Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mastering the Colonial Kitchen

During my hiatus from the grueling hot days of Arizona's summer sun, I traveled back in time to the open heart kitchens of our early colonial ancestors. Working in those kitchens was not for the faint at heart.  Your first task to master would be to understand fire. If you did not understand how fire operated then you would not be able to control the fire.

As the main cook in the kitchen you would rise early to prepare the fire.  You would know that hardwoods such as oak, sugar maple are the best woods to get a good burn going, one that generates an even and intense heat, as well as a good supply of hot coals. You need the hot coals for baking. In Colonial America finding the right wood was not a problem, we had an abundance.

The large iron bracket in the picture to your left is called a crane.  Cranes were used to maneuver  a variety of pots and pans within the controlled fire. The "S" hook placed on the crane would allow the cook to suspend pots over the fire and the hinged crane was used to swing the pots and pans off the fire safely. Stewing, simmering and boiling could be done using the crane but they also had frying pans with long handles and little legs called spider pans that could sit on the coals. If the pot did not have legs than they could use a trivet with legs to sit on the coals.  Some pots had an indent on the lids which was used to hold hot coals so that the pot itself turns into a small oven with heating elements on top and bottom.

Operating the fire correctly was certainly important for safety reasons but also the cook would understand that she needed a certain amount of coals for making bread in the oven.  The coals would be shoveled from the fireplace into the oven and the opening beneath the oven is a warming oven.  Sometime it could take up to 4 hours to ready the oven for bread making, but once the bricks were  hot enough than the ashes would be swept out and the bread placed in the oven using a flat shovel similar to what you see today in wood-fired pizza shops. They were no controls on the oven, so the cook would have to place her hand in the oven to check for readiness. These were very brave women. Scalding accidents were common and the threat of death by fire was always present.

Oh, and did I mention the cooks in the kitchen dressed in wool?  It sounds crazy, I know. Wool was known for its very low flammability rate. Wool naturally extinguishes itself and will singe rather than catch on fire. It will also not melt or stick to your skin like synthetics will.

One aspect about colonial living that we could benefit from mirroring is the fact that they didn't waste anything.  When the bread was done and the oven started loosing its heat, they would use it to dry out fruits and herbs.  And when the wood had turned to ashes, well, they used ashes to create lye which they used to make soap.  We talk about sustainability in today's world with catchy phrases like "reuse, recycle, reduce" but our founding mothers and fathers of colonial America lived it.
Colonial Revival Reconstruction
 The kitchen pictures above were taken at the Pennsbury Manor Estates in Bucks County, Pa. While William Penn's main seat of government was in Philadelphia, Pennsbury Manor  was Penn's "green country home" and sits on the bank of the Delaware River about 25 miles north of the city.  There is much to see and much to learn at the Pennsbury Manor.   If you are in the area, the Manor is well worth a visit. Please check the website to see the times of the tours as well as the fun events they have scheduled throughout the year.  I am one of the many volunteers at the Manor.  My role is that of a tour guide, so maybe I'll see you there.   



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thank You

A big thanks to all my clients and friends who gave me so much freedom to be out and about this last year.  I am back and hopefully done with travel for the rest of the year.

It feels good to be in my own workspace.  I was so happy to work on my latest wet room design and just draw for fun.  I have several post in the works that relate to current projects but this "Thank You" needed to be first.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Sanctuary For the Human Spirit - Wharton Esherick Museum

Tucked away in the hillside around Paoli, Pa., The Wharton Esherick Museum is a treasure chest of  inspiring artistic masterpieces.  Wharton Esherick began his career as a artist and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In was customary for artists to carve the frames for their oils so Esherick acquired a carving set and soon found himself fascinated with working with wood.  As Esherick became known for his carvings, sculptures and furniture, he became less involved with his painting career. This evolutionary process creates  a very inspirational journey when you tour this prolific artist's studio/residence that is now a museum.

The Studio began as the stone portion in 1926, the same year his last child, Peter, was born. In 1940 he constructed a two-story frame addition that included a dining room and a bedroom for Peter.  The spiral staircase pictured on the left was created to go from the dining room into the bedroom above.

Around 1965, he added the curved tower which he called the silo. Withn the silo he added a kitchen with a curved cherry countertop and a undermount copper sink with an indent for a cutting board. I found the whimsical nature of the hand carved utensils and a carved face as a pan handles an absolute delight.

As a kitchen designer there are two elements in the kitchen that really stood out.   In 2014 when I attended the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Vegas. Mick deGiuilio was there introducing his fabulous multi-tiered undermount stainless steel sink with grooves that allow for a cutting board or a utensil tray. Designers loved it for its versatility and its functionality. And they knew it would allow working in the kitchen to be less time consuming for their clients.  I had absolutely no idea that in 1965, Wharton Esherick had designed what I would consider the prototype to that sink. I looked at that copper sink with its insert and thought 'WOW".

The second eye-catcher was the base cabinet with a light in it.
Now, the light isn't up to our standards today for cabinet lighting, but in 1965 this was not something that was being done.  One of the most pronounced design features when  I was at the EuroCucina Design Show in Milan, a few years ago, was lighting in all drawers and base cabinets in the kitchen.  So again, Wharton was ahead of his time.

There is so much more I can say about this prolific artist. The museum is filled with beauty in sculpted forms - such as the Oblivian,  unique furniture, oil paintings, and hand relief carvings.  If you would like to book a tour please contact them via their website:

If you go, enjoy the journey.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Think, Build, Live

A lively crowd attended the Garden State Woodworkers Show in Somerset, New Jersey last week.  The theme of the show was Think, Build, Live and evidence of those elements were enthusiastically displayed throughout the day. Log cylindering and sawmill equipment demonstrations held outside the convention doors created a crowd attraction before entering the woodworking world within.

Woodworkers from around the country were at the event to share tips and learn the secrets of their trade from the show exhibitors. It was  a wonderful display of creativity as well as an exceptional display of lumber and tools of the trade.  As an amateur wood carver and scroller,  I was  inspired by the workshops I attended and very much enthralled by conversations with the various vendors and other attendees. It was a great place to network with DIY trades women and men, and with other small business owners. 

As a media artist I've dabbled in artistic elements that can be created through hand carving, using a scroll saw or using a band saw. A scroll saw is necessary for intricate work.  It can create an art form such as the little animals in this picture.

A band saw is used to cut curves even in thick lumber but it can't do the intricate work, so depending on the project, both tools may be required. The small boxes in the picture on the left is an example of a piece of art created using the band saw.

I have a few projects in mind that require both of these tools so I am eager to get back to my studio.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What About Those Old Photos?

When I was a kid riding the trolley in Philadelphia, I would often miss my stop because the person sitting beside me was telling me a good story.  I am easily fascinated by people's stories and even today one of the best parts about being a writer and a designer is talking to people and hearing their stories.
Project Picture Board - Two Kitchens

 It takes at least five working sessions with a client before the kitchen/bath design phase of a remodeling project is complete.  As those design details are being worked out, I am often privileged to be a part of their family conversations. I get to see old pictures and hear about their best vacations or the Dad that was a war hero.  And almost always the topic of clutter comes up.  Clutter is a real issue.  I have helped several clients go through cabinets and closets to dispose of items they never use.   But, the hardest part of clutter for many people is often those old pictures that tell the history of who they are and how they have come to be the persons that they are today.

After I complete a remodel I create a project board using before and after pictures of the remodeled space. And years later when I look at the board I can still place myself at their table and relive the telling of those family stories.  Those stories are priceless, yet, there is a very good chance those old photos will be thrown away and their history erased from memory.  This reality started me on the path to help people preserve their stories.

Getting rid of photos is very difficult but you don't need every photo to keep a memory alive.  You need to keep the most heartfelt ones, the ones that grab the person's personality and you need to join it with other symbols of that person's life to make the story complete.

In my story making plaques I use wood plaques and work with old photos.There is a risk in working with aged photos, especially glossy ones.  The sealers could streak it a little too much or may highlight any discoloration present in the photo.  I tend to take a picture of it before I work with it.  Many multi-media artist will reproduce the photo onto cardstock and work with that way rather than the glossy photo.  But I use the photo and keep the pic on digital incase I have to reproduce it for some reason during the process.  However, since de-cluttering is a part of this endeavor, the only physical photo is on the plaque.  I work on solid wood so it can be hung on a wall or it can sit on a shelf. The sides of the wood are painted black.

I am currently working on a demo for my P.E.O Sisterhood.  And probably in the fall I'll have a  workshop on the tools necessary and the preparation involved in creating wooden wall plaques. Plaques are more time-consuming then you may think.

The plaque on the right is about my beautiful sister Mary who died a few years ago.  That's my favorite picture of her as a young girl.  She was my oldest sister and was born in Cape May so I put the Cape May light house on there along with other references that speak to her life.  She was pretty amazing.

If you have photos where you just want to highlight the picture then just painting or distressing the wood as I did on the left may be what you want to do.  I don't like frames so I have a variety of ways to display my photos.

Other methods for preserving memories are scrapbooking using acid free products and creating a board as a poster then protect it with plexiglass.  I have used this method with old photos. Another way is to just put everything on digital software. 

Whatever method you choose, preserving memories is always worth the effort.  Enjoy the process.