Friday, July 31, 2015

Comparing Two Architectural Salvage Shops in Chicago

Urban Remains, Grand Avenue, Chicago
Recently I decided to take a field trip to a couple of stores known as architectural salvage. As the name implies, this sort of store, usually housed in huge warehouses or former industrial spaces, collect bits of interior and exterior building parts from places are are torn down or remodeled.

Two cool items in the entry corridor.

Lovely bronze.
They focus on vintage or antique items, the sort you can't buy at a hardware store - things that aren't made anymore, and can't be purchased new. Examples include antiques lighting fixtures, fireplace mantels, vintage industrial and office furniture and fittings, stadium seating, wood moldings, stained glass windows, and the like.

An amazing bit of a church, perhaps?
A long time ago (maybe about twenty years or so?), I remember going with my mom to Salvage One, the biggie in Chicago salvage retail outlets, but I wanted to see what, if anything, had changed in the salvage biz. I didn't have anything particular in mind to buy, but am always on the lookout for cool stuff, cheap.

Entry of Architectural Artifacts

Antique storage drawers

Antique apothecary items

A view of the room.

Vintage pharmacy

Lots of personality in these carousel horses

Inspiring textures and patterns - not sure what this is!

Really wanted this trunk but it was $5000!

A jumble of metal bits

A beautiful (maybe store showroom?) brought in its entirety to the warehouse.

Some CREEPY doll parts from an old factory.
The last time I went, I remember being overwhelmed by the piles of items everywhere. Very few prices were marked, so everything had to be asked about. It wasn't very buyer-friendly, from my perspective. It seemed like Salvage One catered more to high-end designers and architects, than the average home owner looking for a little something - not too expensive - to add character and vintage charm to their home. I did my research on Yelp and settled on two warehouses to visit in one afternoon. The first place I visited was Architectural Artifacts in the Ravenswood neighborhood, on 4325 N. Ravenswood Avenue.
Lovely patina on an entrance along Grand Avenue
I was able to find street parking right along the train tracks, at around noon on a Thursday, after circling the block a few times. While the signage outside is subtle and easy to miss, the building is a huge showroom (80,000 feet, according to their website). It did not feel overcrowded or overwhelming. The collection of items seemed quite curated - not just a big jumble of junk. As you enter, a long corridor leads to a very large open space with three floors.

 A plethora of old office furniture at Urban Remains
The area was brightly lit and felt spacious, not cramped. Most of the items I saw had prices marked, and were grouped in appealing little vignettes of like-items. Some of the first things I saw included a whole table covered in a variety of plastic letters used for signage. Another table was covered with antique apothecary fixtures; and another with bits and baubles of crystal. It was cool to see all the interesting vintage items arranged in such an artistic way, but I couldn't really picture bringing any of the things into my home. The prices seemed a little high to me - comparable to what you would pay for new furniture and accessories at places like Room and Board. Unlike when I go to flea markets, this warehouse of treasures seemed geared toward a different market than what I am financially able to afford. I couldn't imagine paying as much for one piece of imperfect furniture as I'd spent on my last vacation! It was all pretty neat to look at, though, and daydream about the stories connected to each of the time-worn artifacts. In fact, on the lower level, there was what looked like an entire room of crystal, wood, and glass, that had been scooped up from its original location and plopped down inside this warehouse in one piece!

A common sight at architectural salvage : sooo many doors!
On to warehouse no. 2, Urban Remains, at 1850 W. Grand Avenue. Urban Remains has three storefronts, right next to each other: the main salvage warehouse, the gallery (open by appointment) and a showroom, where the owner, Eric Nordstrom, showcases and sells some of his personal collection. This stretch of Grand Avenue housed several interior design boutiques, and a few other trendy shops, plus plenty of free street parking (yippee). I entered the main warehouse and came upon two of the employees seated at their desks, gossiping together, in a small front office. They looked up expectantly at me and paused their conversation. I asked if it was okay to go in to the warehouse, and one of the guys said, "Sure! Sure! Have you been to the showroom yet?" I answered in the negative and he told me that the showroom held a high-end, curated collection of their best stuff, and that everything being sold was also online. Their website states that there are over 20,000 artifacts available online! I made a mental note to check them out when I got home.

Many signs said "do not touch". A collection of fireplace frames.
I stepped into the huge open space, stacked floor-to-ceiling with stuff. Touching the items for sale was actively discouraged by the many signs posted everywhere. This was a bit of a turn-off for me, because I love to explore the texture and feel of things. Prices were pretty high. I saw a really cool pink cast iron pedestal sink, some amazing chandeliers, gorgeous carved fireplace mantels, and zillions of file cabinets, lockers, office chairs, and even a metal vanity dresser, the sort of which I'd never seen before. A lot of the metal pieces had been stripped and buffed to a smooth brushed gray. As I wandered around, I wondered about the owner of this business. I was the only person in the warehouse aside from the employees, and I was trying to imagine having the capital to purchase and store all of these goods until someone came along to buy them. But perhaps most of their sales were through the Internet. Really, items were priced about three times what I would expect to pay. I asked on of the employees if they ever had store-wide sales to clear out some of the merchandise, but he said only occasionally and not more than maybe 25% off. So it seemed like the prices were pretty much set.

Antique hitching posts, or maybe lobby rope poles?
So my conclusion was (much like it was on my previous shopping trips 20 years ago), that though there were plenty of interesting and appealing items available from salvage warehouses, these two  stores, at least, were out of my league, financially. I will have to continue to get my vintage goodies from flea markets and ebay, which have much better prices. From an artist's perspective, though, I enjoyed visiting both warehouses for the inspiration provided by huge rooms of times-gone-by patina and style.

Metal vanity that I lusted after, stripped and buffed, ready to paint.

So much beauty to awe and delight!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sewing Diary: Three Projects That Came Out Great!

As anyone who sews clothing for herself knows, a lot of projects don't come out that well, and are either abandoned midway through production, or donated/discarded in the end. But these three projects came out great, so I am posting them to keep a record of the things I sew throughout the year.

Prairie Skirt: styled
This first one used up some Pacific Northwest Coast Native American-style printed cottons that I had collected a few years back. I had originally thought about making a quilt, but after making a tie quilt for my Dad for his Christmas gift last year, I decided quilting wasn't for me.

Any way, I found this skirt pattern that was perfect for using a variety of print fabrics. The pattern was very simple. I didn't not make any changes to it except to make it a bit shorter, because I am on 5'2" tall. Very quick, very easy, and I love the skirt. Designs that can fit me and look good through changes in weight/size are very much appreciated. I also like that, although this skirt has an elastic waist, the pattern is cut so that there is not a lot of bulk around the waist. One for the win!

Whimsical sundress with vintage fabric
For this sundress, I used some vintage 80s fabric from my stash that my mom had actually bought a long time ago, and gave to me. The fabric is pretty thin and see-through, which is not the best, but I just loved the colors and the Art Deco-influenced border print. It just screamed, "Make me into a sundress!" So I did.

Simple pattern that's actually for nightgowns

I used this very simple pattern. The only adjustments I made were to turn the straps into ties (which I love and think are so cute), and to do an FBA.

An FBA that worked except for it lengthened the side seams
I struggled to find a online tutorial for an FBA for an empire waist top without darts, so I just winged it. I know it's not right, because it made the side seam way too long, but I made it work somehow, and it actually fits great.

Styled with a tank top and some bright beads

Used orange jumbo rickrack on the seams of the front panels, and lime green cotton medium rickrack along the hem.
For this skirt, I used some really cute novelty print quilting cotton called Science Fair by Robert Kaufman, and a variety of rick rack scraps I had in my stash. I freakin' love rick rack! All sorts of pleasant 1970s nostalgia connotations for me. The skirt was a pretty simple six gore.

The changes I made to this really old pattern I had in my collection were to add some width around the hips, and to move the zipper to the center back seam, instead of having it on the side seam. I really dislike side seam zippers because they always make me feel fussy and bulky in the hip area. Any way, I love this skirt, and but I have to find some top to wear it with.... I might get this sweater. Still thinking on that one....

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Palm Springs Attractions: Two Favorites

While in Palm Springs this past springtime, some of the activities I enjoyed were hiking in Indian Canyon and a visit to Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway.

Fan Palm Oasis in Indian Canyon

Lush refuge in the desert

The stream added a freshness to the air

Indian Canyon park

Dramatic rock formations

A drive through a narrow expanse of rock
I arrived at Indian Canyons late in the day, so I only had time for one rather short trail hike, and no visit to the gift shop (sad face), but the trail I took was amazing and my mediocre photography skills do not do it justice! The park has a gated entrance and a fee of $15, then you wind up through the hilly landscape to the various trails. The park is run and maintained by the Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribe, and features five canyon areas you can hike through.

The colors of the rocks were gorgeous!

Blue sky unbelievably beautiful!

Dramatic striated rocks and petrified palms.
I took the trail through Palm Canyon. It was gorgeous: beautiful and colorful rock formations, lots of little lizards scurrying about, interesting plants and wildflowers. But what really blew me away was the Palm Oasis. Picture it: here you are, peacefully hiking through the arid, rocky, desert environment, dust on your tongue, when you start to hear a trickle of water. Where can it be coming from? Then out of nowhere, enormous fan palm trees of pop into view, towering above you, and you see below a fast-running stream, gushing over rocks and creating many mini falls. So enchanting! I only wish I could experience all of the canyons - it's on my to-do list!

Front entrance to Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway
On another day in Palm Springs, I visited Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway, also known as The Alexander House. This attraction will appeal to both Elvis lovers and fans of Mid-Century Modern design. I am more the latter, although I also enjoy Elvis (from his early years, only!). This is a cool house designed by noted Palm Springs architects, Palmer and Krisel (although there is some debate about that by fans of the house) and built by noted Palm Springs builder, Robert Alexander, who died an early, tragic death.

Giant front doors, flanked by windows
 The house is designed out of four perfect circles and is more than 5,000 square feet, though only a small portion of that is available to view on the tour. It is still an occupied residence, but it is on the market - so if you have about $7 million lying around, it can be yours!

Awesome front entryway with pavers weaving through a water fall and to the garden gates
Some of the really cool features of this house are the entryway, in which you climb aggregate pavers that wind through a waterfall to get to the impressively huge front door.

Unique wrought iron hardware featured in the entryway
There are also cool wrought iron fixtures that are very 60s and special. The living room is really pretty: it's a sunken circle with a built-in sofa and it is open to the dining room, stepped up on a platform. It features high ceilings and a wall of windows looking out onto the backyard and swimming pool.

Unique stairway to bedrooms
The stairs to go up to the bedrooms is also very cool: it is wide at the bottom and narrows towards the top, covered in plush carpet. The master bedroom has a wall of windows facing the cul-de-sac and a romantic Barbara Cartland-esque circular canopied bed. The master bath features cool built-in vanity cabinets and a sunken tub. The kitchen has a lot of the original cabinets and appliances, and the maid's bathroom is fun and funky with pink mosaic tile, original vanity and a tiny cylindrical shower enclosure - all in the pink tile.

Cylinder of pink tile in maid's bathroom
My tour guide was a young girl with an Elvis crush, who was very knowledgeable about all the circumstances of his and Priscilla's time at the house. She was lovely and obviously enjoyed sharing the history of the house with me. I wished that more of the house was open to the tour, and also wistfully fantasized that I could have seen it when it was new.

Pool in the backyard, with view into the living room

View of the pool area with patio, cyprus trees and the San Jacinto mountains in the background.

Of course, over the years, some parts had fallen into disrepair, and previous owners made changes (I call it "remuddling" as opposed to "remodeling") that negatively affected the design. But the current owner has made an effort to maintain and reproduce the original design, as much as possible. Wouldn't it be fun to buy it and transforming it to it's previous glory, with the blink of an eye, like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Product Review: Hello Fresh Meal Subscription

I recently tried out the Hello Fresh dinner ingredient delivery subscription, in my effort to eat more healthy, home-cooked meals, with minimum amount of work, and here is my review. I tried the service for four weeks, and I would still be using them except for one big problem.
My first box arrived from Hello Fresh. (I covered my address, of course).
I first found out about Hello Fresh because of an ad in my Facebook feed. It offered the first week half off, so I decided to check it out. The website is very easy to navigate, and they are good at keeping you posted with communication via email. I thought the $69 a week rate for 3 meals for 2 people each, was pretty reasonable, and sure enough, during the weeks I used them, I did reduce my grocery bill because I wasn't going to the store as often, and indulging in all the impulse buys that I usually do. Also, I mostly get my produce from Whole Foods, because they have the largest selection of organic produce, and the best looking produce of all the grocery stores in my area. And everyone knows how expensive they are, so yes, I did actually save money using Hello Fresh.

Here's what it looks like when you open the box. Everything well packed and labeled. The only downside is there is a lot of non-recyclable packaging.
In addition, I liked that most of their dinners were dairy free, which is really hard to find in this I-Love-Cheese country that we live in. (I avoid dairy products because I am lactose intolerant, they make me feel phlegmy and I also hate them). There was a very good variety of dinners during that four weeks that I used the service. There are three meals per week that are the default meals, and two alternative meals that you can choose if you don't like some of the default ones.

All the food items seemed to be good quality and very fresh.
Hello Fresh took away a lot of the parts of making dinner that I don't like: planning, shopping, and the waste that comes from cooking for just one or two people. (I live alone and my adult son sometimes comes over for dinner). If my son wasn't joining me for dinner, I saved the leftovers from one night's dinner and had them for lunch the next day. So I was really getting 6 meals.

My first recipe: A delicious chicken salad with beans.
All of the recipes, I found, were easy to make. I have been cooking dinner for 20+ years, but am not an expert chef, by any means. So I like simplicity. All of the meals ranged from good to excellent. There were a couple that were a little bland for my taste, but most of them were super yummy. And you get to keep the recipe cards, so I can make some of them again on my own in the future. The service provides all the ingredients, in the right quantities. You just cut them up and mix them together, following the recipe, which gives complete nutritional information.

Another recipe: Shrimp skewers with avocado/pineapple relish and herbed rice.
So with all that wonderfulness, why did I stop my subscription? Well, there was a big problem: delivery. Delivery cost is included in the $69 a week, which like I said, seemed really reasonable to me. The deliveries were made by UPS, BUT it was not reliable. During the first week, I received my box on Wednesday around noon. Great! I quickly unpacked everything, which looked very fresh, and stuck it all in the fridge, until I was ready to use them. During the second week, the delivery was supposed to come on Wednesday (the company promises Wednesday delivery between 8:30am and 8:30pm), but it didn't come and it didn't come. I called the company (very good phone customer service) and they said UPS claimed it was delivered! It was not! In fact, I didn't get the box until FRIDAY afternoon! By that time, all the meat products were spoiled and smelled so gross! They had been in the box for at least three days! Yuck! I called the company again, and they gave me a credit for the next week's box. I was so disappointed. And I had nothing for dinner that week.

Another delicious salad.
For the third week of my subscription, the box arrived on time, Wednesday afternoon. Phew! I was happy again! But for the fourth week - again no box on Wednesday! I called the company the next morning and they told me there was a delay and my box would arrive that day (Thursday). But the delay had ruined my Wednesday night plans when I had no dinner, so I told them then and there to cancel the subscription. It's not useful to me if I can't rely on it! When it didn't come, my whole schedule had to be altered to account for meal planning, shopping, etc.

A beef and rice entree.
I'm sad because I otherwise really liked Hello Fresh. Maybe they are a newer company and are experiencing growing pains? Maybe they will get their delivery issues worked out? I don't know, but in the mean time, I am going to try a competitor of theirs, Blue Apron, and see if they are any better about reliability. Stay tuned!