Farmhouse Mid Century at DC Big Flea

As the weather warms I’ve become anxious to set off  and peddle wares at a regional show or two; at the very least I need to make the weekly trips into Georgetown for the flea market there.  This set me to thinking about the DC Big Flea.  It happens mid March and although I missed it this year we managed to make it in last year.

The setup was a variety of modern house wares and furniture.  As it came together I started to see a style/ theme that didn’t have an explicit name.  The tried and tested names associated with modern furnishings lacked a descriptive quality I was looking for.  The inventory  assembled for the show weren’t the high end designer pieces that are associated with Mid Century Modern.  That style is divorced from much of the ornament and decorative flourish found on earlier styles.  It veers toward abstraction with a greater importance placed on planar surfaces, minimalistic curves or angles and linear repetition.

Atomic modern is a way of decorating and encasing consumer goods and mechanical contrivances that evokes speed and futurism; think the fins from a ’50’s Cadillac wrapped around your vacuum cleaner.  The shapes and imagery of Atomic Mod reveal the optimistic feelings towards then new technology and materials ultimately driving our lives towards greater comfort and mobility.  There is some blur in from late Deco into Atomic Mod as the plasticity of newly developed materials created an emphasis on futurism in form.

And finally, Maximalism or as it is more widely known, Hollywood Regency.  I’ve learned less about this but from what I’ve seen, there is a dramatic and eclectic inclusion of styles, materials and forms.  The furniture is a mash-up of Mid Century with revivals from styles like Gothic and Baroque.  The materials are sumptuous and the scale is often grand.  There is significant attention paid to pattern, repetition and contrast.

Just these three styles encompass quite a bit but failed to encapsulate the small collection of inventory in the show.  Farmhouse Mid Century, in my formulation, is an eclectic style.  It is primarily house wares and domestic affects, there is an emphasis on objects that will be both used and appreciated aesthetically.  The forms are simple, with plenty of influence from Mid Century and Atomic, almost like if you set out to make primitives in these style.  These are the economically and stylistically more accessible pieces from those modern movements. These are the more humble and less exclusive younger siblings or the country cousins.  They may be less sophisticated but really know how to roll up their sleeves and work.  At the same time there is a naivety that comes through with the bright and upbeat colors.  Nostalgia and Americana are important and kitsch peppers this style as well.  The shapes and forms don’t ignore pre-modern styles.  Elements from the past and modernism may be found in the same piece.

Farmhouse Mid Century is about economy, utility and a simple joy found within the larger spectrum of Modernist design.  Head out to your local flea market and you’re bound to find it in the making; accessible and often low key. But with a little cultivation Farmhouse Mid Century is thoroughly enjoyable and useful.





Fence Salvage Table

This is an earlier mini-project I made to test the finished color of the salvaged fence board.  There is nice variation between the white and the road oak and within those two varieties as well.  The strips were glued up, sanded and then sealed with a poly-acrylic.  It doesn’t impart alot of color to the wood but gives it a little dimension.  Visually I like this finish, but tactilely it lacks warmth and feels a little unnatural.

The top rests on a card table frame, sans the original paperboard and vinyl top.  It may be flipped over and the underside has a little structural integrity and interest thrown in with the wood butterflies.  I prefer the appearance of this face although it isn’t thoroughly practical.

Since finishing this, as the top stood on edge and went through seasonal temperature changes it has warped noticeably.  I expected it might, looks like I’ll be getting familiar with the biscuit joiner for future table tops constructed this way.

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Shelf Images

Here are images of the wall before and after the install of the shelves.  They were finished relatively roughly, just a good, clean, sharp run through the planer and a nice subtle coat of wax.  The outside edge of each shelf is left in the original condition from its days as a fence board.  Gives the shelves a roughness that is found throughout the barn.


“Bespoke Salvage” Shelves

Early last week I finished up a set of shelves for the shop.  I salvaged white and red oak fence boards that had been left outside in a stack for probably the better part of twenty years.  I picked through the pile looking for those boards with enough density and a tight enough grain to be useful.  About half of the boards were useable, the rest of them went to the burn pile.  After a thorough scraping and a treatment with a wire brush I had material ready to send through the planer.  After that was done to get the  material ready for the shelves I had to cut a straight edge along on edge, then cut them down and square them to that straight edge.  Each piece had to be measured and cut according to the dimensions of the board as they were all slightly different.  Each shelf is comprised of two boards laid one in front of each other.  The pictures reveal some of the process and the design elements that I’ve preserved through the process of salvaging the material.

I guess my question is what do I call this process.  I think it’s different from traditional fabrication where you have essentially uniform raw materials that you cut down in the same way, to the same measurements in a relatively mechanical way.  It’s not restoration because I’m transforming the materials rather than repairing them to an original condition.  And upcycling and repurposing seem to imply transforming an object with a previously defined purpose to a different purpose.  Doesn’t seem like cleaning boards and reusing them has the transformative implications of those terms.  It was an involved process though with a lot of consideration for the limitations of the materials and tweaking the design and measurements to fit within these confines.


I kind of like the idea of “bespoke salvage”, custom tailored design and fabrication from salvaged material.  That about sums it up.  Although it lacks a certain succinct appeal it’ll work for me, for now.

Trailer in action

This is just a little follow up to my last post about fixing up that vintage trailer.  Here it is in action.

I recently loaded up some rusty scrap left over from ranching days out here on Willow Grove Farm. Lots of fence wire, barbed wire and bent up cattle guards.  This was a pretty hard load to tetris onto the trailer in any kind of efficient way.  I managed to make it work and did a good job of it.  I sincerely believe the skills of envisioning and then manipulating big, bulky or awkward objects onto a trailer or truck elegantly are only acquired through practice and frustration.

When things slow down I’ll paint up the sides, re-do all the lights and the housings and give the bed a top coat, generally spruce it up.

Equipment gets used and abused, needs maintenance.  Nothing exists in a vacuum; age, wear and failure can only be temporarily overcome.

Classic Trailer?

This is a recap of a project from the october past, can’t believe it’s almost been a year.  I wanted to stabilize an old trailer that was wasting away out here on the farm.  It didn’t take much, a little wire brush work, new tires and paint.  It turned out to be invaluable to have the trailer out here for hauling brush, scrap and material.

There are a few snaps of Ande and I going to work on it, nothing that a trained chimpanzee couldn’t do, but it’s always satisfying when your arms ache at the end of the day and you can see the progress you’ve made.

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Nascent investigational materialism

Nascent investigational materialism: thats a complicated way of saying something simple. This is the beggining of a blog and a retail shop that is concerned with the history and aesthetics of objects, an antique/vintage shop.

My parents, Kim and I are collectors and genuinely believe in appreciating objects with history.  It’s a good way to learn about how the world was, how things used to look and function and what used to be appealing and popular; investigational materialism.  Thats just a brief brief of the ideas that motivate Workshop, we’ll come back to this plenty later on.

Here are a few snaps of the shop back in October, Kim and I had just finished our move up from FL and as you can see we have stuff stacked every where. 


We’ve got a lot of great stuff: work, work, work…