Tagged: wood

Second Little Pig: Vindicated

Since the googles said it was faster to walk from the Innovation District to South Station than to take the Silver line, that’s what I did. It was hot and humid but I’m glad I did because otherwise I would not have passed by BSAspace and dropped in for some AC. And had I not done that, I would not have seen an enchanting and informative exhibit called Urban Timber: From Seed to City, all about building with wood.

Mesopotamian plywood!

The gob-smacking revelations started right away. Did you know that plywood was invented by the Mesopotamians more than 5,000 years ago? Mind = Blown. It’s not just about plywood, there are many kinds of wood-based building materials, many of which compare favorably with concrete and steel. SOM has a project for a 40 story tower made of wood, unbuilt as of this writing, but not for lack of feasibility.


The show clearly has an axe to grind (so to speak) but makes some really interesting points about the environmental impact of various building materials and the industrial processes that make, mill, mine and harvest them. I especially liked the roll-call of large wooden structures. Unfortunately, in the USA, one of the largest timber-producing nations, the tallest wooden thing is still a giant redwood. In Australia, Scandinavia and beyond, they have some major wooden structures and some are quite marvelous.


In addition to the infographics on the walls, there are four projects by emerging architects featuring some innovative ways to build with wood.


You can’t make this stuff up.


But seriously, gentle reader, you should get over to the Boston Society of Architects space and check this show out. It’s free and open to the public through September 30.

This weekend in wooden maps

While hanging out on the LES with the young lions of fintech, I stayed at the newly soft opened Ludlow Hotel and was enchanted by this coffee table in the shape of Manhattan with the street grid incised in it. It sort of reminds me of Max Becher’s Chocolate Broadway.

Manhattan coffee table at the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side

It’s made of wood and it’s a map, what more could I ask for? How about a Central Park filled with actual plants? Done! Sure, you could argue that other parks are not given this treatment or that the reservoir or other major bodies of water are missing, but hey, it’s a coffee table, not google earth.

Manhattan in wood, Central Park in moss

I didn’t have a chance to ask the hotel staff where they got this wonderful thing and the closest I’ve been able to find online is the superficially similar (and unavailable) Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge of (California-based) Galerie Sommerlath.

Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge

I give Edge much credit for including the transit lines, but I prefer the darker finish – and distinctive Central Park treatment – of the hotel’s version. I wonder if the concierge uses it to give directions.

Welding wood

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about my various infatuations with various wood products, many in conjunction with various electronics products made of metal. The estimable yobyot commented, “Seriously, though, isn’t the juxtaposition of cedar on aluminum a little too jarring?” I should probably also note that Greg commented, “Oh dear! You HAVE gone over the edge, haven’t you?”

In any case, I initially thought the first comment was about the physical transition between the sleek aluminum computer and the slab of wood. I’d have to agree that it would have been nice if the macbook had been indented or milled so that the wood could be set flush. But I think the question might really have been about the possible clash of textures and colors. I guess there might have been more sedate wood choices than cedar.

I probably don’t have to explain or respond to Greg’s comment, we all know that gondola sailed long ago, but I think this next find might give both commenters pause:  I learned via Gizmodo that there’s a guy in Hungary who makes furniture out of wood and metal by pouring molten metal into channels carved in the wood. This results in a form of joinery that’s part carpentry, part casting, and all elemental alchemical madness. The scorch marks on the wood are a marvelous side effect of the process. Now this is how I’d like to have a wooden cover put on my aluminum macbook.

Castwood by David Kiss aka Thebakker Manufactory from Gizmodo on Vimeo.

You may know it as Kallax, but it'll always be Expedit to me

Somehow I missed this one when the news broke. IKEA decided to make some changes to the iconic, omnipresent (and often immovable) Expedit line of shelving. Specifically, they narrowed the outer walls (perhaps to save wood), softened the corners a bit, and renamed the whole thing Kallax. Rabid fans the world over lost their cool as word got out that the beloved vinyl-accommodating storage range was to be “discontinued.”

Expedits in action - check out those thick outer slabs!Design geeks geeked out on it. Environmentalists doled out praise, after all, even a millimeter less wood over zillions of IKEA units comes to something. LP lovers finally took a chill pill when it became clear that the interior dimensions of Kallax would be identical to those of Expedit. And one reporter noted that both Expedit and Kallax sound a bit like remedies for constipation.  I’m not wild about the design change, I have to say. I think you either have the outer walls the same thickness as the inner ones (as in IKEA’s equally omnipresent Billy bookcases) or you make a statement with much thicker ones. And boxiness is so much of the identity of Expedit, why would you want to round any of the corners, even a little?

But enough about design. What’s really interesting to me here is the name change. After all, if they hadn’t called it something else, nobody would have freaked out about it being discontinued. Lots of products bear the same name through generational changes much more drastic than this. Look at Apple iPods over the years, or Ford Mustangs for that matter.

Well-read monochrome modernists love Expedit tooHere’s what I think happened: I think somebody in marketing decided that Expedit was old and boring and that the brand needed freshening. What they missed was that “old and boring” aka “standardized and reliable” was part of the appeal, perhaps a huge part of it. At least they didn’t turn their back on the range of add-ons already perfectly sized to the cubbies by changing the interior dimension that, by the way, is also so popular with record fans.

A few years ago I wrote about the perils of changing your brand or even just your logo or web theme because you are bored with it or think it needs a change. The question to be asking is really, is the market bored with it? Can you really change it for the better and not lose something along the way? I doubt that IKEA has lost much by this, but they certainly didn’t gain, and the cost of doing the name change and dealing with the blowback wasn’t zero, either.

Wine unboxing

At one of the frequent tastings a Ball Square Fine Wine, I noticed that they now stock Chat en Ouef and I also tasted a nice Bordeaux for a wooden box. Well, most likely from a plastic bag inside that box. But anyway, at $39 for 3 liters (that’s four regulation 750ml bottles) it seemed like a good buy. Here’s the unboxing – and reboxing as it were.

It’s got a convenient carrying handle and sure looks nice with my Vanshnookenraggen MTA subway map posters. I’m sure you know by now that I think wood is the new white.

Chateau Lhorens 2011 Bordeaux

Unless you’re already drunk you can probably manage these directions.


I was a bit unnerved by the prolapsed wine sack, but everything got neatly tucked back into place.


Here’s the spout, ready to serve.


I think putting box wine in a nicer box – with a nice spout – was a great marketing move by the Lhorens team. I’m not really sure you should age wine in a plastic bag, but if you’re not up to drinking three liters at a sit-down, I bet it’ll keep better in there than in a glass bottle with lots of extra air.

In which the TSA is impressed with my wood

en MacBook cover, that is.  Last month, I treated myself and my new MacBook to a spiffy cedar plank of a cover from Karvt. This month, I did some flying, and that included everybody’s favorite drill, take out your computer and put it in a bin all by itself.  I did not lose my ‘stache scissors or my cool, but in both Denver and Phoenix, I was quizzed by neighbors in the security line and by TSA screeners. “What kind of cover is that?” “Is that real wood?” “Did you make it yourself?”  Consensus was that it was pretty darn cool.

In case there’s any doubt that I’m turning into some kind of 21st-Century Margaret Lanterman, here are some other forest products I’ve been coveting or enjoying recently:

Levenger’s Bamboo Note Card Box with Index Cards
You know I’ve got a thing about index cards, especially ones with a grid on them.  After lusting after Levernger’s superb example of the genre for some time, I finally pulled the trigger, convincing myself that the package deal with this sweet bamboo box justified the expense. As it turns out, I had to go to the retail location and beg the staff to substitute gridded cards for the ones with plain old lines on them, but it was wheedling well spent.

Vintage Cork Desk Caddy (also with index cards)
Having decided to put the Levenger box on my work desk, I still needed something to hold my index cards and pencils at home. After some searching, I came upon this beauty, variously described as vintage, mid-century and 70s, on Etsy. I’m not sure if the cork body is really meant to take pushpins or not, but it holds pencils and index cards admirably, and I prefer the bare cork surface anyway.

Vers 1E Walnut Sound Isolation Earphones
Somewhere along the line, I misplaced or discarded the crappy earbuds that came with my ipod and my phone. Despite my complex relationship with their 1.5R radio, I’m still enamored with Vers Audio, so I decided to give their earphones a try. I’m no audiophile and I couldn’t carry a tune if you gave me a bucket, but I find the sound quality excellent and the little rubber thingies on the ear end both comfortable and sound-insulating.  Plus, the walnut wood matches my bedside radio. It’s the little things that matter.  Also, Vers plants 100 trees for every one they use in their products.

Wooden Lego-Like Building Blocks (HT @gizmodo)
OMFG.  Even if Giz is confused on the issue, I know these are not actually Lego, and I’m a little worried that they may be trampling on some patent by the estimable Danish toymaker. But, OMFG, I really want these.  That is all.

Well, almost all.  If you’ve got walnut in your ears, cork and bamboo on your desk, and cedar on your mac, you certainly can’t be caught dead with unsharp pencils, so I purchased the wood pulp edition of David Rees’ singular manual, How to Sharpen Pencils. Honestly, the fact that it even comes in ebook format is a little unsettling, don’t you think?

This week in wood: lasers!

I think one of the greatest attributes of wood is the inherent uniqueness of each piece.  I dont know why it’s not used more for mass-produced objects, since each one would then be a little bit different, just like people.   Uniqueness is also coming to mass-produced objects via mass customization.   I’m sure 3D printing will accelerate this trend, but I still think of wood as the original 3D medium.

But hey, let’s see what people are doing with lasers, shall we?

Exhibit A: Woodcut Maps

I’ve been watching this one for a while.  Google maps plus lasers plus wood, what’s not to like?  You can choose from a baffling array of options to make your wooden map from various kinds of wood in various shapes of any place you can find on Google maps.  The preview is oddly slow but so far as I can tell, the product is top-notch.

Exhibits B: Wooden “skins” for computers, phones, tablets, oh my.

Two companies – I Am Human and Karvt – with similar but very different offerings.  Both allow you to stick a thin slab of wood to your plastic or aluminum computing device.  I decided to take the plunge because there’s no sign of Apple forsaking aluminum any time soon. Applying wood veneer to your precious Mac is surely some kind of warranty-voiding fanboy-vexing heresy, but I got extra frisson from ordering the version that did not have a cutout for the Apple logo, striking a blow for individuality so 1984 won’t be, or something like that.

Ultimately it was the no-logo version offered by Karvt that swayed me, but both offer a nice selection of wood species and stains. It appears that Karvt take some pride in offering a thicker, stronger, and less removable product compared to I Am Human, which may in the long run turn out to be a poor choice for me, as I may have applied it a bit off-center.  In any case, I couldn’t be happier with the look of cedar – and lack of Apple logo – on the top cover of my Macbook.  You always take a bit of a chance ordering a wood product online because you can’t pick the exact slice, but I have no complaints at all.  The scent of cedar is reassuring and will protect me from Mac moths.  I could have done without the lasered-in KARVT wordmark, but it’s a whole lot subtler than a glowing white apple.

In defense of the Apple cutout, it certainly makes it easier to align and center your wooden “skin” on the back of your aluminum computer.

Exhibit C: a project for a long, uncaffeinated, OCD afternoon

The laser-cut wood thing may have reached or even exceeded its logical end with Lazerwood’s keyboards.  As if applying a single slab of wood to my computer’s cover wasn’t tricky enough, you can order a full set of keytops to stick on your keyboard.  I must say I think the feel of wood would be great, but I would miss the backlighting and I seriously doubt that I could successfully apply them with enough precision to keep me from going nuts every time I looked at them.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of this trend, and I look forward to more warm organic looks on electronics, and finer technologies for custom cutting, laser-engraving, 3D printing, and whatever comes next.  Bring on the individuality, I say.

Wooden radio update: Vers versus Apple dock

Those who were not set to sawing wood will remember that earlier this year I acquired my maguffin of wood-encased clock radio ipod dock goodness, the Vers 1.5R.  I had some reservations and some revelations, and I’ve come to an accommodation with the device.

For workday/weekday wakeup, I use the alam on my mobile phone.  It’s obnoxious enough and requires some fumbling to snooze, I can change the alarm sound and perhaps best of all, I can set it to go off only on weekdays, so I don’t blast myself at 5:23 on a weekend morning. For more leisurely weekends, I have a later alarm on the Vers 1.5R set to wake me to NPR.  I also use it to listen to the radio at home, and – less frequently – to my iPod.  You might argue that I’m not getting a lot of multi-functionality for the price, but I’m happy with it, and it looks and sounds great.  The only mod I’m considering is a set of LightDims.

Black Friday rolled around, and I couldn’t help but do some window shopping and I noticed that only one of the  current iPod family – the Classic – uses the formerly universal 30 pin dock connector that my Vers 1.5R sports for charging and playback.  The Nano and the Touch use the new Lightning connector (or bluetooth/airplay) and the Shuffle uses a special headphone jack to USB cable.  You could play any of them through your Vers via the headphone jack with the right cable, but you wouldn’t be able to control them with the Vers remote (not a great loss, really, the remote, as I’ve noted, is kinda awful) or charge them.

I’m sure there are real advantages to the Lightning connector for consumers – Apple’s site notes that it’s “reversible” –  but I bet the biggest advantage is the additional power over accessory makers this new technology gives Apple. I’ll be avoiding a new iPod purchase as long as I can in part because of my attachment to the Vers 1.5R, but I bet third party accessory makers will have little choice but to jump through Cupertino’s hoops sooner rather than later.

Wired notes that some makers are going to airplay, and away from physical docks.  This gives them maybe a little more independence perhaps, but don’t we still need to charge our iDevices? Vers headed that way with their new bluetooth 1Q speakers, but that seems a much less satisfying solution than the 1.5R, at least to me. Cult of Mac says that Apple will allow Lightning connector accessories to be made only at “apple approved factories.” I guess it could be good for labor conditions (couldn’t be worse, eh?) but almost certainly bad for customer choice.

I can be bummed out but hardly surprised at Apple heading this way.  If they could figure out how to make sure that I only put my MacBook in an Apple approved briefcase, I’m sure they’d do it.  In the world of patents on rounded corners, such domineering “protection” of user experience might not be that far-fetched.   At least for now, you can still buy yourself a wide range of hand-crocheted iPad cases.

My squabble with Typography Scrabble

I like Scrabble, I like the Oxford comma, and I like typography.  So why does the a new Scrabble set for Typographers (or at least people who like type) have me so out of sorts?   For those not hep enough to know, Typographer’s Scrabble is a redesigned Scrabble set getting some design blog love these days.  It’s got several great features and one terrible flaw that just plain ruins it for me.

The Typography Edition has a lot going for it that has nothing to do with typography, and honestly, not a lot to do with Scrabble either.  It comes in a birch-covered walnut box and the game board is made up of six magnetically-attached cork-bottomed sections. This is winning major points with me on materials – wood and especially cork are favorites.   The board itself is nice enough but I’m a little worried that the treatment of the grid and the double/triple score spots is a little too low-key and therefore harder to read and use than the orthodox version.  But I’m ok with all of that.

What I’m not ok with is the “typography” part.  It’s not clear to me if each of the 98 letter tiles is printed in a different font or if there’s a smaller number of fonts distributed across the letters. I can see that at least some letters come in different fonts.  What we have here is not typography, it’s ransom note.

Bear in mind that anybody trying to “do” typography on a Scrabble board has an uphill battle.  Typography is not just letterforms, it’s the way letterforms work together in words and paragraphs.  In Scrabble, you have  no paragraphs or even sentences.  You have only words, and only capital letters. The spacing between letters is defined by the grid of the board, which rules out ligatures and leads to some pretty awful keming.  About half of all Scrabble plays go vertically, and hardly any fonts look good doing that.  All of those characteristics of the Scrabble game board are pretty much barriers to good typography.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try?  Certainly not.  In fact, in what I believe to be the origin of this idea, designer Andrew Clifford Capener proposes that you could buy his Scrabble set with the font of your choice or that you might even buy additional font packs.  I think that would be a much better idea than this ransom note nonsense.  Unfortunately the edition being marketed for pre-ordering now has only the ransom note available.

So, if I ran the zoo what I would do here?  Well, as I’ve outlined above it might be a fool’s errand to do typography in the confines of a Scrabble board.  But if this blog isn’t about foolish quests, what is it about?  With that in mind, I have two semi-contradictory ideas for better Scrabble typography:

1. lowercase it. I like lowercase letters for the legibility.  I DO NOT MUCH LIKE UPPERCASE IN GREAT QUANTITY.  [On a total tangent, if you visit the grave of e e cummings at the Forest Hills Cemetery you’ll learn his full name and see that his family didn’t much care for the lowercasing.]  Since Scrabble word plays exist in a vacuum outside of sentences, who’s to say they should be capitalized or not?  I realize there are practical problems with the varying heights and ascenders/descenders in the lowercase world but it might be interesting to try lowercase, it certainly would be fresh and different.

2. Choose the right font for the job. As in any design project you need to pick what works, not your pet concept or what you think will win you an award.  Redesigning a Scrabble board includes making a playable game. Given the constraints of the board and how the game is played, I’d probably go as close to a monospaced font as possible although maybe not all the way.  (Designer Capener’s nice minimal website is done in Courier, a bold choice for a website if you ask me, but a fine candidate for a Scrabble set.) Maybe something with a slab serif.  Ideally the font would fill the almost square Scrabble tile well to reduce the uneven letter spacing, and work passably in vertical play.  Poster Bodoni could be a fun choice.

Will I pre-order typography scrabble for $200?  As of now, there’s only 39 sets left out of 1,200. Would I pay $200 for a set that addressed my issues above?  I’m thinking probably not, since I already own three scrabble sets that I don’t use enough.  Perhaps I’d buy a new set of typographically enhanced tiles for a lot less money.  In any case, I hope that board game makers will pay attention to the possibilities raised here for better design and better materials in game boards.