BLM Bookcase

Black Lives Matter Vermont has a storefront in Winooski, where it plans to sell locally made crafts, clothing, and fair trade food products with proceeds funding the organization. I am helping them transform their space through custom carpentry. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to practice my skills while also helping a cause I care about.

Ebony welcomed me into the store and laid out her vision: shopping in the front half of the space, room for relaxation in the rear half. I played with some numbers to translate that vision into several bookcases that would be easy to build and use ¾” plywood as efficiently as possible, minimizing wasted material. Once we had our plan, it was off to the lumber yard to buy the materials I needed.

For a tiny additional charge, Home Depot employees will rip wood products into smaller pieces. I took advantage partly because they make a much straighter cut than I could with my circular saw, and partly because it was the only way to fit the materials in my car. On a nicer day I might have strapped full sheets of plywood to my roof rack, but it was snowing.

To construct the first bookcase, I followed instructions from a This Old House weekend project series. The instructions build the walls two pieces of plywood thick, with the inner piece broken at regular intervals for the shelves. This detail eliminated the need for the tricky dado cuts that some bookcases use for shelving, but it increased the total amount of material I needed. Since the bookcase wouldn’t sit against a wall, I also needed to improvise a back, as the instructions didn’t include one. I used plywood the same thickness as the walls, which turned out to be a dumb choice, adding unnecessary cost and weight. I would have been fine with a piece only ¼” thick. Take that as a learning opportunity.

Once I returned to the store, it took about four hours to cut walls and shelves, assemble the bookcase with wood screws, and attach trim to the front with finish nails to hide the cut edges of plywood. I used ¾” thick poplar trim for the shelves and 1-1/2” thick oak trim for the perimeter, learning that material bills rack up fast when you pay by the linear foot. I made the bookcase the same height as a kitchen cabinet, so Ebony can add a countertop workspace later if she wants.

I’ll be back next week to do some more work. The store holds its Grand Opening on Saturday, February 11, and I’m proud to help make the space functional and beautiful.

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Everything except the shelves and trim. I think Ebony plans to stain it to protect the material while keeping the woodgrain visible.

Tiny Tuesday: Chairs That Hide

Chairs are awkward when space is at a premium. The most comfortable ones to sit in take up the most room, and vice versa. (Have you ever lingered over dinner while seated in a folding chair?) Fortunately, lots of products give you the best of both worlds.

Expand Furniture, based in Vancouver, wins for the most unique ways to hide chairs when you don’t need them. Their accordion loveseat stretches from 8 inches long to 24 feet, allowing you to transform it into a single office chair or a serpentine sofa or a dinner-party bench that seats up to 16. (The company sells a variety of expanding tables to go with them, as summarized in this video on boredpanda.) I’m also excited about the Ludovico office combination, which shoehorns both a removable chair and a folding desk into a functional file cabinet. If it’s padding you crave, there is a cushioned ottoman (perhaps a seat for one) that opens into five stools.

Chairs that stack tend to be more comfortable and take up less space than those that fold. They’re a nice alternative if you want to store a lot of seats for when a crowd comes. The lifeedited house (namesake of one of my favorite blogs) uses the Eco chair by Swedish designer Voxia, a sleek compression-molded plywood seat that stacks so tightly the owner fits ten of them into a narrow closet. Resource Furniture, famous for popularizing the modern Murphy bed, offers a stackable dining chair of its own in the sturdy Alpha design.

None of these chairs is cheap. You’ll find plenty of stacking or folding chair options for less money (think IKEA) with correspondingly less function and durability. But a better value judgment to make is how the freed-up square footage in your home might save you from building an addition or moving. As Resource Furniture president Ron Barth has pointed out, small space design is less relevant than optimizing the space you already have.

Thanks to Mike Agostino.

Tiny Tuesday: Fold-Flat Furniture

It’s the most efficient shape for storage. Right angles fit together neatly, making it easy to fit a rectangular volume in a closet or prop it against a wall with a minimum of wasted air space. While IKEA has appropriated the flat-pack concept for shipping its furniture economically, small-house dwellers may be more interested in assembled furniture that easily reverts to a flat-pack state. The folding chair may be the poster child of fold-flat furniture, but there’s a lot of innovation out there.

The folding shelf (shown is a design by the company Cut & Fold, but savvy DIYers can make their own with a slab of wood and a couple of hinges) finds use in a multipurpose room, perhaps as a place to drop keys and change at the entry. I’ve seen a lot of tiny houses that expand this concept to a table that folds up or down from the wall, providing a place to eat or work when needed and freeing the space when not. There are many other incarnations of a fold-flat table – the most stunning one I’ve seen is an accordion-style masterpiece by Robert van Embricqs. (Not clear if it’s for sale.)

From here designs grow more ambitious. In the living room, front porch, or any sitting area, the Reflex Portable Couch turns any flat space into a comfortable place to recline. And for a cramped bathroom? Maybe the foldable bathboard by Silwia Ulicka Rivera can help. Apparently this bathtub changes shape based on the weight inside, although I think I’d never shake the fear of breaking it.

A different approach is to build furniture out of puzzle pieces that come apart easily. The Cardboard Guys ran a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last year for a corrugated table and chair that are quick to assemble and disassemble. Designed for kids, these pieces have the extra advantage of very inexpensive, recycled, recyclable material – so the users can draw all over them, and when they outgrow them it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw them out.