Friday, March 28, 2014

Buy Well, Buy Less


Photo courtesy Flickr

On a turn through the Great Big Hiking Co-op, I overheard a dialogue between a veteran clerk and a thirty-something woman who was looking for under-layers for her regular wardrobe. Layering from beneath is a very smart move. The clerk showed the current generation of fine wool tops, one of which was recently sported on-camera by a BBC newsreader. 

Several times the customer mentioned her limited budget, and the clerk went on to show her current big brand synthetics. She decided on nothing, and the clerk withdrew. I noticed her cruising the next section of the store and took a chance to offer some comments about the stock she’d been studying.

Wool is the better value at twice the price. It wears longer, washes and dries just as easily, and respects body chemistry. Wool will never require high tech fixes for the stench it generates. The price of wool is discounted in ways that are not obvious: it feels good against most people’s skin, it protects the heating budget, offers thermal security during a civil emergency, and will not turn to napalm or generate poisonous fumes in a fiery transportation crash.

Economist Paul Hawken, one of the founders of Smith and Hawken of blessed memory and a pioneer of commercial organic food, observed that the amount of what he called intelligence in a product affects its value. Canny design makes more than the most of the raw materials and energy it takes to produce it. Pomme computers are obvious examples, as are Striped Pole rain wear, Corporal Punishment tights, and silicone travel containers. Search the ten principles of design defined by Dieter Rams to find insight into value.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Small, Compact, Packs A Punch


Dieter Rams photo courtesy Flickr

The sad search for a missing airliner brought the headline quip from a Woods Hole staffer who was describing the capabilities of his outfit’s robot submarine.

I can’t think of a better summary to apply to any tool. Business uses the 80/20 rule of thumb in assessing the worth of an asset: 80% of the work gets done by 20% of the things (or, sadly, people). The rule of 80/20 is the best shorthand I know when fixing a beady eye on the Goodwill bag.

Try sorting based on 80/20, if only to ease things closer to the door. You will be pleasantly surprised by how the turnaround time on projects accelerates.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Closet


Photo courtesy Flickr

When I was a wee lass, my mother explained that old houses have small closets because people had small wardrobes. A personal inventory consisted of a set of new clothes, the current outfit, and old ones for labor and play. The Sixties shared the nineteenth-century appreciation for wearing carefully aged garments. So does the current edition of The Preppy Handbook.

Some rooms were fitted with a German cupboard, a closet built onto a corner of the room. A room with no closet would have been furnished with an armoire or a row of hooks. It was ordinary until the mid-twentieth century for domestic storage furniture to be fitted with a lock to control pilferage.

A design site showed a prototype of a brilliant version of the armoire that (presumably) will be offered by The Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain. It’s a freestanding cube of powder-coated wire grid with a hanging rail. That’s all it is. Hanging nylon pack cloth shoe and sweater bags would add dresser functions, a black nylon garment bag would protect vulnerable things from moths and excess light, and simple S hooks on the grid would turn every plane into a storage area.

It would be easy to hang clothes straight from the washing machine using plastic hangers. An electric plant seedling mat on the floor of the cube would accelerate drying. Hand laundry could drip safely onto a tray, perhaps a food service full baking sheet.

If practical expedience is a little too much, it would be simple to fabricate a cover from a high thread-count putty colored cotton drop cloths.

The wire grid armoire is a brilliant design. Like much of the inventory of the chain, however, it is very light gauge. For longer service, greater flexibility and security, and higher resale value, I’d invest in one of the caged rolling hospital storage units offered by the Metropolitan storage rack company. I flinch at their prices, but a good half of one is immediate savings in labor.

Turn a storage cube into a room divider by screening three sides and adding wheels or magical teflon sliders. Install a light and add indirect mood lighting to the collection of functions. 

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just Because It's For Sale Doesn't Mean It's Safe

Photo courtesy Flickr

Now and then watching the evening news with the in-house paleoseismologist becomes an unnerving experience. Last week he offered a running commentary pointing out the semi-circular scorp of previous slides in the landscape affected by the recent deadly events in the Cascade foothills.

Check with your friendly local soils engineer before buying real estate. 

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Once They're Gone, There's No Getting Them Back


Warhol photo courtesy Flickr

The chatelaine of the real Downton Abbey uttered that comment on the customs of setting a proper table. She may be right. A Christmas visitor, veteran of the East Bay’s hyper-competitive restaurant scene, muttered something about the clutter of glasses and forks on my table. I’ve considered her comment now and then when I present a meal.

The graces of the table have a long evolution. I believe the table is the heart of civilization. It’s important to distinguish between private and commercial service-the motives are opposed. A private meal represents social responsibility; a commercial one the opportunity for personal gain. Each event has its place-there should be no quarreling.

Years of free-lancing social calligraphy taught me the value of using an etiquette book as a benchmark for how to proceed. Doing so was the best way to avoid offending someone’s grandmother.The client chose the reference. In the process, I read a good few etiquette manuals a good few times while studying the deep wisdom of conventional wording, and conventional just about everything else, for that matter.

Andy Warhol’s table top illustrations for the Sixties edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s guide to etiquette are easy to hold in the mind’s eye. A diner has a right to a table layout where every implement and vessel are in the expected place. The layout is like a keyboard-one can’t play well when basic motor skills are challenged without need. The diner is obliged not to knock over glasses, bump elbows, or drop food.  

Conventional layout is a service and a gift to a conscientious guest.

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More after the jump.