Tag Archives: do-it-yourself

My $24 Wall

Just like corporate ladder climbing, my mantra is “Up or Out.”

Any unused stuff in the basement, shed or carriage house must be used, up-cycled, repaired, or hung on the wall this calendar year or it’s going straight out the door.  It’s crazy to be storing things that never see the light of day, or worse, be building new space just to keep up with the never-ending acquisitions.

I also have an amazing assortment of old-growth timber that came off the house during my recent energy retrofit.  This I refuse to part with, even though it occupies the better part of my driveway.  If I wake up in the morning and want a new wall/kitchen cabinets/handmade dining room table, I can pull the materials off the piles and begin.  Whatever I can dream, I can do, and having materials lying around in wait makes a quick start that much more possible.

The choice of a wall as my first reclamation project was primarily practical, focussing on design improvements to our modest family room.  I wanted the wall to delineate the space and improve the flow,  create privacy (no more peeking straight in through the back door),  buffer the room from direct blasts of winter air,  and prep the space for a potential conversion to a main floor, wheelchair-accessible bedroom.

The rickety old carriage house doors – ripe for up cycle – sacrificed their life for the project. First, I gave them a rough scraping before bringing them inside, careful to maintain the layers of old paint and the interesting patina.   Then I angle cut the t&g boards and set them into a a slightly thicker frame, creating a neat reveal.  Finally, I applied a couple of loose coats of paint, allowing sections of old paint and wood to show through.

I purchased the old wood windows three years ago for ten bucks apiece.  My plan was to use them in the retrofit of the shed into my own office/private space, but this project budged to the top of the list.  I wanted to create privacy and allow light to pass between the room and the north-facing back entrance.  The windows satisfied both these needs.  If I ever fully enclose the room, I can modify them into hinged transoms to permit airflow.

I’m thrilled with the finish and the overall design blends brilliantly with the other rustic features of the house.  Not bad value for $24 worth of 2×4’s and a couple of days’ labour.

Pimp My IKEA

Most people that know me know, that with a few exceptions, I don’t like to shop. It physically and mentally drains me, leaving me peevish and dissatisfied. Plus I resent spending time on an activity that most often yields poor results. What can I say? I want what I want. The problem is I don’t find it very often.

Aside from flea markets, secondhand shops and specialty wood purveyors, there are three notable exceptions to this rule: Mountain Equipment Co-op, Lee Valley Tools and IKEA. I love these three stores because I trust them. My expectations are consistently met every time I walk through the door. They sell well-made products with a variety of price points, the customer service process is very well-organized, the employees seem to like being there, the stores are family-friendly, and their return policies are no quibble. I walk out energized even when I walk out empty-handed.

I remember my friend Jax saying “IKEA is Swedish for crap” (that girl loves to shop). But I don’t agree. I know the difference between a Poang chair and a Chippendale, something screwed together with an Allen key or hand-built with mortise and tenon joinery. I get that and am blown-away by museum-quality pieces, but I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to possess them. Not everyone requires or desires a Chippendale chair, which demands a certain level of reverence, TLC and (ideally) teenager and child-lessness.

My definition of crap is reserved for products that don’t work as they were intended, break almost immediately, cannot be adequately repaired, possess no significant utilitarian or societal value, lack durability and make a straight beeline for the garbage. By that criteria most IKEA products don’t fit the bill.

My definition of crap is reserved for products that don’t work as they were intended, break almost immediately, cannot be adequately repaired, possess no significant utilitarian or societal value, lack durability and make a straight beeline for the garbage. By that criteria most IKEA products don’t fit the bill.

I think of IKEA furniture as reasonably-priced generic building blocks, the equivalent to an artists’ blank canvas. It is possible to take most of the tables, couches, chairs, lamps and bookshelves and pimp them to your heart’s content. You can deconstruct, mash-up or sew completely new covers for the chairs and couches, add pillows, and change the feet if you want. Dining tables can be cut down to make side tables, or the legs can be taken off and turned, the edges bevelled, the tops tiled, inlaid, stained or painted. Ditto for beds and dressers. Billy bookcases can connect into multiples and be faced with crown, trim, and baseboard. The holes can be filled and the entire units tricked out a dozen ways to Sunday. A little fabric, paint or trim and lamps become utterly unique. Check out here and here. With some will and a little elbow grease, the possibilities all directly reside in the hands of the consumer. No one in their right mind would exercise this level of creativity on a Chippendale (the chair, I mean, not the dancer).

Hardware gets broken or a leg breaks off? Replacement parts are available at the store. Need another shelving unit that is no longer in stock? Pop onto Kijiji or Craig’s List to get it secondhand. Moving? Everything comes apart and most items can be transported in a regular car. Wanting to ‘retire’ some furniture? There’s a huge second-hand market for the stuff. Or simply put it on the curb with a ‘Free’ sign and it will be immediately whisked off to a new home.

It is furniture by the people, for the people. Common, you say? Perhaps ubiquitous but I’d say quite uncommon. The IKEA model demands participation on the part of consumers. The serpentine layout and size of the stores necessitate a fair stroll to reach the end point. Shoppers are presented with a constant narrative as they pass by and through completed ‘rooms’. From home, consumers can download kitchen design software and click ‘n drag to create their very own dream kitchen. Online or in store they have to search out and process the information that they are presented, being simultaneously educated (from a design perspective) and creatively stimulated. They are required to read and problem solve to find the products in the warehouse. When the furniture comes home, consumers are required to assemble it using the enclosed instructions. In a simplified way, they are building it with their own hands. It’s not Red Seal carpentry work, for sure, but I think it nudges our personal Useful Human Being index incrementally higher. From a big picture perspective it has acclimatized millions of consumers worldwide to a hands-on model that portents a higher calling.

Think about it. If IKEA can make us excited about putting our own furniture together, what else could their model make us excited about? Home and communal solar systems? Water management systems? Delivering healthcare? Growing and storing our own food? Flat packed house ‘kits’ and building foundations?

Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India is an excellent example of how the management of high-value technology, not to mention other traditional engineering and healthcare work, is being pushed down into the hands of society’s least privileged. Theirs is a truly radical approach in the best sense. It takes a powerful swing at the idea that certain skills and knowledge are owned by specific educated classes of society. It elevates the idea of ‘common’ to something powerful and very uncommon, putting real power into the hands of everyday people.


Bonus footage:
Ever wondered what it would be like to live inside an IKEA store as if it were a real house in an actual neighbourhood? Some people did wonder and shot a series called IKEA Heights inside the Burbank, California store during store hours with no corporate permissions (check out the regular shoppers in the background.) Be advised the content is somewhat adult-oriented. I’m posting the first episode. If you get hooked on this crazy little soap (as I know you will) you can find more episodes on YouTube.