A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Portière Revisited

It seems there are others in the blogosphere with some of the same domestic concerns as mine. For those lucky owners of Victorian money pits interested in the subject of portières, here's an update:

I've been trying since I bought the Emory House to improve its thermal efficiency. The front double doors are a major source of heat loss in winter, especially if the fireplace in the library is drawing a draft. The three-story foyer becomes a wind tunnel...brrr!

Possible improvements would include:

Repairing the doors, jambs, casings, and/or threshhold.
Weatherstripping the doors.
Adding a set of storm doors to the outside.
Adding a portière to the inside.

Weatherstripping was easy and cheap enough, so I did that. Repairing the doors is high on my to-do list, but would involve hiring a carpenter who is sensitive to historical properties. Ditto the storms.

The portière involved sewing, almost as scary and mysterious to me as using power tools. Also required an outlay of a bit of money. But it seemed like a good investment, so I attempted to make it.

I'm not the only person in this neighborhood with a portière, but I believe I'm the only one with a genuine hinged rod to hold it up. Most portière rods are like shower curtain rods: spring-tension poles that fit across the jambs. That's fine for a doorway with no door. But less fine for your front door, which presumably opens inward. A portière hanging across the opening would be a pain in the ass, preventing the door from being opened. What's needed is a rod attached to the door itself, so that the portière moves with the door.

The only company I know of which makes these functional rods is Copes in the U.K. They don't sell at retail, however. Their web site lists companies that do, on the other hand, with links to those who have web sites.

Copes does not quote prices, allowing retailers to charge whatever the market will bear. I bought my rods (one for each of the double doors) from Grace Brown Interiors in Congleton, Cheshire, England. That's about 50 miles outside of Liverpool, not too convenient for New Englanders, even those happen to pass through London occasionally. GB Interiors does a thriving web-based mail-order business, however. I paid approximately $50 apiece for two bronze rods.

The Copes portière rods are hinged. One bracket fastens to the jamb and is stationary. The other, hinged bracket fastens to the door itself and raises one end of the rod slightly as the door opens, lifting the portière with it. This setup allows you to puddle the curtain on the floor for maximum draft prevention.

I bought a lovely piece of deep purple and black brocade which drapes beautifully. With it I made a set of portières, edging them with long black fringe. I whipstitched the rings which come with the rods directly onto the fabric. Seven rings slip onto one side of the hinged bracket, and three on the other.

I had to shorten the rods by cutting them with a hacksaw. (If I can do that, anyone can.) The rod on the inactive door comes almost to the edge of the door. (If it stuck out, it would get in the way of the active door.) The rod on the active door projects past the edge, so that the portière overlaps and covers the middle edge between the two doors.

I also had to screw a doorstop into the floor to prevent the active door from opening all the way. (The rod projects over and beyond the edge of the door and would gouge the plaster beneath the floating staircase.)

I only hung one side because I've mislaid one stationary bracket. Now all I have to do to finish this project is clean my whole house, including cellar, in hopes that the missing bracket will show up.

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As much as I love the Atomium, that's how much I scoff at its next-door neighbor in Brussels's Bruparck: Mini-Europe. A collection of scale models of European destinations, Mini-Europe reminds me of nothing so much as a huge, elaborate mini-golf course. Self-described as "a whistlestop tour around Europe" and a "must-see," the park features 300 models, some supposedly interactive. Make Mt. Vesuvius erupt, knock down the Berlin Wall, and so on.

I suppose it was inevitable that I eventually would end up inside Mini-Europe, instead of scoffing at it from the top of the Atomium. Today was my lucky day to do it. For € 12,20 (around $16), after struggling past an immense tide of conventioneering Scouts and a couple of obnoxiously persistent costumed photographers, I was in.

It was as corny as I'd imagined, but also arresting in a weird way. Much more extensive than I'd thought. A few interesting factoids on the plaques accompanying each display. And a cumulative appreciation of Europe as a mega-nation by the time I was through winding my way through the entire park.

The "interactive" displays were pretty pathetic. Mt. Vesuvius was broken, I never found the Berlin Wall, and the "Spirit of Europe" exhibit at the end, with its circuit-board multiple-choice quizzes, was outdated and lame. The food in the little restaurant was awful and the service worse. Scouts were still swarming the metro and the streets of downtown Brussels on the return.

But anyway. I came, I saw. I blogged. I got Mini-Europe out of my system once and for all.

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