Garden Design: Working With Pre-existing Conditions

backyardgeodesicconseptfinal

Behold my abominable raised bed design that evolved out of a misguided Sketchup session. Yes, that is Princess Leia standing in for Mrs. Homegrown. I guess that makes me Jabba the Hut, which I resemble while blogging on the couch. But I digress. I emailed this rendering to our architect pal John Zapf for review. He responded in two words, “April Fools?”

I didn’t admit that I was kinda serious.

I called Mrs. Homegrown in to look at my rendering and to her credit she didn’t dismiss it immediately (she knows that I’m crazy). But we both realized that my hexagonal raised bed fantasy would be better off never leaving its conceptual stage. Sometimes Sketchup is a handy tool for figuring out what not to do.

The problem with this bed design? It has no relation to what’s around it. It would look as out of place as a UFO on the White House lawn.

zapfyard

Let’s take a look at one of the plans Zapf doodled out last week. He worked with what’s there already: a square house, square shed and square yard. Wouldn’t it make sense to work with that squareness, to not try and put a round peg in a square hole? What I like about Zapf’s plans is that he extends the lines of the house and shed. Maybe that puts the kibosh on the geodesic Princess Leia Biodome folly, but that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes jarring contrast works, but in the case of our fuddy-duddy old house I think it’s best to go with what’s there already.

On Shoddy Workmanship

1st-b-j-engraving5

An engraving by William Morris. Note the skunk proofing.

You’re in a hurry. You’re frustrated and impatient. You say to yourself, “I don’t really need to secure this skunk proofing, my vegetables will be fine.” You might call it shoddy workmanship. I call it half-ass-itis. I’d say it’s the number one sin of the DIYer and I always know when I’m doing it.

There are those whose personality tends towards careful and elegant craftsmanship. You’ve probably met such a person. They craft their own musical instruments and win the blue ribbon at the county fair for their perfectly textured quince jam. I’m not that person (I’m more like this NSFW video). But we have freedom of choice. That’s what makes us human. We can change.

I had a rude reminder of my shoddy workmanship the other night when skunks breached poorly secured bird netting that protected a newly planted bed of vegetables. But at least I can do a better job of securing my skunk proofing as a start. Step by step, I vow to pay more attention to details. Otherwise they’ll be no home grown vegetables this winter.

Craftsmanship is not to be confused with perfectionism. A craftsperson is not afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to learn from setbacks. But to cut corners and know you’re taking an easy shortcut is to fall into halfassitis mode.

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Morris’ craftsmanship was a reaction to the newly industrialized world. I can’t think of a better role model for countering halfassitis thinking.

Do you suffer from halfassitis or are you a detail person? Comments!

Closed vs. Open Floor Plans

kitchendoor

One of the things that attracted us to our house is that it had been neglected for most of the 20th century. With the exception of the bathroom, there was no horrendous 70s or 80s era “remodeling.” Our home’s most unfashionable characteristic is a closed floor plan. Even the kitchen still has an almost 100 year old swinging door.

I’m nearly certain that the next owners of this house will knock out the kitchen wall and put in one of those bar stool counter thingies. Before they do that they may want to read these arguments against the open floor plan from a mom’s perspective. Summary: sometimes what goes on in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen.

Coincidentally I just visited three historic early 20th century mansions. All, of course, had completely separate servant/kitchen quarters with their own entrances. One even had a room just for preparing flowers and a kitchen devoted entirely to cleaning game shot from a balcony off the second story (the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills!). The “out of sight, out of mind” servant is one of the chief arguments used for the open floor plan: that is, that an open floor plan liberates the cook (often the woman of the house) from the servant role.

But I’m not so sure. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to hide the mess and noise of the kitchen from the rest of the house. Likewise I appreciate that the back bedroom that serves as my office and a guest room has a door to hide my chaos. If Dwell Magazine ruled the world, our homes would be one big open warehouse, and then I’d have to be tidy.

What do you think? Are you pro-open house plan or do you like doors? Why?