2007/03/25

Some Disassembly Required

Recently the Frogette and I decided to purchase a small 'secretary' for our flat's entryway because we needed some extra storage. Now here in Sodom by the Sea, you have basically three choices for furniture: Boutique shops where every piece is custom ordered, costs a fortune, and takes 4 months to arrive; Upscale 'if it doesn't come in earth tones we we don't stock it' places like Room and Board; And IKEA. Well we passed out of our IKEA phase some years ago, and we needed the piece immediately. So the boutique shops were out. That left us with the Pottery Barns, Room and Boards, and Crate & Barrels of the world.

We settled on the piece you see on the left, a 'ready-to-assemble' cabinet from Crate & Barrel, but here's where things get interesting. Though it wasn't expensive, the ancillary costs have me questioning what the hell I was thinking. Consider: This little cabinet has almost no solid wood in it. With the exception of the doors, it's all particleboard. Meaning that it won't last more than about 5 years. It took me 90 minutes to assemble, and...get this...another 90 bloody minutes dealing with the mind-boggling amount of generated waste!

-- 92 square feet of double thickness cardboard (had to be cut down)
-- 5, 36 gallon garbage bags of non-recyclable styrofoam packing

So all inclusive you've got about 3 hours of labor, delivery charges, and the cost to dispose of (or recycle) the packing material--maybe 50% of the item's total cost, shifted to the consumer. At that aggregate cost, and assuming that I'll replace the piece once or twice in a 20 year period, I could have purchased an all wood piece, made in the US, that would last those 20 years, and had it delivered already assembled.

I know that the aim here is to turn furnishings into impulse purchases that you replace as often as you replace your clothes, but when one's own labor (delivery, assembly, and disassembly) is worth more than the face value of the product--when 50% of the resources consumed are in the packaging--we really need to question our purchasing habits and seek out more durable goods.

15 Comments:

Hmm...paticle board. Sounds like the same crap they sell at Ikea.

-- 92 square feet of double thickness cardboard (had to be cut down)

You could have e-mailed me about the cardboard. You know how I love cardboard.
That's why I buy most things second hand nowadays. If it has lasted long enough to be resold, then you know it's a quality piece of furniture (check garage sales and thrift shops). I went through the same thing when I was married and bought a house when I had to assemble an entertainment center and vowed never to buy junk again.
Just think, the time you put in with the thing probably kept you out of the bars and jails!

I do the 2nd hand thing as well, looking for solid, sturdy pieces.
There is a way to dissolve the Styrofoam I'll have to look it up, or you can Google it yourself.
Oh, it's not environmentally friendly but you could reduce your disposal costs - they Styrofoam isn't a friend of nature no matter what you do with it.
The particle board isn't a problem, you can grind that up and use it for mulch or burn it.

The best thing to do get a secretary desk though is what I did, inherit one that's over 80 years old.
"There is a way to dissolve the Styrofoam I'll have to look it up, or you can Google it yourself."

That reminds me of a recipe for napalm I read in The anarchist's cookbook once along time ago, something about diesel fuel, orange juice and Styrofoam.
I've taken styrofoam peanuts to the UPS store, where they reuse them.

As far as furniture goes, I invest in the good stuff that will last. I do have some Ikea pieces that have held up, but I primarily stick with Room & Board and Pottery Barn. In fact, I was at R&B today looking at desks.
PT... I'm so sorry. It didn't even occur to me. Next I promise... :-)

Lew... We bought second hand with our dining room furniture, old 1950's Danish stuff--pretty cool. But I agree having to assemble your own furniture sucks.

Peacechick... "Keep me out of the bars?" Nothing my dear, keeps this frog out of the bars when it's martini time. As for second hand, you and Lew are both right. Our only problem is that not having a car limits our ability to get to a lot of shops and things like estate sales.
1138... Don't think that the Frogette and I are likely to inherit much furniture-wise. I only had a single set of grand-parents, died some time ago, and the furniture was sold off before I could think about what I might like. I was more interested in the family records in any case.

Fred... I am not going to make napalm from my Crate & Barrel packing. :-)

Lizzy... Well Crate & Barrel is probably somewhere in between IKEA and Room and Board. And I quite like R&B's stuff whose stuff, but a lot of it is just too big for the tiny flats in this town.
=)
Kvatch: We bought a dresser from IKEA last year. I spent about five hours assembling the damned thing. It's already structurally unsound - it creaks all the time. I pledged never to buy IKEA furniture again.

Frederick: Wasn't that from Fight Club?
"we really need to question our purchasing habits and seek out more durable goods."

ahh so.
Comandante... I haven't bought from IKEA in years. If it weren't for the Frogette dragging me in there for Swedish Meatballs, I wouldn't set foot in that place. But Crate & Barrel's 'ready-to-assemble' stuff is about the same.

Betmo... As I was saying a bit back in the thread, I wish I had more time to look for good second-hand stuff. But alas...
Sadly, you are the exception. Most consumers look at that, and say "it's cheaper, I can have it now" and that's as far as their thought train goes.
I have a friend who was born in Italy and she once told me that most Italians have their furniture custom made. It's more expense than our big box furniture stores, but the pieces are made to last a lifetime and beyond. In her case, she's enjoying furniture in her home that her parents had shipped here from Italy 50 years ago.

Of course, the flip side is that our economy would collapse if Americans stopped buying cheap goods that fall apart. ;-)
Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel quality is the same as IKEA. While they do have some pieces that are solid wood, most is dressed nicely with inferior underpinnings. A magazine recently did an expose on their quality, but the nme escapes me now. Furniture is so easy to blow good money on, as the mark up is incredible.

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