On Fixing Things

I’ve been spending a lot of time learning to repair old furniture and it got me thinking — is the process of learning to fix something a good way to offer perspective on our consumerist culture?

The hands-on experience gave me an appreciation and better understanding of the cost of repair.

Half done Niels Otto Møller chair. Look at those beautiful curves!  😍

Half done Niels Otto Møller chair. Look at those beautiful curves! 😍

For example, a chair seat using this simple pattern uses roughly 2lbs of danish paper cord ~$25, and $5 for a couple dozen extra danish cord nails. This whole process of removing the cord, cleaning, wood repair, and reweaving takes me at least 2-3 hours of time (after I had practice of weaving several chairs already). Should I have gone to a reweaver, I would have paid roughly $100 per chair. That averages out to only $30 an hour for labor.

Restoring the chair gave the chair additional value to me that was not reflected in price, but in experience. It gave me confidence to repair it again if needed. It also made me question the function of “disposable” furniture. It makes me wonder. Why should I spend a comparable amount of money on IKEA furniture that is difficult to repair, and cannot last, when I can own a piece of design history and quality craftsmanship, while reducing waste? Or , why should I participate in the exploitation of design? These are nameless and faceless designers who are tasked to rip off a “classic”. In the words of one Tony Ash, a replica’s only mission is to make a design cheaper and worse.

Two seats. One freshly repaired, one with dirt and age and a few breaks. Chair designed by Henning Kjærnulf

Two seats. One freshly repaired, one with dirt and age and a few breaks. Chair designed by Henning Kjærnulf

In the end, learning to fix furniture has been empowering precisely because it has made me think about these things. It has only given me a better understanding of craft, design, and our labor market. It has empowered me to feel like I have more choices. And with more choices, maybe I can make a more responsible and sustainable decision for our future.


Jonathan TsayComment