“By cutting the dryer out of the equation–even if it’s only part of the time–you’ll save even more money. Your dryer checks in at number two on the list of household energy hogs (right after your fridge), costing the average household more than $96 per year in energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. So going with clothesline or drying rack can help you save on your utility bills–or eliminate the need for buying and maintaining an extra appliance altogether…”
In the workshop today: images of a 4m / 24 peg coat rack (pictured un-oiled), this one is Vic Ash. It’s made from two 2m lengths as it is going to Sydney and 2m is the maximum our courier will carry. The close-up below shows the butt join and we’ve carefully matched the grain in the two recycled back-boards. We’ve had a few long coat rack orders lately; also making up a 14 peg 2.33m coat rack that will be picked up from our Castlemaine store — so avoiding the courier limit. We regularly get 3.6m lengths for the back boards so can go up to 22 pegs in a single run. Our coat rack looks great in long lengths like this and you can hook anything on: bags, jackets, dog leads, umbrellas… it’s such a simple storage device.
We’ve got a new Greg Stirling piece in our Castlemaine store. This is a three seat settee in Ash with a beautiful blackened finish. If you haven’t tried sitting in one of Greg’s chairs drop by and get a feel for the comfort of sitting in a hand crafted chair.
Despite the grey weather we had quite a few visitors to our castlemaine store today.
After many requests we’ll be offering our hanging jar displays for sale, made from an old Fowlers jar, hemp rope and a plywood hook. We finally found a supply of good hemp rope which is not easy to come by.
Happily sold out of darning mushrooms, good to see people are getting their winter woollens sorted… all those warm toes. We’ll get more made up next week.
Trivets to put your hot soup on the table sold out too, will be making another batch as well.
All this rain brings its back-up of washing, have a look at our drying rack if you need a great winter drying solution.
We don’t add a new product from other makers very often, there are few things that resonate with usethings ideals — beautiful and useful things. So this one caught or attention recently, a simple device to extend worn-down pencils so you can keep using them till the last, much much better than throwing them out or leaving them to languish in the bottom of a drawer.
Now we’ve ratted around and re-commisoined all our short pencils. You might recognise these from the Esher sketch of two hands drawing each other, we didn’t know they where still in production. They are made by Lyra, a company that has been going since 1806 – we like continuity of production, they claim to have the oldest trademark in existence.
It’s taken a while but we’ve got a supply of these and they’ll be in our Castlemaine store today; we’ll get them into the online store soon.
We’ve just made up some of our darning mushrooms, in time to fix your winter socks and jumpers. Get your toes warm back inside your favourite pair of socks or revive your comfy woollens. We go for repair rather than replace, and proudly show it by darning in outrageous colours. The darning mushroom is an old tool from when a good pair of socks was not so easy to come by.
Our mushroom features the biggest innovation since darning mushrooms began: darning mushroom 2.0 — it’s a hollow handle to keep your needles in (no excuse that you can’t find your needles now — our mushroom even comes with a couple of needles to get you started) with the added benefit of lightening the overall mushroom for those into racing darning, or packing light on high altitude climbing expeditions.
The tops are turned by hand in our workshop in Castlemaine and are made from off-cuts from our drying rack production. The timber is sustainably harvested plantation sugar gum which is surprisingly dense and turns up beautifully just buffed on the lathe, see clip below.
We’ve just got one of Greg’s beautiful little oak Cricket Tables in our Castlemaine store & showroom. These are a utilitarian design dating back to the 17th century. “Cricket” in country vernacular referred to anything small; as-in cricket, the small insect. The three-leg design means it is stable on rough floors, but these days they see service in contemporary interiors as: lamp tables, bedside tables, coffee tables, anything really. The sturdy construction with through-joints and solid oak means this table will last at least until another oak grows — these traditional designs have a proven track record.
This project has transformed the spaces in the home and given its occupants open living and a beautiful, functional, kitchen with views across the deck to the creek below. The key has been bringing cohesion to all the existing spaces in a building that has had several distinct periods. The projects success is a testimony to collaboration between Deb, the clients, and the tradesmen. It involved removal of a walls, laying recycled floor boards, plastering, skylights, and resolving roofing structures. With a great team of tradesmen, beautiful cabinet work by AG Kitchens of Castlemaine, and very careful planning, all this was achieved in a six week period whilst the owners where away; returning home to a functioning and clean home (all the rubble gone). It’s Debs credo that the fine details and warmth are seen too, even after major works have been accomplished—a home is more than its physical elements. Most importantly a home must be autobiographical of its occupants, not the designer. It has been great to revisit the site this week and see how the family has so easily settled into the new space.
Just worked out our average time from order to dispatch with our wall mounted coat racks: it’s four days. Not bad as we make up each rack by hand. A few times we’ve even got racks made and delivered overnight into Melbourne. Delivery time varies from:
Next working day — Melbourne, Geelong, Albury & Central Victoria
1 to 2 days —Sydney, Canberra, & Adelaide
2 to 3 days — Brisbane, Newcastle, Hobart & Launceston
We’ve delivered all over Australia with our courier and have never had a lost item in our ten years of operation.
So you can order here and have your rack ready to put up with the screws supplied in a very short time. A great way to keep coats, hats, and bags at hand; reduce the stuff the kids leave about the house or make a feature/display of beautiful things with our beautiful recycled timber coat rack.
We’ve just got a new Greg Stirling Windsor chair in as the “lobster Pot” sold. This is a “Comb Back with extension” made from ash, some local and some imported. Come and appreciate it’s beauty, craftsmanship, and comfort in our Castlemaine showroom usethings store at 8 Templeton St. We’ll be getting more of Greg’s work in soon.
Chairs are a health hazard – that is according to Galen Cranz, U.C. Berkley Professor of Architecture and author of the book, The Chair: rethinking body, culture, and design. She states in a 1999 article:
If the designer wants to create a chair, narrowly defined as supporting the classic right-angle seated posture, he or she will be forever chasing the problem of instability throughout the body. Designers notice the sliding-forward problem, so they cant the seat up. This creates a problem in the hip joint so they compensate by opening the angle of the chair back. But this creates problems in the neck which people solve by drawing their heads forward and collapsing their chests. To look up at others with the neck so drawn forward rotates the head back and down, interfering with the primary control described earlier. In addition, chair sitters absorb some of the problem in their ribcage.
Our human bodies were not designed for right-angle seated posture.
In fact, the origins of chair design and use were to seat the sacred bodies of ancient rulers on thrones and klismos (e.g. ancient Greek chairs). Cranz describes how the archaeological record found the first chairs in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 2850 BCE. As described by design historians, from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, “people of status” used chairs while the masses used benches and stools.
It wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution and the mass manufacturing of furniture, especially the emergence of the Thonet No. 14 bistro chair in 1859, that chairs became affordable for the masses.
The myriad of changes in the materials, forms, and manufacturing processes of chairs over the last century of modern chair design, including the focus on ergonomic chairs, does not take away from the fact that the basic design of the chair is bad for the human body.
So if chairs are a health hazard, why do we still use them? Cranz argues that it is because chairs allow people to display their status to each other. The person who owns an original Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair is judged to be more educated, affluent, and refined than someone who owns am IKEA Poang armchair. But there has to be greater social value to chairs than that, yes? Maybe, there is not one.
The ‘Triad of Limitations’ and the social value of the chair
One of the key figures in design anthropology is designer Victor Papanek. In his book Design for the Real World, he introduces Robert Lindner’s concept of the Triad of Limitations as a framework to evaluate the social value of designs.
The first limitation is biological. As humans, we seek to protect against and extend beyond the weaknesses of the human body. The second limitation is that of habitat. We seek to overcome the barriers of the natural elements, space, and even time that limit human movement. The third limitation is death itself, in which we seek immortality.
How is the Triad of Limitation to be used? Papanek quotes Lindner:
If there is a purpose to life, the purpose must be to break through the triangle that thus imprisons humanity into a new order of existence where such a triad of limitations does no longer obtains…Thus the value of an item of knowledge, an entire discipline, or a deed of art can be placed upon a scale, and its measure taken.
How does the chair measure up? Does it help us humans break through our biological, habitat, or mortality limitations?
According to Galen, the chair is biological health hazard, which exacerbates our body’s weaknesses instead of reducing them. So no, it does not break through our biological limitations.
Does the chair protect us from the natural elements or help us transverse space and time? In a natural disaster, you might go under a table, but not a chair. Astronauts might sit in chairs when they go to space, but the chair does not directly allow humans to break through time and space. Thus, it fails the limitation of habitat measure.
Do chairs extend our lives? No, in fact our sedentary lifestyles seem to be shortening our lives even after some great medical advances in the mid 20th century.
Thus according to Papanek and Lindner’s framework, the chair lacks social value in terms of helping humans break through our three major limitations. So, why are we still making and sitting in chairs?
Perhaps the Triad of Limitations has it own limitations as a framework for determining social value. I have been dissatisfied with the fact that it hinges on addressing negative human fears of bodily injury or harm, of confinement and control by nature, and of death.
The Triad of Well-Being and the social value of the chair
Influenced by the literature on subjective well-being, a couple of years ago, some students and I created the Triad of Well-Being to provide a more positive measure of social value for the evaluation of designs.
The Triad of Well-Being focuses on the life affirmations that individuals and societies receive rather than on those things which we fear. A sense of belonging is the first aspect. Belonging is defined as the extent to which we feel mutual and secure affinity towards others. Psychological studies by Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary have demonstrated:
The need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.
The second aspect is recognition. We describe it as the identification and acknowledgement of the specialness of an individual or group as part of the appreciation for diversity. The third aspect is self-determination. This is the extent to which an individual or group feels they possess the skills, control, and contextual knowledge to be motivated into action. Self-Determination Theory is its own sub-theory within the field of well-being studies.
How does the chair measure up to these three positive criteria?
Does the chair contribute to a sense of belonging?
It is possible to build a sense of community from the symbolism of having a specific brand or type of chair. One might feel an attachment to a specific chair. But belonging in the social sense is not inherent in the function of the chair.
In fact, the design of the chair lends itself more towards separation and individuation between people. The seat is often meant to hold only one person. Its mobility can encourage distance as well as closeness. Of our manufactured seating choices, the bench affords a greater sense of belonging because one must sit in more direct physical contact with others.
Because of its history as a form of status display, the chair does contribute to recognition. The social hierarchy built into the origins of the chair is reinforced in English language speech conventions such as the academic department chair or chair of the board. We describe positions of power as chairs because originally only the people with power had them.
Does the chair contribute to self-determination? The successful assembly of an IKEA chair may provide a temporary sense of skills, control, and contextual knowledge that contributes to a sense of self-determination. Yet, the assembly of an IKEA bookshelf might generate a deeper sense of accomplishment. Beyond the self-determination we assign to basic consumerism, the chair itself does not contribute much to the sense of self-determination.
Thus, the chair fails in two of the three criteria for evaluating the social value of a design based on the Triad of Well-Being. It succeeds in recognition by making manifest the hierarchies of status, which probably does not enhance social well-being overall.
The social value score card and un-designing chairs
I propose that we should stop designing and sitting in chairs. One of the distinctions that I maintain for design anthropology is that it advises people as to where they should stop designing because the designs hold limited social value. The Triad of Limitations and the Triad of Well-Being are two frameworks that can assist us in figuring out what we really need that allays our fears and contributes to our well-being. If a product or service does not contribute to at least four of the social value criteria (both positive and negative), then maybe it should not exist.
What are some products or services that fail to provide social value and thus should be un-designed? I would be interested in seeing your ideas.
Elizabeth Dori Tunstall does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
We have the three winners from our subscriber competition: Julie D, Nikki V, and Kathrzn B. The answer to the question was: X being roman numeral ten for our tenth year. congratulations and your trivet will be posted out.
This is our new trivet. It flat-packs and is hand made in Castlemaine from plantation timber. We like to convert as much of the timber we get in to useful things. In docking the new batch of drying rack end frames and looking at the off-cuts we thought to use them for a simple trivet.
This is our plantation sugar gum, very strong and durable. It’s machined with a halving joint to lock together to form the trivet, this way you can undo it and keep them in a drawer, flat-pack style. When assembled it’s nice and high to keep hot pots away from your surfaces—this also gives you more room on a crowded table.
We have these in our Castlemaine store now and have just listed them in our online store here: trivet
Email subscribers will have a chance to win one in our 10th birthday celebrations.
Looking at the coat rack packaging going out this morning I thought they looked a bit rough & ready. We use clean recycled cardboard—fruit boxes, anything at hand (Ikea boxes at the moment amusingly). This packaging is not slick, and not as considered as our coat rack packaging (jute string and recycled card: fully compostable) but they get the racks to our customers in good order. So we apologise for their appearance but are confident usethings customers are cool with the recycling we do.
This August usethings will be ten years old. Over the next five months we’ll be celebrating, and looking back over the last ten years. Part of the celebrations will be discounts and give-aways: some for everyone, but the best for subscribers to our mailing list. Hit the subscribe button over on the lower left to join in. Don’t worry we don’t email that often, only when there is something special to say.
We’ve just got a new batch of recycled hardwood for our coat rack back-boards. It’s really clear Vic Ash, ex building timbers, a few nail holes and sap veins but very nice & mostly quarter sawn. It’s been beautifully machined straight and smooth here in Castlemaine and, given their age and close grain, these timbers might have come from local forests like the Wombat State Forest. So it’s great that they get another go and this kind of fine grain old growth timber needs to be cherished. If you’ve ever stood under a massive old Vic Ash you’ll understand why we do what we can to leave them in peace.
Interior design is another facet of usethings, conducted in harmony with our philosophy around good living and sustainability.
We are excited to offer an expansion of these services in partnership with the architect Stephen Lumb. This capacity enables us to engage in whole buildings, integrating the total design of a home, office, or commercial space. We’ve worked with Steve informally in the past, consulting with him about spaces we have worked on, especially when it comes to changes to a buildings fabric and making sense of the relationship between spaces. Even a simple renovation benefits from the resolution a great architect can bring, but a client might not think the scale of their project warrants this level of design. Our arrangement with Steve allows for charges related to specific problems needing proper architectural resolution. We also engage with Steve’s clients — interior styling in new buildings under the same arrangement.
Steve established his practice in Castlemaine in 2005 but he’s been in the business since early 1990, a big part of which he was based in Alice Springs. Steve is a registered architect and a member of the Australian Institute of Architects.
He has extensive architectural experience in design and management of architectural projects including residential, education, childcare center’s, health facilities, community facilities, public housing and other public infrastructure programs.
Central to his work is the development of architectural design that explores environmentally and culturally sustainable design including:
client-focussed consultation processes
exploring the potential of site-specific design including careful consideration of the site and climate and how they interact with building orientation, location and local cultural/ historical factors
specific attention to passive heating and cooling solutions
appropriate use of thermal mass in walls and floors
incorporation of materials with low embodied energy
careful selection of materials including the use of local materials and products, recycled timbers, finishes and fittings for serviceability, longevity and low / no toxicity
We’ve just re-stocked our range of Opinel knives. There’s a great kitchen knife, Japanese style with a heavy blade that is almost cleaver-like yet very sharp. A sturdy bread knife designed to handle real bread. The perfect paring knife with a decent sized handle and long riveted tang, sharp-as—we use it all the time. A new vegetable peeler that is not designed to fall to bits, has a decent sized handle, and it can be sharpened too. The folding pruning saw with Japanese style triple-bevel teeth that cuts on the pull-stroke, very efficient. The folding picnic knife features a very sharp stainless steel blade with a round tip that is great for spreading as well as cutting. And finally a great folding knife, the No8 carbon steel blade with a brilliant blade lock, very sharp and good edge holding, it’s light, sturdy, and simple.
Made in the same area in France since 1890 (we like continuity of production!) these simple yet highly evolved knives use plantation timber for their handles—the kitchen knives being dishwasher safe.
Here are the new Phil Eslon pieces we have in stock, incredible glazes and beautiful forms. Phil is in to the everyday things usethings represents and is happy we have simple bowls and tumblers from his range of handthrown porcelain tableware.
We’ll be back to our regular opening times from tomorrow February the first onwards. Our times are: Friday 10:30 to 3:30, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm. We’ve had a few visitors in January and are always happy to open up other times if you are in town.
We designed and made counter display shelves for RedBeardBakery in Trentham as part of an ongoing relationship.
We’ve worked on their interior, displays, and cafe over the years… we also make traditional bakery peels for them, sourcing recycled Kauri for the handles and supplying the heads as they wear out.
These counter display shelves are welded steel frames with mill finish and laminated bamboo shelves to maximise the display of their yummy produce. Always like to take home some beautiful sourdough bread and biscuits when delivering to RedBeard.
We’ll be taking it easy from now through January. Our Castlemaine store won’t be open the regular hours, but call if you want to have a look, we may be near-by and can meet you there even at short notice. Happy to open up for a browse or chat.
Our online store will continue to operate, though a little slower in dispatching if we are away for a few days.
We’re re-stocking our usual lines and adding two new products at the moment. It’s not often we find items that meet our expectations, and become a usethings other maker product.
We’ll be introducing two new useful things from companies that have been around since the 19 century … good things just keep being valid, even amongst the churn of fashion and new technology. The test of a truly useful thing.
Stay tuned for more details as we ad these to our online store, or drop by our Castlemaine store and check them out.
One evening when I was young, my father confiscated my radio because he said I was playing it too loud (I wasn’t).
Fortunately, I had a bunch of broken down receivers in my room, so I built a new one. In hindsight, this was probably the start of my career as a Maker.
Makers see a need but rather than asking somebody else to address it, they take matters into their own hands and fix things themselves.
Rise of the Makers
The Maker movement has recently gained a lot of momentum, with Maker Faires – where these home tinkerers meet at gatherings billed as “the greatest show and tell on Earth” – popping up around the world.
Now Sydney is hosting its first Mini Maker Faire this Sunday at the Powerhouse Museum.
What recently united these tinkerers, technology enthusiasts and other life hackers under the same name is Make, a magazine published since 2005 that reports on the movement and showcases Maker projects.
However, perhaps the real reason we see more Makers these days is the increasing availability of cheap and easily hacked technology.
Not all makers are driven by a prosaic problem they need to solve. Artists are also embracing these new technologies and the possibilities they represent.
Added to the usual toolbox, these new media allow artists to extend their visions beyond traditional art forms, and create works that audiences can respond to and interact with directly.
Maybe this is leading the way towards realising Australian comedian Tim Minchin’s vision of a closer relationship between art and science.
Learning through making
All things considered, though, I think the most important aspect of the maker movement is its potential to be used for education.
When I built my backup radio, I learnt some electronics. When I started brewing beer, I understood how yeast breaks maltose into ethanol and carbon dioxide.
For the Sydney Mini Maker Faire, I built the Hammer Time Button, an alluring red button that, when pressed, prompts the MC Hammer classic U Can’t Touch This to be blasted through speakers. You know that you can’t touch this button, but you just can’t help it.
Through this project, I reacquainted myself with computer interfaces.
Now that I am getting into ham radio, I’ll finally get a chance to understand radio antennas. Whenever I need help, I know I can rely on the Maker communities around the Internet for information and advice, but most importantly, I’m having fun while learning.
Making represents a great opportunity to teach technology – not only how to use it, but also how it works – to the next generation of adults.
Makers know how to bend the world to their needs, and don’t let objects dictate their use to us. In a world increasingly reliant on technology, it is important to be able to lift the cover of everyday black boxes, and make devices behave the way we want them to (not the other way around).
The Maker communities offer a great way to learn how to do just that and may help shape the next generation of scientists, engineers and artists.
Olivier Mehani does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Congratulations To Donna who won the “Make It Wood” drying rack at Grand Designs Live in Sydney recently. Her rack was dispatched early this week.
We are proud to be associated with Planet Arc’s Make It Wood campaign and our drying rack sits well with these ideas, being made from plantation sugar gum, a fast growing yet dense wood that is capable of being coppiced. Storing carbon in a durable product that also reduces the carbon impact compared to electric drying.
We shipped our first first drying rack to the UK this week. Our customer said she couldn’t find a contemporary drying rack that she liked and was happy to pay the shipping cost. It’s like coals to Newcastle – the heritage of the drying rack coming from the UK originally.
We’ve shipped a few to New Zealand in the past but this is our first to the Northern Hemisphere.
We talked with our shipping agent and will work on ways to bring the shipping cost down as we’ve had enquiries from Europe and the US in the past.
Our laser cut plywood stool, the Alien, features at the Hub as part of the Melbourne Festival.
Our Alien stool is designed for efficient use of materials; ten Aliens come from one standard sheet of plywood. This is achieved by the careful geometry of the ‘nested’ parts—leg sections sit side by side inverted, and the seat parts from inside the legs; all the joints are laser cut too.
This careful geometry has a pleasing resonance in the assembled form, but the important thing is there is very little waste in production. Ply is efficient in itself as it converts more of the log to usable timber than sawing for boards. Aliens are made from E0 plywood (lowest formaldehyde emissions) QLD plantation Hoop Pine (Northern Australian native).
Due to the nesting Aliens can be flat packed for transport or storage. Alien is: strong, practical, efficient, durable, and fun. It’s about bums-on-seats with less materials, less waste.
So this is the 4th incarnation of our Alien, each time we’ve fine-tuned the design but this time we are highlighting the nesting and efficient process of laser-cutting by making a feature of the burnt edge. This sits well with the simplicity of the design, and the process that results in a great little stool.
Drop by the Hub during the festival and check them out. Also stay tuned as we upload them into our online store, or come by our Castlemaine store to have a look.
This supper-eficient design has been languishing with production issues to resolve, but a recent order of Aliens from Bluebottle catalysed a design evolution – Alien 4. They will be used at The Hub in the Melbourne Festival. We’ve stripped Alien 4 back to the core strengths of the design which we’ll strongly promote; we didn’t do this in the past because of IP concerns, but it’s time to tell the full story.
Stay tuned here for more, and look out for Alien 4 in our stores.
From the products page, August Sanctuary Magazine:
“The clever people at usethings have made a handmade mud mat that removes mud and dirt from your boots as you walk into the house. It’s made from plantation sugar gum dowel off-cuts that would normally go to waste. The mat can cope with the flex and moisture of outside life and copper boat nails fix the dowels in place, adding to the durability and weather resistance of this lovely product. Price: $145 “
As part of our current exhibition in collaboration with Vanessa Lucas for Craft Cubed, we’ve just installed an exhibition in the window of Clementines, 7 Degraves St Melbourne, featuring our 600 x 600mm All-ply table and Vanessa’s porcelain.
Clementines is a great store featuring all Victorian products and produce. drop by if you are in Melbourne or have a look at Clementines website.
We’ve recently completed a few interesting sizes of our All-ply table design and it has worked surprisingly well.
There is the 600 x 600 made for our Craft Cubed exhibition – it’ll be in the window at Clementines 7 Degraves Street Melbourne CBD from the 17th till the end of August .
Then there is the tall side table 300 x 1100 and 900 high. It is designed to lean against the wall for stability but turned out quite stable on its own. This narrow table we bought the legs right to the edge to get the most out of its specified 300mm wide top.
Considering we’ve also done a 3m long dining table, this design is proving to be adaptable… a very useful thing!
In refreshing the store for our Craft Cubed Exhibition we brought it one of Greg Stirling’s beautifully hand crafted Windsor chairs – a Lobster Pot.
We are interested in a re-evaluation of these traditional chairs from a contemporary design perspective. The Windsor chair is an evolved design using local (in its place of origin) materials sustainably harvested – parts roughed out in the forrest by chair bodgers. Unlike other chairs the Windsor’s evolution from wheel-write and cart-wright techniques and materials produces a strong and light chair that is very durable and surprisingly comfortable.
This technology is not the dream of any one designer – it’s a heritage of craft skill addressing the need for seating from within an environment. The antique market is the normal habitat of these chairs and there are some very old ones out there still in use, but as a model for sustainable design and production relevant to a local community, we think there is a lot to learn from the Windsor chair.
Our exhibition opened yesterday with a beautiful display of Vanessa’s cream porcelain tableware. We served tea from some of Vanessa’s stoneware (the black ceramics in the slideshow below) and where impressed with the teapot design also from a functional point of view – they pour really well!… sadly this is often not the case in teapots. It is really in the use that a design is fully appreciated – as beautiful as some things are it’s the day to day hands-on use that reveals a fully considered design.
As part of Craft Cubed 2013 we have collaborated with Vanessa Lucas on an interior scenario featuring Vanessa’s new tableware designs in cream porcelain and our all-ply table. The exhibition will be in place from the 4th of August and open our usual hours – Fridays from 10:30 to 3:30 and Saturdays 10 to 2. The exhibition opening afternoon tea is on August the 4th at 2pm, usethings store 8 Templeton St Castlemaine.
We where drawn together by the conviction that handmade things should be useful… and that use and beauty go hand-in-hand.
Vanessa’s work reflects her philosophy that utility is important when working with clay, but the tangibility of function must not be at the expense of beauty.
A maker of bespoke objects for 20 years, Vanessa Lucas trained first in ceramics education and later in clothing design.
In her work with both cloth and clay, her unwavering priority is to make pieces which function seamlessly in everyday life.
Using the same meticulous attention to the balance between the visual and the utilitarian, Vanessa has created a range of delicate slipcast porcelain tableware.
We’ll also have a small display in Clementines window Melbourne CBD from the 17th Aug featuring a scaled version of the All-ply table and Vanessa’s work.
We’ve just had news that our plantation sugar gum rods will be machined next week so we are now taking orders again from our online store. We’ll contact those who emailed us to go on the waiting list and fill those orders first. Apologies for the delay, our sales have doubled each year so we do have these glitches in our processes… though being overwhelmed by demand is a nice glitch to have!
Unfortunately we have run out of the plantation sugar gum rods we use in our drying rack, a bit of bad timing on our part as it takes a few weeks to get them from the timber co-op to the dowel machinists.
We’ve just about doubled sales this year and so are having trouble keeping up. We can fill all current orders but have switched the online store to “out of stock”. If you are happy to wait a few weeks on a waiting list we will accept email orders if you contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope to have this sorted ASAP, sorry for the delay.
The pulleys turned up today so we are filling orders again, sorry for the delay for those who had placed orders, we should be caught up with dispatches tomorrow.
These are smooth running stainless steel and acetyl, bearing-less pulleys made for sail boat rigging, so are well within their load capacity. Not being exposed to the elements as when on a boat, these will give a lifetime of frictionless service – makes hauling up a load of wet washing easy. We can also supply a 2 to 1 ratio pulley system to reduce the effort in hauling up our drying rack – email for more information.
There is something to knowing who makes your stuff, It’s a bit like farmers markets and knowing who grows your food – how its done, what / who is exploited doing it, and who profits. Global corporations resist this kind of investigation and engagement but usethings welcomes it. Talk to the makers.
Global laws needed to safeguard rights of factory workers
It’s been almost a month since the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, resulting in the deaths of 1100 garment workers.
Some significant responses from business and governments have since emerged. First, in Australia, our biggest retailers – Woolworths, Coles (Wesfarmers), Myer and David Jones “have distanced themselves” from sourcing clothing in Bangladesh. EU-based retailers – H&M, Primark, Zara and others – have agreed to sign a code to improve safety at Bangladesh’s garment factories, although Australian retailers have refused to sign the code specifically regarding Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government has said it will “begin allowing garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners”.
After a bit of prototyping and testing we are finally ready to launch our Mud Mat. Hand made from plantation sugar gum production offcuts, this door mat is extremely durable and weather resistant. Designed to flex and shed mud and dirt from your boots before you go inside. We’ve had the idea for ages but just seemed to miss each winter. Have a look at its product listing Mud Mat
Some of our early prototype coat racks from 2004 are still in service around our place. This one was relegated to garden tool storage on the outside of an old shed, but it’s coping with the weather and punishment of storing heavy tools.
We love physical joins – the pegs fit into a deep socket in the 25mm thick back board so even if the waterproof glue gives up over time they stay in place.
Hardwood is also pretty tough, this one had one coat of oil when it was made and is installed without the timber plugs over the screws. Being recycled the timber is nice and dry when it comes to us so it’s very stable – doesn’t move when exposed to sun and rain. We like to build things to last.
People often get our name mixed up, we get ‘used things’ quite a lot… they come up the steps to our Castlemaine store looking for antiques!
usethings is a translation of brugsting we came across it in this passage from the book “300 Years of Industrial Design” by Adrian Heath, Ditte Heath, and Aage Lund Jensen. This book looks at function, form, and technique in products from 1700 to 2000.
What is a product?
The word ‘product’ as applied to utensils is problematic because it implies that they are merely objects which have been produced, not things to be used. The Scandinavian work Brugsting is much more telling. It means simply ‘use things’. The English language has nothing so direct. We get diverted into using phrases such as ‘applied art’ or words such as ‘artefact’ which miss the point. ‘Utensil’ is a good word which is self explanatory but we associate it with pots and pans. So, to avoid confusion, we will usually continue to use the industrially-oriented work ‘product’, and fall back on ‘artefact ‘ as a general term for anything manmade.
During the process of making, especially repeating one product, we’ve come to the realisation that a product is indeed a result of production. We use machines, jigs, and processes to enable accurate and efficient reproduction. We can make just about anything, but getting it done efficiently and to market at a good price is another thing. Then to ensure that product is a useful thing is our next step, and we’d like to imply this is opposed to useless things, which there are plenty of, things that cost our world dearly. usethings in English is a made-up word so we have the opportunity to engineer the meanings in it and try to imply our bent on sustainability without smacking you in the face with it. Sustainability is an arguable position so we don’t like to use it upfront, but try to build the assumption that it is a new base-line for the products that we make and those we select from other makers.
We use production methods to make our useful things, stripping back some of the uglier side of production: labour, resource and environmental abuses, and globalised profiteering. This is ultimately to offer an object that you will use, justifying its impacts, not an object that becomes a burden to you, the world, or future generations.
These names and meanings are a way to talk about products in society – how they are made and used. For us usethings embodies a whole re-concieveing of production, products and consumption. That is our journey.
To get our weblog posts direct to your computer as they are published, sign up for a free wordpress.com account and follow usethings. Designed for blogging, this account also gives you a great free reader that will follow other blogs and websites like an RSS reader.
You can also subscribe to our mailing list but we generally send a news letter once a month. So the weblog is where the really up-to-date suff happens.
We like to use the full word weblog – blog is the short version but it feels kind of lumpen.
usethings website is built on WordPress – a custom theme and self hosted. We love the usability and access / control over our site without having to write a single line of code. WordPress.com is the commercial arm of WordPress and a place to blog for free, build websites and connect to a great community.
When we get a call from a builder, nine out of ten times it’s for a building designed by Sunpower Design. They’ve been specifying our drying rack in many of their designs for six or seven years now and we appreciate it.
I spoke to Andreas Sederof today to thank him; we had another two drying rack orders this week. As usual the builders where in a rush during the final detailing but we always supply them in time.
Andreas said he’d first seen drying racks 20 years ago in Snowmass Denver and originally had builders make them up until he discovered usethings drying rack. Andreas thinks they are a smart idea and told us to keep up the good work.
A couple of lines from Sunpower Design’s philosophy resonate with us:
Inspiring clients who want to make a difference to their environmental impact
Minimising the environmental impact of construction
Significantly reducing the energy consumption
Designing for durability and low ongoing maintenance
Check out their beautiful buildings here: http://sunpowerdesign.com.au/index.html
We recently installed one of our coat racks at the Australian National Academy of Music in South Melbourne. This office and rehearsal space refit was designed by Bluebottle and project managed by Debbie Taylor of usethings… its not what you know…
Bluebottle also used a lit version of our coat rack with a ply backing board in the plywood ‘pop-up’ venue Quartetthaus
See the process in pictures; how to assemble usethings drying rack from the kit and install it in your home. One of our recent drying rack owners kindly allowed us to photograph the installation of their drying rack. Hit this link: drying rack installation slide show.
The fathom is a measurement of length derived from the distance between outstretched arms. In our drying racks we supply 8 fathoms of cord, about 14m. A fathom is an eminently sensible measure for rope and cord, as that is how you lay it off a roll or coil of rope; the action and the measure all in one.
Body based scale interests me – as a child of the metric system (and thankful not to have to work in fractions of an inch) I was lost when shipbuilding where the dimensions where all imperial. I did come to find the inch and foot handy units to work with and got up to speed on the fractions eventually.
There is a human scale somehow embedded in the evolution of feet and inches, and still a whole generation who think in imperial… not to mention the entire US. Metric is more cerebral, although neat in the way a litre of water is a cubic decimetre is a kilo.
A fathom evokes its rich history, and of course the nautical spirit, where ropes and rigging once reined supreme, the high technology of its time. As a body reference (the width of your arms are your height) the fathom gives a measure easy to imagine.
Use and Reuse is an exhibition of small works by Kir Larwill, Kathryn Davies, and usethings, at usethings store for the duration of the Castlemaine State Festival 15th to 24th March. The opening will be on the 16th March, 2:30 pm at 8 Templeton St Castlemaine.
usethings items will be available throughout the festival but may not be on display during the exhibition.
This is the date palm weaving from Morocco that is part of a long tradition of creating practical hard wearing carriers. These baskets are used, among other things, for hauling construction materials on donkeys so are extremely tough. We couldn’t find a local equivalent for a sustainable hard wearing basket so these French market baskets will fill that need.
We’ve just had another enquiry about shipping our drying racks to New Zealand. We do, and it costs AU$100, so the total with the kit is AU$380 and it takes 4 to 8 days.
It seems The Block has just aired in NZ. Brad and Lara used our drying rack in the laundry of their final challenge house and we got a tremendous response – web traffic went up about six times our then average.
Hi – just wanted to thank you for the fabulous drying rack kit (and the other items).
My rack is now installed in my garage and I don’t think I will need to use the clothes dryer except for emergencies. It reminds me of growing up with mum drying the daily wash for a family of 8 on such a rack above the coal range. I don’t have the coal range but the thought is there.
New for us is the flat rate shipping / delivery charge – the price of delivery is included in the price of each useful thing we offer. This is great value for our regional customers (being regional ourselves), some of the delivery costs are over half of what we used to charge under the location based rate. We even managed to keep the coat racks the old price including delivery, which in real terms is a $12 to $15 saving on our average delivery.
This has been part of the evolution to an online store, which has been operational for a couple of weeks now and is working well. We think all the bugs are ironed out – let us know if you have any problems.
The new system is more efficient which works well with the volumes we are now getting, but we do miss the little email conversations that we had under our old ordering system… feel free to drop us a line if you are ordering.
We just got a new load of plantation sugar gum for the end frames of our drying rack. Now, 14 holes per end frame and 234 end frames… thats 3276 holes to drill!
We worked with Smartimbers to use off-cuts from their processes, we only need short and narrow pieces for the end frames. The sugar gum is from farm windrows planted in Victorias Western districts. The mature trees are coppiced for firewood and now bigger logs are milled for building timber – cladding, flooring and decking. It’s an amazingly strong (F27) and durable (class 1) timber. It’s cut at a sustainable rate so we’ll be able to continue using this excellent timber.
We’ve set up a mobile website so if you access usethings.com.au from a smartphone or mobile device you will be automatically redirected to our mobile site. All our pages, weblog, and online store are available, only pared back for the small screen.
I can see why they say to make your mobile site first – it teaches you to be lean with structure and content. Anyway expect this to evolve too as we navigate the territory between geek and useful… it does have some neat stuff for smartphone integration like: call, SMS, and email buttons, also a handy map button to help locate our Castlemaine store…
Work on our new website continues. We’ve been updating images and adding more products to the online store. These are items – useful things by other makers, that we stock in our physical store in Castlemaine and now offer to all of Australia. In telling their stories online it helps express what usethings is about. We discovered this when we opened our Castlemaine store: that all the products together create a context that embody usethings. In conversations with visitors to usethings store we’ve found better ways to understand and tell this story. Have a look at the new items (and stories) in our online store.
usethings store will open tomorrow. We’ll be back to our usual trading times: Friday 10:30 to 3:30, and Saturday from 10am to 2pm. Call for times outside these hours, we can often open up even at short notice.
At last it’s here – usethings new website and online store. It’s been a long process that required a rethink how we express our business and getting up to speed with online trading. Any feedback would be welcome – I’m sure there’ll be things to iron out. Technically it is a better platform – the old site I’d cobbled together starting with a single PDF and expanding by trial an error (much late night learning crashing the whole site!). A big thank you to the team who got us here: Meg Norris – graphic design and Ashley McCoy of Mindeater Web Services.
We’ve had 100% Greenpower for our home and business for many years now with Origin 100% wind power. Now there have been concerns about Origin but we’ve stuck with them more for the trouble it takes to change than anything, but their position on reducing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is unacceptable. So we’ve ditched them and it feels good.
Our 38cm (15″) round bamboo cutting board is back in stock… being a small maker we walk a fine line between stock and made-to-order. We try to keep our designs available but if we are out of stock, order and we’ll get it together.
We are prototyping a new shelving system in our store refit. Here it is glued-up in the workshop featuring a Spanish Windlass… it’s what I do when I don’t have a clamp long enough, a very handy and flexible clamp at any scale.
We just installed a Tensegrity wardrobe for Jane, one of our best customers. Tensegrity is a minimal material clothes hanging rack that uses the existing building to mount tensioned stainless steel cables that suspend a rod for hanging clothes… saves the space and materials required for an independent structure.
Jane says “thank you again for installing the Tensegrity. It is just fabulous to have clothes up and out of the way, and not have to squeeze past and fossick in the depths of a cupboard.”
We have also just put one in Benchmark, a new art and design store neighbor in Templeton St. – check them out when you come to visit us.
This is a little embarrassing – we have stocked Ron D Swan’s bike panniers for almost two years because they are well designed and made. They also use reclaimed canvas, end of production-run leftovers in great colours, including some ace vintage prints. And RDS is also a really good local business.
Anyway I was looking at their new wholesale catalog and read that the panniers had a shoulder strap. I couldn’t remember the straps, so got a pannier down and found them ingeniously tucked in a space between the waterproof lining and the outer canvas.
In use on the bike you’d never know they where there… I certainly didn’t. Part of the design is that the hardware to attach the pannier to the bike is fixed to the rack so you end up with a great soft bag to sling over your shoulder with a generous 50mm wide strap, and get this – it is adjustable too… is there anything RDS hasn’t thought through in this design?
The closer I look at RDS gear the more I’m impressed by the construction and design. From their great laptop sleeve (reviewed on CI), to the simple Musette or the reflector/leg-bands elastic attachment, these are thoughtful and well made things.
Now I’ve been resiting updating my old panniers as I just can’t discard something that is working fine, but I’m sorely tempted now I’ve confirmed RDS panniers are the best you can get.
You can get them from our store in Castlemaine or from RDS online.
usethings and architect Stephen Lumb designed office table with shelf / support.
This 2.4m by 750mm table is made from our favorite E0 plantation hoop pine plywood with a wax finish to retain the whiteness of the ply.
“It’s almost bridge-like” says Stephen about its structure. It certainly was great to have Steve in the workshop (lots of design talk) and to work together to arrive at an elegant solution for his studio.
We even talked him into taking one of our prototype work stools for evaluation.
Another study explores how bad sitting is for you. This US study looks at sedentary work and watching TV and quantifies the risks of reduced lifespan.
Article focus: This paper presents the results of an analysis aimed at determining the effects of sedentary behaviour on life expectancy in the USA.
Key messages: The analyses indicate that population life expectancy in the USA would be 2.00?years higher if adults reduced their time spent sitting to <3?h/day and 1.38?years higher if they reduced television viewing to <2?h/day.
Local firm usethings offers ‘fitted offices’ to address some of the issues in seated work. For each individual they calculate the seat height based on correct thigh angle, then make the bench at elbow height and mount screens at eye height. Their ‘work’ stool is just that- “you have to work to sit well. Though the freedom and balance of this posture feels good once you get used to it” says Tim Preston from usethings, “we’ve set up our office this way in January so the experience informs the design”. He goes on to say “The firm seat means you have to get up now and then and no back-rest means the torso (core strength) is more engaged, but this is easier to do on a high stool”. See more from usethings
By Tim Preston. Originally published on Castlemaine Independent
Imagine a chair that is very comfortable, light, strong, made with renewable materials, and has a highly evolved design- a chair that will last for generations.
Greg Stirling makes chairs that fit this ideal in his workshop near Castlemaine. Lets take the Windsor chair out of its antique pigeon-hole to look at it in terms of furniture and production for the future.
One of our clients in Melbourne Jennifer Newman-Preston, asked for more grip on the deck of our elliptical wobble board. We experimented with a few different grits and settled on crushing local quartz (from the back yard)… given the history of Castlemaine, our grip deck may contain traces of gold!
Jennifer uses the elliptical wobble board in her studio, Pilates International Melbourne in exercises that require careful alignment of the feet and knees.
Jennifer says “The elliptical shape of this unique wobble board made by usethings offers safer balance and proprioceptive training. The elliptical shape makes it easier to find correct placement of the legs during balance training. The new wobble board shape helps direct the centre of the knee joint over the second toe of the foot, this alignment prevents twisting or torsion in the knee joint therefore protecting the meniscus.”
We have begun research for an article that discusses current thinking on proprioception and learning in children, here are some initial notes –
Proprioception is the sensation from muscles, tendons, and vestibular [the balance system of the inner ear] system that enables the brain to determine movement and the position of the body and its parts in space. From: Smart Moves – why learning is not all in your head by Carla Hannaford 2005.
Carla writes: Proprioception, the body’s sense of itself in space, is one of our most important ways of knowing. The vestibular system and proprioception are sensory input from inside the body that help us be aware of the world and where we are in it, important to the ability to understand and learn. As exquisite learning tools, prorioceptors allow us to explore our environment, understanding it through our muscle sense.
We just delivered a pair of All-ply tables for a home office in Trentham. These are 600mm wide with one 1200mm drawer in each. This design is scalable – we’ve done a 3m long table – wide, narrow… email your specifications for a quote. For their size the All-ply table is lighter than a solid timber table and the rectilinear design means there is little waste in production.
usethings branded wedges made from production off-cuts.
The mighty wedge can do so much more than holding a door open, they are a very useful thing.
I got to know the power of the wedge in shipbuilding where incredible force could be applied – like lifting the 38 tonne Enterprize replica to put the lead keel under with fox-wedges and pig-styes (stacks of timber to rest heavy weights on). They where one of the most used tools and regularly broken in the hard service of heavy timber shipbuilding.
We’ve got the Aladdin Stanley stainless steel wide mouth thermos in for winter. Great for hot drinks or meals. A neat trick is to bring ingredients to a boil in the morning and pour into the thermos where they continue to cook in the insulated flask to be ready for a hot lunch. The vacuum insulation keeps things hot (or cold) for 15 hours.
My first job as a labourer was with some old Spanish guys who always had great hot soups with home-made sausage in a thermos for lunch… they also had home-made grapa mixed with lemonade which got them through the day.
The Stanley has a rugged construction industry heritage and comes with a lifetime warranty. We like the fact that you can get parts for all the old range – it’s this kind of continuity of production (since 1913 in Stanley’s case) that lasting practical products have.
Three new trends in product design show how the process of creating new products is shifting. As the previous CAD revolution (Computer Aided Design – drawing and 3D modelling) and CNC (Computer Numerical Control – computer controlled machining) quickened and globalised product development, and Chinese manufacturing met that capacity with fast and flexible manufacturing; new products rain down on us. Big design even with shifts towards user centred design and a host of other cool philosophy’s is still a relatively centralised and expensive machine.
Enter: crowd funding, desk-top 3D printing, and a resurgence of craftsmanship.
Crowd funding via Kickstarter, here a project is posted on the site with and amount required and a time line. People pledge parts of the total (set by the project initiator with various rewards / incentives). If the full amount is reached in the set period the funding goes to the project. If it doesn’t reach its goal in time the project is cancelled. This makes funding accessible and also tests the idea – if people like it it will get funded. It is often for relatively small amounts and can be instigated by one person, any person with a good idea. This is not product design going through concept focus groups and company processes (financial risk / return), it is quick and light. See the great article on core77 by Don Lehman and also follow the link there to his Kicksatrer project – the stylus tips in the image right.
3D printing is now available to anyone and the price is accessible, have a look at Makerbot. It’s like the revolution of desk-top printing. This has a crowdsource feel to it with Makerbots thingiverse where people share their 3D files for objects. Its seems a bit geeky yet, a community of enthusiasts is evolving the whole thing around the core business. There are fun but inconsequential things like pan pipes, but with this kind of experimentation expect it to become more sophisticated driven by open-source motivation and engagement. Rapid prototyping used to be available only to high end product development… now a bunch of hackers are playing with it.
Maker is probably a better word than craftsmanship as individuals and businesses like usethings are reclaiming design and making from the global cornucopia with its associated problems. As the barriers of funding and technology become democratised anyone can get a product up and running. This can lead to local manufacturing with sustainability in mind like Don’s stylus tips. Even the skills are shared, with co-ops setting up machining workshops or groups of people getting together to fix things from bikes to smart phones either locally or on the internet.
The overall sense is reclaiming and engaging in production, making it relevant – don’t want toxic chemicals in your things, want to know its made with good working conditions or even fabricators in your area, want something culturally relevant… a lot of people are moving on this now and this will change our relationship with stuff. It’s kind of internet supercharged cottage industry where businesses and ideas can flow.
With the new year we’ve refitted our office as an experiment in body conscious design. The design is inspired by Galen Cranz – her lecture in Melbourne last year and reading her book “The Chair”.
Last year we gave up the chairs for low stools, working with the normal desk height. These had firm tops (recycled PET felt) allowing a direct connection between the sit bones and the ground via the stool. The initial challenge was supporting the torso without a chair back, quite a different way of sitting and physically more engaged. The firm tops where interesting, you’d get a sore bum sitting for too long; movement is good for posture / health, the pain is the body telling you to get up. A softer chair masks this discomfort and allows you to sit for too long with the weight born by compressed flesh, not good for blood flow. So work stools should involve a little physical work to sit – for a healthy posture.
In our new office we raised the desk, creating one long bench, so the new stools are higher allowing the knees to be lower than the hips. We also lifted the laptops onto a bracket so they are at eye level and connected external keyboards to get the arms a the right height.
This is an ongoing experiment to inform our design for this kind of work space. These stools, though simple to make, don’t allow much engagement with the feet, a more dynamic perch would be better… stand by for mark II. Makes me think again about the Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni Sella Seat.
What we learn in or office we’ll apply to fit-outs for those interested in reducing the physical impacts of seated work – especially computer based. We envisage designs that are scalable – custom fitted for each person, that would be evolved with the client and includes information and support in developing a healthy work style.
I’ve always been annoyed that the air moving through a circular saw was not directed in front of the saw to blow away the saw dust that covers the line you’re cutting to. As an experiment I put a bit of tube onto the blade lock where some air was escaping and directed it to clear in front of the saw… kind of works, Mk2 to follow.