Monday, September 03, 2007

Pottery Barn Dreams on a K-Mart budget

With our house renovation behind us, we've lately been spending lots of time hemming and hawing about furniture. Well, maybe more hemming than hawing. As you can well imagine, after dropping a boatload of cash into construction, lately we get a little queasy when we look at the prices of things like dining room tables, couches, and office furniture.

Luckily, none of our needs are immediate. We've got a dining room table, though it's too small and doesn't match our decor (early neo-retro-classic with an art deco-country flair). We've got office furniture that's functional, but reminds me of my college dorm days (hmm... probably because it's the desk from my college dorm). We've also got an entire living room to furnish, but for now that room is the storehouse for Fisher Price's western Pennsylvania showcase.

As I mentioned in a recent post, my wife had the opportunity to hire a professional organizer to create an organized environment for her at-home writing career. I'll write some details on that another time, but suffice it to say having a clean, organized office has given me the bug to do something about furnishing it. So I've started hunting around for office furniture. I've found that the choices out there really, really, really suck.

Unless you like particle board, there isn't much to choose from. My repulsion for semi-disposable furniture automatically knocks anything from Ikea, OfficeMax or the like immediately out of the running. That leaves us with professional-grade places or fancy-schmancy places like Pottery Barn. We also crossed off the professional office furniture places, because we really don't need our home to look like a dentist's reception area.

One of the few places in the world that seems to sell good quality and decent looking office furniture is Pottery Barn. No surprise really. Everyone knows their stuff is gorgeous though pricey. I was recently browsing though their catalog (yes, I was on the john, of course. Bet you're glad I mentioned that) when I discovered this line of "modular" furniture for home offices. I showed Hilary, and she loved it. But as is usually the case with PB, I was horrified by the price. A simple two-drawer file cabinet was $250! Extrapolate that out and we could easily furnish our office for about the same price as a year of tuition at Carnegie Mellon. Not really an option. But I felt I had to go to PB and see this stuff in person, to understand exactly what magical powers this office suite possessed enabling it to garner such a high price.

So I went. And I looked. And you know what? It was very nice. But more importantly, I realized that the design was ridiculously simple. Clean lines, no fancy routed edges, absolutely nothing special (which is why we liked it so much). So, I decided it was time for my next woodworking project.

A half hour later, I had the basic cabinet sketched out in Sketchup.

One trip to Home Depot and $38 later, I had the lumber I needed. Tomorrow, a trip to Rockler (my new favorite store) for some additional components and a can of some good wood finish, and I have what I need to build a proof of concept. I figure if I can make a file cabinet as nice as they can (okay, 75% as nice), then I have all the skills I need to completely furnish our office and have enough left over to send the kids to trade school, at least.

I'll keep you posted.


Howard said...

I'm not sure PB is so nice, though it certainly is expensive. I find they have one or two styles and I usually don't like them. The trend now is dark wood and I don't love that.

My dad did a fair amount of carpentry around the house. Builtin book cases in the den, a corner cabinet to put the TV on, various book cases, a blanket chest, etc. It was a blast as a kid helping him. Get a circular saw (oh wait I gave you one) and a router (I'm sure you have one) and your set.

Then you'll become a wood snob and will be annoyed at how expensive anything but pine is. Then you'll be all about dovetail joints and you'll realize the PB stuff is crap.

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