Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Furniture?? Not My Problem!

Me Looking At New Furniture
During my career restoring antique furniture, I have gotten fairly good at screening calls.  I am always amused at prospective clients who have lived with a piece of furniture for years, perhaps even their entire life, and who have never really looked at it.  Until it broke or was damaged somehow.

Then they call a refinisher to see about getting it "restored."  Of course, these people are people who actually have jobs and hobbies and spend their time doing other things than looking at furniture like they were in love with it.

So I have a series of simple questions, like: "What wood is it?"  When they don't know, I ask the back up question: "Is the wood red (ie. possibly mahogany), brown (walnut?) or yellow (oak for sure).???"

Another series of investigation starts out "What do the feet look like?"  To which the standard answer is "I don't know, I never looked."

The final question is the most obvious: "How old is it?"  And I always get the same response: "It's old!"  Which, of course, is meaningless.  Old compared to what?  Your car?  Your dog?  At this point I hit them with my best shot: "Is it an antique?"  That is when they always say, "I'm not sure, but I know it's old.  I got it from my grandmother."  Always the same type of response.  In the end I insist that they send me a photo since that is the only way I know what they have.

I anticipate the email with photos so I can find out exactly what kind of work is involved.  The majority of the time it is disappointing, and some of the time amusing (to me; not to the client I'm sure) and in rare instances it is amazing and exciting.  A good example happened this week when a caller asked about repairing water damage to their dining table.  Here is the photo I received:

"Water Damage"

Clearly, if you have a table made of MDF with paper thin veneer and finished with a conversion varnish, it is probably not the best idea to use it outdoors in the rain.

I am writing this post since there were three instances this week alone which made me think of the consumer and modern furniture production.

The first one was a call which mentioned a Mission Oak Dining table and "several mahogany pieces."  When I arrived I was shown a Mission Oak table which was very clearly brand new.  The finish on the entire top had peeled away from the wood, leaving large bare spots all over the table.  The finish which was not peeled was cracked and ready to delaminate.  When I asked how old was the table, they informed me that they had bought it two years ago, new.  The "mahogany pieces" were actually mahogany (African) and old (1940's).  I sent them to another refinisher.

Then something exciting happened.  A young couple came in and purchased 4 nice New York dining chairs from me.  These chairs were made in 1850 and were solid Brazilian rosewood, with the original seat upholstery.  They told me they had been buying IKEA furniture, but it always fell apart after a few years, so they wanted to "do the right thing" and buy something with a "low carbon footprint."  I think that furniture manufactured over 150 years ago must have a very low carbon footprint.  Actually, I think at that time it was a whale oil footprint.

When I delivered the chairs, they immediately placed their IKEA chairs out on the curb and, within 5 minutes they had disappeared.  Talk about recycling!

But the most amazing story just happened here at work.  The door bell rang and I opened it to find an older gentleman.  He asked me if I could fix his drawers on two chests he had.  I started to explain that wood drawers often wear out on the lower edge of the sides and the wood runners would also need some repair.  He said that wasn't the case.  I then said that some more modern drawers have a center slide under the drawer, and if that was not in the right place the drawer would be hard to open.

 He said "No.  Actually there are metal slides for the drawer."

"Oh, I see.  What you have is more like office furniture?"

"No," he replied, "It's high end furniture I just bought it, and I paid a lot of money for it."

At that point I told him that I couldn't help him.  But he said that what was wrong was the screws holding the slides were coming out and he could see that they were in the way.

"Why don't you just screw them back?" I asked.

"Because it would void the warranty," he insisted.

"But, if it's high end furniture and under warranty, why don't you just have the store fix it?"  (I suppose this was a dumb question, but I was now in new territory.)

"They have already sent out a repair man twice and he can't seem to fix it!"  He was exasperated.  All I could mutter was "I am sorry, but I can't help you."

As I closed the door of my workshop, I was relieved somehow that it was actually closing out the modern world, and that I could return to my glue pot and workbench in peace.


Renewable Community Power said...

I can't support your views strongly enough! A few years back, when we had young babies and I had little spare time and access to a workshop at home, we bought a few pieces of Ikea furniture. To be fair to them, their furniture was better than most other brands. Since then I've had to glue and screw a tallboy back together twice, reinforce with ply a lounge frame (it seems staples aren't a very effective way to hold furniture joints together) and almost hurt my back when the back of a kitchen chair simply fell off.

But this certainly doesn't stop with furniture - from toys given as presents to the kids that didn't work out of the box to our (expensive) fridge that now needs major repairs after 6 years, the quality of most things now is utterly appalling!

No wonder we're depleting the earth of resources like we don't have to live here...oh hang on...

W. Patrick Edwards said...

There are several things that I think of when this topic comes up. For example, I have a rustic cabin in Montana and there is a GE refrigerator there which has worked continuously since 1950. Outside in the open yard, exposed to the Montana weather is a 1941 Dodge Power Wagon. All we need to do is turn the key and it starts every time.

When I was in college I drove a 1951 Studebaker Commander. If I hadn't lost my mind and sold it I would still be driving it. I'm sure it's probably back in fashion these days.

The only thing that didn't last was the double breasted corduroy suit I had in 1967. For some reason the pants stopped fitting and I had to give it to the Salvation Army. I'm sure someone who is 6' tall and weighs 165 lbs is still wearing it...

Now we have an entirely new generation who thinks it is normal to throw out the old phones or computers when they are two years old and replace them with new ones.

JC said...

It's really sad to see how easy it is for people these days to pay lots of money for products that are incredibly low quality (just pure garbage half the time), and then they expect it to last. Just today, I was watching a video from some YouTubers that I follow, and their IKEA sofa broke. It has already broken 3 or 4 times (and they fixed it to the best of their limited abilities). They've only had this sofa for maybe 2 years(?) and they finally just dragged it out to the road after it broke again the other night. Not all IKEA sofas are that poorly made (their higher end models are half decent), but for a sofa to only last for 2 years or less? That's pathetic. I also find that people are way too rough with their things these days (I sound like an old man, but I'm only 30). No one is really that careful, and when something gets too scratched, chipped, or dented, it gets thrown out. I am proud to say that I only ever buy old/used, and antique furniture. It may not be in perfect shape, but I know it won't fall apart, and I know it can be repaired.

Augustus Lammers said...

It's funny it seems this topic is what I rant about the most these days. As a furniture maker that has worked in a restoration shop for a time then working in a so-called high end designer furniture shop and at a custom cabinetry shop. It is belittling to the consumer and it's a shame that they are unaware of the materials that are being handed off to them. I only reply to confirm and shed light to the topic. I understand that flake board and mdf have there place but let it be made clear to the consumer then. I've seen product sold for large amounts of money and sold under the banner as "solid wood".