Pages

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Now What Do You Want To Do?



OK, we're making something. Here we are making something. We are so making something.

What the hell am I going to make?

It's really not that difficult. As they say about writing, you just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

Well, when in doubt, sweep the floor, I always say; let's examine the process first. Here's the criteria for a piece of furniture:

  1. Will anyone want one?
  2. What is its function?
  3. What style is it?
  4. Can I make it?
  5. Can I make it in a cost effective way?
  6. How big is it? Can I ship it?
  7. What makes it special?
  8. Can I find examples or comparables?
  9. What will it cost?
  10. What time is lunch?

1. Will anyone want one? Is easy generally. People tell me all the time the kind of stuff they want me to make. I've got lots of stuff in the catalog with suggestions for improvements from customers integrated in them now, or the idea itself born of suggestion. The ideal suggestions come from my wife. She never says anything for months at a time, being of a taciturn nature, then says a thing like: "If I trip over on more pull-back car in the middle of the night in our child's darkened bedroom, I'm going to put poison in your cornflakes." Hints such as these let me know that children need places to put their things that exceed the wildest ideas of parents and architects alike. OK, we'll make something for the tot's toys.

2. What is its function? I told you once already: I don't want poison in my cornflakes, and the kid has lots of stuff that has no natural home. It needs a bin for it until he goes to college and we can try to throw it all away and fail miserably and simply weep over each and every Happy Meal toy like some holy relic. So it's got to be built to last.

3. What style is it? The paradigm for children's things is the footlocker. The lidded box is king, let's make one. Sort of a seaman's chest, or a stage box, as they called the thing you gave to the highwayman when they held up the stagecoach. We'll batter it up front because it's going to look that way anyway right quick. And it really shouldn't look like Sesame Street anyway; it's furniture, and if it's useful and handsome they can use it forever, even as adults. I'm useful and handsome, and I'm still going strong, for instance.

4. Can I make it? I can make any darn thing, thanks, but this is particularly suited to my shop. If I can't make a box with a lid, I'm ready for a bed with a lid.

5. Can I make it in a cost effective way? The thing has to have value added; that is, a toy box is nothing special. And "Nothing Special" can be made in Indonesia for pennies and I can't compete with that. So we're gong to make it like something a person would treasure and give to their own youngins when they grow up and make the same mistakes we did. And we're gong to make it out of solid wood, and right there it's better than 99% of the other examples out there -- everybody that has the child safe particle board toy box from Poverty Barn knows it takes you kids fifteen minutes to rip the screws from the pneumatic child safe closer on the lid, and that particleboard won't hold a screw. SLAM!

6. How big is it? Can I ship it? Sizing this thing is easy. Most toy boxes are all the wrong size. The sides are too high for little ones. They're too big front to back generally, and the little ones end up climbing in them to reach things in the back. It tips over and the lid comes down. That's bad, right? Skinnier, longer, and less deep makes for good proportions for such a thing, and the shipping companies will accept it too.

7. What makes it special? Here's where we go down in the annals of design: We're going to put a drawer in the bottom. Everything in the bottom of the toy box goes there to die. Your poor children break toy after toy trying to get to their little treasures in the bottom, but they can't do it. We need a place for puzzles and little things that get lost in there, that they can get to without climbing in the box after it.

So we'll mimic the first step in the long process that started with a lidded box, then slowly added drawers from the bottom up, one over another, until the whole thing was drawers and they just nailed the top on. You knew that was how we got the modern chest of drawers, didn't you? Well, you do know.

8. Can I find examples or comparables? Sure we can. I found a lovely picture of a lidded box with one drawer in The Encyclopedia of Shaker Furniture by Riemann and Burke. There are two examples, actually, and strangely, one is Bog Red, and one is Delft Blue, two Sippican Cottage Furniture colors. I say "strangely," because I bought this book last autumn, and I've been selling things painted those colors for four years now. That's why you go about things in a sensible fashion. When reality catches up with you, it matches up with your fiction. The boxes are too big, they are designed for adults, but the form and proportions are sound. The book costs more than the furniture we're making, by the way.

9. What will it cost? We'll make one to see what it costs. Offhand, drawers cost money. They're very labor and material intensive. But there's only one. There's a substantial amount of wood in this thing too. Three or four hundred dollars maybe for the whole enchilada.

10. What time is lunch? Lunch is at 11:00. When you start real early, that's noon.

(more tomorrow)

No comments: