Prologue: Knowledge, understanding and respect of the building process - CRAFTING - 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, social media hypes and industry myths that lead you to spend more money that you need to.
Chapter 1 - Private Passions: 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 choice that both my parents and my grandma supported. My parents because as fresh-2-Canada immigrants - I'm a 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 use wood [in all its forms] 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 over that final result to the client - they love it... and they can't get enough.
When I entered flooring full time as a subcontractor I already had an extensive 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 lights 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....
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.
It was fascinating to witness the birth of an icon by a modern designer - obviously there is historic context to the design but I spent more time talking to those actually working on the project. Considerations were given as to the ease of fabrication of the frame; how are we going to upholster this?; how are we going to deal with the 'warranty calls' - you would be surprised how a well meaning design turns into a production nightmare when you realize that the design has an 'excessive number of warranty calls'. My Nienkamper Summer, as I like to call it, was truly an eye-opening experience for me - knowledge I gained; the ingenuity I witnessed; the experience I admired, yearned for and was jealous of - all that - is still very much with me to this day.
Passion for quality doesn't go away, rather it grows stronger everyday that you focus and grow your craft.
Chapter 2 - What is APPROPRIATE and what is UNNECESSARY ?
Do you want to get philosophical?
I know, it's just interior design, but bear with me. We will start off with the following statement:
** I think we all have a bit of passion for interior design - at minimum for our own space; some more than others. **
**I also want to mention that we will only be dealing and talking about residential construction as that is my forte.**
I strongly believe that the only reason for my success is the fact that Ikea Hacking is value proposition - it is cheaper to create interiors using boxes sourced from IKEA. When you compare 'how much' you can get from IKEA vs. anywhere else for the same amount of money it just makes sense - and this goes beyond just 'things purchased' but rather organization and functionality; 'an optimized environment'.
This human pre-disposition for savings is a strong one, a natural one, an 'organic one', and the proof is the roster of my past clients, repeat clients, new clients and the sheer amount of requests for quotes and requests for advice I receive. I want to highlight that socio-economic status has no bearing on demand for my services - everyone wants me to come visit their space and give them my opinion.
So, where do we start?
**Everyone needs boxes in their lives.**
We may have different personal aesthetics and budgets but the need is universal. 'Boxes' are used mainly to 'store stuff' and help us to organize our lives better. Vanity is a box; a closet is a box; kitchen is a series of boxes and a kitchen island is a free-standing box - you see? They are everywhere and so I ask - why not tilt the economies of scale in your favour and buy the boxes from IKEA?
**Make IKEA your renovation partner. **
Yea, why not?! There is more! As a woodworker with more than 20 years of woodworking experience across industries such as residential design, hospitality, education and food service I can tell you that everybody builds their boxes the same way - this is not rocket science; we are not re-inventing the wheel here.
This need for functional boxes was further amplified by a 'Historic Design Event' on a massive scale. What happened? The exodus of office workers from their traditional productive environments and into their private residences happened. Thousands of people were forced out of the confines of their well designed, well thought out, optimized and ergonomic spaces and thrust into the middle of their living rooms, bedrooms, dens and kitchens. 'Temporary 2 weeks' turned into months and now a year and it looks like it will continue for foreseeable future.
I'm on REDDIT - a frequent visitor to r/IKEA and r/IKEAHacks - and let me tell you that what I have witnessed is nothing short of pandemonium. Shortages of absolutely every conceivable box! People asking questions on IKEA hacking left and right - how do I do this? How do I do that? And you know what else? Nobody was like 'Hey, can anyone recommend an overpriced design service'? Instead, most were Do-It-Yourselfing along and saving money - pricing on renovation is insane right now. Work from home means you shave hours off your commute time, you are more flexible with your work hours, you are efficient 'differently' from the 'tradition'. YES, this was a 'Historic Design Event'.
We gonna get philosophical. Going forward I will never describe my work as 'Luxury', instead I will call it 'Appropriate'. When your space that you occupy works for you and not against you - that's appropriate.
First and foremost it's functionality. Superb functionality means that your living is smooth, effortless and everything has its place - from items to actions. The stuff you own is stored properly [extend its life] and its accessibility is a function of how often you are required to put it to use [winter clothes get their own sturdy, dust proof, rigid fabric 'box' that stores on the top shelf of PAX box - a must for everyone - $12].
When I say 'actions', I mean your daily, 'mandatory tasks' are efficient and take minimum time and you might even enjoy yourself - your morning ablution, working from home, cooking meal,, etc. With the extra time you can focus on yourself - how are you going to spend it?
Make it pretty - for yourself, for your partner, your child, your pet. With the previous point of 'functionality' we are leveraging IKEA, the 'make it pretty' varies. It depends on who you are and what your tastes are. It depends on how much money you have available at your disposal - you can only save so much when you have a dream or a passion.
To Be Continued....
*the Gilded Age the Pandemic