Posts made in September, 2013

Ecce Culina

We’re still a couple of days from everything being done, but the basic look and feel of the place is pretty much there. Aside from some electrical work, the last major thing is installing the backsplash – which looks to be a slow and meticulous process especially since the top layer of tile needs to be individually cut to fit:

In keeping with my jaded view of consumption in America, we opted for a substantial upgrade over our old stove but did not spring for any sort of Vulcan’s Forge preposterousness. I think there is a tendency for enthusiasts of whatever sport, hobby or past time they favor to substitute disposable income for capability and buy beyond their skill level. I’ve had too many great meals in tiny restaurant kitchens – and made some decent meals in my own modest trailer-home equivalent – to think that I need a $5K stove. So here is the new KitchenAid:

In the ongoing getting-old-makes-Andy-Rooney-seem-like-not-such-a-dick-because-it’s-happening-to-me downslide, I recently learned that, in the trade, good old-fashioned kitchen faucets like the ones I’ve always had are referred to as “disposable.” In a decision that goes against the spirit, though perhaps not technically the letter, of my above mini-jeremiad, we embarked upon a voyage into the strange land of really fucking expensive faucets. For the rest of our days, we will bore or bemuse you with badly exaggerated accents intoning the fundamental quandary of choosing between “Grohe” and “Hans Grohe” faucets (that really should turn water into wine considering what they cost):

As we’re going to be out of town for a few days, it probably won’t be until Tuesday before we have our first dinner from the new kitchen.


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Motor City

Kitchen remodeling continues in our absence as we have been in Detroit since Wednesday. Tomorrow, we are joining Tour de Troit and will ride a metric century around the city, which should give us a pretty good look at the place. Detroit is fascinating, and because Rachael is in town for a conference on historic tax credits, we have been able to tour a number of old buildings in downtown Detroit that either have been or are now being renovated and restored. There’s a lot of money sloshing around the downtown area, and the developers are in a frenzy of self-congratulation. For much of the rest of the city, the story appears very different.

Yesterday was pretty overcast so I didn’t take many pictures, something I hope to rectify over the next few days. But in the driving around I have done so far, Detroit reveals – and conceals – itself as reminiscent of Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland and New Orleans.

For example, the DIY ethic of Brooklyn is strongly represented in the Cass Corridor in Midtown, where Shinola is redefining Made-in-Detroit as artisanal craftwork:

Of all the similarities between Chicago and Detroit (geography, history, economy, ethnicity, etc.), architectural heritage is one of the most apparent. Though not a rival to Chicago in the way New York is, Detroit nonetheless has a number of fine commercial and residential buildings ranging from Victorian to Modernist. (A clear difference from Chicago, however, is that many of Detroit’s old commercial buildings are in need of substantial renovation.)

These houses are in the West Canfield Historic District:

Mies van der Rohe designed a series of townhouses in Lafayette Park:


The Grand Army of the Republic building, erected to provide a permanent meeting place for Civil War veterans, is being extensively and painstakingly remodeled:

Downtown Detroit has some fine old buildings that are coming back to life. This is the Whitney Building:

And the Broderick Tower:

With an awesome view of Tiger Stadium:

There is the occasional architectural oddity:

Capitol Park is slated for a major renewal with the aim of creating an arts district downtown:

Known as the Qube, the Chase building was designed by Albert Kahn:

But elsewhere, decay and decline have taken their toll, and the specter of empty buildings recalls a different city on the Great Lakes. Here is the most-cliched example of ruin porn in Detroit, Michigan Central Station:

Abandonment is omnipresent.


This is an old Packard plant on the east side of the city:

The cumulative effect of so much empty urban space being reclaimed by nature recalls the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Katrina. It is an eerie quasi-urban landscape that has a disturbing sort of an “uncanny valley” effect.

More on this to come.

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Wenge Fever!

The new cabinets are here! The new cabinets are here! Despite my misgivings about the absurd price we paid for these shiny wooden boxes, I have to admit they look great and are a major improvement over what we had before. It’s still unclear what the veneer actually is. We initially chose a horizontally grained chocolate bamboo to give the kitchen a sort of zenlike Franco-Japanese bistro look, if that makes any sense. But the manufacturer ended up having some production problems, and the closest thing we could find to the (horizontal) bamboo was something called wenge (WHEN-gay).

I should back up here a moment and say something about our rather diffident process of decisionmaking especially in the early days of picking out various materials. Some people have a good eye and confident assurance about what they like and what goes well together in interesting ways (e.g., Bitty Bukovnik and Thomas Cook). Neither Rachael nor I fall into this category. So we made some amusing missteps early along the way (“Never go into Architectural Ceramics after closing on a refi” belongs right up there with “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”), but by the time we chose the bamboo, silestone and marble, we were both excited and relieved. Consequently, the news that the bamboo wouldn’t be available until October had us seriously considering the possibility of waiting until then. But along came wenge.

It was perfect – similar coloration with interesting striation and it would play well with the other materials. But curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, “What is wenge anyway?” Turns out that was a good question. It is a tropical hardwood native to certain African countries that is listed as an endangered species due to overharvesting and the destruction of its habitat. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, wenge faces “a very high risk of extinction in the wild.” Awesome. One of the few guiding principles we had was that we wanted to be fairly green in our choice of materials, hence the bamboo. Wenge had seemed our only hope of holding onto our original color scheme if we wanted to stay with a horizontally grained veneer.

But we had not reckoned with the forces of product differentiation. As wenge’s popularity had proved to be its undoing among green consumers, canny marketers stepped in with a manufactured “wood” that purportedly looks like the real article. Does it? I have no idea, but that’s what’s in our kitchen today.



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A Fond Farewell to Shirlington

So we have left the Old Dominion for good and are back on the Hill perched temporarily with our neighbors for the next couple of days. We ended up quite enjoying our fling with apartment living in the so-called Village of Shirlington, which now that I think of it reminds me a bit of  life in the Village in the old British series The Prisoner (despite the complete architectural difference between the two locales). Happily for us, our departure across the water bore no resemblance to the tribulations visited upon Patrick McGoohan in his escape attempts in that show.

Shirlington stands as a tribute to convenience over charm, and it made for a pleasant diversion. The ability to pretty much walk everywhere was key, but even on the occasions when we needed to drive, the advantage of having a parking garage provided a nice respite from the increasingly protracted circling of the block that living on Capitol Hill requires. Its location right at the beginning of the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion bike trail provided me the opportunity to take several very long rides, and Rachael had a hassle-free work commute that upped her weekly mileage considerably. Toffee quickly took to the “magic box” that transported her from the ground to her home in the sky and back again. And even the faintly audible early Sunday morning (5 am?) amatory coupling of the neighbors seemed benignly life affirming in its languid pleasure seeking (although it must be said that being awakened by the soft cries of a woman is greatly to be preferred to what inevitably comes next).

Not wanting my skills to atrophy during our suburban sojourn, we never went out to eat in Shirlington though the opportunities to do so are many. While by no means a dining destination, there are a few outposts of local entrepreneurs made good:

While it will be good to be back home, living in the Shirlie was no hardship – especially for one of us (caution: erratic and prolonged download; will try to fix)



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About Me

Born in Baltimore and raised in Cincinnati, I have lived on both coasts and driven back and forth across the country a number of times. I now have the "midlife opportunity" to do so on two wheels.