It is such a pleasure to read through your words and think through you thoughts.
I am so impressed and happy to hear you taking such a material interest in the structure of Innermost Houses. Julie is already at work designing her dream. Pam is interested in beams and rafters and design programs. After a life of rounded corners, Katrina is longing after rectangles and squares!
Sherry speaks about Feng Shui, the balance between opposing and complementary principles, as the line and the circle. Ember speaks of the sword and cauldron, and the structure and the contents of Innermost House. Al speaks of the lines of the house and the hand plastered walls.
To Ember the lines have the beauty of discipline. To Pam they have the order of geometry. To Leah they represent the structure that separates the inward from the outward world. With all of this I agree in my deepest feelings.
I love the lines because they are not me. I love the beautiful bone and sinew of reason and structure with all my heart. It is no wonder that when I found them in a living human being I married him. It is he who encloses me in this house.
But he loves the walls. Michael took great care over every aspect of the house, always learning as he went, but there was nothing he took more care over than the walls. To him I think the walls are me.
Al, you make a kind of distinction between the craftsmanship of the wooden structure and what you might call the "handsmanship" of the plaster walls. That is strangely true, and I never thought of it before. The craftsmanship of the woodworker's art has to do with the careful application of tools, but the the handsmanship of our plaster surfaces had more to do with the dogged strength of our plasterers' hands.
Michael knew the walls he wanted. He wanted a very dense, fairly smooth surface that was gently uneven, that "moved." He interviewed a number of professional plasterers. It was interesting. In our part of the world in California, two styles of real plaster prevail—in addition to the drywall and premixed compound that is everywhere now. Plasterers know how to produce a very smooth, almost perfect surface of the kind that developed in the 20th century, and they know how to simulate the rough surfaces of mud over adobe bricks that belong to the Spanish colonial period.
We were after something we had known in houses from the colonial period in the American east that traveled west with the advancing settlers. It belonged to the special time in history when, as Michael says, high traditional civilization met the wilderness, and human possibility glowed for a moment on the surfaces of life.
The plasterers didn't know what Michael was talking about. The man he finally chose combined a high degree of professional mastery with a very open mind. He offered to bring large boards over, mix up some plaster and let Michael experiment on those boards leaned up against his truck before working inside the house. He was as excited as we were with the possibilities, and they agreed to work together.
We chose to use gypsum plaster instead of the lime plaster we had known because it preserved all the essential qualities of the older lime material but dried in weeks instead of months. Our contractor arrived with a team of three men and work began in the dark and the wet of the woods.
After several trials and errors they arrived at a method that made our plasterer very uneasy. They applied gentle "mounds" of plaster over a wall in advance, then finished the surface the next day with hundreds of short strokes with the short trowels in their kit. Michael worked along with the others. No one was allowed to finish using the larger "floats" that make a wall even and smooth.
More distressing for our contractor was Michael's insistence that they wait until the mud was almost set on each wall before they worked it into its final forms. This meant the men had to work very hard and fast on the stiffening mud, applying a lot of pressure to move the material. But it produced a wonderfully dense surface almost like polished stone.
This all was almost too much for our plasterer, but he preserved an admirable good humor to the end. His crew put their hearts and arms into it with laughter and singing, despite the very hard work.
When the Plastering Day that had become the Plastering Week was finally done, our contractor agreed to let his most careful worker come back for an extra day so that he and Michael could go over all the hand formed edges and shape them into a final imperfect perfection. I don't think he could bear to come back himself! Still after it all he said it was among his proudest work.
The plasterers for the walls and the masons for the chimney were the only professionals who worked on the house, along with the handyman who built the house with my husband. Those good, hard working, and modest men made the mineral surfaces of Innermost House come to life. The result was a daily pleasure for us from first waking to putting out the candles at night.
The walls at Innermost House have a quality entirely unlike the wood structure of the house. They are like living skin over firm flesh, in perfect complement to the bones variously underneath or exposed. The wood is warm like my husband. The walls are cool like me.