Framing the Frame Blog

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Professor Henry Rowland, 1897.

I remember going on a tour of an art museum once when, towards the end of the tour, the docent asked if anyone had any questions. One of the people on the tour, motioned towards the ornate gilded frames and asked about where they came from. The docent grimaced and I could tell that she thought this was a stupid question.

Giovanni Bellini, the Frari Triptych, 1488.

It’s not. It turns out that most artists of the past gave a lot of thought to the frames, often coming up with their own designs or collaborating with highly specialized woodworkers. I know about this though my discovery of a deliriously detailed and meticulously researched jewel of the internet: The Frame Blog. The blog is run by frame historian, Lynn Roberts and has over 45 contributors.

Don’t believe how important frames are? Just look at this post to see what happens when the frames go missing. And Roberts also likes to point out how important it is to include the frames when paintings are reproduced online or in books.

To go meta on this, the post-modernist in me thinks it’s important to look at the frames we put around everything, not just art. And, practically, I’ve been trying to make some of my own frames lately with a table saw jig and Frame Blog has been a source of inspiration (and humility as my frames look like they were made by Fred Flintstone by comparison).

The Frame Blog is one of the few gilded nodes on the internet’s tarnished tubes.

Wallpaper: Like a Tattoo for Your Walls

Root Simple reader Morninglory asked for a closeup of our new wallpaper so here you go.

It’s William Morris’ popular pattern known as “Fruit,” first produced in 1864 and still available in a variety of color combinations. There’s also a version with birds (put a bird on it!), but Kelly thought the bird-less version would look less repetitious.

We also installed Morris’ “Daisy” wallpaper in our breakfast nook. “Daisy” is the first wallpaper that Morris manufactured and it’s inspired by the illustrations in a book in his parent’s library that he thumbed through as a kid, Gerard’s Herbal.

Morris discovered a talent for patterns by way of failing miserably as a painter. While he couldn’t paint a human figure or animal well, he had a talent for patterns that grew out of a lifelong obsession with illuminated manuscripts.

While working on the house last summer we discovered a fragment of the fuddy-duddy wallpaper that covered the walls in the 1920s. Partly inspired by this, Kelly ordered some samples of the Morris papers and when they arrived in the mail I thought they were so striking that we had to install them in spite of my fear of wallpaper and the great expense of the paper itself.

I very briefly considered installing the paper myself but then read some how-to directions that made my head hurt while, simultaneously, discovering Eric of Garden Fork’s video, “I’m Hanging Wallpaper, What Could Go Wrong?” It turns out a lot went wrong and when I wrote Eric he told me to hire someone. Hanging your own wallpaper is like doing your own root canal.

Finding a qualified wallpaper hanger proved difficult until a friend, April, gave me the contact info for Jan of Busy Bee Wallpaper. Jan did a phenomenal job and, unlike the rest of the folks I attempted to contact, set a date and stuck to it. I enjoyed watching her deftly cut around fussy window molding and uneven and out of square walls. She made it look easy which it ain’t.

The Closing of the Open Concept?

The ultimate open floor plan house designed by Shigeru Ban.

A big thanks to Professor Nic for alerting me to the Boston Globe’s coverage of one of my pet issues, “People in open-concept homes are realizing the walls were there for a reason.” Apparently, “the pendulum is swinging back” towards the old fashioned concept of walls. There’s even a hashtag, #OpenConceptRemorse.

Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell covered the history of the open concept in a City Lab article from last year, “The Case for Rooms.” As Wagner points out in her article, bungalows like the one we live in often had an open living room/dining room arrangement.

Last year I restored our two front rooms to their previous, 1920s openness. At some point in the drywall era the opening was plugged up to make another bedroom.

Here’s the before pic above.

The dusty during pic.

And what our house looks like now.

Wagner also points out that while some bungalows had two open front rooms there were still plenty of walls. The kitchen was always walled off.

On a related note, I need to devote a future post to the mysterious disappearance of molding. For now let’s just say it’s so easy to spit out with a table saw that I don’t know why the house flippers hate on it so much.

Shoe Fail!

Wednesday’s catastrophic shoe fail, that resulted in a knee injury for Duke University star basketball player Zion Williamson, gives me the perfect pretense to update my three year long experiment in wearing only minimal shoes.

You can read more about the details of Williamson’s exploding Nike in the New York Times. The article reports on how shoe companies bribe universities to feature their products. Athletes have to wear the company’s shoes but receive none of the sponsorship dollars except for a few free shoes that they have to wear unless they get a medical excuse from . . . doctors working for the shoe company. On the bright side the athletes get a great lesson in neoliberal economics that clearly debunks the commonly held myth that the “free hand” of the market leads to some sort of Edenic meritocracy.

They also get a lesson in how our culture likes to think of its technological products–such as those “high tech” athletic shoes–as based on some kind of engineering magic when in reality they are just poorly made plastic crap festooned with magical brand sigils. As Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman has shown, modern athletic shoes have no peer reviewed evidence behind them. What little thought goes into them suffers from a basic logical error known as survivorship bias. Shoe companies address weaknesses in our feet by adding more and more cushioning which, ironically, leads to weaker feet muscles. Like a dog chasing its own tail, these springy, mattress-soft shoes leads, in sports like basketball, to higher and higher jumps and bigger and faster athletes which, in turn, leads to more injuries which leads to more cushioning in a never ending cycle propelled by advertising dollars and Wall Street investors. Though I have no evidence, I’m willing to bet that basketball players had fewer injuries in the days of the more basic Chuck Taylor shoes of the early 20th century.

An Update
So how is my minimal shoe experiment going? In short, great. Not only have I had no return of the dreaded plantar fasciitis, but I’ve also saved a lot of money. It turns out that without any cushioning to lose its spring, a minimal shoe lasts a lot longer than those giant Nike atrocities. I’m three years into my barefoot running shoes and it’s just about time to replace them. Root Simple has no shoe sponsorship, but I will say that I was able to switch my running shoes, dress and casual shoes all to minimal versions made by the same company: Vivo. Kelly tried a competing company Lems and reports the same good results. There definitely was a few months of getting used to not having any support and learning to walk as mother nature intended us to walk. I’ve even proven that you can fence, a sport that requires a considerable amount of bouncing and jumping, in minimal shoes.

This is also a perfect opportunity to clarify that I’m not one of those barefoot conspiracy theorists. Thanks to the News From Nowhere podcast of journalist Corey Pein, I discovered that there’s a strange world of folks who hold that there’s a vast conspiracy against walking barefoot. Pein talked to Brandon Sutton (Chad Vigorous) of @th3discourse about the barefoot conspiracy theory community, who make the flat earth/pizzagate folks seem grounded, so to speak. While I love a good Sasquatch story I just want to make clear that I don’t see the universe through the prism of bearing one’s sole. It’s funny that these kooky ideas obscure an actual conspiracy of shoe companies that really do bribe colleges and podiatrists to push their injurious products.

A Better Garage Organizational System

I gave ├╝bermaker Federico Tobon a tour of the garage when he visited the Root Simple compound back in 2017. He took one look at the pegboard and asked, politely, if I liked it. I could tell by his tone of voice that he was skeptical of this ubiquitous garage storage strategy.

Technically known as perforated hardboard (Peg-Board is an expired trademark), the idea dates to the early 20th century. You can still pick some up at almost every lumber yard or big box store here in the U.S. But here’s the thing. It sucks. Even with the little plastic doodads that are supposed to keep the metal hooks from falling out, in my experience, half the time you you go to retrieve a tool off the wall the damn metal pegs fall out.

This past week, inspired by an article in Fine Woodworking by Jason Stephens, I decided to put all my furniture building plans on hold and replace the pegboard with a more usable and robust home-brewed hanging system using 1/2 inch plywood and custom made tool holders.

The first step was a Marie Kondoing of the workshop. I decided to only keep tools that I know I will use. Since I’m focusing on woodworking this was fairly simple. A flurry of furniture projects in the past year taught me which tools are useful and which ones are not. But don’t worry, I also decided to keep the tools that I use for non-wood related household emergencies (toilet augers and stuff like that).

Stephens’ tool storage method begins by attaching 1/2 plywood to your workshop wall. Then you make a custom hanger for each tool or set of tools. This is easier than it sounds and took only a few minutes per tool. Having a table saw and air nailer makes this go faster but you could easily make hangers with hand tools. It would just take longer. For many of the tools I just put a nail or screw in the plywood to hang them. You could also make a small version of this system for an apartment and attach the plywood to the wall with a French cleat.

While what I put together was a storage wall for a wood shop, you could easily adapt this idea to any other craft. I could see a sewing or crafting room organized the same way. It does help to know which tools you need and to place the most frequently used ones close at hand. In my case that meant the measuring tools and hand planes were placed close to the workbench and the table saw accessories are on shelves next to, you guessed it, the table saw.

Rolling with Stephens’ suggestion, I used French cleat hangers so that I could remove tool sets, such as my drill bits and chisels, from the wall. As you can see I made a base so that you can put the whole set on a table.

There were a few other changes to the workshop I made in order to make it more useful for furniture making such as being sure that I could access my workbench from all sides, as well as improvements to the dust collection system. I can detail these changes in a future post but I’m more interested in showing that a well organized workshop can benefit any activity from sewing to gardening. Taking the time to plan a workspace makes work go much easier.

Aesthetics are important too. It helps to have a workshop that’s inspiring to work in. Towards this end I hung a few mementos on the wall. A St. Joseph icon reminds me to not cut off my fingers. And my late grandfather’s shop glasses, from his time riveting airplanes at McDonnell Douglas, look down from above the nuts and bolts.