2013-01-08

Furniture shopping for my office

I will have a dedicated office in the Mountain Lair, which I am also designating to serve as our library. Over the years, I have collected a number of books, most of them still in Berlin, and now I finally will have a place to bring them all together.

It being a library and also having soaring 15-foot ceiling, I embarked on a search of tall bookshelves that would befit such a room, and not be dwarfed by it. Ideally the shelves would be stained espresso brown and made of solid wood or bamboo, and may have metal pieces. I would tolerate plywood parts, but no MDF or particleboard. Here is an illustration for what I thought would be a good kind of shelf for the library.

As I was soon to find out, solid wood furniture is now only available from super-expensive places such as designer or antique stores. Or if you have it custom-built.

The picture above is from the World Market catalog for a shelf that costs nearly $700. That's not cheap if you ask me, so I assumed it would be true when their website said the shelf was made of solid wood. I bought it, and two very energetic ladies helped me load it into the van with great effort. It was flat-packed in two boxes, and each box weighed 100+ pounds.

When we got home, J and I unloaded the shelf piece by piece, opening the box inside the van, and carrying the parts upstairs in manageable increments. When the shelf was three quarters of the way assembled, I realized with that sinking feeling of doom that the main vertical supports of the shelf were indeed thick MDF.

So the next day, I disassembled the shelf, and we loaded it back into the van in reverse order, putting it inside the original boxes as good we could (which was better than we expected). I drove it to the store, where nobody showed themselves concerned with the reason for the return, and even when I told them, no written note was taken as far as I can tell.

I have crawled hundreds of products in online and physical stores, but it appears that any shelf that's not costing multiple thousands of dollars will be made of engineered wood.

What really puzzles me at this moment is where all the real wood is going? MDF is made of wood that's left over after the good stuff is cut. If the rich folk comprise one percent of the population, they can't be needing that much solid wood furniture, as to make it so outlandishly expensive.

I am not skilled in woodwork, and don't really have the patience or desire to learn. I just want to buy something that won't poison me with formaldehyde and also something that is environmentally sustainable. Like bamboo. For now, the search is coming up empty, but I have a few other angles if that fails. One, I may find a local craftsperson who can build me custom shelving out of inexpensive local wood or bamboo plywood, which I know a source for. Two, I may buy a bunch of used wine crates, stain them, and arrange them as a shelf along the wall. There are tons of pictures online, here's a random one to give you an idea what I am talking about.

With the right stain and some brass brackets and accents to make it look more intentional than just a pile of old crates, I think it may have a chance of achieving the right effect. Not sure though. I have not yet worked with anything as big, and built no furniture, so I hope I won't have to do it.

For the desk, there's actually been a good development. I want a standing workstation, and have been shopping all over the place for one. The thing is, they are just coming into fashion, so the choices are limited, and most are expensive. Again, you'd think a piece of wood on legs should not cost the world, yet $1000 seemed to be about average as standing workstations go. After I gave up on the idea of buying a ready-made one, I decided to buy a tabletop and legs separately, and put it together myself.

An evening of search has yielded a 6-foot long work surface made of thick bamboo at Craftsman, and next day, I bought some 40" table C-legs for it. It's not going to be adjustable, but barring me growing taller 40" is the exact height I need.

All the parts should be arriving in about two weeks, at which point I can start setting up my office for real, instead of just using it to park all the unopened boxes from the move.