People were smoking a lot of things in the ‘70s, but we may have been the only ones smoking houses. And I’m not saying what might have been growing on our porch in those ancient times that might have caused some of these ideas to work into our miniature houses. When we visited old homes and historic buildings we looked behind doors, up at the ceilings, and explored the lumps in the wallpaper–it wasn’t the amenities that interested us, but what made the house feel old.
Today I discovered some interior photos that show our developing detail work. First, the South Bend kitchen has a patch of smoky grease over the wood cookstove, a detail we took from our very own house (okay, I just didn’t and don’t have time for scrubbing ceilings). Our kitchen ceiling in Seaview was over an electric stove, but Noel’s penchant for frying meat at the highest possible temperature before ignition resulted in a brownish, shiny stain on the ceiling. Eventually we put in a venting system which did a great job of getting rid of most of the smoke, but the owners of our little houses didn’t have such amenities, hence the necessity for stains. The ceiling stain was the most intense result of the overall technique of smoking a house, one of our final steps toward helping along what we called the illusion of reality, whereby Noel placed an ashtray ringed with lit cigarettes on the mini woodstove, along with some wood chips, and sealed off the house with newspaper. Fire hazard or not, it was necessary to leave the house for a few hours while the nasty weed did its job, as it made the whole house smell like an ash tray. Unveiled, the mini house was fully fogged, but as the smoke cleared, it revealed subtly yellowed walls, with convincing darker areas in the corners, and an overall shading of grime on the sills, moldings and floors. It took “the new” out, and gave the rooms a surprising depth and character. The effect wasn’t instantly apparent, but part of the overall feel of age and human habitation. What was apparent was the awful stink of nicotine and cigarette smoke, which sometimes took weeks to dissipate. Due to customer and spousal complaints, we eventually switched to burning hickory chips as the sole fuel, but, as Noel says even now, “Without nicotine it just wasn’t the same.” The bonus with the hickory chips was the slight hint of maple, which I thought made the house smell as if someone had just finished cooking bacon. A homey smell. Hey—go for all the senses, right?
And speaking of smells, along with the mini spider webs, we added smelly dust to our attics, garages and crawl spaces. Not just any dust, but vintage dust from the vacuum cleaner bag we brought with us from California in ’74. It only took a light sprinkling to get that musty smell of closed-off rooms. No one ever said anything, so I guess it was pretty subtle, or it was a smell no one wanted to get to the root of.