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Vanessa Renwick Discovers Secrets in Her 115-Year-Old Portland House

breathe love, breathe light.

I’ve lived in this house for thirty years now. I sit within it and study it, inside and out. I love transforming it, as I love transforming spaces for installations. To create a vision of beauty. Sometimes I hear the house telling me things … that wainscoting is needed where the wallboard is that someone put up in the kitchen. I take off the wallboard and the wainscoting is already there, has been all along, waiting to breathe in the sunlight.

That a door needs to be between the two small bedrooms, I take off the fake wood paneling and there is a doorway already there.

For years I debated taking down two walls to make the house more open, but then I would lose my guest room. I finally decided to just widen the doorway in between the kitchen and the living room. I had taken the door off the hinges years ago anyway. When the doorway trim came off, there was a wadded-up piece of material jammed under it. I was afraid I would break it if I tried to unfold it, as it was stiff like newspaper. It was covered in dust and dried blood. I soaked it in oxygen bleach three times over and hung it outside on the clothesline.

It dried as you see it in the photo, holding that beautiful form. I knew that Volga Germans built this house in 1908, and I contacted Steven Schreiber, who has a site dedicated to their history. The story continues here.


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An Unheralded Sicilian Artisan


One of the moments that makes all the stress of travel worthwhile.

Waiting for the ferry to Sicily, this guy in a kind of beat up car in front of me was repacking his stuff, and pulled this out.

I went over and we were able to converse in Spanish. I told him how great they were and gave him one of our mini books.

He had driven to Barcelona with a bunch of these little constructions to sell, but hadn’t sold any. Price, about 50 Euros (cheap!).

Native Siciliano, Marco Paderni, from Catania.

Then he took out a 2nd smaller one (second pic), pointed to it and said “Regalo” — gift. I thanked him, but demurred, referring to air travel.

What generosity! Isn’t it strange how people with the least resources are the most generous?

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Wynken, Blynken and Nod


Three side-by-side houses in SFO’s Sunset district last week.

One person commented that he had lived in one of these and that it had a 5′ by 5′ outdoor patio in the center of the house. Come to think if it, I remember such an inner patio in my friend Rod Lundquist’s mother’s house out in the avenues, it was like a light well with windows looking into it on all 4 sides. A pretty nice feature for houses that are built wall-to-wall.

The title popped into my mind and I just looked it up, nothing to do with houses, but a pretty nice opening stanza in this poem by Eugene Field, 1850-1895:

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
    Sailed off in a wooden shoe,
Sailed into a river of crystal light
    Into a sea of dew.

“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
    The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
    That live in this beautiful sea;
    Nets of silver and gold have we,”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

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66-Year-Old UK Woman Told to Tear Down Self-Built House

This just came in from Anon:

Woman, 66, is ordered to demolish her £59k log cabin eco-home where she has lived for seven years after council ruled it was too big and breached planning permission.

The mother-of-three spent £59,000 of her life savings constructing the cabin from natural materials and applied for planning permission at the time in order to do so.

She was told she did not require permission as there was already a mobile home on the site in the quaint hamlet.

‘I was given this formal legal document dated January 23, 2014 that said ‘application not required’. ‘I built it exactly the same as it looks in the plans I submitted in 2013. It is absolutely identical.’

“But Herefordshire County Council has since performed a U-turn and told her the wooden structure is unauthorized and in breach of planning regulations.


If you run up against a firewall here, use Chrome Incognito Window (under “File” pull down window).

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A Home in Sooke, British Columbia

Shot on a trip in 2017, hanging out with Godfrey Stephens and Bruno Atkey…

I like a lot of things about this design, like the way the shingles flair out over the lower windows.

Too bad more people having homes built don’t just go with the thousands of well-worked-out designs like this, rather than hiring an architect, who will usually be trying to make a “statement.”

There are lots of of home-sweet-homes designs out there, worked out over centuries.

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Postcard from a Prisoner

It’s great to connect with people in prison. These books give them something to hope for, ideas for things they can do for themselves once they get out.

We sent the two requested books yesterday.

(I whited out the prisoner’s full name here.)

Note: We continue to send books free of charge to any prisoner who so requests.

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