Friday, November 21, 2014

Everything Comes in Pieces Nowadays

A lot of us have gotten out of the habit of going to the store to buy things like clothing and furniture. Buying clothing online is the simplest thing in the world. You don't even have to be decently dressed while you do it. It comes, it fits or it doesn't, if it doesn't you put it back in the box and take it across the street to the post office. No problem.

Furniture, not so much.

We've been living in this house for thirty years. We don't generally require more furniture. Sometimes we require less. There's a table with matching chairs in the kitchen, all solid maple, that my mother bought for her house in Massachusetts sometime in the sixties. I think it must be the last furniture she bought. But, the truth is, it doesn't fit in my little kitchen. I'm covered with bruises from bumping into the chairs. The table offers no storage underneath. There's stuff all over the tabletop that I can't fit in the cupboards. I've taken to storing potatoes and bags of flour on the chairs.

That's the kitchen problem. Then there's the trouble with my office. If you think the kitchen is cluttered, you should try wading into the office. You all know how long I've been complaining about this. It's been years, right? The desk is too big for my little office, there's stuff all over the floor, blah, blah.

If you can state a problem clearly, the solution will suggest itself. I have always believed this. So. Away with the too-big desk, get a smaller one with a file drawer. Out with the kitchen table and chairs, replace them with a modest kitchen island of a good height to work on and a stool for when I want to work sitting down. Simple matter. And yet I would never dream of going to a furniture store and selecting a kitchen island and a desk. Instead I did what I always do, go online and poke around until I find something that looks good.

This desk looked good! And the price was right. I sent away for it, along with two nice-sized bookcases, the day the shelves began to peel away from the wall. All of these things, the desk as well as the bookcases, came in pieces. I should have understood how it was when I read the reviews for some of the desks that were for sale on Amazon. "It only took my boyfriend three hours to put it together." "Remarkably good quality for the price. The fact that they included glue for the joints made this desk unusually sturdy." I read these words with a vague feeling that rabbits were walking over my grave. They make you put it together. Still. How hard could it be?

Harold, God bless him, put the bookcases together. They were real wood, solid wood. The desk was not. It came several days after the bookcases in a flat package with warning stickers for the delivery man to get help picking it up. I think he delivered it solo. I heard a thump on the front porch and went to the door in time to see him getting back in his truck. "I will drag this into the house myself," I thought, "and then I will unpack it and take it upstairs piece by piece and put it together. Harold will be so surprised." But I couldn't budge it. You know how heavy particle board can be, many times heavier than wood. Luckily the young fellow next door picked it up and carried it in for me. I opened it up on the living room rug and took the heavy pieces up the stairs to my office, rejoicing in the prospect of doing all the assembly myself without bothering Harold. I would have it finished, I thought, before he got home from work.

Well, it took the two of us, working alternately, a full week to put that sucker together. I finished it yesterday morning. The sticker that said Made in America was particularly piquant. Yes, the desk is made in America, if you live in America; you're the one who makes it. I noticed the rail supporting the file drawer was made in Taiwan, and a very sturdy piece of machinery it was. As for the rest of the desk, it's good-looking, and that's the best I can say for it. I hate particle board. The veneer on it is so thin that you only have to scratch it a little to reveal the pale crumbs of glued-together waste wood beneath. Which I did, through various accidents.

The new kitchen furniture promises to be much classier, having cost a lot more. The stool arrived weeks ago, a dear little retro stool with steps that fold underneath. It, too, had to be put together; Harold got busy and did the job in an hour and a half.

The kitchen island comes today sometime. It will be solid wood, with a butcher block top, no particle board, and I don't expect to have to do anything to it other than unwrap it and carry it into the kitchen. Maybe attach the legs. Maybe put the shelves underneath. But probably not anything, because the guys at the John Boos factory worked on it for a month before they shipped it. Surely they got it all finished. And they made it in America! Is this a great country, or what?

Note the rounded edges. I can't possibly bump into it and hurt myself. It will be just the right height and size for rolling out Thanksgiving pie crusts.

© 2014 Kate Gallison


  1. This reminds me of furnishing my efficiency in Center City Philadelphia. I had some things delivered from Strawbridge's, but I got a dresser from a catalog. The apartment building staff put the box in my apartment but when I opened the box and saw I had to put it together, I burst into tears. I'm little and not agile. It was big and immovable. Luckily I had a friend who put it together for me. I treated her to a nice dinner and so did not feel like such an incompetent nincompoop.

  2. Whew, Miss Kate, I'm totally exhausted from reading all this hard labor! And I haven't even had my morning tea yet!!!!! What we all need is the servants from Downton Abbey or maybe what Q E 2 and His Lordhip Phil have! I bet Kate knows how to do this stuff!! tjstraw

  3. Although the John Boos kitchen island is all put together, we have hit a snag with it. They delivered it in a huge semi that won't fit on the little streets of Lambertville. The driver just called and said he was at the corner of Bridge Street and Lambert Lane, where he just now checked his map and realized that these small streets would not accommodate his eighteen wheeler. So near and yet so far. When I declined to pick it up and carry it home, a distance of some four blocks, he said he would have to come back Monday with a smaller truck. Meanwhile I took the kitchen table apart. He'd better be here before Thanksgiving, is all I can say.

  4. SOS!!! NB! Hi Everyone!!!! Since we are a family or a writerly tribe - I want to share the news!!! Just got the email from our colleague Margaret Mendel - her daughter has a lovely healthy little girl named Dalia... we all rejoice with the Mendel family - what a time to bring new life on to this world!!! Thelma

    1. Yes, a new member of the Mendel family. Thank you Thelma for the mention because Dalia's entrance into the world will begin with a dresser and crib newly assembled by my son-in-law. What with both parents working and the way things just get put off, these pieces of furniture were ordered at the last hour and now sit in the hallway of their home, waiting to be assembled some time after Sunday when everyone comes home from the hospital. It's hard to tell from the cardboard box, but it is a handsome baby crib. Kate I love the style of both you new desk and that fantastic kitchen island. Perfect.

  5. Grandchildren are the best. Congratulations to Margaret. Congratulations to me, too, because the delivery man found a place to park his huge truck and carried my kitchen island on a hand truck to the front door. It was in pieces. Harold put it together. It's great. Now I remember why the low table used to be good in the kitchen: the granddaughters gathered around it to make cookies. They're all grown up now and do their cooking in their own homes, but Margaret will be making cookies with little Dalia before long.

  6. Hurray for your delivery man! Hope you gave him a cookie! tjs
    P.S. We're all coming to your house for dinner Thursday!!!! Ha1 Ha! Just joking1