June ABODE: The Scene

(Photo by John Robinson)

I’m your density
Plenty of people live on the Downtown Mall, but for the entire month of May, Stephen Balut took that notion to an extreme when he took up residence in the front window of Chroma Projects. A painter who’s been represented by the gallery since shortly after moving to Charlottesville 16 months ago, he’s also an architect. And when he got to town, he wanted to live on the Mall.

“There really wasn’t anything available that I could afford,” he said. “I was bummed.” He started scoping out odd little spaces in alleys and on rooftops, imagining “alternative ways of building very small but beautiful housing in unique areas of the urban fabric,” which could not only provide dwelling places but improve quality of life for everyone.

The project at Chroma, “The Urban Conspiracy Theory,” was born of those musings. By living in such an unusual and very public space, Balut said, he hoped to get others thinking along the same lines. “I can see people wondering, ‘Are you part of the art?’ And then I can see that seed has been planted about inhabitation.”

Balut—whose day job is at Bushman Dreyfus Architects—borrowed furniture from Circa, arranged it in Chroma’s window, and committed to spending his evenings there, in full view of the public. “I got a couch based more on aesthetics than comfort,” he said, explaining why he ended up sleeping on cushions on the floor. For meals, he tried out various Downtown restaurants; for showers, he made quick trips home. It added up to a walkable, sustainable lifestyle that, he said, benefitted local businesses: “Almost every penny I spend is within three blocks of the Downtown Mall.”

The project isn’t meant to fade away after Balut’s departure from the window. He’s already constructed a temporary “building”—a box made from green mesh fabric—on one of his other favorite Downtown spots, the Paramount Theater marquee. And he’s talking with property owners about the possibility of adding small housing units to existing buildings. “My goal within the next year is to have a real built inhabitable space on the Downtown Mall or very close to it,” he said.—E.H.


From the ground up
Sacred Plant Traditions, the local school of herbalism, is a respected source of wisdom about health-giving plants. The school offers not only a three-year Community Herbalist Program for the highly committed, but an appealing slate of one-day classes for those interested in exploring medicinal herbs and other topics. Four classes are coming up this summer.
What goes where: The June 30 class, “Designing a Medicine Garden: Permaculture and Herbalism,” will introduce you to garden layout and design with a focus on herbal medicines. You’ll learn how to dry these useful plants, too.

Good for what ails you: July 1, “Kitchen Apothecary—First Harvest” follows up with detailed instruction on making herbal tinctures, salves, oils and teas to keep the whole family healthy.

Better going down: On August 11, “Digestive Wellness—Late Summer Sweetness” focuses on the herbal approach to maintaining digestive health.

Long harvest: Finally, on August 12, “The Art of Fermentation” will equip you with the skills to produce lacto-fermented foods at home—from kimchi to kombucha.

Each workshop costs $75 and runs 10am-2pm (except the last, which goes until 2:30pm). See sacredplanttraditions.com to browse descriptions and register.—Erika Howsare

Drop by drop
It’s official: Local residents are majorly committed to water conservation. In April, a monthlong contest, the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, asked Americans to pledge to cut their water use. Cities competed to see which had the highest percentage of residents pledging. Not only did Charlottesville claim the top spot in its category while landing in the top 12 overall, but smaller local ‘burgs—Scottsville, Ruckersville, Crozet, Palmyra, and Troy—made a fine showing too.

So what does that mean? For starters, folks who took the pledge might win prizes (Prius, anyone?). For another, we’d all better follow through with our good intentions. The City of Charlottesville offers some helpful resources for cutting your water bill, including $100 rebates for buying water-efficient toilets, info on water-wise landscaping and lawn care, and free indoor conservation kits. See charlottesville.org/waterconservation.

Congratulations, Charlottesville! Here’s to a healthy planet and a hardworking community.—E.H.

Take the pledge, take the plunge
In April, LEAP (the Local Energy Alliance Program) announced its new Energize 250 campaign, a twist on Celebrate 250 (Charlottesville’s birthday party). Energize 250 aims to get 250 local homeowners to pledge to improve their houses’ energy efficiency by at least 10 percent—and to do it within 250 days. “We’re looking forward to another 250 years,” said LEAP director Cynthia Adams. “How do we bring the older building stock with us into the future?”

If you’d like to take the pledge, your next question will probably be, “How do I get to the 10 percent savings?” Step one, if you own your home, would be to sign up for a home energy review through LEAP. This is essentially a visit from a qualified pro (called a Certified Building Analyst) who can check out your house and make recommendations about what you can do to tighten the place up. The reviews will cost just $25 thanks to a $75 rebate through the city.

“We’d like to see as many folks as possible commit to doing work on their homes,” said Adams. “We’ll be keeping track of energy savings and the type of pollution removed from having done the savings.” Recommendations might include simple behavioral changes—like washing your clothes in cold water or using a programmable thermostat—or more substantial steps like adding insulation. LEAP, of course, also offers various kinds of financial help to offset the cost of projects like those.

Check out energize250.com if you’d like to get on board, and look for more about the campaign in this space as the year goes on.—E.H.

(Photo by John Robinson)


This month’s artisan: Fred Williamson
Not everyone could take a 260-pound piece of wood—ambrosia silver maple, in this case—and, using a lathe, fashion it into a six-and-a-half-pound bowl. That’s just one of the projects Fred Williamson tackled recently. The seasoned woodworker has been making art from trees for nearly four decades. You can find his work at the twice-yearly Crozet Craft Fair, the Monticello Museum Shop, on the Artisan Studio Tour, and by visiting his studio in person. Contact him at 823-1882 or fred@fredwilliamson.com.—E.H.

What kinds of objects do you make?
I turn wood bowls from local trees, using my homemade lathe.

Describe the style of your work in five words or less.
Simple variations on eggshell curves.

Briefly, how did you become a woodworker?
In 1971 I dropped out of college to try working at Jonathan Jones Woodcarving in St. Petersburg, Florida. Within a few months I discovered I loved the stimulation of working with wood, and somehow never got back to that last year and a half of college. Two years later I moved to West Virginia to begin homesteading, jumping right into self-employment with absolutely no business plan…and 39 years later I’m still working on that business plan. I started with various wood accessories, moved up to custom furniture, and made some kitchen cabinets and a few hammer dulcimers. But the bowls always sold the best, the more natural and warped the better, and 15 years ago I dropped everything else to focus entirely on bowls.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve made in the last year?
A large open globe shape from the trunk of an ornamental cherry tree, planted some 30 years ago in Charlottesville by the Liszts. It has the grafting line running straight up through the center of it, with totally different grain and texture on either side. It was totally out of balance the entire turning process.

What’s an object you love in your home that you did not make?
We have so many wonderful creations in our home made by other artisans. Perhaps my favorite is a collection of spoons or ladles hanging on the kitchen wall, with long organically twisted handles, made by Jim Lakiotes of Renick, West Virginia. There is sassafras, sumac, elm, peach, white oak, and so on.


(Photo by Ed Warwick)

Forget me not
If you’re like the Gary and I, you live your life on the go, running from one place to the other, and your abode starts to feel like a pit stop between destinations. As you can imagine, I spend a decent amount of time thinking of ways to keep us organized and support our active lifestyle. As someone notorious for forgetting things—losing his cell phone, keys, and other daily essentials—I like easy and aesthetically pleasing ways to keep a handle on our busy day-to-day.

Door Organizer

2 pieces of pre-cut felt
1 piece of double-sided fusible webbing (fabric store)

Drinking glass
Needle and thread or glue gun

This project is modeled after the privacy door hangers in hotels. Cut your two pieces of felt in half, longwise (approximately 4.5” wide). Cut your fusible webbing to be slightly smaller than the felt pieces. Sandwiching the webbing between the two pieces of felt, press firmly with an iron on medium high heat.

Once cooled, using the bottom of your drinking glass as a template, trace and cut out a circle about 1.5” from the top edge for the doorknob. Cut one or two pockets (your preference) from the scraps of felt remaining and stitch or hot glue them to the front of the felt hanger. Hang on the doorknob and fill the pocket with your daily essentials (wallet, chapstick, keys, iPod, phone, etc.) Leave yourself a note/checklist for the day, or even a little note for that special someone on the go.—Ed Warwick

Fill in the blank
It’s inevitable. At some point your religiously polished exotic hardwood flooring, pristine mid-century bent plywood chaise, or vigilantly maintained antique walnut dining table will experience marring of one type or another. An errant car key, a toddler’s die-cast toy train, even an improperly balanced candelabra can all leave their unwanted marks on your most carefully kept woodwork.

The first step with any repair, wood or otherwise, is to determine the nature and extent of the damage. Often the problem, and therefore, course of action, is readily apparent: there is a gouge in the surface, a crack has formed at a joint, etc.

In most cases, a wood filler will do just as the name suggests: fill the wood. There are several types available, each with its own set of benefits. Two-part epoxy putty and latex paste are what I generally default to for most of my repair work and quick fixes. Sometimes, for smallish mars, I will even use wood glue mixed with sawdust from the same type of wood that I am repairing.

When repairing large areas that need to be rebuilt or where essential hardware will be attached, for strength and durability I use the epoxy putty. Epoxy does not accept stain once set, but one can add a small amount of oil-based stain during the mixing process. However, this will increase the cure time and affect the ultimate hardness of the epoxy.

Small nail holes, open flat areas (think flaked veneer), and shallow damage are best fixed by stain-absorbing, latex-based paste. The paste can be a bit of a challenge to apply and does shrink as it dries. I work in layers of paste, no more than ¼” thick. Once set, the paste sands beautifully and usually stains uniformly. That said, it is always a good idea to test your stain on a scrap piece of wood with filler applied. If worse comes to worst and the stain isn’t uniform, the latex paste can be painted with oil or acrylic paint and blended into the surrounding wood finish.

All in all, having a variety of fillers available in your wood maintenance kit will afford you the opportunity to make those unsightly blemishes disappear!—Christy Baker

Vacation house
Heading away for a summer trip? “We’ll leave the light on for you” might be a comforting refrain, but these days rising energy costs and CO2 emissions mean we don’t have to leave the light on—a motion sensor detector will do! As you pack up for a well-deserved break, here are some energy and water savings tips.

If you want to keep an outside light on for safety reasons, motion sensors or solar walkway lights will do. Indoor light timers, which can leave one light on for a couple of random hours to make your home look inhabited, are inexpensive and easy to use.

Why not give your appliances, electronics, and other power-using devices a vacation too? Anything plugged in still draws energy, so unplug those toasters and digital clocks during your final sweep before locking up. Turning off the A/C can save you $15-plus a week. If you’ll be away awhile, consider adjusting the temperature setting on your energy-losing fridge (fridge 40, freezer 5) after getting it close to empty (invite the neighbors over to raid).

There’s nothing like coming home to a dried-up garden or plants to bring on a buzz-kill. Purchase a watering spike made of glass or clay. Fill with water and it slowly waters your plants while you’re away. Even “Bettier,” fill a plastic juice jug with water, carry it to your plant, poke a hole in the bottom, and set in directly in the soil. I haven’t tried this one, but you could also place your plants in a tub of an inch or so of water, depending on how long you’ll be gone.

Too cumbersome? Try covering your freshly watered plants with a clear plastic bag, trapping the humidity and moisture. Use stakes or pencils to keep the plastic away from the plant leaves.

Check out Better World Betty’s green living resource list at betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebetty.blogspot.com.

Geometric blocks of wood making up a pattern in a floor or a piece of furniture. Traditionally made of hardwoods in contrasting colors, parquet floors these days may include bamboo.

Cleaner sweep
Yep, there’s a greener broom, and it’s made by Sweep Dreams. The brooms are made of renewable sorghum and bamboo and colored with nontoxic dyes, and come in various sizes from little whisk brooms on up. There are even dustpans made of recycled plastic. Available at Blue Ridge Eco Shop.


Kim Wendel’s bedroom color, Surf Blue, contrasts with natural oak in the hallway. (Courtesy Aly Buchanan)

Bold bedroom
Aly Buchanan could probably tell you what color to paint your house just by sizing you up. It’s a skill that comes in handy when it’s time to pick out signature colors for her homeowner clients.

Buchanan is the owner of Aly B. Painting, LLC, a full service painting company that does interior and exterior work for custom, historical, and new construction (see her work at the Paramount Theater and Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar). Aly B. also provides decorative painting and color consultation services.

To help clients choose colors, “Basically, I look at what they wear and I look at how they have their house decorated,” said Buchanan, who just marked 12 years of business. Sometimes her clients have their own ideas about color, while other times they need guidance. In those cases, Buchanan said, “I’ll throw out a neutral option and a bold option and something that’s kind of off the wall a little bit.” So to speak.

Painting the interior walls of your home is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to give your space a makeover. When it comes to painting your bedroom walls specifically, many homeowners have been told to stay away from intense pops of colors—no stimulating reds and oranges, for example. Instead, they should opt for more restorative, serenity-inducing colors like blues, beiges, or browns.

Somehow, though, Buchanan found a way to create a bold blue color for Rose Hill resident and client Kim Wendel’s bedroom walls that is both vibrant and calming. Buchanan believes strong colors “can help individualize your space and set off really neat architecture.” In this case, the Benjamin Moore Surf Blue on Wendel’s walls helps define the modern, natural oak doors in her hallway.

Buchanan, an EPA Lead Certified Renovator, encourages clients to use no- or low-VOC paints to lessen indoor air pollution, which is all the more important when you’re spending eight hours a day in one space. “It’s generally not good to be breathing in fumes, especially if homeowners have kids,” said Buchanan.—Jennifer Pullinger

(Courtesy subject)

Sacred seat
“When my parents built their home in Suffolk, Virginia, they bought a large number of Quaker church pews to make the paneling for the walls in their den. This was one of the church pews that didn’t get used. My dad sized it down to a love seat size. I’ve had it since I was 15 in my room at home. I went to Mary Washington and took my church pew with me to college and it was in my first apartment and it’s been in every house that I’ve lived in ever since then.

“My daughter had it when she started a family, and my son is using it right now [in his] house in Richmond, so it gets moved around periodically. At Christmas time, I take all of my antique teddy bears and put them there with red bows. And it’s the place where we take our shoes off and sit things when we come into the house. It’s this piece of history in our family that is very special to all of us.”—Hobby Parent, Marketing director at Montague, Miller & Co.

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