Time for a change

PHEW. For the last few weeks I have been steeping in a giant cauldron of end of the semester/holiday shopping/work event planning/social calendar stress, and I have emerged from it reeking of booze and coated with sugar and cookie crumbs.

But now I have a solid week+ here at Ye Olde Rowe Home. And I have a proper to-do list:

Untitled-4

Don’t squint, I’ll summarize: I’m going to be scrubbing a lot of floors and caulking a lot of sinks. BUT I’m also in the process of redesigning both this blog and my personal website, as it’s (past) time for me to establish a real design portfolio. And I have lots of new work to share. Plus a few house tweaks that I’ve neglected to post. Stay tuned!

Bone tour

(For for duration of this post, let’s just pretend “that’s what she said” isn’t a thing, okay?)

As you may already know, my house is home to a growing collection of bones. I enjoy having them around for some of the same reasons I enjoy collecting feathers and shells and driftwood and stones: natural objects and their structures are just fascinating to me. The diversity of stuff on this planet is pretty mind-blowing.

But I’ll admit it, I also get a little sentimental about my bits of calcium. They serve as a quiet reminder that nothing — none of us, nothing we do or create, nothing we enjoy or endure — is permanent.

I’m okay with that.

I’ve come a long way since, as a child, I was so afraid of my own skeleton — its very existence evidence of my eventual death — that I convinced myself I was the only person in the world held together by a structure made of rainbows. But you can’t make it through art school being squeamish about your anatomy.

(Pencil drawings by me of me, circa 2006-7)

So this is a post created in honor of bones. I’ll take you through my collection, starting with the two pieces above which I picked up while hiking with the family: a pelvis fragment (I think?) and a slightly-gnawed deer antler. Small mammals chew on bones over the winter, when times are lean, so it’s difficult to find antler sheds intact unless your timing is excellent. I am told that a friend has collected a whole bunch of them for me, though, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them for what will certainly be a slightly hokey yet totally fun DIY project.

The antler lives in a vase by my television, while the pelvis is tucked in here. Smaller bones are hard to display, so I often find myself nesting them inside other objects.

And now for the big bones. You’ve met the bear, of course, but he has a back story.

He came to me by way of a friend who made it his goal to live as close to nature as possible (he blogs here if you’re interested in what the lifestyle entails — apparently a lot of waterproofing things and trapping rodents, but hey, whatever floats you boat [GROAN]). When I mentioned to him that I have a habit of collecting these kinds of objects, he sent me a big box full of interesting things he’d come across on his travels. The bear skull was the most impressive item, but I also really like this partial deer:

He lives (as much as a skull can be said to live) in the new bookshelf in my home office, guarding one of my mother’s antique butterfly guides. She was a bit of a collector and nature enthusiast as well.

And now the newest addition to the collection. On my family’s recent vacation to the Poconos, we got knocked off a very poorly marked hiking trail and had to scramble our way through a thick forest, where I came across this little lady:

Dad was maybe less than enthusiastic when I picked her up with my bare hands and asked if I could stuff her in his backpack (I believe his exact word were, “Great. Let’s all see if we can get some horrible disease.”), but he’s nothing if not indulgent. So I cleaned up my doe and now her home is on the mantle in the living room.

Check out her plates:

Thus concludes the bone tour. That is, unless you want to take a crack at identifying these mystery teeth that keep showing up in my back yard:

Giant…possum…?

Project: Paper Cutting

I’ve been doing a lot of graphic design work lately, both freelance and as coursework. But once in a while I still manage to steal some time for a personal project. I felt this one was worthy of a quick share.

When the writer David Rakoff passed away last month (causing me to twitter-curse cancer for the zillionth time), I came across this beautiful tumblr of all the gifts he’d given his close friends on special occasions — birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, etc. Among the images I found some stunning paper cuttings, usually featuring drawings of koi framed with elegant hand lettering, presented to parents upon the births of their children. I thought it was such a sweet commemorative gesture, I couldn’t wait to inflict it on my own friends.

And wouldn’t you know it, I happened to have a pregnant friend! The first soon-to-be-mom of my childhood crew! And her baby shower was fast approaching!

Not knowing the kiddo’s name or birth date, I opted to do a test run of the paper cutting idea and present my friend with a mini coupon done in the style I’d use for the real deal. I mocked up a basic design digitally and then transferred the sketch to — wait, I don’t have any black paper lying around the house somewhere? Really? Anywhere? No?

Huh.

Okay, fine. How about this:

DIY crisis averted.

I also thought this would be a fun project to time lapse, so I propped my iPhone up with a stand made of clay and got to work:

[flickr video=7976498218 secret=b9e2466c3f w=640 h=360]

Yeah. Oops. Clay = malleable.

But while I totally botched the video, I managed not to destroy the thing that mattered:

I think the key to this technique is to be very, very precise about your pencil lines. For example, although I outlined each letter and design element distinctly, before I started cutting (read: ruining everything) I went back in with an eraser and clearly indicated the places where objects connected. I think this helped me avoid errant (and potentially disastrous) cuts. That and taking frequent breaks for hand cramping. And also talking to myself. I’m sure my neighbors find the girl on the other side of the wall who verbally admonishes herself not to screw this up charming, right?

Ta-da! One hand-cut coupon, and also one totally freehand giraffe onesie.

…do people come that small? Seriously?

Gosh.

I’ve got some things to learn about babies. Can’t wait to meet your little one, M & D!

Living Room Time Lapse

I had mentioned in my last entry that I was curious about creating an animation of my living room over time. So I went back through Flickr and pulled every picture I took from the front of the house looking towards the rear. I lined up that arched dining room doorway in each shot, and this is what I got:

So many memories. I love the jump from blue walls/brown ceiling to gray and white. And the jump from purple carpet to no carpet to wood to cowskin. Ah, the moment the shelving unit goes up! And then the media unit.

But really, I could just watch that crappy black lamp roam around the room, like a game of Where’s Waldo if Waldo were a hopelessly conspicuous hunk of cheap black powder-coated metal attempting to hide in a space bounded by pale walls — only to get replaced by something sleeker in the very last shot — all day.

Housiverary: Year Four

Well, it’s happened again: I’ve squandered another perfectly good year living in the little house way, way north of all the trendy neighborhoods you’ve heard of.

(Oh, house. I don’t really mean that.)

At some point during this year of — I’m going to disinfect it and package it up neatly and label it “change” — I fell in love with this quirky place in which I live. Part of it is just exposure; I’ve been home more this year than I ever have before. Part of it is progress; for the first time every room in the house is functioning (which I concede is different from being finished, but still).

Part of it is that, during this year in which loneliness has had such an exasperatingly persistent grip on me, I’ve had more company than ever. Old friends, new friends, friends I hadn’t seen in years all dropped by and toured the house. And it’s been fascinating to hear their thoughts on the place — from the baffling “It looks as though no one lives here” to the somewhat-true “You have kind of a death thing going on in here, don’t you?” to the coveted “I would buy this” to the pleasantly surprising “I think you’ve been talking this place down. It’s way nicer than you let on.”

Thanks for visiting, everyone. I’ve enjoyed sharing my home with you. And for those who haven’t made it to the funny house in that neighborhood north of everything, here’s my yearly visual tour.

Kitchen:

I always start here, although nothing much changes anymore. There’s a new faucet, of course.

Through a complicated family situation, I somehow inherited an entire set of Le Cresuet cookware this year. I know. I know. They’re amazing.

Dining room:

The liquor assortment has expanded again, which is good. Lack of a rug is still bad.

Let’s hop upstairs for a bit. You’ve seen the office recently, so no need to rehash that:

I’m sitting at that desk right now. It is already considerably less tidy. Somewhere behind me is a bookshelf, but you know this.

And you’ve seen a bit of the craft room, too:

Also needs a rug. So expensive.

The bathroom:

I’ve done the least in this room. I think the only thing that changed this year is that I added the plant and managed not to neglect it. Low-light plants are this house’s friend.

The bedroom:

A year an a half removed from the long, tedious, expensive process of renovating this room fully, and I’m so, so glad I (well, we — this was a team effort) did it. It was worth every dollar. Whenever I come home tired, cranky, sweaty and thirsty, collapsing here immediately puts me at ease. If I anticipate a long day, I’ll often make the bed, turn a corner of the sheets down, leave a glass of water by the bedside table and a nightlight on. And when I come home, I feel…cared for. Caring for yourself is important.

That grey fuzzy sheepskin finally went on sale at IKEA. I was so excited I almost bought two.

I continue to thrift All The Clothes.

And now my favorite room, the room that makes me smile every time I turn the key in the front door:

I hope to do a time-lapse animation of the living room over the past four years. The change continues to astound me. And I did most of the work.

Pipe shelving unit: still holding up. Gecko: still hiding from the daylight.

Probably time to get rid of the birthday balloons…?

Art: still collecting.

So that’s everything! House, I’m proud of how far we’ve come together. Thank you for being a comforting place for me, and for not throwing any major curve balls this year. Everyone else: come visit and we’ll mix drinks sometime?

Be your own plumber

One day last week I was minding my own business, washing my dishes, when I grabbed my kitchen faucet to turn it to the left and this happened:

Except it didn’t look like that, exactly, because the water was on. Unencumbered by the part of the facet that controls the flow, I suddenly had a firehose in my kitchen. It drenched me. And my dinner. And the wall behind my head.

Not knowing exactly how to install a new faucet myself, I let this project go for about a week, during which time I repeatedly forgot that the damn thing was broken and re-drenched myself. I did it before bed. I did it before work. I did it before a date.

Clearly I needed to Just Fix It Already. Expecting the worst, I picked up a new fixture from Lowes and went to work.

It was a dirty job, yes, but not as bad as I had feared. The one tricky part was that of the two bolts holding the last faucet to the sink, one had completely corroded and couldn’t be turned. I struggled with it for about 20 minutes, hopelessly whacking at it with a hammer, before I remembered that I owned the bad boy pictured above. I snuck that blade right under the faceplate and up against the offending bolt, and the sink came loose in 30 seconds. BAM. Power tools are the best. Every lady should own a bunch.

From there on in the faucet swap was smooth as can be. I installed the new bolts, connected the hot and cold lines (the right way this time; my last faucet was connected backwards), hooked up the wand attachment, and we were golden.

The project also gave me the inspiration to take care of one of the few really cluttered areas left in the house: the storage under the sink:

Cringe. How about this instead:

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Dress hook

Sometimes the urge to work on the house comes at an odd moment. Like yesterday, when I decided to tackle this little project because the “quick and easy” sewing I had intended to do was swiftly transforming me into Seamstress Hulk. POLYESTER FRAYS. LAUREN SMASH.

Ahem.

Assuming I don’t destroy the sewing and crafts room in the near future, I figured it might be worth adding one key thing: a place to hang the clothes I work on/fight with. I needed a dress hook. And since I didn’t particularly want to head out to Anthropologie to spend $12 on one, I turned to my own basement. There I dug up a pile of these brasstastic coat hooks that came with the house.

I save evvvvverything.

The finish on these wasn’t really my thing — I wanted boudoir and I was getting Home Depot — but I have faith in the powers of spraypaint. I thought a good coat of glossy black might class things up a little.

That’s a bit less generic, right?

6:30am summer light in this room is just beautiful. It’s too bad every time I see it I’m in the process of darting off to the office.

Anyway, the hook took about two hours to locate, paint and install. Total cost to me: $0. Odd of success: high. A quick little improvement like this one is sometimes exactly what you need to stabilize your blood pressure.

Mothra

On a family hike after the last brutal heat wave, I happened to look down — who am I kidding, my eyes are always firmly glued to the ground during hikes — and spotted this fella:

QUICK, CALL GODZILLA.

Dad and I googled it (“giant moth wtf bbq,” natch) and it’s a polyphemus moth, a member of the giant silk moth family. Dad figured the heat had killed it off, although our fuzzy friend looked as though it had been around the block a few times anyway.

I picked it up and brought it home, of course. On my second trip to the thrift store I lucked out and found a set of little shadow box frames for $2, one of which was the perfect size for Mothra:

At this point I googled “how to mount a butterfly” and received a wealth of information, most of which I did not choose to follow. I did find it true, however, that dead moths are very brittle and it helped to stow this one in a sealed box with hot wet towels for a bit. After it had loosened up and I had arranged its wings, I poked a few little pins through the back of the board and pressed Mothra down gently, keeping up a steady stream of I’msorryI’msorryI’mreallysorry as I went.

Check out the one remaining feathery antenna. Mothra embodies the spirit of this house rather well; most things in here aren’t shiny new and perfect, but you can find the beauty in them anyway.

Looking around my office right now, I spy:

  • one giant battered silk moth
  • a little vial of mystery teeth
  • the top of a deer skull
  • two geode slices
  • a chunk of driftwood
  • a few pressed leaves
  • a jar of peacock feathers

I’d better start limiting my dating pool to those involved in the natural sciences, huh.

Laugh Hysterically

Just a few minor updates around the house. Now that the temperature in Philly has reached egg frying on the pavement IN HELL levels, I had to do something about the sad state of my air conditioning. I possessed a very underpowered window unit for my bedroom and had been dreaming of replacing it for years. But when I mentioned it to my father, he pointed to this beast lying unused in his office:

Fancy. Chilly. The only issue was that this machine pumps the water it pulls from the air into a polymer tube, which relies on gravity to drain. Translation: I had to find some way to feed this pipe down a story. I couldn’t just throw it out the window and be done with it.

This was dismaying; I did not want to drill any (more) holes in my floors/walls/etc. But then I had my stoke of genius:

POW! Okay, not the prettiest thing in the world, I’ll grant you that. But when your bedroom reaches 90-degrees plus, you do whatcha gotta do. Like feed a giant tube behind your dresser, through your closet, down your fireplace flue and into a strategically hidden bucket.

#classy

There’s more art to blog about, of course, because there always is. On the suggestion of my typography professor and because I’ve been a bit down lately, I took myself on a solo date to the ICA for the Stefan Sagmeister Happy Show. Here are some terrible cell phone pictures:

When you press the button, you get a card with a little happiness tip. Mine said this:

Regardless of whether I was actually going to laugh hysterically in the middle of 36th street, I decided the card was a good thing to keep around, so I threw it in this tiny thrift store frame:

The bear does the laughing for us both.

And one more addition: I tweeted a while back that I finally broke down and bought the best poster in the world, and after weeks of waiting for shipping from Germany it is here.

The party is officially at my place.

Make it work

For a long time after last year’s bedroom renovation — far longer than I care to admit — this was the general state of affairs in my home office.

Part storage area, part shamefully neglected mess. The kind of room I closed the door on whenever I was expecting company.

A few months ago, out of a desire to sit down at the computer and actually get some work done, I attempted to make it usable again. But it certainly wasn’t pretty:

The office was the only room in the house that wasn’t a completely obnoxious color when I bought it, so it was the only room that I had not felt the need to immediately attack with an arsenal of brushes and rollers. Instead I tolerated four years of this wimpy pale blue semigloss stuff. But it was time for a change. And there were other minor details that needed sorting out, of course:

Yeah. This house is the ultimate “just drill a hole straight through the wall, whatever!” house.

Bam! Let me fix that for you! (Let me mostly fix that for you, because I sure as hell don’t want to go fishing the coax through the wall to a more convenient place, but whatever, good enough.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Over Memorial Day weekend I tackled this, the last untackled room, and here are the results:

The main project on my office to-do list was the bookshelf. I had been using a shelving system from Ikea that I hacked to fit in this alcove and it worked okay… but just okay. I knew proper custom shelves would maximize my storage space. So out came the miter saw. I love how I can tuck my paper shredder away, now.

Letterpress prints by my typography classmates and myself, with lots of help from Marianne at Huldra Press.

I got brave and installed this funky light fixture myself, replacing your standard Home Depot nipple light. I also installed a dimmer switch. And I’m proud of all that, really, except that these bulbs are not dimable.

My new lighting choice may be a little underpowered for the space, quite honestly. I’ll live with it for a while and see how it goes, but I have a feeling my electrical tape and wire strippers will come out again at some point. For the moment I’m just glad that I’ve learned to do simple jobs like this without setting anything on fire. Thanks, Dad!

And my workspace. (Yes, I have a PC. No, I don’t want to hear it.) The paint color is Behr’s Puddle, which is maybe a touch darker than what I was aiming for? But it’s growing on me. It’s very subtly purple gray.

The poster, The Pictoral Map and Walking Guide to Philadelphia, is by New York Times designer Bill Marsh.

Elsewhere in the room I did a lot of cord wrangling, art placing and lighting improvements — little things that help immensely when you’re trying to make a space feel homey. On the radiator cover is one of my most interesting possessions: a scan of Constantin Brancusi’s college roster from 1898. Brancusi has always been my favorite sculptor, and when I mentioned this to a woman who worked at the college he attended in Romania, she surprised me by emailing me this record from their archives. I kept it on my desk at my last job. I should really frame it up fancier, because holy cow, Brancusi.

As for the discarded Ikea bookshelves:

I hate to chuck something that I’ve put time and effort into, so I was super pleased when I set my shelves in the craft room just to get them out of the way and ended up really liking them there. I removed the door to this bedroom a long time ago to let the window light filter through the second story, but it had the unfortunate side effect of putting what was a mostly blank wall on display to anyone passing through. Now the bookshelf creates a great focal point.

Also, a girl needs somewhere to display her giant blackbear skull, right?