Haint Blue


In the wake of our recent discussion of scrub jays and paper wasps, Donna, one of our regular readers, tipped me off to the Southern tradition of painting porch ceilings haint blue to discourage nesting insects — and restless spirits (“haint” derives from “haunt”) — from making themselves at home in our living spaces.

Haint blue is not a single shade of blue, but refers rather to a blue used for this purpose. The actual color could run from soft powder blue to true sky blue to bright teal.

While the cool, airy white porch with a blue ceiling speaks to elegant Victoriana, I’ll note that the practice probably does originate in the traditions of the Gullah or Geechee people, brought to this country as slaves. They’d mix up lime paint in various shades of blue and paint not only their ceilings, but around doors and windows–around every opening into their home, to protect themselves from evil spirits.

I spent a little time ( a very little time, admittedly!) looking for some solid historical writing on this haint blue business, but found nothing but hearsay. The same basic info seems to be distributed all over the Internets,  which means the resource pool is pretty small, or pretty shallow. Nonetheless, I think the idea of a blue porch ceiling very appealing, if for no other reason than it extends the open sky into our living spaces.

All this business is novel to me, a Westerner born and bred, but perhaps some of our readers from the South will have comments or experience with haint blue?

In the meanwhile, our front porch is overdue for painting, and I think I’ll try a blue ceiling this time. I’ll let you know what the wasps (and spirits) make of it.

For more information, the good folks over at Apartment Therapy have a post which covers the basics of what the Internet knows about haint blue:

Pretty and Practical: The History of “Haint Blue” Porch Ceilings

And Donna’s original comment pointed to this show, called You Bet Your Garden.

Thanks, Donna!

Why Architectural Graphics Standards Should Be On Your Bookshelf

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Let’s say you have an uncomfortable breakfast nook and need to make some adjustments to the seat depth and height. Or you’re really ambitious and want to make a couch out of pallets. How do you figure out the right dimensions? This is why a long tome called Architectural Graphics Standards should be on every DIYer’s bookshelf.

It’s remarkable how much just a half inch can make a seat or table uncomfortable. That we’re a freakishly tall household contributes to the problem. Thumbing through Architectural Graphics Standards, I was able to diagnose the issues in our breakfast nook. The bench is too narrow and the cushions too high. I’m going to spend today correcting those problems.

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There’s a lot more data in Architectural Graphics Standards, of course. Should you want to build split ring wooden trusses, a greenhouse, or spend an evening pondering the arcana of wood joist connections, it’s got you covered.

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And, naturally, I want my own fencing piste.

A new copy of Architectural Graphics Standards is available but a bit pricey on Amazon. There’s also an abridged and less expensive student edition. If you fish around the nether regions of the interwebs you can find free pdf versions of dubious ethical origin.

Thanks to John Zapf of Zapf Architectural Renderings for tipping me off to this book, lifting my mood and, in the same visit, setting us up with a new turlet and plumber.

In Defense of Molding


Like those invasive Argentine ants, house flippers are busy digging, churning and transforming our old corner of Los Angeles. One of the most obvious markers of a house flipper around these parts is the ubiquitous horizontal “flipper fence.”


Another unfortunate sign is the disappearance of interior molding. Note the example above. In the process of ripping out interior walls, built-in cabinets and other period details, the molding often ends up in the dumpster. For some reason, it’s never replaced.

This is unfortunate. Molding is both functional and ornamental. Functionally, it serves to hide the inevitably imperfect intersections between walls, ceilings, doorways and floors. Conceptually, it creates a hierarchy between rooms (the living room should have larger molding than the bedroom, for instance) and it serves to mark a transition between spaces. It feels different to walk through an ornamented door than it does through what is merely a hole punched through a wall.

Modernist architects such as Richard Neutra derided molding as “dust catching” and, to this day, you’ll never see any crown molding or baseboard in the pages of the influential Brahmin lifestyle magazine Dwell. But I doubt high minded design is driving the aesthetic of the house flipper set. Rather it’s simple cheapness and, perhaps, a lack of skill. This is a real shame when you’re paying nearly a million dollars for a thousand square foot shack in a city that, let’s just say it, ain’t Paris.

The truth is, it’s not that hard to put up molding and it really does hide bad drywall work or old lath and plaster problems. Our 1920 bungalow, thankfully, had most of its molding still in place. I replaced what was missing (even though my carpentry skills do leave a bit to be desired).

If your molding is missing here’s a video on how to replace it. Baseboard is even easier, and has the added advantage of protecting your walls from vacuum cleaner bumps.

Ikea Karlstad Couch Hack


Some years ago we purchased an Ikea Karlstad couch. At a certain point one of the arms started cracking and the couch began a slow collapse, not unlike the long decline of the Roman Empire. Kelly and I were concerned that, at some point, the couch would suffer a sudden breach and crush an unlucky cat in the process. To prevent this we took to putting a stack of our least favorite books underneath one end. While this was going on the cats, like marauding Visigoths, took to using both arms of the couch as a scratching posts.

It was time for an intervention, an “Ikea hack” that would save the couch from the hydraulic jaws of the bulky item pickup truck. I set as my goal to make new arms for the couch that would be sturdy and cat-friendly. The cats are going to want to scratch it anyways, so why not make the ends scratch-able? Permaculture applied to Ikea hacking!

But the path to Ikea hacking is not always kittens and rainbows. The first thing I tried to do was to cut some Ikea shelving in half to approximate the dimensions of the original couch arms. This proved foolish. Some, though not all, Ikea shelves are hollow and lined with flimsy cardboard. As my colleague John Zapf noted, I would have been better off just getting a sheet of plywood and making the arms from scratch, which is what I ended up doing.


To make the new plywood arms I put the project in Sketchup to figure out the dimensions. I’m a big believer in Sketchup. It has helped plan a lot of projects and prevented waste. It took just a few minutes to figure out the arm dimensions.

I don’t have a table saw, so I used my circular saw and some guides to cut up the plywood sheet. An afternoon of work putting the arms together and another day to coat the wood with polyurethane, the new arms were ready to bolt onto the couch. It worked perfectly and the couch is now much more sturdy.


The last step was to “catify” the arms. I cut some strips from an Ikea doormat to the exact dimensions of the front of the arms. Using some screws and washers I attached the door mat. One design refinement would be to wrap the doormat material around the corner of the arm. Cats like to have one paw on each side of the couch arm to scratch.

Next I’m considering pimping out the arms with some cup holders and built in speakers.

Compostable Holiday Decor


Yesterday evening I was out in the back yard trimming our perennials (yep, it’s very California to be working in the yard the day before Thanksgiving) and afterward I twisted together a wreath out of what I’d cut: mostly lavender, with some strawberry tree branches, white sage and toyon berries. All I did was attach the green bits with wire to a thin branch I’d bent in a circle.

The wreath was spectacular last night. This morning it is a bit wilted, as the picture shows, but still nice. Properly, if a wreath is to last, it should be made of dried stuff and/or evergreen boughs. We’ll see what this one does over the next couple of days. I’m not bothered if it doesn’t work, as it only took about a half hour to make, and I made it more for the pleasure of the making than anything else.

It is worth remembering that you can throw together a wreath or swag or centerpiece out of whatever fresh plant matter you can find, and it will look fresh for the rest of the day. It’s really nice to have fresh, fragrant greenery on the walls and tables for parties. Here’s a thoughtstyling for you: maybe holiday decor should be as compost-able as the food, so we don’t end up burdened with boxes full of low-grade novelty holiday items which have no future outside a thrift store–kid art and family treasures excepted, of course!