Tag Archives: mid-century modern

Free time

Here is some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my free time since I finished the draft of the novel last weekend:

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In February, I pulled up our stained, worn-out wall-to-wall carpet to find a beautiful hardwood floor hiding underneath. Instead of spending the better end of $5 a square foot on cork-look luxury vinyl tile, I spent less than $100 on sandpaper and Danish oil.

Before I could start working on the floor, I came down with bronchitis. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to figure out how to teach, put out a paper, and coordinate the production of a yearbook, all remotely, while writing the first draft of my latest novel.

I finally got a hand free Monday to start working on the living-room floor. At my dad’s recommendation, I sanded it by hand and gave it a couple of coats of Danish oil. It was time-consuming, physically demanding work, but I think it turned out well. We used part of the money we saved on the floor to buy a new wood-slice coffee table with hairpin legs. *Swoon*

To keep my neck and shoulders from completely seizing up on me while I was sanding and oiling the floor, I stopped every hour or so to stretch and spend a few minutes working on the new mural I just sort of randomly decided I needed in my office. I’m designing it on the fly, but I think it will look pretty cool when I’m done with it.

I’ve always sort of wondered what I could accomplish if I had a big enough block of time on my hands with relatively few distractions, and the pandemic has pretty well answered that question. I have several other projects brewing. We’ll see how many of them I finish before the world reopens.

Emily

 

Grand total: 190

We completed our breezeblock inventory this afternoon. By my count, Tucumcari (pop. 4,915) has 190 properties that feature either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or some combination of the two — and at least 100 of them are within a mile of my house.

I knew we had a lot, but by “a lot,” I was thinking maybe 50. We have nearly four times that number — and I probably missed a few that weren’t visible from the street. Incredible.

Here are some samples from today’s explorations:

We saw this fan-style block atop an unfinished wall in a newer subdivision. The owner appeared to be test-driving samples.
Square-in-square style breezeblock
This double square-in-square was perched atop the same unfinished wall as the fan-style block.
We saw this angular riff on the Starlight pattern at the same property.
I don’t know the name of this pattern, but it seems to be the 21st-century answer to hidden circles.
I like this sort of inside-out approach to installing hidden circles, spotted in an alley while we were walking the dogs this afternoon.

The top image is from a house down the street. The breezeblocks appear to be a later addition, as they don’t really match the architecture of the house, but I imagine they’d come in handy if you were fumbling with your keys on a stormy day.

The research for this project has been fascinating. I knew Tucumcari pretty well before I started, but systematically driving every street in town in search of one specific architectural detail has forced me to pay much closer attention to my surroundings. It’s also given me an appreciation for the ingenuity of the people around me, who are sculptors, muralists, architects, landscape designers, homesteaders, and creative problem solvers of the highest order.

No wonder I love this town so much. It’s full of kindred spirits.

Emily

Ridin’ Around in the Breeze

Well, it’s all right, ridin’ around in the breeze.
Yeah, it’s all right, if you live the life you please.
— George Harrison

For the third day in a row, Ron and I worked on my breezeblock inventory. This time, we were in our own neighborhood. In an hour and a half, we covered all the east-west streets in an area six blocks wide and maybe a mile long. We found 52 properties with breezeblocks and one with shadow blocks. That brings our total to 139, with about 75 percent of the inventory complete.

Here’s a wall of tightly stacked snowflake blocks, protected by a ferocious guard dog:

Snowflake-pattern breezeblocks, magic light, dramatic shadows, and a Chihuahua in the window — what’s not to love?

I was really excited about these Pompeian (sic) blocks. (I was less excited about the manufacturer’s spelling.)

Pompeian breezeblocks in a wall
Pompeian blocks cast interesting shadows on the wall behind them.
Breezeblocks casting a shadow on a concrete wall
Two styles for the price of one: Pompeian shadow next to hidden circles.

We also spotted some double-Ys:

Double-Y breezeblocks in a concrete wall
This is one of the more creative uses I’ve seen for the double-Y pattern.

Some newer walls featured styles I haven’t encountered in any of my research. This one looks like what you’d get if you crossed the arcs in a hidden-circle block and then flattened it out:

Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
I don’t know what this style is called, but it seems to be a latter-day design. I like this installation.
Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
Notice how the same pattern can look very different depending on the installation.

The pattern in the top image is another latter-day design. It looks like arch or cathedral, except it’s missing the diagonal reinforcements.

We got a late start today because of work commitments, but we’re hoping to go out earlier tomorrow and finish our inventory. Once that’s done, I can start designing my map. I’m really excited about this project. If it looks half as good on paper as it does in my mind, it’s going to be one of the coolest projects I’ve ever done.

Emily

More breezeblocks

Ron and I went hunting breezeblocks again this afternoon. My list now stands at 86 properties with either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or a combination of the two. I have found 51 examples of hidden circles; seven examples of Empress; six of square-in-square; five of double-Y; two of double-X; one each of arch/cathedral and snowflake; assorted squares and rectangles; and a handful of mystery styles, including a couple of Empress variants I haven’t been able to identify. I also spotted at least nine examples of shadow blocks in varying patterns — and we still haven’t inventoried the mid-century subdivisions in the southwest quadrant.

The featured photo at the top of this post is one I shot in December of the front of my church — a gorgeous A-frame with a snowflake-pattern breezeblock wall out front. Here are a couple more views, showing that stunning backlit cross:

A-frame church with backlit neon cross and breezeblock wall
I love this architecture.
Backlit neon cross against a breezeblock wall
This is the most mid-century church I’ve seen since Benjamin interrupted Elaine’s wedding in “The Graduate.”

First Presbyterian doesn’t have the market cornered on ecclesiastical breezeblocks, though. Immanuel Baptist Church makes nice use of hidden circles here:

Church with hidden-circle breezeblock screen on one end
This screen really dresses up the building.

We also found quite a few commercial installations:

Square-in-square breezeblocks on a Plains Commercial building
I can’t decide whether retrofitting an early-20th-century Plains Commercial building with mid-century breezeblocks is awesome or awful, but either way, it’s eye-catching.
Closeup of star-patterned breezeblocks
At first glance, I thought this was the large diamond/Bali/Rotary pattern, but it’s much too angular for that.
Large square-in-square breezeblocks with vertical rectangles in between
Square-in-square blocks at the Elks Lodge. Note the darker vertical rectangles in between.

Motel designers were especially fond of breezeblocks:

Square breezeblock wall
I like the alternating large and small squares in this wall at the old Town House Motel.
Closeup of square breezeblocks in two sizes
Closeup.
Shadow blocks on wall
Shadow blocks at Motel Safari.
Small square breezeblocks in wall with Elvis and a classic car painted on it
Carport wall at Motel Safari.
Decorative breezeblock wall with googie boomerangs painted on one end
Patio at Motel Safari. Dig those boomerangs.
Decorative hidden-circle breezeblock wall
A hidden-circle wall at Roadrunner Lodge.

And last but not least, here’s a pretty residential application:

Square-in-square breezeblock wall
I need a wall like this in my backyard to keep Ramona out of the garden.

It was at this point in the trip that I turned to Ron and said, “If he’d build it out of breezeblocks, I might have to rethink my position on Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall.'” And then I had an idea for the greatest political compromise in the history of ever … but that’s another post for another day.

Emily

Shooting the Breeze

One of the delightful surprises about moving out here in 2017 was the discovery that Tucumcari has a plethora of breezeblock walls.

A few weeks ago, I decided it would be cool to spend part of my summer taking an inventory of Tucumcari’s breezeblocks and creating a Bob Waldmire-style map detailing the style and location of each. I figured it might help promote Tucumcari to mid-century modern junkies like me, and it seemed like the sort of thing Route 66 travelers would appreciate, given our fondness for all things retro.

With most of New Mexico shut down until further notice, Ron and I decided to take advantage of a free afternoon to start the inventory. After lunch, I got online, researched breezeblock styles, and made myself a little chart identifying all the patterns I could find. Then Ron spent about three hours systematically driving down every street on the north side of town while I rode shotgun with my iPhone and a notebook in hand. By the time we called it a day, we had a list of 40 properties, featuring 15 different styles of breezeblocks.

Here are a few highlights:

"Hidden circle"-style breezeblock wall
This example of “hidden circle”-style breezeblocks is about the only structurally sound remnant of our vet’s old building, which burned several years ago.

Hidden circles were extremely popular. I counted 25 examples today.

Concrete wall with empress and arch-style breezeblock details
Empress-style blocks dominate the foreground, but if you look closely at the wall on the left, you can see arch — a.k.a. cathedral — blocks as well.

The Empress pattern looks similar to hidden circles, but you can tell them apart by looking at the diamonds between the circles: Hidden circles have a horizontal line bisecting the diamonds.

Concrete-block wall with double-X breezeblock accents
This mostly solid wall features occasional double-X — a.k.a. “Dos Equis” — accents.

I found a couple of examples of the double-X style, which some sources identify by its Spanish name, Dos Equis.

Square-in-square, or "Vista Vue," breezeblock in a concrete wall
I found three examples of the square-in-square style.

The square-in-square style was identified by a couple of sources as “Vista Vue.”

Breezeblock wall using what appears to be a variant of the Empress pattern
These blocks appear to be a variation on Empress.

I haven’t been able to track down the name or manufacturer of the breezeblocks screening the stairwells at Roadrunner Lodge (above). I’m also at a loss to identify the rectangular pattern on the blocks at the Pow Wow Inn (top image).

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the south side of town, including a mid-century subdivision that’s positively teeming with breezeblocks.

Emily

Planning for Christmas

Y’all.

Y’all.

Y’ALL.

Today, while I was searching online for Shiny Brite-style Christmas ornaments in colors that match the Mondrian wall, I found a 7-foot silver tinsel Christmas tree for $60.

A 4-foot vintage aluminum Sparkler like mine, for which I paid $50 in 1998, IIRC, will run somewhere around $150 to $200 on Etsy these days. A 7-foot Evergleam like the one I passed up for $70 on that same shopping trip two decades ago will cost you $500 if you are very lucky and $800 or more if you aren’t.

Fairly convincing replicas of vintage aluminum trees can be found online for $200 to $250.

The tree I ordered is neither an original nor a convincing replica (it’s basically a shiny silver version of the green Walmart special I bought to decorate my first classroom in 1997), but to the untrained eye, it will look pretty good, and I didn’t have to listen to Ron grumble or sigh about the price. WIN.

Photos forthcoming in a few weeks, of course.

Emily

 

New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Credenza repair

This is such a small project, I hesitate even to post it, but it was one I put off for a long time because I thought it was going to be much more complicated than it was.

The credenza I fashioned a few months ago from a set of storage cubes and four mid-century-style legs was not quite as well-supported as it needed to be, and when my parents were visiting a few weeks ago, Dad noticed it was developing a slight dip in the middle. He recommended I add a set of legs to the middle to shore it up.

Because I’d installed the others at an angle, I assumed I’d have to shorten the new ones before I could install them vertically in the middle — not a difficult process, but one with just enough steps to seem daunting — so I bought legs and installation hardware and promptly stuck them in my craft closet, where they remained, quietly generating low-level stress in the back of my mind every time I looked at the credenza.

A couple of weekends ago, I got sick of thinking about them, grabbed a tape measure and the new legs and installation hardware and set about taking measurements so I could trim them to the proper length …

whereupon I discovered that the designers of the legs and mounting hardware had already anticipated someone might need vertical supports on a large piece of furniture and had adjusted for that eventuality within the design of the hardware, thus obviating the necessity of trimming anything. All that procrastinating, and all I really needed to do was unload the bookcase, flip it over, and install the new legs.

credenzafixedsmall
Shored up and back to normal.

I left all the books stacked at the ends of the credenza for a week or so to give gravity a chance to repair the dip that had developed while the middle was unsupported; two weeks later, it’s balanced properly, reloaded, and much sturdier. It still isn’t perfect, but it should be fine until I can score something nicer from Joybird or (’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished) Herman Miller.

Sitting in the living room feels much more relaxing now.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Merry minimalism

When I bought my Christmas tree, I wasn’t dreaming of living in a tiny house. I didn’t even know tiny houses existed. I just wanted a cool retro tree that would fit in my apartment.

Seventeen years and four moves later, I appreciate my shiny, easy-to-assemble aluminum Christmas tree as much for its space-saving design as for its great atomic-era look.

I’m not suggesting everybody who’s considering a tiny house should rush out and buy an aluminum tree and color wheel, but as I was taking mine down, it occurred to me that of all the things I’ll have to shrink when we finally build that tiny house in northeastern New Mexico, my Christmas tree isn’t one of them.

I have a few other decorations, but they usually stay in storage; the ones I get out just about every year are the tree (with matching green and red glass balls hanging from its branches and a color wheel underneath to illuminate it) and the little plastic creche my mom bought for me at Ben Franklin when I was 3 or 4 years old:

Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I'm betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.
Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I’m betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.

In the featured image and the one below, you can see what the tree looks like when it’s packed into its box:

Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.
Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.

Below is the whole setup, packed and ready to be stashed in a plastic storage tub in the garage:

Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I've no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.
Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I’ve no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.

If your holiday decorations are taking over your attic or spilling out of the closets, I can wholeheartedly recommend a throwback Christmas tree, ca. 1958, for ease of assembly, disassembly, and storage.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Christmastime Is Here

Maybe it’s the election.

Maybe it’s the way people treated each other in the months leading up to it, or the way they’ve behaved in the weeks since.

Maybe it’s the weather.

Maybe it’s the usual seasonal depression settling over me.

Maybe it’s some combination of the above.

Whatever the reason, I haven’t had much enthusiasm for the holidays this year, and I really considered leaving my Christmas tree in its box in the garage and letting December go by more or less unacknowledged.

I considered it. But that tree is aluminum, straight out of the late 1950s, and it’s got a color wheel to light it up and a set of matte-finish red and green ornaments to hang on it, and for the first time since I bought it, I have a living room full of furniture that goes with it. How could I possibly pass up a chance to see how that Marshmallow sofa looks with a real mid-century aluminum Christmas tree glittering beside it?

And if I’m going to take myself back to the era immediately preceding my own existence, shouldn’t I have period-appropriate music to listen to while I assemble the color wheel?

Yes. Yes, I should.

tiltshiftchristmas
Behold the magic of a mid-century modern Christmas.

So I downloaded the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, set my iPhone inside a coffee mug to amplify the sound, and let Vince Guaraldi soothe my frazzled nerves and erase all the grown-up worries and fears and frustrations from my mind.

“Christmastime Is Here” is one of those songs I took for granted for years. It wasn’t the sort of Christmas song you’d hear at church or sing in school or hear on the radio stations that switch their format to “all Christmas, all the time” during December. But it was always part of Christmas, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the way it strikes a balance between grownup melancholy and childlike wonder.

This year, finding that balance has been more difficult than usual, and I’m grateful for Guaraldi’s help finding it as I settle into a replica of a rocking chair that predates the Peanuts gang’s first animated special by several years, sip a cup of peppermint cocoa, and listen to piano and triangle and children’s voices mingle with the hum of the motor on the color wheel turning gently behind the tree.

Christmastime is here.

Emily