Monday, May 15, 2017


Victor Papanek's Nomadic Furniture defined expedient for my generation. He designed for the United Nations and moved frequently all over the globe. The bulk and weight of his domestic inventory was a critical issue. Many of his innovations can now be found in the aisles of the nearest Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain.

Papanek rented utilitarian quarters and set up a two by four frame in a room with sad walls. I'd consider using an eight-foot dome tent. He valued folding director's chairs, maintained one large token heirloom, and deployed a set of seven angle-arm reading lights in a series of mounting holes drilled into the interior framework of his rooms. Books were housed in the long, narrow shipping crates that transported them.

The digital revolution has displaced some of Papanek's innovations, but his point of view is eternal. I recently ordered a set of three featherweight folding office tables in a standard size to support a project, and they have outperformed my highest expectations. They've already paid for themselves in time saved. Setting the tables in place has effectively quadrupled the utility of the rooms they occupy. They'll support future feasts indoors or out, be easy to sell, and can be melted down when they are no longer useful. 

If I want a standing work surface, I'll set plastic bed risers under the feet of one table. If I want elegance, I'll drape one with a plain king-sized bedspread or brown paper drop cloth set under a smaller top cloth. If I want a medieval dressing table, I'll drape one to the floor with the best textile I can field, top it with something smaller and washable, and set out candlesticks, mirror, tray, and accoutrements. Luggage, storage bins, dogs, and toddlers can live under the thing.

It's righteous to scrounge and inherit home furnishings. It also makes sense to set up like an inn keeper with multiples of the same things so that a space is flexible and rationalized. Add white utility china, putty-colored cotton drop cloths, clamp-on shop lights, and you're in business -30-

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