Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 10:13:07 AM EST
"Your room really needs a paint job. You do the prep work and I'll do the painting." In my world, such an suggestion from my significant other sounded more like an offer I couldn't refuse. The room really DID need paint--it hadn't been painted since the 60s, some paint was peeling, and there were minor cracks in the plaster. And it is a small room measuring 3.3 x 3.9 meters.
How bad could this be? (famous last words) My, how projects get out of hand!
Appropriate for the weekend & August approaching! From the diaries ~ whataboutbob
Even before the prep could begin, I had to move out of the room. This was NOT a minor undertaking. I do some interesting things in that room including video editing. There is a fair amount of wiring to run a non-linear video editing set-up and it is all connected to a computer that I use a LOT. But I didn't have a video project on the schedule so I could move the computer and video equipment to different locations. This ate up a whole day.
Another two days were required to sort through and move the amazing piles of paper and other junk and furnishings that had accumulated through the years. By now I was operating out of a tiny room so packed I could barely walk.
And then it turned HOT. Like 35° with 28° dew points. I am 57 so I slowed down. A day to cover and mask the floors. Three days to fix the plaster cracks in the walls and ceiling. My SO took four days to finish the painting.
What a fine job she did! As I began to remove the rosin paper that I had used to cover the floor, it became obvious that new paint made everything else look quite shabby. The wood floor needs to be refinished but THAT wasn't in the budget. Besides, I LIKE the character of an old wood floor. So I decided to clean the floors as best I could with a cleaner and steel wool--by hand! Then I applied a finish restorer. Two more days!
Another day went to replacing the 30s-era brown bakelite switches, outlets and plates, HVAC covers, and reinstalling the window hardware.
It took fourteen days, but I now had a very attractive room that looked very much like a blank canvas. I couldn't just move my piles of junk back into that room. It was time for a major upgrade in the aesthetics of my life. And that upgrade would only work if I was VERY ruthless in deciding what of the detritus of my life was worth looking at. A coat of paint hadn't enlarged the room, after all.
The key element of the upgrade was a decision to change desks. I had been using an old oak desk I inherited from my father that was huge, beat up, and very ugly. I had another desk that I had built in 1978 at the end of my "teak period." This period was triggered when I got a VERY good price on a stack of teak plywood seconds.
The desk had never been a point of pride. The asymmetrical top wasn't as comfortable and useful as hoped. The lower compartment on the left side was essentially wasted space. I had made it too tall because of some mistaken notions of ergonomics. And the top was too shallow for a CRT monitor. So even though I had a sentimental attachment to that desk because I wrote my first book at it, it had essentially been in storage since 1991.
But now, the shallow top was perfect. It made the desk smaller and I now use an LCD monitor. That useless cubbyhole on the left was perfectly sized for my mighty Mac. So I hauled it out of storage, cut 57mm off the legs, sanded it down, and re-oiled the teak.
This job provided the aesthetic highlight of the project. I modified and re-oiled the desk outside. It was overcast when I started but as I oiled the top, the sun came out. This teak is a generation old and with fresh oil, it just exploded into this incredible golden color. I would have taken a picture but I was up to my elbows in teak oil. The new finish looks wonderful which demonstrates, I suppose, that the best way to finish teak is to allow exactly 29 years to lapse between the last two applications of oil.
Now that I was sure I could fit everything necessary back into the room, the task shifted to trying to make it all work together. I needed a design theme. Fortunately, it came to me in a hurry. Because my writing could best be described as the history, economics, politics and cultural philosophies of the producing classes, I decided I would attempt to construct a Producer "trophy room." The idea would be to surround myself with reminders of how I came to know what I know.
The lamp on the desk was included because it was the first thing I made using a standing power tool. It is made from black walnut I rescued from my grandfather's barn in the early 60s. I was in eighth grade.
The chest of drawers was made around the same time as the desk. Note the same inset pulls--these were difficult enough to produce so that once I had figured out how to do it, I decided to do it again. It is WAY too big for the room but it is my favorite piece of furniture because the sheet of plywood I used to make it was so beautiful, I looked at it for over two years before I decided what to make out of it.
This chair taught me a very great deal about economics (and much else). In 1980, I slightly injured my back. It was so painful, it would trigger muscle spasms which made everything worse. Since I had a life, I kept on working and would regularly re-injure it. Lower back pain get old VERY quickly so I tried to fix the problem. The advice I got made sense--live better. Walk, sleep and sit so as not to re-injure my back.
Walking and sleeping was easy. Sitting properly was MUCH more difficult because at 190cm tall, chairs in my size were virtually non existent. There are many good reasons why this is so but the root cause is that 190cm represents two standard deviations from the statistical middle of the adult male population in USA. This means 97.5% of the males and 99.9% of the females were shorter than 190cm. I was statistically insignificant.
Yet I needed a chair. So I decided to make one. And since I really did not know my exact size, I would start by constructing a measuring device to find out. I would build two different measuring chairs and a prototype before I could build the chair pictured above.
Of course it worked. The ability to sit properly proved to be the missing link in stopping my chronic back pain. But it had been VERY difficult to do. Well over 3500 hours had been invested. It was VERY unlikely anyone would go to this much time and trouble for a piece furniture.
Aha! A perfect business. 2.5% of the male population might not seem like much, but in a population of 300 million, this represents roughly 3.5 million big guys--virtually ALL of them with bad backs. They would come in, we would take measurements, and build them the most comfortable chair possible. The technology would scale so every single chair would make money. What could possibly go wrong??
This is one of the last chairs produced.
And this is what was on the drawing board when Paul Voelker pulled the plug on the American economy by running the prime rate to 21% in 1981. Mighty corporations went under during that little fiasco. If an established company could fail under such circumstances, a grossly undercapitalized start-up like mine didn't have a prayer. What is especially ironic about this was that Voelker, at 2 meters tall, would have benefited more than most from a chair I could have built him.
What could go wrong? How was it possible to have a beautiful product that filled real needs not succeed? How could a person work so hard on a project that performed as expected and still end up muttering to a bankruptcy judge? It required five years of intense research to answer those questions--and a lot of others.
Eventually I would write my findings in a book. And thank goodness, even though I never got one of the very beautiful chairs, the one I got still works. I can have a stiff lower back from shoveling snow (for example) and sitting in that chair for an hour restores my back to its default settings.
The last item for the trophy room was some wall decoration. I had a large frame that I had made for my father. It needed repair so I did it and re-oiled it. I then found, scanned, Photoshopped, printed and mounted six pictures I had taken of a restoration project that once occupied over three years of my life.
This is what we found. The Dayton Ave. rowhouse was built on edge of a fine neighborhood in 1904. By the 1930s, economic pressure was on to divide it into smaller spaces. During WWII, it had been chopped up into 31 rooms. By 1960, a nearby freeway project had driven a black community into the neighborhood and by 1968, this building was near the center of the King riots. The city planning types thought that this building should be leveled to make a parking lot for a K-Mart they hoped to attract.
This was a well-built structure in a neighborhood with granite curbs. We thought it might become something more interesting than a parking lot.
This is what the interior looked like. There was little worth saving. So we found an architect with a taste for open-plan flooring and worked away a saving this old hulk.
The brick repair.
From the atrium looking back at the bedrooms.
The atrium ceiling.
The completed exterior.
Two of the four front doors.
This building is now part of the most interesting neighborhood in the city. The decline and rise in value of this property is a VERY interesting economic story. It demonstrated a very important lesson for me--academic economics leaves out a host of critical economic factors in their calculations--the most obvious is aesthetics.
So welcome to my new digs. I hope I can still write something wise at that desk.