Archive for January, 2009

Thou Shalt Pour the Driveway First

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Okay, okay, I know I'm writing about new construction again. Sorry.

And I'm sure I've just offended .018% of my readers by refering to concrete as something which is “poured” rather than “placed”.

In any case, on with the article…

False Economy Case #917 – Installing hardwood floors before the driveway has been poured.

The Rationale – “We want to wait as long as possible to pour the driveway so that it will stay nice and clean looking. All that driveway maneuvering will leave your slab with some embarrasing 'tire hickeys', and some construction workers have vehicles that leak oil.”

The Voice of Experience – In theory, this is a great idea. In practice, you'll get a rainfall (or painters who clean their brushes out on the proposed driveway area, leaving a large swamp) which makes the soil/gravel mixture start to stick to the feet of the tradesmen. 3-5% of them will notice this and spend 30 seconds wiping their shoes. The rest will stomp through the house with their stylish “gravel soles” and you know the rest. Protecting the floor under these conditions becomes a very stressful undertaking with a low success rate.

Would you rather have a pristine driveway or pristine floors?

Can Anyone Top these Drawer Organizer Concepts?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Kitchen remodels, and cabinetry in particular, have been a big focus of this site and of my work. So it probably won't come as a surprise to my readers that I've developed some new concepts/products for kitchen cabinets. Actually, it's all about the drawers.

Here's the story:

I built custom cabinetry for the kitchen remodel of some friends here in Chattanooga. They live in St Elmo, which is a quaint old part of town where the houses have small old kitchens. There would be no tearing out walls for this project, so they had very little space to work with and wanted to make the most of it.

…Just like the rest of us.

One difference is that they weren't going to skimp on this, at least not for the one top drawer they were going to be able to fit in their postage-stamp sized kitchen. So the wife did her homework and came up with (what she thought was) the best drawer organizer ever: a double-decker (also known as two-tier) by Kraftmaid.kraftmaid two-tier

When I saw her pictures of this organizer, I was quite stunned. It wasn't that the design is brilliant (though it is clever), but rather it was that I couldn't believe I hadn't run into this thing in all of my time/research in the remodel/kitchen world. I don't know how long it has been around, but I'm guessing it can't have been around long. This, too, is surprising because it's really a straightforward idea: by removing part of the drawer's back wall, we have room to insert a second “drawer-within-a-drawer” which pushes all the way back. (not to be confused with the cheap plastic gizmos that have a half-sized upper layer that rolls back and forth on a full-sized lower layer)

my custom two tier installedAs long as you're not trying to store stuff that's thicker/higher than about 2″, it's like getting two drawers in the space of one.

I was intrigued, of course, so I made a deal with them to buy the biggest size they made. Well, like all factory-produced cabinet parts, it only comes in three inch increments. It turned out that the “space-saving insert” was actually four inches too narrow to fill the available space in their one eligible base cabinet.custom double decker large open

So I kept the Kraftmaid double-decker and built them a custom replica that filled the space. They were happy with it, at first. But, thankfully, they're the really honest types and — when asked — shot the design full of holes.

Here are their complaints and my remedies:

  • First and most critical: not available in custom sizing. I already told you how I fixed that: building it to the width and height needed.
  • Top drawer is “slippy” in that, when you open the main drawer, the acceleration causes the inner drawer to slip back. The net effect is that, when you get the main drawer open, the upper/inner drawer is already several inches (or more) back. We fixed this problem by some modifications to the Kraftmaid slides, but since then I've been providing my customers with a toggle-type slide that prevents slippage altogether.
  • The final complaint was that the layout of their “organizer grid” was out of touch with the way real people use their silverware drawer. They pointed out the 50-80% of the time they open that drawer, they just want to grab a spoon, fork, or knife for a coffee, snack, or simple meal. The designers put the critical, common-use area near the back, though. This is another problem that would be solved by allowing the customer to customize the layout to their needs.
  • As the “how do you really like it” conversation was winding down, the husband made the comment: “It would be so nice if these sections could be adjustable. There's so much wasted space.” I said, “Hmmm, I'll have to think about that.” Sounds pretty logical to me. After all, the goal of this expensive thing is to make optimal use of space!

two tier small closedSo, sure enough, I was out in the shop soon afterwards, looking for ways to answer their criticisms and make the world's best drawer organizer even better.

Here's my first attempt at a solution. I built it for my lovely bride of 12 years. (Yes, her drawer of choice was much narrower.) It solves all the problems presented above, most notably the adjustability problem. As you can see, I have movable, thin slices of wood that fit into slotted walls.two tier drawer small open

There are some other neat features on this drawer that I don't have time to discuss here, but the one that caught everyone's eye was the adjustable slats that divide the storage pockets down to a precision of 3/8 inches. Pretty good adjustability! See right for a close-up shot of these cool slots.closeup of slots

The biggest problem with this drawer is that it's expensive. I wouldn't make one for less than $300, and if I shipped it, the recipient would need a handyman to install it properly.

My next realization was that my moveable divider system could solve lots of problems for people without the expense of a full double decker. Thus was born the custom drawer organizer/insert which I am now selling locally and online. Follow the link and you'll see that I've prepared some templates, but most people prefer to send me a sketch and dimensions by email or fax. I've been shipping these and getting good feedback for several months.custom drawer insert

Then I got the next great idea from another honest customer: “Why can't you just add a deck to one of my useless deep drawers? I never use more than the bottom five inches.”

Hmmm. Yeah, why didn't I think of that?

You can see the finished product in the picture at right. I borrowed the deep drawer from this client for a few days and gave it back with a second deck built into it. Pretty great.add-a-deck with organizer inserts in a deep drawer

And, since this installation is much simpler (although it does require cutting out part of the drawer back, which means using a circular saw), I think this custom product would ship cross-country fairly well. I'll be adding it to the choices soon.

A New Vision of the Phone-Based Office

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Up until today my conception of the “office of the (near) future” is that it would be based on the laptop. So, for example, you would walk in with your laptop, strap it into a cradle, sit back in a reclining chair, and go to work using the laptop screen for visuals and using peripherals for keyboard, mouse, etc.

In such an office, you would still need the traditional structures for managing paper: it's not going away any time soon. But rather than needing large structures for housing the monitor and the tower, all of the supporting structures (except the chair) could be folded away into a small space. Imagine an office that could fit into a cavity in your wall. (I discuss my early prototype of this in my “built-in cabinets” series.)

So, that brings us to today. Have a look at this video:

The fact that these technologies are already so close to being ready for the mainstream market leads me to the following conclusions:

First, though I had been expecting most cell phones to soon include projectors that could act like a monitor when projected on a suitable surface, what I didn't anticipate is that such a “screen” would also function as a touch/sketch screen. Now it's clear that it will. Your phone will soon function as both the “wiimote” and the projector in this video, allowing you to have an office anyplace you can find or create a clean surface upon which to project. A cradle/tripod for holding the phone in the right orientation would be needed.

Second, this means that the high-tech office is going to quickly adopt this technology and laptops will become obsolete. What can a laptop give us now that a phone can't? We already need a separate keyboard for protracted writing sessions.

Third, this means that the structures of the high-tech office just got simpler. The main structure needed now is a lightweight white screen that includes a phone cradle off to one side. And a chair and paper-management area, as always.