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‘Don’t You Read?’ or the Fears of the Book Hoarder

In addition to being an obsessive reader, I’m also an obsessive book hoarder. As in, I have hundreds of books I will probably never read again, but I can’t bring myself to give them away or sell them or recycle them. Maybe it’s because my maternal grandmother has an art book collection that takes up most of her downstairs wall space in the form of tomes squeezed into full-to-bursting bookshelves. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, and I wouldn’t want to do with someone else’s book what I hope no one is doing with my book. So as you can probably imagine, our bookshelves look a little something like this (except less color coordinated):

While I implied above that book hoarding might be a family trait, it would only be on my mother’s side. My dad lets books slip into and out of his life – reading them and then passing them along – unless they are some of the few he’s happy to read again and again. The bookshelf area of his home is, as a consequence, tiny, but size doesn’t mater. And yet, I think that’s why I’m so hesitant to part with my books – even the ones that haven’t brought me much pleasure other than hastening the passage of time. I think I am afraid of someone coming into my home, seeing no bookshelves, and assuming that I don’t read much.

But even this strikes me as odd. Because the truth is that some people don’t read much for pleasure anyway, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They just enjoy other things. So why does the idea of someone pegging me for a non-reader make me feel so queasy, and furthermore prevent me from de-cluttering our right now extremely cluttered finished basement (which it should be noted is home to walls of bookshelves)? At this point in my life, I’m visiting the library for books more often than buying them, so it’s not like I’m adding to my collection. I’d wager that most of the books on those shelves have been with me since just after college. Some of them are even textbooks!

Do you, lovely readers, hold on to relatively unimportant books with a similar zeal? What’s keeping you from parting with them?

The Elusive Small-House Utopia Is Still Pretty Big

If I say ‘small house,’ what comes to mind? A super wee micro-house or something like this? Or do you think of a structure containing roughly 1700+ sq. ft. of floor space? Because, hey, it’s not a McMansion, so it must be small, right? I got to thinking about this subject after reading The Elusive Small-House Utopia, an article about Builder magazine’s latest concept home and what it means for building trends in general.

That concept house, the Home for a New Economy designed by Marianne Cusato, measured in at the size of the average American home built in 1980, or around 1700 sq. ft. Then the housing market went insane, and soon it became not unusual to see newly built houses hovering out the 6000 sq. ft. mark!

When Cusato sat down to devise the Home for the New Economy, she tried to consider how families actually use their living areas. She started with a simple, symmetrical three-bedroom plan, excising extraneous spaces — the seldom-used formal dining room, for instance — while enlarging windows wherever she could and adding a wraparound porch. A result was a house that was compact, comfortable, bright and energy-efficient.

Sounds tasty, right? But at 1700 sq. ft., does it really seem particularly small? Maybe I’m just coming at the article with a bias – my house tops out at 1100 sq. ft. and we think that might include the finished basement – but even when I hear that in 2007 the average American house surpassed 2500 sq. ft., 1700 still sounds like a lot of space for the average family. Not huge, but big enough for comfort.

“Everybody hates the Calvinist sacrifice; they just don’t want to hear of it,” says the architect Andrés Duany, a founding father of the New Urbanist movement and a mentor of Marianne Cusato’s. Duany argues that the sprawling homes of the last decade actually met a need, albeit imperfectly, by reproducing internally what suburban communities lacked: an exercise room substitutes for a park, a home theater for the Main Street cinema. Buyers will only accept smaller homes, he says, if their surroundings compensate them.

So let me ask you, my lovely readers, what you think small means when it comes to housing for, say, a family of three? How much space does a person really need, anyway?

Now If Only Those Leaves Would Just Stay Up There

I wouldn’t give up all of the trees in my back yard for anything, but they sure drive me crazy this time of year. What’s your least favorite thing about autumn? (Other than the fact that it heralds the coming of winter, of course.)

More Fun Than the Counter Tops You Probably Have

First came chalkboard paint, then came whiteboard (dry erase) paint. And I think both are super cool! We already put up an amazing magnetic chalkboard in my daughter’s room – and I’m almost all set to do the surface of our kitchen table in chalkboard. Next stop, whiteboard in the office!

But it never even occurred to me to use dry erase paint on surfaces! You can get a whiteboard table from Powells, for example. Or you do what someone did in the space pictured above and cover your boring kitchen counter tops with whiteboard paint. While I don’t know how the finish would, ahem, stick around, I can say for sure that it would be fun while it lasted!

$1 Billion Buys a Whole Lot of Ugly

India’s richest man has apparently moved into the most expensive home ever built. Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, who has a net worth of $29 billion, spent an estimated $1 billion on “Antilla,” a 400,000 sq. ft. residence in Mumbai’s upmarket Altamount Road area. My first impressions? It’s…big.

Call me jealous, if you will (and I won’t deny that I’d love to be a billionaire), but tell me this is not one ugly house. From the outside, it looks like a piece of one of those bizarro world mod apartment blocks that are poised to disengage from spaceship earth once the time is right. But lest I mistakenly suggest it’s lacking in outdoor amenities, I should point out the three (three!) helipads. And from the inside? The bathrooms, dining rooms, elevator banks, and living areas are apparently outfitted as dully as possible, in that way only too much bland stereotypical opulence can be dull. I mean, do you really need a huge chandelier every fifteen feet? Do you?

So What If It’s a Kid’s Room?

Yes, I know. This is a kid’s room. But double the bed and scale up the desk and I wouldn’t mind at all if it was my room – though I might also replace the tiny little side table with this one so I could actually set a few books down. I’m sure The Beard would be just thrilled to serenade me to sleep on the ukulele. Right?

Image via

Lovely In Natural, Lovely In Color

Since 1958, Ercol has been bending thick wood laminations to create the beautiful curves of their famous butterfly chair. Some people consider this chair a cousin of the Eames LCW Wood chair, but many other see it as existing in a class of its own.

I like to think it has its own charm – the beech and elm Ercol Butterfly Chairs are particularly striking with their extreme wood grain detailing on the backs. The vintage set above was sold by Love Vintage Furniture, which has so many great photos of mid-century modern furniture on its web site.

Then again, here are some more modern Ercol Butterfly Chairs, in dazzling special edition colors made for Tent London 2010. I would just go crazy for one for my daughter’s room, but in this point in her life she’d probably just chew off the finish.

Which Ercol Butterfly Chair do you like best? Au naturale or colorful?

There are Don’ts and There are DON’TS

There are lots of things you can do with vinyl wall decals, but this shouldn’t be one of them.

However, I do have to say I love the marketing language used by the source of these thong lady wall decals, Offensive Decals.

Yes…Offensive Decals. No trees. No birds. No polka dots. No swirls. Our goal is to create different decals. Not necessarily offensive to everyone, but far enough out there that somebody will be distraught over it.

Because, yeah, there are only so many cutesy monograms and kitties one girl can take!

The Tools Every Homeowner Needs

Since my tools tend to end up all over the house, and half of my basement is currently stuffed to the brim with baby gear due to the renovations finally underway, it’s hard to take a true inventory of our household tools. We seldom encounter a simple project that requires us to go out and buy tools, but there’s this part of me that is always a little worried that we’re missing something vital. It may just be that my dad is basically a low-key version of that fellow on Home Improvement or that I’m always worried about something – either way, it’s nice to give the ol’ toolchest a once over every now and then.

Luckily, if you’re only tackling the basics, according to the NY Times, you don’t need much. Sure, we talked a lot about redoing the upstairs ourselves, but when we started reading about drywall lift rentals, our zest for DIYing the second floor went right out the window. So for now, we need to make holes, fill holes, change what’s in holes, and maybe loosen and tighten this or that. Nothing major. The NY Times list is right up our alley – here’s the gist:

To start off, you need a hammer.

Buy a multihead screwdriver…, said Mr. Stone of M.I.T. It should have at least two different size bits for slotted and Phillips screws, as well as Robertson (square) and Torx bits.

Mr. Ball, of Pulte Group, actually recommends a cordless hammer drill, which is twice as expensive as a standard drill. “That really opens up the ability of the tool,” he said. “And it’ll last you a lifetime.”

He also recommends a one-inch-wide, 25-foot-long tape measure with a lock.

Finally, crown your arsenal with Mole-Grip pliers, commonly known as Vise-Grips.

Next, wrenches. You’ll need one adjustable wrench and a set of standard and metric wrenches.

A set of socket wrenches — metric and standard — also helps in the age of unassembled furniture.

A level and an electronic stud finder.

A footlong wrecking bar is essential, especially one with a nicely tapered edge so you can slip it beneath existing wood.

A handsaw small enough to fit in your toolbox.

Toss in a small assortment of screws, drywall fasteners and eight-penny nails, a small notebook (for recording dimensions) and a carpenter’s pencil, and you’re set.

I see I’m missing a few things I really ought to have – not many, though. How about you? Where are the gaps in your tool collection?

Have to Have a High Chair? Make It a Good One

As someone with a toddler and a teeny tiny kitchen, I’m just a little obsessed with high chairs. We were originally using a bulky secondhand Graco (for which we were extremely grateful) and then a slightly smaller, but still overwhelming Fisher Price high chair (for which we were also very grateful), and someone in my family was kind enough to buy us an amazing red Stokke Tripp Trapp. Of course, we’re eternally grateful for that!

Naturally, because my Tripp Trapp is red, I love seeing other moms’ red high chairs, whether it’s a fancy pants Bloom or something homier, like the above high chair, painted by red by the gorgeous voice behind The New Domestic. I’m waiting to hear back re: what paint she used, because I’ve come into possession of a Jolly Kids high chair and want to paint it red to match the Tripp Trapp.

What should you walk away with after reading this post? Consider that whether it’s a high chair or a tallboy that you’re looking for, make it a good one. And if you can’t find exactly what you can see so clearly in your mind’s eye, there’s a good chance that you can take something similar and turn it into what you were looking for.

Image seen on Melissa’s Wild Parma Adventures