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IMG_0984For the addition to our cottage in one of Canada’s provincial parks, we decided to follow the Japanese tradition of cladding the exterior with charred cedar. The technique, known as Shou-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi, is said to raise the natural resins in wood and naturally protect against rot and fire.  (Try igniting a charred log and you’ll see what I mean.) Besides the long-lasting benefits,  the moody-black aesthetic of the burned wood convinced us to try out Yakisugi.

IMG_0973Call us crazy (we were) to burn wood on purpose.  Luckily, our excellent contractor (Brinkman Construction) was game.  He supplied us with a massive propane torch typically used to melt ice on roads, and we char-tested Western Red Cedar and Eastern.  The Eastern, primarily because it’s local and readily available, won out. We laid out about 12 boards at a time and went to work. It’s very intense and best done in pairs: one person working the torch, the other ready with a wet brush and pail of water to control wandering licks of fire.

IMG_0965The depth of the charring in Japan varies wildly, from wood burned deeply over fire pits to light charring.  Swiss architect Peter Zumthor charred the interior of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany to create a mystical experience.  We decided to go for the sateen finish of the lighter char to gain some rot resistance and heighten the wood’s natural grain.  It took nearly three days to produce about 400 boards.

IMG_1506We’re thrilled with the result.  In full sunshine, the wood takes on a silver patina.

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Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.

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Now we’re counting down the days ’til construction inside and out is complete.  More on that – and the Birch tree installed inside the cottage – to come.  Happy creative summer!

ztjacob6Students at Canada’s Trent University, a masterwork of 1960s modernism, lounging on Swan chairs by the great Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen.   Did they know how cool they were?

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An archival photo of one of the Trent lounges, graced by Jacobsen Swan chairs around an Eero Saarinen table. Built-in furniture and modular wood chandelier by Canadian great, Ron Thom.

img_4134As my homage to the vast collection of mid-century furniture that once flourished then disappeared at Trent, here’s a tribute with some of the chairs I’ve been collecting for a while, and the joy that they bring.

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Now that the leaves of the crabapple have fallen to the ground, I have a direct view out my window to my neighbour’s old growth Norway Spruce.  She rises more than 80 feet and  towers over the houses.  Branches lifted upwards. Adorned with masses of pine-cone bling.  All embracing.  She’s one of the tree spirits living in my Beaches neighbourhood. So, no, I rarely feel the need to travel north to connect to nature.

Although it sure feels great when you finally do arrive there.

Christmas shines a moonbeam on the intrepid evergreen.  To pay homage, we come out to the world’s great public squares to worship at the foot of the Christmas tree. in NYC, people have been flocking to the lighting up of the Rockefeller tree since the 1930s.  This year’s 75-foot-high Norway Spruce at Rockefeller is almost as tall as the one I’m looking at right now through my Beaches window…but, sorry America, mine’s taller.

 This year, on a brilliant sunny day, we rejected the evergreens tightly swaddled in the grocery store parking lot and went in search of an authentic Canadian icon. Piled the kids in the van and drove north of the city in search of a tree farm, and hot chocolate and –critical ingredient —  the ironman bonfire.

We ended up at Tufford’s Trees.  A solid family place.  No pre-fab shacks selling maple fudge.  No horses pulling wagons while frothing horrible white stuff from their mouths.

We were looking for something about 10 feet tall to set down in our Canadiana room.

Something to peer into, with an intriguing interior life.  A forest within a tree.  This one is light and airy and the crooked trunk will make a splendid scratching post for Hercules.

The thought was that with the help of some silver and gold balls, hand-stitched Canadian igloos and polar bears, miniature white lights…Enough daydreaming…We sawed it down. And later discovered the painful perils of the Scotch Pine and the delights of hanging ornaments with leather gloves on.

Our friends, Helen and Nigel, needed a really, really tall tree to fill their double-height living room. And, designers that they be, they were armed with a measuring tape.  Mr. Tufford looked dubious when he was given the required dimensions.  Then he remembered the big red pine that he’s been trying to sell for years.   (By the way, Tufford plants about 400 saplings every year to keep his farm healthy.)

Here it is: Red Pine’s proof of age.  An honest look back through a lifetime of fast and slow growth. Imagine if this was how humans revealed their age.  Brutal honesty. Joan Rivers might not like it.

In this act: a family van disappears under aforementioned red pine.  Not sure this is the next generation AirStream.    But makes an excellent air freshener for any home.

Back to the Beaches, and an evening walk along the Boardwalk where 15 trees are lit up like multi-coloured extravaganzas.

The sun was sinking low into the winter sky.

That’s my version of an Illuminated Xmas Tree Manuscript.  I have to go now and plug in my lights.  Merry Christmas !!

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