Dangerous Furniture

Even the most indifferent observer may have noticed that not all the money we give our government is well-spent (“pith helmets for postal workers?”) but I confess that I have fallen in love with the U.S. Census Bureau.  I would gladly take them out for dinner and drinks.  If only my love were requited, I would send them a dozen roses.

How casually, how glibly, they provide the most intimate information about ourselves.  They tell me that in 1997, almost 110,000 people went to emergency rooms from accidents with their sofas, couches and davenports.

This number is about half of those injured by their own tables or by their chairs.  I’d go lie down and think about it but 400,000 people were injured involving their beds.  In other words, every day 1000 of our fellow Americans are involved with dangerous bedding.  Mind you these are not the casual accident of waking up with chenille lines on your face, but emergency room visits.

Despite my breathless exhortations, the Census Bureau seems unwilling, however, to tell me how this could happen.  Pulling on a sweater while walking around the living room? Eating the stuffing?  Refusing to move the furniture before a living room re-enactment of Disco Dance Party?  Perhaps we’ve simply become a nation of careless sitters.  Let’s hope not.  There were 43,000 accidents with toilets.

And, worse yet, accidents with sofas are almost three times the number of accidents with scissors.  Clearly, Mom was wrong.  She should have told us not to run with couches.

The obvious solution is to augment the warning labels.  “Kids, this sofa is not a toy.  It is not a very good trampoline.” But, it’s not like they don’t warn us about things already.  There’s a bottle of dried bobcat urine (to keep pests out of the garden) that says “Not for human consumption” or the ovenware that says “Ovenware will get hot when used in oven”.  There’s a heat gun that says “Do not use this tool as a hairdryer”.  My package of Austin Peanut Butter Crackers includes the warning that the package includes peanut ingredients.  Perhaps I should take some cold comfort in this.  After all, Heinz does sell both cider vinegar and imitation cider vinegar.

But, back to the topic at hand (such as it is).  The Furniture Fire Safety Act requires upholstered furniture to be labeled with:

“This product contains polyurethane foam and presents a severe fire hazard! In case of fire, serious personal injury or death can result from extreme heat, rapid oxygen depletion, and the production of toxic gases. Do not expose this product to any intense radiant heat or open flames such as space heaters, open burning, cigarettes, naked lights, matches, electrical sparks, or other intense heat sources.”  And so I would strongly encourage you not to smoke your sofa.

I’d go fix myself a cup of coffee and sit down and worry about all of this if I weren’t so scared of the coffee maker.  Maybe I’ll just go and write a thank you to the Census Bureau.  I couldn’t find any statistics on accidents with pen and paper.

Everything you know is wrong

I’ve been married for more than 15 years so I’m accustomed to being told I’m wrong.  I used to think that maybe I was occasionally right, but now I know even that was a mistake.  And as a note to my wife, honey, if I really was right, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be.  Like most folks, I’ve even been wrong about furniture. In this article, we’ll tackle a few myths about furniture that I used to cherish.

Furniture made long ago was built better than today’s furniture.  Yes, the quality of the wood was probably better because first growth forests were plentiful with tighter grains and there were some cuts of wood (like quarter sawn oak) and kinds of wood (like Cuban mahogany) available that are not available anymore but the tools of today’s trade allow for accuracy in cutting and joinery that were impossible a hundred years ago.  In addition, most furniture is glued and the glues of today are much better than the old hide glues especially the polymer glues like Gorilla Glue.  Finishes of today are also much more resistant to wear and tear than was the shellac of yesteryear.

Wood finish needs to be fed.  As we talked some months ago, there’s nothing you can add to a finish (unless it is more finish) that it can absorb or bond to.  The only thing a finish needs is a good waxing with a paste wax once a year and that’s just to put a protective layer between you and the finish.

Wood is alive and needs to breathe.  Sorry, once the tree was cut down, the wood died.  In fact, there’s some reason not to expose wood to the air since that makes it more likely it will absorb (and give off) moisture, making the wood move and causing cracks and loosening joints.

Wood veneer is bad.  Plywood, with its grain running in alternating direction with each leaf is actually more stable and harder to break than straight lumber.  What we’ve sadly become accustomed to is cheap pressboard furniture where the veneer is just painted paper that can peel off.  Real wood veneer is an opportunity to have visible wood grains that would be impossible to purchase if the entire piece were made of them.  And the choice of veneer can be one of style.  I’ve seen solid oak furniture from the 1940’s with a walnut veneer because oak was not a popular “look”.

All the wood in a set will exactly match.  Even if all the wood came from the same tree, there will significant differences in the grain between areas of the tree.  As the saying goes, wood is a natural product…some variation is to be expected.

The most expensive fabric is the most durable.  Silks and damasks can be gorgeous looking fabrics (and quite expensive) but they won’t hold up like some of the new nylon and olefin materials.  If you really like the look of silk, consider a blend.

You can’t clean leather or keep it looking clean.  Leather does change with time as the oils and dyes in the leather shift but this can be as much an affect of the type of dye as it is the leather.  Pigmented leather will change color less than aniline dyes.  Most of the places you can buy leather furniture will come with recommendations for how to clean it.

Fabric on the bottom of leather cushion is a cheap shortcut.  When you sit on the cushion, air escapes.  The fabric helps the air to get out of the cushion quickly.  Otherwise a leather sofa would feel like sitting on blown up furniture.

Box springs don’t need to be replaced as often as mattresses.  Sometimes the sag can be the box springs and not the mattress.  Most manufactures design box springs and mattresses to work together, when it’s time for one to go, they both should.

That said, I still prefer real wood to veneer, older furniture to newer and organic fabrics to synthetic.  What the heck, I may be wrong but at least I’ve got my opinions.

The Color Wheel

Except for political extremists, most of us don’t live in a black and white world.  But, given more than a rainbow of hues to choose from, how can we pick compatible colors for our home?  That’s what we’re talking about today.

Contemporary color theory was developed by the Swiss artist and designer Johannes Itten while he was teaching at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany.  In his seminal book, The Art of Color, he wrote, “Color is life, for a world without color seems dead. As a flame produces light, light produces color. As intonation lends color to the spoken word, color lends spiritually realized sound to form.”   Itten took the primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (green, yellow and orange) colors and laid them out by how we feel about the colors as a way to find harmony. The image included in this post is a great example.

Colors in harmony create a sense of balance and order.  The idea is to reject either an extreme where everything is so bland as to not even be noticed, or the extreme where everything is competing with each other so if feels like noise.

It’s really pretty simple to do.  There’s at least six ways to use the color wheel, but we’re only going to talk about five of them. Hey, this column has a 600 word limit.

The first is monochromatic.  These color schemes use variations in the hue and saturation of a single color (pale green, light green, green, dark green for example).  Usually, one of these will predominate. Think of the variegation in a plant leaf.  There may be cream colors, deep blue-greens and light greens, but the colors are all next to each other on the color wheel and usually there’s more of one than the others.  This scheme is easy to manage but it lacks the vibrancy of combining different colors.  If you like to keep it simple, a better choice is…

Analogous color schemes using several colors which are next to each other on the color wheel.  For instance, yellow, brown and orange are analogous colors.  Usually, one color will predominate in the scheme and the other used as accents.  It is as easy to manage as the monochromatic scheme but looks a little richer.  It still lacks some of the excitement of contrasting colors, so you may want…

Complementary colors, which are two colors that lie opposite each other on the wheel.  For instance, green and red.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how striking a red flower on a green plant can look.  Think of roses.  Basically, you’re contrasting cool and warm colors and you can desaturate, or lighten, your cool colors to make the warm colors stand out.  For instance, a bright red with a pale green will be more pleasing than a pale red with a bright green.  You can balance three different colors by laying a triangle over the color wheel.  Of course, there’s a name for this, it’s …

Triadic colors, which can bring lots of different color into a room.  Three colors won’t have the contrast of two and it’s usually a good idea to lighten one or more of these three to prevent the room from looking too gaudy.  My favorite, however is…

A split complementary color scheme that picks one color from one side of the wheel and two colors lying next to each other on the other side.  As an example, reds with blue and teal or orange and blue and violet.  It’s usually best to choose one warm color and two cooler colors.  The advantage to this type of scheme is that it combines the idea of contrast and analogous colors into a single set.

You can find more information online at http://www.colormatters.com or stop by my store and we’ll play around with different combinations.

The Dos and Don’ts of Secondhand Furniture

If you are interested in refurbishing your home, but you don’t have a large budget at your fingertips, don’t despair. To have a beautiful home with elegant furniture, you don’t actually have to buy everything new. For many people, the best option is to purchase second-hand furniture, and if you know where to look and how to be cautious, you can walk away with some very good buys.

One of the main things to be careful about is whether or not you are getting rid of your own garbage only to take on someone else’s. For that reason, the first thing you need to do is check out what you are interested in buying very carefully. If you are interested, for example, in buying a second-hand cupboard, make sure to check all of the doors to make sure that they open and close smoothly and that the hinges work properly. Is the wood scratched? Are the shelves properly fitted? Do they have all of their dibbles and screws? And what about the door handles?

Where are you getting your second-hand furniture from? You can always find offers on various email lists, in the classified sections of local newspapers, or from ads placed on notice-boards in stores, churches, or bus stops. When you find what you need, the first question to ask is why the seller is getting rid of the item in the first place. Does the ad say that the item is in need of repair? If you are not careful, you could end up spending so much money on getting it repaired that you would have been better off buying a new one in the first place.

One source of good bargains is a moving sale. If a family is immigrating to another country, the furniture that they are selling off is not necessarily in bad condition. The reason that it is being sold is that it’s not worth transporting it abroad rather than because it is defective.

Stores selling reconditioned furniture are also a good option. The furniture that is sold is cheaper than brand new, and because it has been reconditioned, any scratches and defects have been fixed. Many families buy tables, chairs, and even appliances such as refrigerators from such stores.

Once you have bought your secondhand furniture, you may want to brighten up the look of the room further by treating yourself to some new curtains and rugs. These kinds of furnishings are relatively inexpensive even when purchased first hand. The right kind of area rug can make all the difference to a room. For instance, any one of the shaped area rugs that you can buy can put the finishing touches on your living room, no matter what the furniture looks like or where it comes from, and solid area rugs can complement the color scheme in any room.

The secret of buying good secondhand furniture is therefore knowing how to recognize a good purchase and adding tasteful furnishings to it. You might not end up with the designer furniture that you always dreamed of, but if you are smart in your purchases you will still have a beautiful home.

Decorating Small Spaces

Decorating a very small space can be a challenge, especially if it contains architectural details which break up the wall space, such as windows, doors and fireplaces, or if the space is a high-traffic area. The techniques for furnishing small spaces are slightly different, but the basic design principles are the same. The idea in any size room is to create a space that is as comfortable as it is functional.

Scale is the first principle to keep in mind when purchasing furniture for a small space. The deep, overstuffed sofa with rolled arms and floor-brushing skirts that seemed like a comforting place to curl up in the vastness of a showroom may look like a sleeping rhinoceros when you get it home to your tiny living room. 

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