Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Photo courtesy Flickr

In her wisdom, my ma clued me in to the importance of standard dimensions. At her knee, I lisped “four by eight feet for plywood”, “golden mean”, and “design to get the most out of a given piece of material”.

When we occupied and began to furnish this 1890 house, I was astonished to discover that the DIY pine dresser my mother designed, and from which she tutored me, dropped into this old space without a ripple. Her maxims had been delivered as part of a discussion of modern design, but I imagine valid ways run deep in the culture.

Choosing and using modular furnishings permits a huge range of improvisation, so the money you spend pays off over time and in varying circumstances. It’s not a bad idea to carry a tape measure when you’re scouting. The Big Box Northern European Furnishings chain gives away paper tapes and nearly gives away state of the art design based on standard dimensions.

24” x 72” is a key flat dimension. It defines the seat of a sofa, a single bed or cot, a self-inflating air mattress, and the top of a folding office table. Standard bedding, table cloths, and cotton dropcloths all work with this module.

12” x 12” is another key dimension. In my life, it’s a vestige of vinyl recorded music and is reinforced by dairy crates, the most versatile of all small furnishings. That’s a sixteen-quart crate. I buy from thrift stores. Crates cost the vendor around $10 each, their loss is significant, and theft increases when gas prices rise and recycling is more profitable.

36” and 48” high-tech wire shelving in the units that come in a box is the most efficient. I have tried nearly every configuration that’s available in this design. Plain vanilla is the stuff that pays off.

Stock photo paper, mats, and frame sizes simplify graphic life. There are specialized museum sizes for the convenience of the fine art community.

Reduce the number of variables in your life to gain time to think. A Reddit post on August 23, 2010, about buying twenty pair of the same black sock generated a huge and hilarious response. My favorite was the comment from the person who was ready to call someone stupid, realized they’d made the same clumsy move, and had decided “the rubber band was on the other claw”. Thank you. Thank you.

Now and then I discover a product that’s so fundamental it displaces everything similar. Black nylon now defines luggage, clothing storage, trousers, and bags. It displaced a huge, motley, and confusing collection of suitcases, dressers, jeans, and sidebags. Nylon is stronger than steel of the same dimension. Glass is similarly rewarding: durable French bistro classics serve hot and cold liquids, and small rectangular storage dishes from an old-line American manufacturer displace plastic ware, numerous other storage formats, and are perfect for setting up MREs.

The central artifact in my life at the moment is this trusty laptop, based on 81/2”x11” or legal 81/2”x14”. It, a scanner, and a fast connection are far more engaging than domesticity as it has been defined. What remains are the English language, the best courtesy I can manage, and life support at its safest, most efficient, and most healthful.


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