Unflipping the Gentrifence

There should be a word for when you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing but you keep going anyways. How about we call that feeling “contemperroneous?” I was all up in the contemperroneous when, back in 2015, I put up a horizontal fence of the sort that’s popular in our overpriced LA neighborhood. Fences of this sort are known as “flipper” fences or gentrifences (as in gentrification). In the midst of building my own gentrifence I knew it was wrong even if it correctly signaled that we live in a pricey 100 year old shack. Kelly even wrote about it in a blog post entitled “Our Hypocricy revealed.”

Here’s a shot of me putting up that abomination:

Those shoes and the smug grin are equally horrid.

This December I finally got around to sending the gentrifence to the Gulag. While I was at it I rebuilt the entrance arbor at the bottom of our stairs. I cribbed both designs, with a few modifications, from the Southern Pine Association’s 1926 sales brochure “Beautifying the home grounds.” This pamphlet is part of the Internet Archive’s Building Technology Heritage Library, an essential resource for anyone interested in historical preservation.

I recycled all of the old gentrifence, but had to buy some more lumber to complete the project. To make the oddly shaped pickets, I used a combo of table saw cuts along with a jig for my jigsaw. Making jigs increases speed and safety.

I’m not entirely happy with the metal handrail but, since I had it already, I didn’t want to let it go to waste. It’s functional and I don’t have to paint it. I got a contemperroneous vibe while reattaching it but you if you don’t make any mistakes you ain’t human.

Fixing a Door Strike Plate With Repair Realism

I’ve been struggling to find a word or phrase for those many times, especially in an old house, when you just resign yourself to a repair solution that just kinda works without fixing the underlying problem. I’m thinking of calling it “repair realism” as a nod to Mark Fisher’s idea of capitalist realism (the sense that we can’t imagine a way out of our current mess and we’ll just have to accept it).

We’ve got this door that moves up and down with the seasons. Sure it would be great to repair the foundation and beef up the floor joists. But since the hasty builders who slapped together this bungalow a hundred years ago didn’t bother to give us a basement or even enough of a crawl space to access the foundation, those structural repairs ain’t gonna happen.

So to make less tedious the yearly task of adjusting the strike plate of the door so that the latch bolt will go into it, I came up with a “repair realist” solution: just notch the damn strike plate so that you can move it up and down. Then all you have to do is loosen the screws rather than have to drill new holes or worse, have to repair the holes before you can drill them again.

Strike plates are a kind of security theater anyways. They don’t really do anything. One meek kick to the door and the strike plate will break away. Why even bother with them? I suppose they keep the wood from getting rubbed away by the latch bolt but they don’t do much else.

While we’re at it we need to find a clever solution for doors that swell and contract. One of the signs of spring here is neighbors hiring people to cut down their doors. We should have doors with tops and bottoms that extend and contract. Much of the knowledge of furniture making relates to how to allow for seasonal wood movement so that your table or cabinet doesn’t pull apart between the cold of winter and the heat and humidity of summer. Consider the repair realist notion of adjustable doors as a downmarket idea related to cabinetry’s more lofty methods. To paraphrase ├╝ber-realist ghoul Margaret Thatcher, “There is no alternative.”

On the 100th Birthday of Our House: The Past and Future of Housing in the U.S.

This year marks our home’s 100th birthday. Throughout the year I plan on writing a few posts on what it’s like to live in an intact and, mostly, unaltered 980 square foot 1920s era bungalow. Let’s start with the differences between a house in 1920 and now.

In 1920 the average house size in the U.S. was just over 1,000 square feet. Square footage peaked a few years ago at around 2,600 square feet and has declined slightly since. The often forgotten part of these statistics is the fact that the number of people in the average house has declined from around four people in the 1920s to 2.5 today. My late mom told the story of sleeping in the breakfast nook when she was a child in the 20s and, at various times, the family took care of older relatives.

In most other parts of the world people do with a lot less space. In Russia today folks have about the same square feet per person as an American in 1920. By contrast folks in the U.S. today have over four times more space per person. In countries like Russia and Hong Kong, or the U.S. a hundred years ago, you’re likely living in close quarters with extended family. This has implications for child and elder care and tends to make these cultures far less individualistic.

While square footage per person has gone up in the U.S., new houses have become a lot more energy efficient between 1920 and now. We know this from experience. Our old L.A. bungalow is drafty in the winter and sweltering in the summer. New houses use half as much energy per person and are more likely to burn cleaner sources of energy. But, as Bonnie Maas Morrison points out in a paper, “Ninety Years of U.S. Household Energy History,” household energy savings have been more than offset by increases in consumption elsewhere in our lives.

Think of the conveniences required for today’s dual-earner, single-parent/multi-job holding households. Think of the eating-out phenomenon, think of the pre-packaged, pre-prepared meals (from freezer, to micro-wave, to table, to garbage can, all in one container). Think of the transportation to and from places of work, shopping and leisure demanded by these households. Think of the energy demanded in these places of work, leisure, and retail. Think of the energy demanded to process the waste products of this “convenience.”

Even though this paper was written in the 1990s, Morrison goes on to make a point that has become even more true in an always connected internet and smart phone age.

Time itself has become a commodity and convenience has become the oil that lubricates the wheel of time, allowing more activities, to take place either at one time in the same place (i.e. using the cellular car phones while driving), or in a particular time period but in a different place (i.e. doing grocery shopping, while dishes or clothes are machine washed).

In the book, The Overworked American, 1991, Juliet Schor suggests that “U.S. employees currently work 320 more hours–the equivalent of over 2 months–than their counter-parts in West Germany or France.” This American lifestyle demands convenience, and that demand is exercised both inside and outside the household.

So the differences between our 1920s bungalow and the average U.S. house today are much more than just an increase in square footage and more consumer electronics. These differences lead to a difficult discussion about what a more energy efficient future might look like. Our future might be less about energy efficient tiny houses and more about sharing an apartment with relatives. Or getting your not-in-my-backyard neighbors to agree to a bus-only lane on an already congested boulevard. Or democratizing the workplace to ask for fewer hours for more pay to allow more time for cooking and child care. Or revisiting the bungalow court, granny flat or, gasp, looking to multi-generational communal living. These are tough ideas to contemplate from the luxury of our quiet and comfortable but also overpriced and drafty L.A. bungalow.

A Spider Web Garden Seat

Looking for a last minute Christmas project for your compound mates? How about a spider’s web themed garden seat. Yes, there’s measurements:

I spotted this 1920s gem on Archive.org in a promotional pamphlet, Beautifying the home grounds by the Southern Pine Association. This is the same source I used to come up with a new design for our entrance arbor and will blog about that when I put the finishing touches on it.

Starbucks Moderne

Capitalism, despite the hollow claims of “efficiency” of its zealous devotees, has a tendency to create a crap ton of useless and/or ugly objects. Unless you’re cursed with some sort of art background you’ll likely spend your days in blissful ignorance of the details of these objects. But if you’re burdened with a few aesthetic bones in your body, you just can’t stop looking at them. Take, for instance, this forgettable paper coffee cup that Kelly noticed.

Our ancestors would have poured their beverages in a reusable ceramic, metal or wood mug. Some of them might have downed their mead in a blinged out drinking horn. Before that they would have just cupped their hands at the stream. For a moment, let’s let go of the obvious problem of the “externalities” caused by sending this single use object to a landfill and take a close look at the aesthetics of this paper coffee cup.

The style and color pallet is what I call “Starbucks Moderne.” Consider it the committee-driven, focus group vetted, corporate response to the Portlandia “Bad Art Good Walls” routine. You’ll find Starbucks Moderne in the thousands of soulless hotels, “upscale” hospital waiting rooms and bank lobbies that scar our degraded architectural landscape. You’re not supposed to pay attention to Starbucks Moderne but, instead, feel like a mini-Jeff Bezos, subliminally enveloped in a muted pseudo-luxury color palette.

But what’s up with that face? Was the artist not paid enough to bother drawing a face? Is this a stab at corporate cubism? Or is this a mask? Is this a self-portrait of the artist who portrayed themselves wearing a mask as a kind of plea for help or a way of saying, “don’t blame me for this ugly thing?” Kelly actually started drawing a copy of this masked figure in order to understand it but couldn’t figure out what it was about.

The 1990s era curly chair in the background means that this hapless artist is probably of my, largely forgotten and ignored, Generation X. We’re the last generation that can remember a time of lounging in curlycued, overstuffed post-modern furniture, a time before the gig-slave economy. Now we’re hunched over in misery contemplating eking by on Fiverr and Mechanical Turk while the fat-cat masked billionaires enjoy slices of pie and a cup of coffee on the way to their Eyes Wide Shut parties.

Further evidence of the age of the artist or, more likely, that the coffee cup company hasn’t updated its art in 30 years is that there’s a be-crowned figure reading a physical newspaper instead of gigging on Fiverr for pennies an hour on a phone or laptop.

Keep turning the cup and you’ll find more bargain-basement cubism, masked, hegemonic figures and another slice of pie.

Methinks things would change if we prioritized the arts in our schools and people woke up to the sheer horror and ugliness that surround us. That day may yet come. Perhaps the revolution will be led by our blessed ceramics teachers . . .