Finding Beauty in the Flaw

Reader Contribution by Elizabeth Richardson
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Elizabeth “Neko” Richardson is a licensed counselor in the State of Texas, a veteran, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. She currently lives in Hunstville, Texas, where she is building and designing her own home and studio using reclaimed and salvaged materials on a budget of $16,000 or less. She also works as a carpenter’s apprentice under the mentorship of Dan Phillips. Follow her building progress living experiment in design on her blog, Salvaged Homes 

I was clearly procrastinating. What I needed to be doing was working on my rafters. Still a bit confused about the exact angle of the cuts that needed to be made, and not crazy about lifting 14-foot pieces of lumber into place above my head, I did what anyone would do in my position—I started work on my front porch.

There was a pile of scrap wood that Dan Phillips, my mentor, had picked up the summer before, just begging to be used for a porch, and today I felt I had to do it. No, it didn’t make sense, but I just had to put together my porch. I went with it.

When Dan brought this wood to my lot last summer, I helped to unload it and laughed a bit as I was moving the wood from Dan’s truck to the pile. It was mostly assorted scrap wood that most people would put in the burn pile or the dump. There was old fencing, some treated wood, posts, plywood, some wood that was painted and chipped, nails still sticking out and holes drilled in many. A little bit of everything, and yet it almost looked too far gone.

I remember shaking my head at the time and thinking that this stuff was probably going to go to waste. I am happy to report that in the past nine months I have used lots of this wood for small projects. My next-door-neighbor George used it to make scaffolding to put up the sheathing on the exterior of his home and his roof, and then when he was done, took the scaffolding apart and put it back in the pile.

Today I picked out the pressure treated wood from the pile for my front porch. I found enough 2-by-6 pieces to make joists and put them in place, and then I thought I would use some typical porch wood planks I had for decking. After measuring the whole thing, I realized I was going to come up about an inch short of code for the front step into the house if I followed the plan I had in mind.

This wouldn’t do. My porch was too small to waste space on a landing to make up that inch. What were my options? Thicker decking would solve the problem. I squinted my eyes and scanned the scrap wood pile like a pirate.

There was still enough pressure treated wood that was an inch thicker than what I had and would make up the shortfall. I began cutting and putting it together. I noticed I felt irritated as I was doing this and I stopped and looked at what I was doing.

I had placed the 2-by-6, and 2-by-8 and 2-by-4 material in a nice pattern. There was variety, but then I dropped a board and accidentally put in back into place upside down to reveal…color.

The board I put back in place had been painted on one side and was still natural wood on the other. I assumed that everything should be the natural wood color. I laughed at myself, realizing the second I saw it how superior the worn and faded color was, and happy for the “mistake.” Dan has taught me to see the beauty in the flaw, and to accentuate that flaw.

After the design rule, “repetition creates pattern,” I think the very next most important rule to follow is “find the beauty in the flaw and accentuate it.”

I rooted through for another piece of 2-by-10 and nothing was long enough. That was when I remembered I had a nice piece of 2-by-10, full of color, in a stash pile elsewhere. Retrieving it in short order, I stuck it right in the middle of the porch in all of its flawed glory, like Frida’s one eyebrow.

I was happy, and knew I was on the right track now. I had a front porch that named in a language other than words what my studio was all about.

It was right there to see when you walked up to the front porch. Celebration of the beauty in the flaw.

I took out a piece of chalk I had and drew a spiral on the porch for fun, something you would never do to a “serious” porch with new wood, and then I signed it.

As I watched the sun start to set, looking at my bare roof and my very unapologetically, unpretentious front porch, I felt so happy at my choice. Some days, it pays to procrastinate.