What is Junk?

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. —William Morris


Every member of every household has at least one special stash of Junk.  It might be a drawer, a box, or a room. I have a Junk Box.

The contents of this box have been with me for many years, some since childhood. Inside of I find another box- a Russian painted oval filled with bracelet charms and a lapel pin. Along with it is an assortment of oddities, such as a miniature Etch-a-sketch, two petrified mini-pancakes from Amsterdam, and a penny minted in the city and year of my birth.


The mementos  are not Junk, because they ARE, in fact, useful, as prods to my memory.  To me, they are dense with personal meaning, and as such, are beautiful to me.  Maybe I should re-label the box “Treasures.”


My Junk Drawer brims with a collection of things that are useful for certain needs, yet don’t fall easily into categories, so they don’t belong anywhere else.   Among other things jumbled together in the top right drawer of my kitchen, I have scissors, empty CD cases, and an envelope of Euros .  A drawer of uncategorizable things, not beautiful, but because they are useful, not Junk.

There is a way-station in my garage which holds a small tower of items I plan to give away, recycle, or sell on Craigslist.  They are no longer useful to me, but they will have use for someone else.  This, therefore, is not a Junk Pile.

I think my only true Junk is stuff that I think is no longer reasonably useful to anyone.  After careful consideration, I’m enthusiastic about clearing out useless stuff.  It goes in the trash.  It makes me feel a little lighter and less encumbered.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

The Tile Setter’s Floor

This is the floor in a basement kitchen of a house in NW Washington DC. As the story goes, at one time, the house belonged to a tile setter.

The tile setter brought home tiles left over from his jobs. He laid out patterns and combinations based on the tiles he happened to have on hand.  He allowed himself to try things, without the yoke of rules, just to see what they looked like. He allowed his work to be imperfect. He let his children try their hands at his craft.

The resulting floor is remarkable.  It is like a patchwork quilt.  Each patch is an interesting composition in its own right. The overall combination is delightfully unselfconscious and lively.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.


This is a famous 1919 small concept sketch by architect Erich Mendelsohn for an astrophysical observatory in Germany. With a few marks of a broad pen, he captured the essential form of his vision.

The completed observatory is as rounded and pliable as the sketch portrays. The energy of a living organism emanates from both.

Mendelsohn is famous for his visionary sketches.  I think he is a source of the notion that architects’ designs can come to them fully formed, and they can easily dash off ingenious and wonderful sketches on a napkin or any nearby scrap of paper. I think his caliber of talent is rare. Truly visionary sketches only occur in exceptional circumstances.

In ordinary circumstances, the analysis, and the trial & error of the design process take significant time.  Sketches are often done in series to work out, clarify and compare concepts. Most parts of the process require focus, repetition, and evaluation. It can be messy and frustrating, with crumpled tracing paper piling up in and around the recycle basket.  Eventually, when enough thought has been invested, there is a point when the design comes together. After that, and not before, a seductive little sketch can be drawn.

Design is both rational and irrational. Like any creative process, it is somewhat mysterious. Mercifully, we do not have to explain everything about how we arrive at our solutions.

Photos 1 & 2, courtesy of wikiarquitectura.com.

Cartoon Copyright Sidney Harris 2006.

 Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Worlds Collide

In my last post, I declared an affinity for objects that show evidence of the human touch. Hand crafted things express far greater humanity than machine-made things.

Civilization, as we know it, has come to depend primarily on machine-made objects, whose world dominates the world of handcraft.  I find, however, that when these two worlds collide, wonderful things can happen.

This railing for the central stairway of a house placed a mass-produced item in service of the handmade aesthetic.  For various reasons, including a limited budget, I set the following design constraints:

  1.  All balusters are to be cut from the same 42” long pre-fab S-shaped wrought iron piece, which may be turned, flipped, and rotated.
  2. The baluster design must lie in a flat plane within the 28 inch space between the horizontal rails.
  3. No distance between any two elements may exceed 4”, per code.

Charlie Brown, of Brown Custom Iron created this leafy, wavy design for the stair railing, which goes from the ground floor to the third floor. It is the centerpiece of the house.  The strict design criteria allowed collaboration between Charlie and me. They allowed the design to take its lovely form.  Rules and constraints may have negative connotations for many people, but they play an essential role in the design (or any creative) process. In the words of the composer Igor Stravinsky,

 “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.”


All  images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.