It has come to my attention that in the last few years, there has been a lot of interest generated on the subject of “being green”. Everyone has jumped on this hybrid powered bandwagon and the millions of dollars that were once spent on telling us how much we can save on products, is now all about our contribution to the environment that somehow comes from purchasing more stuff. In the creative world of modernism, the green building techniques are worshiped but do these techniques really help at all? Does a wall of windows with no curtains on a solar powered home really reduce a carbon footprint?
My wife and I have been fans of modernism since we started dating, and we love the clean lines of modern homes and their accessories. One huge advantage to collecting modern furniture, for instance is that we are recycling. Almost all of the vintage modern furniture that we have collected over the years has been sold at an estate sale, a thrift store, or by an out-of-touch relative of a grandparent with impeccable modern taste, or even destined for a landfill. The fun that we have finding things, the sometimes zero cost versus new, and the added character of a scratch or patina all contribute to making recycling a fun endeavor. Conversely, one could spend an afternoon online and by the end have a fully appointed house ready for a magazine shoot.

Following the aforementioned fad of green building are the leading industry magazines, which need not be named, just insert whichever your favorite is. The editorials are very similar every week, and point out how the magazine is too big and wasteful, or that they have far too many insert cards. This elitist approach to a complex problem reminds me of the squabbles that go on between political parties, there is a lot finger pointing about something that both sides partake in. In this case, the reader that is outraged by such use of paper, has obviously purchased the magazine in the first place and may even have gone so far as to continue a subscription. Shouldn’t they be working on their compost pile instead of reading a magazine?

Within the pages of these magazines the reader gets to enjoy wonderful pictures of beautiful homes, furniture, art, and advertisements about products that are green, eco-friendly, energy efficient, solar, renewable, organic, natural, blah blah blah. This is all great, but the paradox comes from the idea that buying more stuff is somehow better. What’s more is that we, the modernist artsy type reader, is somehow better than the suburbia mom who lives in a “McMansion”. At first, I believed this and I drank the kool-aid. I honestly thought that it was ok to look down on those wasteful buggers, until I wondered how they heat those glass houses in the Midwest, or how they keep the Palm Springs homes cool. They must cost a fortune to heat and/or cool.

The cost of electricity and gas has undoubtedly gone up since my home was built in the 1950s, but the idea of passive solar energy being used in a home of that vintage is nothing new. In fact, the only thing that has changed in most cases is that they call it passive solar now. Our home sits in the high desert of Central Oregon so we do have four seasons and they can be quite extreme one way or the other. In the summertime, we average 78 degrees, with highs that get into the 110s. In the winter, we average 23 degrees with lows last winter getting to –9 degrees. Our home was indeed quite cold because of the lack of proper insulation under the home, as a result we spent a lot heating it. However, in the summertime our home stays very comfortable even without the aid of air conditioning. Even on those extremely hot days, everyone who enters our home asks if we have A/C or comments on the comfort. This is due to several factors, but one very important one that is found on all of the mid century homes in this area is that the homes are situated to only have direct sunlight during the cooler parts of the day. The other is that our older neighborhood has fully matured trees that shade the area during those hot days. These are simple, inexpensive, and rudimentary ways to help but they certainly do not employ the use of fancy technology to lower costs. The photos here show awnings which were a very low cost and popular way to keep sun out of the house. They were simply a way for homebuilders to add value to the home by keeping costs down, and following WWII this was extremely important to families who were use to rationing supplies and resources.

Although our home does not include any advanced solar technologies, they did exist when our home was built. In 1947, Simon and Schuster published a book that explored these technologies called Your Solar House. The book showcased some of the available technologies as they were used by some of the era’s great architects including Louis Kahn and Pietro Belluschi (from right here in Oregon via Italy) and even included simple plans for the homes. Included in those designs were homes that, even in the Midwest, could maintain temperatures of 70 degrees or more while outside was below freezing.

The point is, there were solar homes being built a long time ago and that this trend of going green (it is a trend, not a revolution as many will tell you) should probably be examined and exploited with a little more finesse. I love the look of an all glass home with the lights on and nothing but empty space inside, it is clean and orderly and nice, but I just see dollar signs flowing out those windows. I am all for conservation of our natural resources, which is one reason why I buy as much old furniture as I can and keep it so it doesn’t end up in the landfill. I also think that buying old homes and renovating them to be even more eco-friendly is much more appealing than having one built in the country far from schools, shopping, etc requiring longer drive times and wasted fuel. So if one of those magazines comes to your house to take pictures, will you draw the blinds in at least one picture?

Little projects are never little.

When I worked in a restaurant in high school, we were required to clean the grease hoods every week. This was a law in Oregon and still is to avoid the potential fire hazzard that grease build up can be, and to be clean. Well, the law does not apply to houses and our home has had the same exhaust fan for over 50 years. Amber really wanted to tackle the project of pulling the old fan down, cleaning it, and then stripping it to it's original awesomeness. We were both thinking that this would be a simple hour or so project. She pulled everything down and started cleaning them first. It really was 50 years or so of grease on there and I have no idea what our prior owners cooked, but I am convinced that they deep fried everything! The fan grill had been painted several times so once it was clean, Amber Jasco'd it and got all of the paint off. Then I took steel wool and aluminum polish and polished it for about an hour. We also sprayed oven cleaner into the housing and cleaned most of it. The end result is a very cool industrial looking post war fan. Now that it was all clean and perfect looking, I wanted to try it out. I flipped the switch while Amber wasnt looking and it sparked and blew a fuse at the same time Amber screamed and cursed. So hopefully all was not lost and after a week when it dries out I will try it again.

Any suggestions for a light fixture? We are going to install a halogen light fixture that we have had for a while and see if it looks good. The post war homes typically had the round glass lights but they arent very bright and our kitchen is already dark.

Screen Door Installation - Step by Step

The front of our house is starting to look less and less as it did when we bought it, which is a good thing. The three windows across the front used to have faux window panes that were in between the wooden windows, and the storm window. We took those out the day we moved in. The house numbers are terrible, a piece of particle board with some 50 cent numbers nailed on. The mailbox is OK, but it needs to be painted and eventually replaced with something cool. The screen door was a 1980s Sears storm door that I have always hated. So this weekend, I decided (while Amber was gone) that I would replace all of these things and make the entry way much more presentable. It is after all, the first thing people see when they drive by.

Step one should have been to investigate and plan and strategize, but instead it was to remove the screen door. I pulled the trim off, removed nails, and found that the old door was just kind of screwed on to a few blocks of wood underneath that appeared to be left over trim scraps.

Step two, go buy a door. I did not want anything fancy, I just wanted an old fashioned wooden screen door that thwaps when it closes and Lowes happens to sell them for $45.

Step three, stop working on the door before that project is done and start a new project. I am notorious for doing this and today was no exception so I took the old house numbers off only to reveal a surprise! The previous owner had foiled my plan by painting the house numbers underneath which means that in order to put new numbers up, I have to paint the house which means I have to match the color.......etc. I was very excited about the new numbers too, they are the modern Neutra style numbers that we got from Sears online for $56, total!

Step four was to go back to the door situation and stain the door which turned out ok, I will probably paint it instead though unless we get a lot of compliments. I got new lumber to piece in the jamb and did it right so that everything is level and hung the door. I personally think it looks good and it is much nicer to have then the old door which only let a little bit of air in the house. It looks old, and although with the stain it looks more 30s than 50s, it goes with the feel of the neighborhood. With this project I decided that owning an old home is way fun and it gets you thinking creativley about projects, but reality sets in when you spend the majority of your time fixing other people's mistakes. I will post again once I figure out a solution to the numbers.

So this is a possible solution to the numbers problem. They are mounted on a piece of cardboard that has been painted. If this idea grows on us, we will cut a piece of wood to fit and mount the numbers on it. The door also needs to be trimmed, and the concrete steps will be painted soon as well. Oh, and the ugly metal rail will soon be replaced by something else.
A close up, showing the corrugated details and custom mounting hanger.