I Spent 11 Months Building an Uncomfortable Couch

My Pomona comrade and shop collaborator Jimmy has a habit of suggesting woodworking projects that, while not fulfilling vital needs around our old houses, somehow just need to get built. Such was the case when he proposed making two reproductions of the obscure Gustav Stickley Divan #165, one for his house and one for ours.

The couch dates from the summer of 1900, when Stickley employed, at great expense, the architect Henry W. Wilkerson to design a line he called “The New Furniture.” Wilkerson is probably best known as the architect of one of New York City’s few Arts and Crafts style apartment buildings. Fun fact: Madonna lived there, and if you’ve got a $5,000,000 housing budget and can afford the $4,000 a month maintenance fee so can you. But I digress.

Wilkerson’s design has some of Stickley’s austere reaction to fussy Victorianism but softened by gothic arches in the back seat slats and a kind of Greene and Greene-esque shape on the bottom rails.

We found measured drawings in Robert Lang’s Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture for a later, simplified couch with the same dimensions. We popped the measurements into Sketchup and changed the back slats into Wilkerson’s arched design using auction photographs as a guide. I’m guessing, for some combination of a desire for a more rectilinear design and ease of manufacture, Stickley eliminated the arches in later models of this couch.

I noticed this couch in the background of Greene and Greene’s dreamy James A. Culberton house, the location of America’s worst remodeling disaster.

Since Jimmy can only work on Saturdays our two Divans took many months to complete. The wood had to be milled and shaped and the piece has 58 mortise and tenon joints. We also had to figure out how to do the curved top rail. We used quartersawn white oak, the same wood that Stickley used for most of his furniture. Manny at Custom Designs Upholstery in Pasadena did the cushion.

I’m very pleased with the end result and thankful to have a wood shop. The divan has decadent 1900 vibes, kind of the perfect couch to faint on after too many rounds of absinthe consumed while your significant other plays the Liszt Wagner transcriptions on the nearby piano. That’s the fantasy, at least. More likely I’ll simply fall asleep on it after a lengthy Twitter doomscrolling bender.

I Made a Strange Table We Didn’t Really Need

My friend Jimmy makes furniture in my woodshop. Sometimes he finds stuff that’s so cool that I want one for myself and we make two. Such was the case with this reproduction of an oddball, early Gustav Stickley poppy table.

Mostly known for his rectilinear “Mission” furniture, Stickley would occasionally detour into curvy Art Nouveau territory. He traveled to continental Europe in 1895 and, I’m guessing, also read German language newspapers published in American which covered the latest trends. He had a brief few years of staggering creativity and innovation in the first decade of the 20th century, quickly went bankrupt and faded into obscurity until a revival of interest in his work in the 1970s.

It wasn’t too difficult to make this table if you don’t count the many hours of filing and sanding all those tight radius curves. I wish I could say that you don’t need many tools but that’s not the case. We deployed a jointer, planer, scroll saw and hand planes. We freehand routed the poppy pattern on the two horizontal surfaces. The quarter sawn white oak came from Bohnhoff Lumber.

My workshop is right on the street so people walking their dogs and heading to the hip restaurants on Sunset boulevard see me working. I felt weird working on this particular table because it’s about as far from what’s fashionable now as you can get–kind of like Pearl Jam, but furniture. The brief fling with Craftsman style and Grunge back in the 1990s is long over, replaced by mid-century modern and unstained Silver Lake Shaman furniture. But I don’t care. I vibe with this table’s biomorphic exoticism and decadence. It’s just missing the absinthe fountain dripper.

If you’d like to make one of your own you can purchase plans here. I used these finishing directions, specifically for the “Onondaga” finish.

Rocking with Trash: Fulu Miziki

The performance collective Fulu Miziki, which means “music from trash” hail from what they call a “bad neighborhood” in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. This music video gives you a sampling of what they can do with instruments they fashioned out of industrial waste. A commenter in YouTube puts it well, “Just blew 3k on a guitar. Feel like an idiot these people rock!”

In a Guardian profile drummer Sekelembele says, “We hope our collective can put a spotlight on this pollution problem in Kinshasa and other parts of Africa . . . finding solutions is what Afrofuturism is about . . . if Africa is the dumpster of the entire world, it is already facing difficulties that everywhere else will face very soon.”

Watch a longer video from the 2020 Taksirat Festival

The Agony and the Ecstasy of iPhone6s Repair

What the inside of an iPhone6s looks like.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog I’ve made a very dull hobby out of repairing old Mac devices including iPods, iPads and an old desktop computer. I now have more functional Apple devices than I have uses for. This week I tackled the repair of my ancient, but still in use, iPhone6s.

My phone needed a new battery, screen (ironically, broken while repairing my iMac), lightning and headphone connector assembly. At just shy of $100 for all the parts, sourced from iFixit, my repair was a dubious financial gamble. But I just can’t stomach throwing out a device that’s the product of horrible labor practices and extractive mining, especially since it still worked.

Breakfast nook Genius Bar.

By far the hardest part of this repair was getting the broken screen off. Apple uses a strong adhesive that doubles as waterproofing. To loosen the adhesive you need to heat up the phone with a hair dryer or heat gun and pry off the screen with a suction cup that iFixit sells. You will also need a lamp with a magnifying lens, especially if you’re old like me.

Once you’ve got the screen open the main challenge is to keep track of the dozen or so different sized, microscopic screws. I used labelled bowls, but some people use an ice cube tray. The iFixit guides will step you through the repair process as well as help you keep track of all those infernal screws. As you do this you will gain appreciation for the workers who spend long days doing nothing but turning a screwdriver–a hell that I can’t imagine.

Another thing I’d suggest is patience. If things go south for some reason, take a break and come back to it later. Definitely check the phone before you reassemble it. In my case, before I applied new adhesive, I powered up the phone to discover that it was locked in a shutdown loop. I thought that I had damaged the logic board somehow, but on doing more research I discovered that faulty third party batteries are common and will cause this problem. I had another battery for Kelly’s phone and plugged this one in and the phone worked perfectly.

Replacing the screen was simple, the battery somewhat more difficult and the lighting and headphone connector assembly the hardest, because it involved removing a whole lot of screws and other parts. I would suggest reading the iFixit instructions thoroughly before you begin to make sure that you have all the tools and parts you need to complete the repair. I’d also suggest reading the comments to see what problems people have had with the repair or with the instructions.

I’ll note that one of the shortcomings of iFixit’s crowd sourced repair guides is that, at the end, they say, “reverse the steps.” Most of time this is okay but sometimes the process of reassembly isn’t the same as disassembly. This is where sorting through the comments helps. iFixit sells an adhesive strip that supposedly restores the phone’s waterproofing. You don’t need this but I bought it just for the experience and it was easy to apply.

My iPhone6s now works as new and serves its purpose. Looking back on all the mad device repairs I’ve done, the most rewarding was the iMac drive upgrade I blogged about previously. In that case I ended up with a fast, new computer.

I’d encourage you not to be afraid of doing iPhone repair. That said, I wouldn’t do this with a device that’s still under warranty or a more recent and expensive iPhone. Basically, I do these repairs on devices that would otherwise end up in the landfill. I’m still using my iPhone 6s as a phone but old iPhones make great mp3 players and small wifi devices. I still use a 2009 era iPhone to play tunes in my woodshop.

We tend to forget about the physicality of the computers we’re surrounded by. They are made by people, often in horrible conditions. The materials are mined at great ecological peril and even in their use they are supported by  server farms that require vast amounts of energy and human toil. To make sure the adhesive seals you stack a bunch of books on the phone. The video tutorial I watched used a copy of Steve Job’s biography. I substituted Marx’s hefty Grundrisse. As I think Marx would say, our iPhones are embedded in a web of social relations and physical conditions. If you want to understand this device, you might start with disassembling it and you’ll need a book of many more pages than Job’s biography to both put it in context and to make the glue stick.

We’re Moving!

My friend Nik sent me this realter.com listing late last night. He found out about it from a real estate agent friend. In the suburbs of Atlanta, you’d never guess from the unassuming exterior what’s going on inside.

At half the price and almost three times the size of our present 100 year old bungalow in gritty Los Angeles, I gave some serious thought about a, shall we say, “lifestyle shift.” And if you think this living room delivers, wait until you see the rest of the house.

Shag conversation pit. Check.

You also get this room with a large interior fountain smack in the middle. Inside? Outside? Do these categories exist?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any groovier, you get to the master bedroom and, well, of course you need a circular bed and mirrors.

But, wait, there’s another bedroom in which you realize that, in order to do this house justice, you’re gonna need to institute weekly “key parties” even if you find the idea distasteful. How else to do justice to a curved, mirrored ceiling, framed in shag, facing a shoji screen. Not sure why the previous owner has a small dinosaur skeleton opposite the bed.

I covet the curved underground workshop. I’d add NORAD themed decor for a missile silo vibe.

Swap out the pool table in the bonus room for a foosball table and you’ve got your own tech startup office.

Lastly, you get a kind of half-assed tiki themed garage.

I told my friend that if we turned this into our retirement commune I’d wake up every morning and spend the rest of the day laughing. Those laughs would begin with the absurdity of the house but, I have a feeling, turn into a darker, existential laugh recalling the Charles Fort quote, “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?”