It was a tough decision. I was truly stuck. I wrote my friend Gabby and asked him which way he would go on this one. He’s got pretty good instincts on this stuff. He wrote back:
Do you know the term Buridan’s ass? An ass, as in a donkey, positioned between a stack of hay and a bucket of water will starve because it cannot make a rational choice between the two. Jean Buridan, after whom the term was named, did not originate the concept or the term. Aristotle did, the concept at least, but his ass was a thirsty and hungry man who could not move when positioned between food and drink.
Well, this described my dilemma but didn’t answer the question. I pressed. He wrote back: “Do the guy first.” Brilliant!
I like Gabby’s idea of starting with Jon.
And with Jon’s dog, to whom attention must be paid. This is Joey, a good dog. Balderston claims on his website that he does it all for his dog. Joey!
Jon Balderston was born in Berkeley. Has lived in Berkeley. He expects to live and die in the same zip code.
He was Berkeley High Class of 1977. That meant that he was just a little too young to have experienced the heyday of youth on Telegraph Avenue. By the time he was old enough to be interested in Telegraph, heroin and amphetamines had driven out the happy hippie drugs – no fun to be had.
Balderston is a carpenter. When he can, he makes what he calls art furniture, which he sells. Check out his website:
His furniture business more or less crashed with the economic crash of 2008, but he is open to the possibility of furniture commissions and kitchen design.
For the furniture, he primarily uses a product called Trupan. It is made with pine fiber and is free of formaldehyde. It is a lightweight MDF (medium density fiberboard). He uses a slab building technique and then a really clever observer will see that he uses sgraffito, a form of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color, typically done in plaster or stucco on walls, or in slip on ceramics before firing. Here he uses a small router to etch the line into the wood. He paints the groove black and paints the surface with other colors.
Let’s stop talking, Tom, and see the furniture.
Most of it is in his living room.
It is classic arts and craft bungalow – meets a to-die-for Paul Frankl rattan set – mets Balderston’s art furniture.
Balderston didn’t make the lamp on this table, but – wow – doesn’t it work? I want one!
That’s a samovar (самовар) sitting on this table. I want one!
Balderston has a special fascination for moving vans, manifested in these magazine holders:
He lists on his website the reasons that he makes his art furniture: Fame. Fortune. Glory. Tax dodge. Immortality. Family honor. Parental approval. Tired of carpentry.
Good reasons all. And boy – this furniture really works for me.
Balderston also makes what he calls non-functional art. As in – paintings. Most of this work is housed in the Hodge Podge Lodge – which is RETRIPLICATION! Triple iteration! This thrills me.
It’s an old garage with add-on that blends well, I would say,with the architecture of the original old garage. It’s all set in a whimsical, glorious garden.
Balderston does his work in the HP Lodge and it serves as a gallery. The main event is a wall of Balderston’s paintings.
Here is a close-up of one painting:
Non-functional? Sure. Wonderful? Absolutely.
On the shelves with paint brushes etc. in the Lodge are hints of the collected-toy glory to be found inside the house:
Behind the Hodge Podge Lodge (I don’t get tired of hearing those words!) is storage for art, non-functional and small functional.
Let’s go inside. Joey – take us inside!
Back inside – the kitchen. Balderston designed the kitchen and let me say this – this man can design my kitchen any day. The color scheme is all in the same palette but it is entirely unpredictable. Accenting – not overwhelming but just accenting – around the room are antique toys and knickknacks and tiliches (Spanish!).
A few detail shots:
I mentioned earlier that Balderston is all about moving vans. There is a Rosebud moment when an uncle gave a young Jon a Tonka Toy moving van. It was GREAT. He has collected them since. You’ll see more when we get upstairs.
Up a steep flight of stairs is the attic.
This is not for the faint of heart. Fasten seat belts – take a deep breath – keep breathing. There’s lots of stuff here. You won’t see most of it. You can’t. It is GLORIOUS. Click the picture and watch it go full screen. HOLD ON! You are NOT PREPARED for this very good thing.
Balderston was always a collector on some level. If there was a tipping point moment for him, it was seeing and buying this little green truck at the Ashby Flea Market. From there it was off to the races. He describes himself as a bottom feeder. He doesn’t go for high-profile acquisitions – low-end, low-price. Little by little.
Sensory overload time – hang on:
Are we noticing the vans?
Fuller Brush salesmen letter openers.
Is it not interesting to see what having more than one stapler can look like?
In the middle of a very busy room, there are small spaces of peace and quiet. Here’s one:
Nap time! This is beyond measure, beyond words. Exhausting, no?
And we didn’t delve into the board games and the luggage labels and the Dog Walk Snapshots and the collages and ephemera from the 1939-1940 Worlds Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and – so much more.
This man and his house and his work – Berkeley gems, Quirky Berkeley Royalty. I urge you to contact Balderston if the furniture or non-functional art rocks you the way it rocks me, or if you want kitchen design work.
I showed the photos to my friend. “Damn.” He just leafed through them. “Damn.” Finally – “This brother has got it going. Damn. I could see a few of these pieces in a room. Not my room, not my Danish modern theme, not my life now – but a room. And the kitchen – that’s all that you could want. If I had a kitchen to do, he’d be where I went.” Was that all? No, as a matter of fact he had one more thought: