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Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Apartment: Back to 1967

I've rented an apartment in Oakville that was built in 1967, on the cusp of the Decade that Taste Forgot, also known as the 1970s. First the good news. The building was better made than many of the others in the area; it has radiant heating in the floor, it's meticulously clean and well maintained, and it is in a terrific location.

As for the apartment itself. It was designed by people who decided that no one, ever, would EVER want to configure a room differently, or redecorate, ever ever again. It has an 18 foot long picture window. But it is not SYMMETRICAL and doesn't come in a STANDARD SIZE. That would be too square, DaddyO! In addition, ALL the windows slam into the walls. I've never, ever seen this before, not even in East Berlin. What were they THINKING? Who can put window treatments on windows that run directly into the corners of a room? It's completely impossible to use anything but the old fashioned curtain hooks and traverse rods, which I remember my parents swearing over in the Sixties. You can't use the tab curtains since there's nowhere to attach some of the brackets. In addition the 18 foot long balcony looks out on nothing more than the building across the way, which is lit up like a Christmas tree at night. So I ordered SIX different blackout drapes from online stores and a friend in my current place kindly took them up (since NONE were standard lengths--once again, I Gotta Be Me---who needs standard windows, man?) I got into the spirit of things by not having the center panels match. It'll match the furniture and the side windows will have pictures hanging in front of them, so I've created more wall space in this fashion. I purchased netting for the strange balcony to keep the cat from falling through the railings, which have iron rails that are spaced exactly as wide as a cat's head. How thoughtful. And there are huge spikes on the iron part of the balcony that were probably intended to guard the place from marauding dragons since it looks like an upside down portcullis. That'll get the cat's attention if she tries to jump over it--and she'd continue seven stories down, straight to the concrete. Gizmo is forbidden to go onto the balcony but I know she'll sneak out once or twice. The netting will eliminate most of the hazard anyway. There are no ledges or windowsills for her to sun herself on, so I'll put furniture in strategic locations or get some more cat trees.

The cheapness and lack of character in postwar construction never ceases to amaze me. The architects of that time were absolutely convinced that they had perfected interior design and that no one would ever want to use any style other than Swedish Modern Minimalist in any of their rooms or actually hang simple curtains instead of drapes.
So while it's not as bad as the horrors in James Lileks' INTERIOR DESECRATORS, (after all, I can cover up the windows) it has a few other design hiccups that are worthy of note.

The bathroom has one of those ghastly 'vanities' with fake marble. It's much too small and although it has some storage, it's pretty meager. And you would not believe the hall lights. These are the kind that do nothing but catch dust. Early Jetsons design style.

And believe it or not, there are plastic panels in the bedrooms. They are set into the walls, under the windows. They have no function whatever. It's 1967, Plastic is In, Baby. Which is why I will put the longest, heaviest drapes in the bedroom. The traverse rod there is ten feet wide. The window is 24" wide. I guess the drama queens of 1967 could make a splendid entrance from behind the extra wide drapes. The bedroom curtains are a pleasant floral pattern that will suggest wallpaper and deaden the sound and light from the street. I plan to put a large oak dresser in front of the hideous inset (which is at least a neutral colour.) The studio will have to look after itself with a simple Roman shade the last tenant left. I mean really...Canada was just as cold in the Sixties. Did they never hear of something called insulation?

Now, my furniture is Mission style, and I am bored by most buildings constructed after 1950, though I've spent some very happy times in one (many years ago in New York.) And to be fair, the new place is cheery and very well lit. This is not going to be the last stop, but it's a good stopgap til I get my legs under me at Sheridan and, more importantly, give them most of the artwork and books I've assembled over the years.
Sheridan has an archive and I have stuff that needs to be archived. It's a great match. But if I give them the materials before residing in Canada for twelve months, I must pay duty on it. So I hang onto the things for a year and give them as gifts once I have my first anniversary on the job. I hope that this can form a nucleus for a real animation collection similar to the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University which was developed from a donation of original art by the late Milton Caniff. (Hey, there's something about guys named Milt and cartoons...they all drawr real good!)

Meanwhile, I've spoken to the super about replacing the ceiling lights with my old fans. I'll get a new floor lamp for the living room since NO ONE was ever going to need a ceiling light there after 1967!
What struck me about this building is that it perfectly summed up the tenor of the times. They knew they had achieved plastic perfection, and nothing would ever change.
For me, it's not so much Back to the Future as Back to the Past. Give me a well kept 1920 or 30s building every time...the rooms can be configured the way YOU want, since they were designed in a less 'perfect' era.

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