, circa 1960. Yet it was surprisingly easy to make the pink tile work, since it didn't clash with most of my towels or with my shower curtain or with either black or white. I will be perfectly content to deal with pink, blue, green, lavender, or even (possibly) daffodil yellow tile in my bathroom. Black or white tile is also acceptable. Just say no to the trendy brown bathroom, please. I do not want to see any more of those, any more than I want to see any more household objects or clothes that combine brown with blue, with pink, or with turquoise. By 2007 I was thinking "ugh, that's so last year" and I am not inclined to that kind of dismissive thinking.
In the same way, I'm concluding that there are certain styles of kitchen cabinetry that, despite being perfectly nice in themselves, are just far too ubiquitous. Unpainted wood cabinetry is attractive when new, but it does not do well with moisture. I do not want to spend my life checking for water stains on my lower kitchen cabinetry. Nor do I want to have exactly the same millwork as everyone else has installed since 1990 or so. Thus, do not install new cabinetry to sell your house to me, unless you are magically on my wavelength. Nor should the prospective buyer put in new countertops or backsplashes unless these are just unusually exciting. Even then, my reaction may well be "Great workmanship. Hate the color."
In sum, if the house dates to 1890 and the exterior and fireplaces are lovely examples of that era, I just do not want my kitchen and bathroom to scream "2000" or "2010." They need not look precisely 1890-ish, but they should not look as though 1890 and 2010 have been mysteriously grafted together and the fruit of the two will be 2010. Let the building give some sense of having a gradual development from 1890 to 2010, or else of being the result of the efforts of a person with a strong personal sense of design.
I can tolerate the trendy of decades past (at least temporarily); I do not want the trendy of today haunting me until it's decrepit enough to justify replacement.
Now: while we're at it, I have not been excited by any of the child-centered decorating I've seen either, since it distracts me from envisioning what I might want to do with the child's bedroom. That's not a major issue because all I'd really have to do is tear off the decals and repaint, but I'll point out that I've only seen one example of a child's room that really took my fancy. A friend of mine bought a house with beautifully done Beatrix Potter characters painted in one room. I'm not sure children are ever allowed near, but it's a divine guest bedroom. I'd hire that painter. Maybe I'll need Beatrix Potter characters on my own bedroom walls.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Another Czech Art Course Begins

It's Spring Quarter and that means (among other things) that the Czech Modernism class is underway again. Last year it was an advanced seminar designed to teach students how to write research papers. This year it's a lecture class with fewer readings but weekly Discussion Board postings and a design-an-exhibition project. And 30 students instead of 6.
Libuše, 1893, by Karel Vítězslav Mašek (1865-1927)