Restoring a Built-in Ironing Board

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If the original inhabitants of our old house found themselves teleported to the present, I imagine the first question they’d ask is why people go out in public wearing (me included) what to 1920s sensibilities would seem like baggy and wrinkled pajamas. The presence of a built-in ironing board in our kitchen indicates the centrality of ironing and a commitment to well pressed shirts and dresses back in the 1920s. If I were an archeologist, I’d be tempted to call these 1920s folks an “iron age” people.

But then this happened:

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Apparently, in the 1960s there was just too much strenuous “action” to bother with ironing. Around this time or at some later date, the previous inhabitants of our house converted the ironing board into an awkward spice rack. I guess all the “action” required seasoning.

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Restoring the ironing board was one of the first things I did when we moved into this house back in 1998. I just looked at some pictures of built-in ironing boards in an old copy of the Sears Home Catalog, cut out a piece of MDF and covered it in ironing board material. I attached a dowel to the back of the board that slides in a track in the lower portion of the cabinet. But somehow the commitment to iron-worthy fashion did not follow.

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On my bucket list is a much overdue attempt to dress better. Our neighborhood produces eccentrics such as the late Silver Lake Walker and Five Dollar Guy so I could dress like a 1920s monopoly man and nobody would notice. Just another aging hipster! But I need not push this fashion thoughtstyling into self parody. Perhaps some moderate ironing and a commitment to looking just a bit better would suffice.

Do you use an ironing board? How often?

053 Breakfast Nook Theory

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On this week’s podcast Kelly and I discuss our recent breakfast nook remodel and conclude with Kelly’s ideas about how to choose paint colors. I’m so lucky to have a resident Master of Fine Arts! We’re also lucky to have a digital copy of Architectural Graphics Standards!

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to Make a Breakfast Nook Comfortable

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When our house was built in 1920, breakfast nooks were somewhat of a builder’s gimmick, cute, but not that comfortable. Take a look at the ad above. Do those benches look like a place you’d like to hang out in? How about the bench to table distance? Do you see yourself leaning far over your bowl of cereal? If you’re seating more that two, what about the person that has to slide into the window side of the nook?

Our breakfast nook served as fodder for some of our most fraught marital squabbles. Kelly looked at the nook and saw potential for storage and work space. I held to my line of not altering the historical details of our old house. We both agreed that changes needed to be made. We had, after all, voted with our derrieres. Neither of us used the breakfast nook for anything other than as a repository for junk. Here is our nook, as it looks today, after some changes we made to make it more comfortable:

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Those changes were made possible thanks to handy a resource called Architectural Graphics Standards. AGS, offers a set of standard measurements for everything from table height to the length of a fencing pistes. When it comes to furniture, just a half an inch can make the difference between comfort and discomfort. The main problem with our nook was that the depth of the benches were at the very minimum recommended by the AGS. So we extended the benches by a few inches:

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As you can see, the cat approves.

Another problem was the size of the table in our nook. By shortening the table, we made it a lot easier to get in and out of the nook:

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Of course, you can’t serve a dinner for four in the nook with such a short table, but we see it more as a place to gather and for the two of us to have breakfast (it is a breakfast nook, after all).

Kelly did a great job with the hard work of sewing pillows and cushions and painting all the trim and walls. And, yes, that is a functioning built-in ironing board on the left in the wide shot. More on that in another post.

How to Fix a Sash Weight

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Our house has the old kind of sash weights. Those sash weights perform two functions. They counterbalance the window so that it moves up and down freely and, since this is Los Angeles, they knock together loudly in an earthquake letting us know the rough magnitude and whether we should duck under a table.

When we moved into the house nearly every sash cord was busted and none of the windows functioned. Repairing these old windows is as lost an art as Roman augury. Most homeowners and house flippers here throw out the old windows and replace them with the sort of cheap sliding aluminum portals like you find on 1970s era truck camper shells.

That’s too bad, since the old windows look a lot better and are easy to repair. Here’s how you do it:

1. Look for an access panel in the window channel. If there is one, you’ll be able to access the weights and tie the cord to them through the panel. We weren’t so lucky. If you don’t have an access panel you’ll need to remove the window trim on either the inside or outside of the house in order to access the weights and the broken cord. I chose to remove the outside trim since it would make less of a mess and be easier and more forgiving to patch up.

2. If the cord is still in good condition you should be able to just retie it to the weight and the window should be back in operation. If not, you’ll need to get some replacement cord at your local hardware store.

3. To install a completely new cord remove the window from the frame and locate the circular hole seen in the diagram below:

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Tie a knot in the end of the sash cord and use a small nail to secure it in that hole. Thread the other side of the cord through the pulley and secure it to the weight as seen above.

Having lived with old windows now for seventeen years, I’m a fan. The cord/sash weight/pulley combo works a lot better than many newer windows I’ve dealt with. The downside is that the cotton cords break eventually. But they are easy to fix.

Pack Rat Palladio

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Admission: I’m a column hoarder. And the past few days I’ve been laying about, recovering from minor ailments and watching, through binoculars, a nice old house get demolished. I had my eye on the columns from the front porch and I just happened to be watching as the workers started pitching those columns into a dumpster. Summoning a reserve of foolish energy, I ran over and asked the workers if I could have the columns. I now have four more columns for my collection. Kelly is concerned.

Over the years I’ve acquired quite a few columns. I think their abundance has something to do with the Dwell Magazinifiction of our old neighborhood. As poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay put it, “As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.” The mid-century modern crowd just doesn’t dig the Doric, the Ionic or the Corinthian. Columns, molding, wood siding, old windows and many other ornamental details have fallen out of favor and are ending up on the curb.

House flippers loss, my gain. I’ve put my column collection to work as a grape arbor:

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As garden follies:
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And a pretentious flanking of our back door:

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I’ve done a bit of indiscriminate column hoarding too. This tacky one should probably have been let in the street:

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As soon as I recover from last week’s kidney stone surgery, I plan on restoring the four I just scavenged for use either as a shade covering for the back patio, a neo-classical clothes line or an extension of our rose arbor entry.

Perhaps someday I’ll aspire to something as grand as the broken column house in the Désert de Retz.