Form v Function

imageIf you ever want to study the form vs. function debate, pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times when it includes the NY Times Style Magazine. The pictures range from rooms that shout about comfort to those that say “go away, we don’t really like having company” and don’t get me started on the shoes because functional shoes will never be featured in a magazine. I’ve already covered the fact that I shouldn’t be trusted to shop for shoes, but I have had some success in the balancing act that is form v function.

When I operated a cabinet shop, I frequently found myself in the middle of the battle between those two goals. I had one customer who wanted to keep the ugliest mantel piece I’d ever seen in the center of an 18’ wall unit that I was building. The mantel was so ugly that I included a new one at cost just so it wouldn’t make my work look bad. Another customer, who saw my work at a friend’s house, had no concern whatsoever for function. She simply stated: “I want something that looks better than hers.” Pleasing both camps was hard work but sometimes we got it right. An example I remember vividly is from a kitchen that I renovated where the homeowner wanted a pullout cutting board but, as she put it:

I want a real cutting board, not something that sags when I’m slicing bread. It needs to look like a drawer, be strong enough to carve a turkey on and easy to clean.

Got it.

I made a 2” thick Maple cutting board, wrapped it in an open draweimager frame and supported it with heavy-duty Accuride full-extension drawer slides. After I installed the cabinet the cutting board was housed in, the homeowner asked me “is it strong?” I replied. “Those slides are rated at 125 lbs when fully extended.” She said, “I weigh 120” and then she pulled the cutting board all the way out and carefully sat on it. My mind was racing as I tried to remember if I used all the screws when I anchored those slides to the cabinet sides and whether my insurance would pay for this damage. Fortunately, everything held solid.

I’ve been thinking about the form-function debate recently as imagebusiness travel has landed me in a few recently renovated hotels. I’ll spare the brands any damage and keep their names out of the story, but as far as I’m concerned, they gave their designers a little too much freedom. Consider for example the lamp shown at the right. It might be pretty, but the leaves of the pineapple are metal. Each night when I reached up to turn that lamp off, or worse, when I reached up in the dark to turn it on, I felt like I had stuck my hand into a blender.

I decided to ignore the lamp and rely on the Mini Maglite that I carry. The Maglite line is full of great examples form balanced with function. Unfortunately, on my most recent trip, the form-function battle had been fought and lost in the bathroom. I don’t normally pack an alternative to the fixtures and amenities in that room.image

Let’s start with the tub. It looks nice, but as soon as I walked in I thought “where’s the rest of the shower door?” Maybe the configuration works for shorter and thinner people, but at 6’ 2” and 195 lbs. I’m not exactly cozying up to the front of that tub. Suffice it to say, the floor was wet after each shower and I had the pleasure of stepping onto a squishy bathmat. Not only that, but the fixtures, high-end as they might be, are imagesquare. Square metal objects should never be combined with naked. Also, the opening in the spout is a rectangular slot which causes the water to shoot halfway into the tub.

The spout in the sink follows the same design, and when I tried turning the pressure up a bit to rinse my toothbrush, I was soaked by water splashing out of the front corner of the perfectly square sink.

Perhaps more frustrating was the little decorative Kleenex origami dunce cap that the housekeeper wrapped up every day to adorn the tissue box. Aw, isn’t that pretty. Well, I don’t think I want to use that tissue – I’m not a clean freak, but the person who worked their artistic magic had just finished cleimageaning the bathroom – just saying. However, once I disposed of the decoration, I was left with a tissue box where the tissues had been tamped down to support the artwork, leaving me and my fat fingers to dig the first olive out of the jar, as it were.

I’ll leave you with a simple bit of technology where function imageruled the day. The device recharging station shown here is ugly at its best, but it works so well on so many levels. First, it accommodates the largest transformer brick ever made without blocking an outlet. Second, it has enough outlets to serve a power-hungry crowd in between conference sessions. Third and perhaps most important, you’re not likely to forget who paid for your chance to fill up. And right there next to the water cooler, how sweet is that?

15 thoughts on “Form v Function

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  1. I believe we both stayed at THAT same hotel with the half-shower door . . . stupidest thing I ever saw. But it got worse. Remember that little shelf on the wall to your left as you navigated into the tub/shower enclosure. Yes, that one at shoulder height with a glass shelf on it and the little bottles of toiletries sitting in a neat row? Yes, that one. Well the clever designer never added any support bars for people exiting the tub. Now I didn’t grab the shelf, but others have. The reason I know this is that I tapped the shelf with my shoulder when exiting after my shower. This simple tap, caused the entire configuration to collapse because the part that held the towel bar under this glass shelf was loose. So with one foot on the floor mat and one still in the tub, the shelf came crashing down into the tube, shattering around me. Fortunately, I was not injured. What is truly amazing here is that I stopped at the front desk on my way to conference meetings to explain what happened, emphasizing your point about form and function, and that this was an incredibly horrible and dangerous design. Later that day, while doing some work in the room, the facilities staff came in to repair the shelf. I mentioned my concerns about the poor design and the obvious liability if others experienced a similar situation . . . to which he simply replied; “Oh, this happens all the time!” Since my wife is a professional kitchen and bath designer, maybe I’m more sensitive to these issues (as you would be with your background), but this is borderline stupid and absolutely amazing that something this dangerous could be in so many hotel rooms of a major national hotel chain. But I’m not as nice as Dan, it was the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, FL.


    1. Oh good, a wet floor and broken glass. The look was stunning, but everywhere I looked I just felt “oh that’s not going to work.” Worse yet, I am the kind of person that gets in the tub before turning the water on. I know that I’m in the minority on that, but that was an awful experience. I always like it when you point something bad out to someone and the answer is “oh we know that” or “that always happens” Thanks for the comment Bob. I’m sorry for your experience but I appreciate the confirmation.


      1. it wasn’t so bad getting into the shower and then “trying” to turn the water on . . . it was the ten minutes it took me to figure out how to get water out of the dumb fixtures!


  2. Oh. My. Word! “It happens all the time?” Crazy. Liability. Good grief!
    I’m dying over the pineapple lamp! Pineapples, as you may know, are symbols of hospitality. “Welcome, let me gouge your finger with my friendliness! Let me burn you and slice your wrist open with my warmth!”
    I hope you wrote a review somewhere. People like me actually read them ;)


    1. Yeah, I wasn’t taking that Ninja-lamp as their way of saying “welcome.” I didn’t leave a review, but I was tempted to bend all the leaves into tiny balls. Thanks for the comment. Now that I know people read reviews, maybe I’ll start writing them.


  3. You made me smile with the NYT Style Magazine. I love to browse through, dreaming sometimes of such a room or appartment. But in the end I always wonder WHO lives there?
    Your funny anecdotes about hotel rooms remind me of my funniest moment. Of all places it happened in France when I was absolutely clueless, facing the multiple sophisticated shower faucets. I ended up soaking the entire bathroom, unable to stop the water, calling my husband for help. I had turned the hot water faucet and I was afraid to burn myself. My husband was listening to music, headphones on. When he finally heard me the mess was gigantic. He, being smarter and braver, stopped the water, although it was indeed hot. We had to call for new towels. And we had only been for half an hour in the hotel! The TV and coffee maker were as sophisticated looking and as unpractical.
    So I was totally lost in translation in my native country. At least for the stuff that should function without a dictionary.
    Thank you for another fun and practical post.


    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad my wife and I aren’t the only ones wondering about the Style Magazine. I enjoyed reading about your battle with the shower. It’s amazing that such essential things are built in a way that can confuse people. There were actually three controls in my shower. One controlled the water temperature. One controlled the diversion between the tub and shower head. Of course if you turned that too far while shutting one off, you turned the other on. The third was for a handheld shower, but it had it’s own temperature. Suffice it to say, I ended up with cold water on me several times during the week. At least it gave me something to write about.


  4. The daughter had a local Mennonite fabricate a custom, oversize “turkey” cutting board. Edge-glued Maple slabs – 1″ x 19″ x 22″. It stands on edge, beneath the kitchen counter, and fits neatly over one side of the double sink. She got him to rout in the drip-dam, but couldn’t get him to understand the 3″ triangle on one corner for the inevitable excess liquid. It gives immediate, solid extra counter space, and good location for any drips, and wash-up. I don’t use it in the shower. :)


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