Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Grass-roots Design


Ages ago, mybrothethecarpenter showed up for a job with a fresh cup of Dicey coffee in his hand. He had modified the flat lid that sealed the container by tearing a small section from the flimsy plastic so he could drink while he drove. A decade or so later, one of the design priesthood’s glossy monthlies published the history of the special-purpose coffee lid, courtesy of a collector’s inventory.

Last week I visited the women’s lounge in the downtown Christmas Miracle Department Store, that occupies the former headquarters of the Bon Marche’ chain. During its Fifties’ heyday, the space was a Niagara of comfort services. In the Eighties, The Bon remodeled the lounge into a series of personal compartments with built-in changing stations that were luxurious enough for the local paper to offer a “boy-howdy!” review.

The lounge was empty when I visited, and the staff was doing routine maintenance. The door of the janitorial closet was open, and I had time to linger and check it out. A janitorial space is, to my mind, a telling indicator of management values.

The space was generous enough to have supported the fifty or so stalls of the original design, and the ceiling was very high. Against the wall to the right of the door rested what was probably one of the original maintenance ladders. The thing was made of substantial wood and roughly eight feet high. Judging from the stenciled letters on one leg, it dated from the early Sixties.

Presumably the ladder had been superseded by a new OSHA-friendly model. Someone on the staff had adapted it to shelve supplies, leaning it partially open against the wall. Cross-pieces were improvised with, on one course, identical used paint-stirring battens. On another, shallow cartons holding plastic bags were themselves set against whatever elements on the back legs of the ladder served as braces.

The whole assembly was an elegant stack of goods arranged by size. Not a penny had been wasted on it. I’d love to know the back story of the design.

-30-

More after the jump.

Monday, June 8, 2015