Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Business of LUXURY and I prefer APPROPRIATE [.....but still cool!]

Prologue: Knowledge and understanding of the building process - from design to fabrication - will allow you to make appropriate choices and selection when time will come to renovate your own space. Avoid common misconceptions and industry myths that lead you to spend more money that you need to. 

Let's START!

Picture shows young Karol Kosnik installing hardwood flooring over a Warmboard - US-developed building technology that allows for installation of solid wood over radiant floor. 

Picture shows young Karol Kosnik resting on a freshly laid-up, slip-matched, sliding ebony door for a media unit. This particular door went into the private residence of Canada's most famous lawyer. This is an 'artistic photo' from my DeStijl Days - it was a period in my life when I was obsessed with an art movement called DeStijl - I would impose some strict rules for 'living my life', not austere in any way, more like a 'creative direction' - focus was always on craft. 

Chapter 1 - Private Passion: Quality and Craftsmanship, how it started. 

I wasn't that young man - I didn't know what I wanted 'to do for the rest of my life'. I did not come from privilege and I had to work hard to pay off my student loans when I dropped out of university; I wanted to be an engineer. It was a career that both my parents and my grandma supported. My parents because as fresh-2-Canada immigrants - I'm naturalized Canadian myself - they saw this as a meal ticket to a 'better life'. My grandma of course was completely enamoured with the 'White Collar' and 'bossing others around'.

Once a young man drops out of school where is he to get a job but a construction site, huh?

There were other options, of course, but the idea of spending excessive amounts sitting in front of a computer screen which I already did while taking computer programming courses [Java.....Java in 28 days.....Java in 7 days ..... Java in 24 hours....hahaha] did not entice me and I preferred jobs where I was not static. 

For first few years I cycled thru the 'entire ecosystem of woodworking' - framing, carpentry, trim-carpentry and hardwood flooring. It was with hardwood flooring that I really discovered that I enjoyed 'wood as a medium' - I was able to construct practical structures that gave people shelter, provided comfort, created delight and sparked joy. In some ways it's quite intoxicating and you get a rush when you hand that final result to the client - they love it... they can't get enough.

By that time I already had a collection of woodworking tools and I topped it when I bought myself an older Dodge RAM 350 van. It was a short, stocky, heavy duty grey thing with an emergency light on top - a BELL Canada van.... To this day I get a small chuckle when I write how I do 'emergency flooring' on my Instagram posts - I do occasionally do floors, mainly really nice Moncer installs, where every board matters, or I floor for friends.

As an independent contractor I worked for most reputable companies in the GTA [I always say that no.1 company in the GTA is Darmaga Hardwood Flooring for a reason] and my projects took me to some of the most prestigious locations in Toronto. I floored for the rich, famous and influential. I worked on projects where the word 'budget' did not exist. I worked in the presence of privately owned Picasso  - and a pretty big one too! Not one of those little scribbles....!

Did you know that you can turn any wood into flooring? That's right - everything from exotics to reclaimed lumber....

Picture shows a reclaimed pine siding from a demolished home re-purposed into flooring. Random widths / Random lengths. This project was a wedding gift to a really good friend and I would consider this to be my Peak Flooring project. 

My wife suggested that since I enjoy wood and woodworking so much that I should further my education in 'that department'. After looking into various post secondary programs I settled on Crafts and Design program from Sheridan College: Furniture Design.  ~that was a wild ride~

I went into the program already quite skilled in technical aspects of woodworking and my focus was more on the ~design aspect~: exploring materials and forms and putting it all in the historical perceptive.  My education enabled me to contextualize and compartmentalize many of the projects I worked on in the past - I began to see decisions making process behind the choices. I began to understand - it was like 'fabrication' + 'humanity'. 

While at school I got a scholarship to spend my summer at Nienkamper - that's like an equivalent of Herman Miller but in Canada. I spent my days working on the floor of manufacturing plant that produced objects of impeccable quality that would be shipped all over the world. I got to upholster the base of the first ever Cloud Chair [google that beast] by Karim Rashid - it was prototyped that summer there, by a visiting German craftsman. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Ikea Hacker says - Understanding IKEA's PAX warranty - how to come up on TOP

Picture shows an IKEA PAX hack that has been professionally done. It appears that a 200cm wide design was used with 4 doors. The PAX box is elevated on a platform and the bottom is wrapped in a baseboard. Side panels were applied and an oversized crown moulding installed. Large brass pulls were installed on the doors and the entire unit is painted a pleasant white shade. 

 Chapter 1 - PAX wardrobes are THE BEST DEAL IN CLOSET DESIGN;

This beauty popped into my mailbox few weeks back - straight from Jules, ~hottt~ off the press, so to speak. It caught my eye immediately - beautiful work whoever designed and executed it. Looks like Jules now has an Instagram account 'official Ikea Hackers' - CHECK it out! Some of the work is beautiful and very creative - that's precisely the type of work that I like to do. I sometimes visit her page to get inspired - designers don't work in a vacuum. We must continue to go out there and expose ourselves to ideas - 'fresh off the street' as I would like to say, because that is the only way to keep track of what is happening at the consumer level vs. corporate ivory towers**

I am certain that behind this beautiful build rests a box that is full of amazing organizers and lighting that just makes the morning routine a breeze! And I personally think that this a great build. 

Chapter 2 - a GREAT build without ~any warranty~

Whaaat....? It's TRUE. I am not making this up. As much as this is a GREAT example of an IKEA Hack, all the modifications applied to this PAX box completely void its warranty. Typical PAX box and the KOMPLEMENT system come with a 10 year warranty. Being a professional IKEA Hacker I have tended to numerous PAX boxes - everything from a fresh, baby-new box being assembled; to 'can you come and TUNE-UP this closet?' - something is not working properly, something is rubbing, the box feels wobbly...etc. I have even conducted PAX RESURRECTIONS - this is when the PAX wardrobe installed according to the provided instructions [and not always at the end of its 10-year warranty life] is failing to the point that it is being considered for curbside disposal. YES, I have witnessed this box across its entire lifespan and let me tell you that I always hope! - otherwise it's a lot of money and time to replace it new.

I am on REDDIT - active in the r/IKEA and r/IKEAHacks communities. It's a good community of people helping others - professional and cheerful. Lots and lots of PAX built-ins popping up. People are recognizing the value of that system and are choosing it over the traditional route of 'custom closets'. It's easy to make that decision when you compare the pricing on the designs - most of my work comes from people who first get a quote for a custom build and realize that they can achieve SO MUCH MORE for a lot less money!

Here is the trouble - when you are building in the PAX, meaning you are creating a custom structure that will either support, house, hide, elevate that box - whatever your end-goal is - you are removing the easy access to fix it up along its lifespan. I bet that you want to get more than the 10 years out of that box [that's the warranty]. I would argue that a good, solid run of cabinetry should last 25 years. Yes, there will be wear and tear on some elements. Yes there will be a need to occasionally adjust, lubricate or replace some components. This minor tweaking tho should be easy and accessible, including to the client so that there is no expensive call backs.

I know and understand the PAX box intimately. 

I know how it is designed and I understand how it is fabricated. This allows me to come up with solutions that when implemented will extend the life of the PAX years beyond its fairly limited warranty, in my opinion. 

If you are going to go thru the trouble of building in your PAX and you want to get a solid 25 year performance out of it then you MUST do those three simple hacks to the box. Here is the video: How to give your PAX a lifetime of performance!

To Be Coninued..... [video coming!]


**this is why I said that the DELAKTIG project was a dud - it was an artificial entity not quite suited to real life. The end of 'High Priests of Design' has come.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The case for WILLIAM - a BILLY bookcase hack OR everybody needs boxes in their life.

 This entry here is a part of the Toronto Design Festival 2021.

Picture shows Studio Kosnik WILLIAM bookcase prototype, a work-in-progress - a BILLY bookcase hack designed in the aesthetic called 'Accidental Wes Anderson'.  The BILLY bookcase had the back replaced with beadboard; side panels were added as well as 'face frames' and an oversized arch with a crown moulding tops the box.


Picture shows a very fancy looking BILLY bookcase hack by Karol Kosnik - the WILLIAM bookcase. 

Chapter 1 - The need for storage

People have stuff. Sometimes lots and lots of it. Sometimes they have too much stuff and it becomes a problem. 

Solution? BOXES.

Yes my friends that is most requested item on the menu at Studio Kosnik. No it is not fancy furniture design that people want [although I will often throw in some eccentric element into my design] but rather the superbly organized, well lit, beautifully functional Ikea hacks. I have found the perfect partner in IKEA - essentially they are in the business of boxes - well designed, well sourced.

In fact, Ikea's boxes are so popular that they often sell out of them. There exist shortages of their well priced boxes across many areas of United States, Canada - even European Union has its own issues [BREXIT!!]. Consumers complain of being sold a beautiful dream via the various IKEA planners, be it PAX, or SEKTION, or BESTA or BILLY or EKET..... just sooo many boxes - and then realizing that the item is out of stock and hasn't been re-stocked in ages. Or maybe they live outside of delivery area. Or maybe there isn't anyone in the area to install it - yes, there is a shortage of skilled labour.

Entry point pricing on a box that typically carries a better 'design value' - for example the design for the BILLY bookcase is resolved downright to the shelf pins! check them out! 10/10 - means that many of those boxes paired with the right designer [yes, that is another requirement...] - becomes an irresistible value proposition. How high are you holding your nose in relation to your wallet, huh?** 

What is the box that every dwelling will need? Easy, it's the kitchen box and SEKTION - which is IKEA's second version of the kitchen box; a complete re-design of their previous AKURUM system [for which by the way exists an entire ecosystem of shops making replacement doors] - is an industry leader.

I love telling this story:

So one day we were installing some really fancy fancy millwork for Canada's most famous lawyer - personal residence. I was fresh out of design school and working for a high end millwork company. This place had it all - 'a meellion dollar floor', rift sawn wenge; 'a meellion dollar' kitchen, Italian Boffi; of course there was my 'meellion dollar zebra wood' closet and media unit. The house is absolutely stunning and well designed. Soon I discovered that there was another large kitchen in the basement - an exact look-alike, except it was from IKEA. This Boffi/IKEA thing did not dawn on me right away - both kitchens were nice white high gloss; both kitchens featured great functional hardware, AND at first glance they appeared identical. That's right ~they appeared identical~. Me, quote, unquote, a professional, couldn't spot the difference at first glance. 

Much years has passed since that time - today, almost 15 years later, I've developed a more discerning eye and can spot 'designer' things easier, but this experience is deeply etched in my mind. 

~See? Who knows if you don't tell them? ~

Chapter 2 - The Pandemic

This pandemic has caused a dramatic shift to work from home for a specific demographic and now this demographic needs to be productive at home. There is a lot to be said for a comfortable task chair or a great, 'just-for-me' height desk or nifty filing storage system.  Guess what the backbone of such setups is? If you guessed boxes and slabs then you are right.

Browsing subreddits r/IKEA and r/IkeaHacks will give you an idea of the pent-up demand. Once a blessing - GLOBALIZATION - now a curse as all supply chains are upended and in shock. Geopolitical tensions are also rising and large corporations such as IKEA need to re-evaluate their long term stability of their supply chains. A good example that I always like to use is this: the more expensive and important a SEKTION door the likelier it is made in a stable western democracy. There are no doors made in China [there were!] and HAGGEBY which IKEA's plainest door is made in Ukraine which as far as my understanding goes is currently at war with Russia. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

the 2020 FRIHETEN sofa reupholster project - pandemic edition;

Picture shows FRIHETEN pullout sofa bed 3 seater with an optional chaise on the right. This is the model that I had re-upholstered. Arrows point to the chaise on the left and the hidden/stored away pull out section. 

Chapter 1 - FRIHETEN sofa - IKEA's entry level sofa;

Entry level sofas are there for a reason - to capture the largest market share - and I am certain that IKEA has been successful there. People hate this couch tho. It has a very poor rating - only 2.2 stars [out of 5] - and that includes on the IKEA's own website. I am here to change your mind - the poor rating comes from the wear and tear that occurs during the lifespan of the couch. There are number of elements of the couch that directly contribute to the comfort that the user experiences - the springs, the backer fabric cover, the foam, the batting and finally the fabric cover itself - when these elements break, wear out or shift the discomfort starts. 

Picture shows a well loved, heavily used, fully unfolded FRIHESTEN sofa that had the pull out section deconstructed - the upholstery, the batting, the foam and the backer fabric has been removed to clearly illustrate the softwood frame. 

We've had ours for 6 years now with daily use, including sleeping and vigorous jumping by children [to the point that I thought it is going to break, me, as a furniture maker was worried about labour hours required to fix things]. 2020 with the lock downs has had us stuck at home for a lot longer than we liked, and since the couch is also part the gaming center it has received significantly more use. Then a spring broke - leading to the foam collapsing - and the sofa become uncomfortable.

How long should sofas last? 6 years? 10 years? I would say that our sofa received above average usage, high usage, heavy usage - no two ways about it. Look at this pictorial - this is the anatomy of FRIHETEN sofa -

Picture shows a cross section of IKEA's Friheten sofa clearly outlining each element of the design. Arrows point to the three elements that I recommend upgrading and replacing - batting, foam, back cover fabric;

This is essentially the anatomy of any 'modern sofa' - I know I am generalizing, but you get the picture - 'squarish seats, sides and back + puffy pillows for back rests and side rests' look PLUS whatever legs you get.  It's soft and supportive where most of your butt hits, got some flexible back support and it is comfortable enough that you can fall asleep on it. 

When I was in Design School I got a scholarship to work for Canadian equivalent of Herman Miller - Nienkamper. I spent two months working the floor across various departments - I met some incredible, creative, inventive craftspeople! My favourite department tho - hands down! - was the upholstery. They do some really, really nice stuff - designer stuff too - there is only so many recipes for for modern sofas. 

Theoretically I could have re-created a high-end version of FRIHETEN - built a 'proper hardwood frame', make up better legs [the original are cheap plastic, but the do the job]. And then sell it for a million dollars to the consumer - that's how it works in the high end sofa business. 

But why? For what reason? If this FRIHETEN has not collapsed so far - I completely agree with the designers making the right choices when it came to materials - what would be gained if functionality is not affected? The upholstery frames were European softwood, but well selected for straight grain with minimal warp. The finger joint was strong and stapled properly, adhesive likely used - thumbs up. The torsion boxes for the sofa were rigid and strong - baltic birch for greatest loads, moving onto organic 3/4 particle core for structure with some 1/4 mdf for non-load bearing skins. If I were to optimized a production costs for a 100 000 sofa run I would make the same decisions - nothing in structural integrity is compromised. 

As to the complaints of it 'squeaking', run-aways and 'general wobbliness' - it's all tied to loose hardware. Grab your Allen keys periodically and adjust all fasteners - wood gets compressed and loses that 'tightness' - 1 full turn can work wonders. This is just a function of the incredible modularity and flexibility of the design. If I knew that this FRIHETEN sofa is never coming apart I'd just throw in some silicone beads in the right spots ~and you done~


Picture shows a newly re-upholstered FRIHETEN sofa bed, without cushions, fully unfolded. The sofa looks clean, and plump and the original fabric - which was washed and air dried before being re-installed - looks brand new with minimal wear. 

Something had to be done. We either buy a new sofa or ...... what? How do you go shopping for a sofa in the middle of a pandemic lock down? You tell me. We don't really trust a lot of reviews - point being our FRIHETEN, we loved it, and now love it even more that it is practically ~luxurious~. 

I have to say that my butt has the final say on any piece of 'seating' in my house. So any on-line purchases were OUT.

I knew exactly what to expect from FRIHETEN - it was utilitarian cheap entry model that worked well for us. Can I repeat its success? Can I improve on the design? Can I fix all the flaws that were annoying me, and it seemed a whole bunch of other FRIHETEN owners? 

I know basic upholstery principles of slabs - that all this IKEA sofa is - what if I replace the worn out foam with something that is top-line? Since the original upholstery fabric must have stretched over the years of usage, I figure I can cheat and use 1" thick, quality batting vs. the original 1/2" 'cheap thing'. The synthetic backer over the springs has been worn out - what if I replace it with some heavy heavy gauge cloth that will further provide support and protect the foam from wearing out against the springs? YES to all. 

Picture shows the replacement batten, foam, and the backer fabric all laid out on a bench next to the bare FRIHETEN frame. I am overdressed because I just stepped in from the the cold. 

A note about the ORIGINAL FABRIC:

It is great. It held up incredible well over the years - even with all the spills and messes. It held up to to all the vacuuming, spot cleaning and 'wash-downs'. There were no snags, tears or rips and the joints were all solid - this is why it made sense to re-use the upholstery. All staples were removed with care to ensure that no damage was done to the fabric - that was probably my least favourite part of the job - long, tedious, and requiring care. But you got to do it.

Picture shows a close-up overhead shot of a staple removal by carefully lifting it with the blade of a flathead screw-driver. Once the crown was lifted, I used basic pliers to gently pull the staples fully out. 

To Be Continued.....