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Smart DIY Designs for a Stylish Home
By Ben Uyeda
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Format:ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 17, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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1. The HomeMade Modern Philosophy1. The HomeMade Modern Philosophy
The best way to minimize waste is to make more projects from the things you already own.
Growing up in a home with four children and parents on a tight budget, my siblings and I quickly learned that if we wanted something, we’d have to figure out how to make it ourselves. Our bedtime stories consisted of books like Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Little House on the Prairie, and Tom Sawyer. Whether they had a home in a treehouse or a raft for adventure, the heroes in these books made what they needed. So when, as a twelve-year-old, I wanted a sword, I found a book on DIY blacksmithing at the library and built my own forge on our concrete patio, using my mom’s old hairdryer, drain pipes, cinder blocks, and a car’s leaf spring. I actually managed to forge my own metal sword before the concrete grew so hot that the patio exploded.
And despite the explosion (or maybe because of the explosion—quite exciting for a twelve-year-old!), I was undeterred in my quest to use DIY as a way to get the things I wanted without spending much money. After a childhood spent making things, design was so ingrained in what I wanted to do that I went to school for architecture. My interest was always in doing more with less, so it wasn’t a surprise when I started my own environmentally friendly firm, ZeroEnergy Design, and later, FreeGreen, a Web-based media company that distributes green home designs on the Internet.
And that’s how I was spending my time, when, in 2013, I grabbed a beer with a furniture designer friend and listened to him complain about how impossible it was to design quality furniture at affordable prices. According to my friend, the fault was with corporations and consumers for their misplaced values. He seemed resigned to the fact that his career would consist of making high-end custom pieces for rich people in the hopes of eventually becoming famous enough to offer an affordable line of products made overseas. It was a complaint I’d heard before from many of my designer friends. Maybe it was just the beer talking, but I bet him that I could get one thousand pieces of American-made furniture into homes across the country.
I knew it was the labor costs that were putting high-end designs out of reach for the average person. So I decided to design a piece of furniture and make a YouTube video that included all the instructions, just to see if I could get a thousand people to make it. In my mind, DIY was the only logical way to create affordable, well-designed furniture.
So far, that initial project—a concrete bucket stool (see page 73)—has been made on five continents by more than five thousand people. The response was so tremendous and unexpected that I continued designing as much affordable furniture as I could, and I started a website as a way to share those easy-to-follow modern DIYs.
On the site, I’ve been able to prove that it’s possible for sturdy furnishings made from materials like solid wood, concrete, and steel to cost even less than cheap, store-bought plastic and particleboard furniture. But it’s become more than simply using DIY as a way to obtain covetable furniture (although we have plenty of that!), because when you become more conscious of the things you’re bringing into your life, you can manage your financial resources and make an impact on the over-consumption of the planet’s resources.
The collection of projects that make up this book enable you to furnish every room in your house with quality, sustainable furniture made with your own hands. Once you start making high-grade, durable furniture, you’ll notice the difference between what you’re able to make and the low-quality, mass-produced furniture on the market. Following the instructions I’ve laid out in this book, you’ll be able to create furniture that’s totally individualized to your personal style, taste, and lifestyle.
Why Is DIY Important?Why Is DIY Important?
You can have nice things . . . if you learn to make them.
If you’ve walked into a modern design furniture store lately, there’s a good chance that you suffered from serious sticker shock. With prices running into the hundreds for a single chair, it might feel as if beautiful, modern design is only available to the select few with pockets deep enough to afford it. The low-price furniture options are usually made with inferior materials with compromises in manufacturing ethics, and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. So what’s a design-minded, budget-conscious individual to do? I’m going to show you how to roll up your sleeves and make beautiful, well-designed furniture by yourself.
For most Americans it would seem extravagant to employ a housekeeper or private chef. Why hire someone to do what can easily be done without outside help? The same pleasure that we take in keeping a clean house or cooking a healthy meal for our families can also apply to furnishing our home. In fact, think of the projects in this book as recipes. I’ve laid out the basic techniques and ingredients, but I urge you to run with it by changing the color, size, or material. I’ve also done my best to supply quantities and sizes, but keep in mind that these will vary depending on the materials you use.
One of the best parts of making your own furniture is that you can personalize each project to fit your own style and taste. As long as you understand the basic concept behind each project, you should be able to really make it your own. This is the path to more conscious consumption. It’s both an opportunity to save money and acquire exactly what you want.
Setting Expectations: I’m Not a Craftsperson!Setting Expectations: I’m Not a Craftsperson!
Precision is not beauty. Otherwise, all nice things would be machine-made.
The Japanese have a philosophy called wabi-sabi, which is in essence the art of finding beauty in imperfection. There’s no direct translation in English, but the philosophy involves valuing authenticity over perfection. While most of the skills associated with woodworking and furniture involve some precision, the more we appreciate the asymmetrical idiosyncrasies of the handmade object, the happier we’ll be with our final result.
I’ve seen a lot of first-time DIYers get discouraged when the piece they’re working on isn’t precise. I tell them that perfect precision is made in a factory, not handmade at home. Since I’m not a professional carpenter and don’t have formal woodworking training, I’ve tried to design pieces where the inevitable flaws add to the handmade aesthetic.
Spending your weekends making furniture you love should make your life better, not add to your frustration. The only thing you need to obsess over is safety; you can relax about everything else. If you don’t believe that precision can be ugly, take a stroll in the furniture aisle of the closest mega store. The edges of the furniture might be perfect, but the laminated particleboard certainly isn’t. I prefer rugged materials assembled in clever ways.
These projects are purposely designed with imperfection in mind, and scuffs and scratches only enhance their handcrafted look. The concrete may crack, the wood may warp, you may need to slide a matchbook under a table leg to make it level. That’s all okay! If you find yourself getting frustrated with uneven edges, warped wood, and corners that aren’t at perfect 90-degree angles, remember that a world where everything is precisely 3-D printed is about as exciting as the prospect of every meal being made from powdered supplements.
• Don’t worry about anything other than safety. These projects are intended to make your life better, not more complicated.
• Precision is overrated and often ugly. There is beauty in imperfection!
• Use the projects as recipes, and feel free to deviate. This is your adventure in furniture building, so once you understand the concepts, you can use the projects as inspiration to create something that perfectly fits into your life.
What We Mean by Affordable and SustainableWhat We Mean by Affordable and Sustainable
Creating a fair and sustainable society simply means trying to do a little better today than we did yesterday.
Your DIY projects won’t save the world, but they can greatly reduce your impact on it, and if everything does go to hell, it will be nice to have some handy skills during the zombie apocalypse. I’m not the most militant pursuer of sustainability, but it feels good to try. Connecting even a small portion of your consumption with your responsibility to the planet is a good thing. We should at least try to make things that are a little bit better than their most common alternatives. Let’s lay out some conceptual benchmarks:
Affordable + Accessible
According to the U.S. government, the average American household spends approximately $500 a year on furniture. That excludes virtually all designer brands and even puts Ikea on the limits of affordability.
The projects in this book may require a bit more dedication to assemble, but the result is a better, more affordable option than Ikea alternatives. This is not to bash Ikea, because I love some of their non-particleboard products, but I’ve seen too many dumpsters with barely used pieces with silly Scandinavian names poking out of them to believe that there aren’t better ways to go modern on a budget.
I aimed for the projects in this book to be comparable or cheaper than their store-bought counterparts, but depending on what materials you have on hand or have access to, the furniture prices can vary. Purchasing tools might be the most expensive part of these projects, but if you make three to four DIY projects instead of buying three to four pieces of furniture, the tools will most likely pay for themselves. Because you’re using your own labor, you’re saving yourself the cost of the production, which means you can put some of that savings into quality materials. By doing the work yourself, you’ll get furniture made with real, chemical-free wood rather than particleboard, or with solid metals rather than cheap plastic.
Recyclable + Reusable
While recycling is a much better option than simply throwing unneeded items in the garbage, an even better solution is to reuse those materials. I try to use new materials thoughtfully and sparingly. For example, I might turn a wine bottle into a drinking glass by cutting off the top and sanding down the edges. This decreases the amount of waste in the recycling bin while also creating something useful—all for the cost of a bottle of wine. Throughout this book, I’ll make suggestions for ways to reuse the projects once you’ve grown tired of them. Remember that even recycling uses a significant amount of energy, so our goal is to reduce total energy consumption.
Durable + Degradable
The best decision we can make for the environment is to buy less stuff. But when we do buy something, we should think about the full lifecycle of that product. My goal for every DIY project is that the finished project will last indefinitely or compost quickly. There might be projects that you grow tired of, so I’ve provided suggestions for how to give old projects a new look or new use. For this reason, I often choose not to “protect” the wooden projects with plastic finishes, not only because I would rather feel wood when I touch it, but also because if I turn that table into something else I won’t have to sand off the finish, which creates a cloud of polyurethane or acrylic dust particles that are absorbed into the soil, water, and my lungs.
Thinking about the complete lifecycle of an item can also be helpful when you’re on the fence about buying something. For example, I have purchased pre-made steel table legs because I know that they’ll last forever and can be removed from the table and reused for a different project.
Healthy + Whole
Our DIY projects focus on affordable, sustainable uses of natural materials such as wood, metal, and concrete. We’ll use these materials both in their raw states, such as construction lumber, but for convenience, we’ll also make use of readymade wood and metal products that are made without plasticized coatings. While DIYing alone won’t necessarily make your home healthier, exercising the power to control the materials that come into your house certainly will. Throughout this book I’ve made suggestions for finishes and products that are relatively chemical-free. Not only are these better for the environment, but it also means there will be less off-gassing (the release of harmful gases trapped in some factory-made furniture and paints). And if you have a couple of rug rats who occasionally like to gnaw on the legs of the coffee table, isn’t a beeswax finish preferable to a factory-applied polyurethane one?
2. Hunting, Gathering, and Investing2. Hunting, Gathering, and Investing
Making careful decisions about the materials you use will prevent you from overspending or using anything unsafe for the environment.
Even in the middle of a city, there are opportunities to harvest the materials you need. In fact, finding the materials is often the easiest part; having space to store all your materials until you’ve accumulated enough to make the project might be the real challenge! For example, wood pallets are relatively easy to find but are awkward to store, and there may be rough edges and rusty nails to contend with. Opportunistic scavenging and smart shopping strategies can make your DIYs affordable, but I’ve learned the hard way that using a cheap or inappropriate tool can make building your own furniture a frustrating experience and can even lead to mistakes that waste materials. It’s important to know where to save and when to make an investment in your DIY lifestyle.
The MaterialsThe Materials
Once you open your eyes to the possibilities of DIYing, you’ll be amazed at the amount of materials available either for the taking or at extremely affordable prices. The real challenge is in understanding the different characteristics of the materials and also finding ones compatible with the tools available to you. I often use materials for applications other than their intended purpose. For example, most woodworkers try to hide the exposed edges of plywood, while I love the stratified aesthetic. My primary concerns in choosing materials are: Is it toxic? Is it safe to work with? Do I have tools to cut it?
Wood is not a static or uniform material; it’s a matrix of cells that changes with temperature and time. It warps, shrinks, changes color, and scratches easily. These are not liabilities, but organic characteristics that attract us to wood furniture. If you don’t try to force wood to act like plastic or steel, it’s rather easy to work with.
Construction Lumber and Softwoods
For most of my solid wood projects I use construction lumber in the form of 2×4s, 2×6s, 2×8s, 2×10s, and 2×12s. I also frequently use ¾-inch pine boards in widths ranging from 1½ inches to 12 inches.
Construction lumber is the most affordable type of large, readily available, solid wood, usually purchased by the piece instead of by the foot. Construction lumber is cheaper than finished lumber because it’s not put through the same drying and stacking process. Of course, with this fiscal advantage comes some challenges. It’s more likely to warp as it dries, and many of the pieces have large cracks or knots.
WHAT TO KNOW: Interestingly enough, 2×4s are not actually 2" × 4". They are actually 1½" × 3½". If you’re not a math nerd, don’t worry about remembering this. I’ll do all the calculating for you. Just follow the diagrams and instructions. When buying wood for a particular project, keep in mind where the piece will go. If it’s destined for the outdoors, you might want to spring for cedar or redwood, both of which weather well but cost a bit more than a standard 2×4. Never use pressure-treated lumber. It’s extremely toxic and gross!
WHERE TO BUY: Buy construction lumber and softwoods at your local home improvement store. Find a store with a large selection to pick through to find pieces with minimal warping and knots. Just trust your eye and purchase the straightest piece that meets your aesthetic requirements. Here’s a little money-saving tip: Oftentimes, you can buy long 12-foot or 16-foot pieces and have them cut down, which is usually cheaper than purchasing multiple, smaller pieces to start with. (Note: In my experience, Home Depot is the only store that will cut the wood to size without charging you. Call your local home improvement store to check on its particular policy.)
WHERE TO SCAVENGE: Construction lumber is commonly used as the structural framing for houses. Many residential construction sites are littered with cut-off ends, and the contractor is often willing to give them away.
Hardwoods, like walnut or maple, are increasingly rare and expensive. I don’t use them often, but when I do I try to use them efficiently and dramatically. Hardwoods are typically sold by the “board foot,” which is actually a measure of volume. A board foot is 12" × 12" × 1".
WHAT TO KNOW: Imported tropical hardwoods are not always harvested ethically. Look for ones that are FSC-certified. (These are woods certified “green” by the Forest Stewardship Council.)
WHERE TO BUY: Rather than your home improvement store, make a trip to a lumberyard or a fine woodworking store.
WHERE TO SCAVENGE: Hardwood flooring can sometimes be salvaged from construction sites or purchased on Craigslist at a discounted price. To save time, set up Craigslist alerts to be notified when particular types of wood are being offered.
Log furniture isn’t typically considered modern, but I like to mix in the occasional log or live-edge piece (this is the type of wood where the natural edge of the piece is visible) into an otherwise modern setting for a bit of texture.
WHAT TO KNOW: Logs can be found on the cheap, but they will most likely experience significant cracking and warping.
WHERE TO BUY: Search Craigslist for “firewood” and you’re bound to find opportunities to purchase cheap logs. I have consistently found solid hardwood logs this way for just a few dollars apiece.
WHERE TO SCAVENGE: If you live near a wooded area, you can easily scavenge for fallen branches or even full trees, particularly after significant storms. I’ve found really nice pieces of hardwood that would have otherwise ended up as firewood or simply rotted away. If you’re scrounging on public lands, make sure you check your local laws before taking fallen branches or logs home with you. Logs collected from the outdoors will warp and crack as they dry and can be difficult and cumbersome to work with, so look for the driest piece you can find. Also be sure to check for mold. If you don’t see any but the log smells moldy, move on.
Composites: Plywood and Laminates
Plywood is made from thin layers of wood veneer glued and pressed together. This results in large, smooth flat boards with stratified edges. Traditionally, woodworkers would try to hide these edges, but I like the layered look and try to incorporate it into my designs.
Plywood typically comes in 4' × 8' sheets and in thicknesses ranging between ¼ inch and ¾ inch. I typically use furniture-grade or sanded plywood for my projects; it’s a little more expensive but it’s smoother than rougher-looking construction-grade plywood.
Laminate or melamine board is an engineered wood product with a laminated plastic coating. I use these panels to make formwork (temporary or permanent molds) for concrete. The waterproof plastic coating creates a smooth finish on concrete projects. Laminates typically come in 4' × 8' panels that are ¾ inch thick and can be quite heavy.
WHAT TO KNOW: Plywood behaves differently than solid woods. For the best results when cutting it, use a plywood blade on a circular saw.
WHERE TO BUY: I don’t usually recommend specific brands, but in this case, I strongly suggest PureBond plywood, a brand that uses a formaldehyde-free technology that’s healthier for your family and the environment. It promotes healthy indoor air quality due to its proprietary, soy-based adhesive (instead of potentially hazardous urea-formaldehyde). Traditional plywood contains a lot of glues and adhesives that can off-gas formaldehyde into your home. Look for PureBond at your local home improvement store.
WHERE TO SCAVENGE: Plywood is one of those materials that I recommend you buy new. Even though you might be able to find discarded plywood, I think it’s important to invest in the formaldehyde-free plywood to protect the air quality in your home.
From the time I tried to make my own sword, I’ve been drawn to metalworking. There’s not another material that has such strength, permanence, and precision. Once you machine it, it doesn’t warp or change dimensions. That durability means that the metal components used in these projects will last for quite a long time, so I always provide options to reuse them if you grow tired of the project.
Steel comes in different-shaped profiles. Angle irons and flat bars are the ones I use most often. You can drill through steel fairly easily with a normal drill, but cutting it takes some time. When I use steel, I try to get it precut to the appropriate length. If I do cut it, I use an angle grinder with a cutting blade.
WHAT TO KNOW: Raw steel is sold “dirty” because the dirt and oil helps keep the steel from rusting. To use it at home, you’ll need to clean it and then protect it from rusting. Clean the steel using a non-toxic degreaser. You can protect it from rusting by applying a coat of mineral oil. If you don’t want to use oil because your finished project might come in contact with your clothing, use paste wax instead.
WHERE TO BUY: Home improvement centers keep a basic selection in stock. If I need longer or unusual pieces, I will go to my local steel yard where I can order pieces by the foot.
WHERE TO SCAVENGE: While steel is everywhere, it can be hard to separate it from whatever it might be attached to. However, old bed frames can be a good source for cheap angle irons.
Iron Pipe Fittings
"HomeMade Modern will walk you step-by-step through the process of making furniture, from where to buy the materials (or where to scavenge!) to how to make the most of the tools you own. All you need is a sense of adventure to make furniture that looks amazing and that you can actually afford. As much fun to browse through as it is 'user friendly' to apply, HomeMade Modern is very highly recommended."
"[Uyeda] fervently believes in the reuse, recycle, or do-without doctrine, and his 30 designs for every room in the house (and outside as well) prove it... The instructions are detailed and illustrated, complete with tool icons for each step and answers to such questions as: What can go wrong? Are there alternatives? What if you don't want it anymore? Smart and practical DIY household ideas from an entrepreneur who started with a how-to YouTube video."
- On Sale
- Nov 17, 2015
- Page Count
- 216 pages
- Running Press