So, here was the problem: a solid back door connecting to our garage from a multi-functional, very busy alcove in the house. You see the washer/dryer combo on the right; on the left is the panty that holds pretty much all dry foodstuffs.
Morning, noon and night, when people were coming and going, doing laundry, and preparing a meal, that's when it would happen. BAM!! Sometimes two but often three doors would bang into each other, along with the people manipulating them.
We lived this way for seven years.
The Solution: Visibility
The obvious solution would be to install some sort of a glass door, right? But we had to be careful. We keep a clean garage, but in the end it is a garage. A clear pane of glass would give way to a beautiful vista onto . . . my car.
So we had to come up with a screen of some sort. We had used rice paper on a solid pane front door in the past , so we had some left over -- just enough for the classic nine-pane half-door we found at Lowe's, in fact.
(A little aside: fire code says that the doors leading to a garage must be metal and fireproof. Obviously, we opted to ignore this precaution, since our master bedroom is right over the garage of our townhome. Our notion is, if there's a fire, we're goners anyway. We did keep the metal door for the next owners.)
The Installation: Simple as 1-2-3
The first step was to cut nine rectangles the size of the individual panes. I measured, and cut a bit large -- there's time for trimming and other adjust ments later.
The next step was deciding on a design pattern. I knew I wanted something that let light in, but obscured the view. I wanted to be able to see, not full figures, but shadows -- enough to keep from getting my head knocked one more time. I also liked the idea of being able to use a lamp in the garage at night to shed some light on the darkish alcove.
I used a freeform design I've used before. It's really lines and globules cut out of the center of the rectangle. For me, it has enough repeat to look purposeful and enough variety to look creative. After cutting, I fitted paper to the panes using cello tape temporarily, adjusting the design and matching the centers.
The Miracle of Fabric Starch
Here's the really easy part: Any grocery store carries regular old liquid starch -- or at least they do in my part of the country, where pinatas are plentiful. A gallon jug is inexpensive and goes a long way.
I used to dilute the starch for projects like this, but now I just use it straight up. As you can see, I pour a quantity into a shallow flat pan, then just drag the pre-cut pieces through the starch. It is messy, but cleans up with water, whether on your hands, your floor, or the window itself.
I work from a laid-out version of the pieces in the right position, so that there's no confusion. One piece at a time, I apply the soaked rice paper piece to the inside of the window. You'll be glad to know there's a little "give" to the paper, and you can adjust it for a while. Don't worry about any overage on the edges -- you can go back with a straight edge razor once it dries and clean up.
As you can see, the finished application does just what we had hoped: lets light in and provides enough visibility to avoiding traffic collisions at the back door. Lord knows, we have enough run-ins as it is!
This article in the LA Times says it all . . . I'm starting to think dish towels are the most undervalued household item around, when you think of all the things you can use them for.
I'm so glad there are aficionados like myself who can't resist a new kitchen towel, and who continue to delight in seeing them anew, after a wash or a long time in the drawer.
They're like old friends -- they brighten your day, no matter how long it's been, and you pick up right where you left off.
Right now, living in Houston is like living in a terrarium. And it's going to keep up this temperature / humidity extravaganza for about six more months. So pardon me if I appear somewhat damp - the truth is, anything less than soaking wet is considered perfectly acceptable around here. I'm grateful for every dry moment.
But what I've been looking at, on my daily romps through the lush, tropical woodlands surrounding Houston's bayous, are miraculous wildflowers that seem to thrive in the heat.
One of my favorites is the swamp milkweed that appears about now, in June. Its flowers start like the photo on the left -- purple stems with clusters of bright green pods that hang heavy like clumps of grapes.
A few weeks later, this green-on-green concoction erupts into an explosion of white flowers, and the stems gradually fade from purple to green. The fragrance is intoxicating, and since some of the milkweed bushes where I roam have grown to 12 feet high and 12 feet across, the air is pretty staggering.
The Real Birds & Bees
I don't know where I heard this originally but it's stuck with me -- white flowers are almost always more fragrant because smell is their only means of attraction. Think of magnolias, gardenias, sweet alyssum - even white roses naturally pack an olfactory punch.
A little perfunctory research turned up, not exactly scientific validation of this statement, but at least an acknowledgement that:
Gross, but whatever. All I know is that I like the idea that Mother Nature tries to do the right thing by giving every plant its own set of attraction tools -- which is what she also tries to do with people, I think. Sooner or later, the right nectar-seeker comes along and just dives in, ends up with pollen on its hairy little legs, to be carried to the next flirty flower.
Whoever first exclaimed, "What a world!" really got it right. I love my walks in the world and the wonder they inspire. I also love this poem by dear Mary Oliver, a poet who for 30 years has praised simple nature:
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
Read her work.
My parents were products of the Great Depression. They took it out on us kids.
“Turn it off, use it up, wash it out” -- we heard versions of this throughout our lives. My dad would blow a gasket if we left a light on in the basement while we ran upstairs for even a minute. “What do you think we’re running here, Pauley (this is what he called me) -- a bank?”
Waste, in our household, was a serious crime.
My parents saved everything: bottles, newspapers, cans, leftovers, rubber bands, packaging, clothing, hangers and paper sacks. And not to get picked up by a carbon-spewing truck, but to use right there in our house.
I remember having to use torn sheets of misprinted invoices from my dad's gas station as our only home notepaperfor decades. On both sides.
Obviously, this was a humiliating way to grow up in the 1950‘s in the USA. I so wanted to be one of the students whose teacher notes were written on paper clearly intended for that purpose. People who actually bought stationery.
Oh, I thought, when I grow up I will never live such a miserly existence! I’m going to buy my rubber bands from a store! I’m going to throw newspapers in the trash! I’m going to let the porch light burn all night long!
But . . . ahem . . . guess who, it turned out, had the sustainable lifestyle?
So here I am, in my mid-fifties reconciling with my eco-friendly past -- which, of course, was not so much about saving the planet as saving money. But, as it turns out, they’re one and the same.
I realize that there are a host of green products and technologies nowadays. But there’s a lot you can do by just living like Alice and Mitch.
Here are some green living tips they taught me:
Cook your own food. Not always, but most of the time. Alice & Mitch hated the packaging that comes with take-out food, which produces a mountain of trash, usually not biodegradable. Plus they hated the wasted huge portions and the processed food offered at traditional restaurants.
Turn out the lights. Okay, you’re just one person, but -- the more electricity you use, the higher your power bill, the more those generators run, the more carbon we burn. You don’t have to live by candlelight, like Abe LIncoln and me, but you don’t have to light up your house like a Christmas tree either (guess who I’m quoting here?).
Re-use your old plastic bags. As a proud citizen of Houston,Texas, I respect the average polymer. And I’m am not about to give up my zipper bags, either. My point is that you don’t need to pull out a brand new bag for your sandwich, leftovers, or wet swim suit, and especially not for your garbage. Use up the all polymers you’ve got.
Use rags instead of paper towels. And by rags, I mean the odd bits of cloth you reclaim from old sheets, towels and clothing. The natural fabrics are super-absorbent, and they offer a nice little trip down memory lane on cleaning day. I love mopping up with my kids’ old pajamas -- if only to remember the superheroes of the 1980’s.
Cut bad bits off fruits and vegetables. If you’ve done any natural gardening, you know that a Snow White apple is rare -- and really the work of agribusiness. Most un-sprayed, un-fertilized produce has little specks, and dents, and even a wormhole or two. Don’t insult Mother Nature by throwing imperfect produce away. Work around it. Like we do with people : )
Probably because of my background, I still hate wasting anything, especially time and energy. I like to believe that keeps me focused. And for this I thank you, Alice & Mitch!
Her Point of View
Designer Paule Hewlett takes on design, culture and modern life.
Stay in touch!
"Life is too short for ugly dish towels. Really, ugly anything."