kimchi & kraut

Passive House + Net Zero Energy + Permaculture Yard

Tag Archives: rust as design element

Vivian Maier and the Search for Rust

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I can still remember seeing the striking cover of Vivian Maier: Street Photographer for the first time. The image hints at the story of her life — the mystery surrounding a great talent who went unheralded while alive, but who is now universally recognized and celebrated — while remaining dramatic all on its own.

The documentary about the discovery of her cache of photos, her life, and the work, is equally compelling:

There is something oddly electric about walking the streets of a large city and capturing life as it happens in beautiful photographs. There is an intensity in the captured moment that would otherwise go unseen if not for the skilled and curious eye of a photographer like Vivian Maier. To be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes is always a gift, but especially when the outcome is such mesmerizing images.

After the initial interaction (whether positive or negative), the real test for art, it seems to me, is: Does it compel you to come back again and again? On this basis, Vivian Maier’s work is one of my personal favorites. I never find the images boring, or find myself hurrying past some images to get to others. Her photos almost force you to slow down and really take in what she’s looking at.

Portfolios: Street 1
Portfolios: Street 2
Portfolios: Street 3
Portfolios: Street 4
Portfolios: Street 5
Portfolios: Color

Since my daughter was already showing an interest in taking photos (i.e. taking advantage of a moment’s distraction to snatch our smartphones and go directly to camera mode), we decided to go on an adventure into Chicago to take some pictures. Using Vivian Maier as our inspiration, we headed into the city with cameras ready. Instead of people watching, we went looking for a particular subject matter, having narrowed our focus down to rust.

The challenge would be to find areas of rust that we thought could make compelling photographs (the real challenge was editing down the hundreds of — mostly forgettable — photos we ended up taking):

2016-06-14-00-35-03
fire-hydrant
rusted-bolt-chipping-paint
electric-cover
elevated-tracks
park-here
switch

After spending the better part of a day in the city looking for rust, one side-effect was we saw intriguing areas of rust everywhere we went for days afterward. For instance, the last photo above was taken at a farm near us. Even now, if we’re out walking, my daughter still points to interesting examples of rust. It’s amazing how well the human brain can focus if you tell it where to look.

Part of the ulterior motive behind our day of photography was to start thinking about rust as a design element for our new house. Since we will have an Urban Rustic theme, we knew what the basic elements were going to be:

Wood

Concrete

Metal

For metal, I knew it would include exposed lag bolts, washers and nuts, along with some industrial/farm tools, in addition to a couple of areas dedicated to rust. Incorporating rust in a dramatic, yet limited, way would prove more challenging and time consuming than I first imagined (more on this later).

#rustisbeautiful
photo-bomber
Our little photo bomber.

Starting Over…

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Urban Rustic Design Plan

To achieve an Urban Rustic look (think Modern Rustic, only less ornate), we wanted to blend elements seen in farmhouses and those associated with big city design (more factory than penthouse), especially those prominent in the early 20th century. Although mostly informal, we also wanted the look of our house to incorporate a few modern ‘bling’ items along the way, too.

For more info on the dichotomy between rural areas and big cities, and how the suburbs fit in, go here: Building in the Suburbs

Here are the main design elements for both the exterior and the interiors:

Wood (e.g. Charred Cedar)

Some really helpful videos that gave me the confidence to try this:

charred cedar samples on driveway
Some charred cedar boards I did last summer. The first two on the left have an “alligator” finish; the three on the right have been “brushed”, allowing more of the red in the wood to show through after much of the char has been removed.
charred cedar sample board with natural
A sample board showing the charred cedar in combination with “natural” oiled cedar. Still working on the exact layout and combination of the charred and “natural” boards. We will want to try something more adventurous than the basic layout you see here.

The charring is surprisingly easy to do with a little practice. If, however, you’re not up for it, but you’d still like to use it on your own house, here are some companies that will do it for you:

deltamillworks.com  (featured in the Risinger video above)

charredwood.com

resawntimberco.com  (they have a lot of cool options — even flooring!)

realmilkpaint.com

realmilkpaint.com

I use their Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent products to finish the cedar, and it works great on concrete or stone, especially when going for an “aged” effect. We’re also going to use it for finishing our wood floors — produces a fairly durable, easy to touch-up, slightly amber matte finish. It is also very easy to work with.

Concrete

buddyrhodes.com
buddyrhodes.com

I really like their Craftsman mix — great for decorative pieces, easy to work with, and it produces really great results (and it’s easy to add glass or pigment to the mix as well). Their Bone Paste slurry mix is also fun to use, and great for creating dramatic highlights when filling voids.

homemade-modern.com (they have interesting projects, with easy to follow instructions)

Concrete is usually thought of as oppressive and ugly, but there’s actually a lot of interesting ways to use it that bring out its potential as a decorative element.

Below is a concrete piece using Buddy Rhodes with real coffee beans embedded in the concrete (the beans were on the bottom of the form before pouring the concrete over them). I used the Dark Tung oil product from realmilkpaint.com to give it an added “aged” effect:

coffee bean concrete mold

Metal

ALIVE rust blog photo
I’ve learned how to prematurely rust bare steel, so some key spots will have this.
charred bench leg idea
There will also be metal hardware involved.
charred bench side view of legs
Unfinished charred bench from last summer.
towel bar idea
We will be using gas pipe for shelving and storage elements.

We’re going for an Urban Rustic look and feel, so there will be some factory/farm tools, with a variety of similar objects around as well — either partly reconditioned, like below, or re-contextualized in some fun way:

rusty red wheel