Monday, August 8, 2016

Temporality and the Estonian Ahi

The Paia house exemplifies wabi-sabi to me.   It's not perfect, it won't last forever, and it is never complete.  Every part of the house has temporality, timeiness, as part of its nature.

 A lot of renovation and restoration work is aimed at covering up temporality with plasterboard, paint and linoleum.  The central ahi in the Paia house is a good example of this approach.  It was built around 1937 (the date on the Swedish bricks in the old fire chamber) as one of a number of renovations of an older house.  It was a showcase for the owner's new-found prosperity in independent Estonia.  A few years later the man was dead and the Soviet Union had annexed Estonia. The house was one of many on the Ojala collective farm, sometimes housing as many as 17 people.  No one had the time or resources to focus on keeping up appearances.  The house and the ahi began to deteriorate.

But at times the inhabitants of Ojala were able to assemble the resources - mortar, replacement tiles, and paint to repair and refurbish the old ahi and keep things running.  It was probably the original owner who painted it a dark brown color to conceal the fact the that tiles were all unglazed and didn't quite match.  Subsequent renovators followed his lead, filling in gaps between tiles, patching spalls and painting over the whole thing to give it a smooth, uniform appearance, making it look more like the fancier tiled stoves made of glossy tiles found in Scandinavia.

By 2006 the glamour had broken down.  The cracks and mends in the tiles showed and the paint was flaking so much the radiators couldn't be cleaned properly.  If you hung wet laundry on one of them it would get dirty as well as dry.  After rebuilds on the fire chamber, cooking stove and chimney three years ago and the the roof replacement two years ago, we were were ready to refinish the exterior this year.  We only have about five weeks here.  Jüri and we have been stripping the accumulated 100 years or so of paint for the past month or so.  I'm currently preparing the separate "radiators" for varnishing.  This is the master bedroom radiator at the end of the day yesterday.
The exposed tiles are not perfect.  They've passed through time and lots of stuff has happened to them.  The uneven heat that reaches the outside of the stove has created spalls in the tile and the material has reacted with the different paints and which have been used on them.  Different mortars and caulks have been used between the tiles and sometimes damaged them as the house has heated and cooled.  We're going to leave them exposed with all their different colors, surface effects and bits of old layers of paint, then varnish them with a traditional varnish made of egg-whites and keefir (a milk drink soured with a bacterial culture).  As with many things in the houses, you can't make an 80-year old ahi look new, you have to accept it for what it is, an 80-year old ahi.

Daily status photos on the restoration project are posted here.  I'm updating these day to day.  If you're interested in the whole tedious process, there's an album of the whole project here.  I'll keep updating these as well.

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