No One Will Ever Inherit Great Grandma’s Particleboard Furniture

11 thoughts on “No One Will Ever Inherit Great Grandma’s Particleboard Furniture”

  1. Like you, I’m a lover of architecture. But some of your examples in this post are things that happen even to the best architecture. Falling Water, for example, had lots of problems that Frank Lloyd Wright spent years fixing.

    Obviously the cost of building buildings is much much higher now – holding materials and quality constant. But then I’m pretty sure that a lot of the older architecture that so many people love was built for the very-rich of their day. That so much is so poorly maintained is something I find tragic. As sad as people being priced out of their homes, it’s pretty sad that some beautiful buildings languish from lack of (relatively-expensive) attention.

    It’s probably worth keeping in mind tho that a lot of well-regarded older architecture is unlikely to be representative of everything built in its day. They are the survivors of a pretty brutal process – hence they’re probably the best built and most attractive of everything built in those times. It’s harder to compare today’s buildings with all of the crappy structures that fell down, fell apart, or were razed to make way for whatever’s standing now.

    Permanence is also not *necessarily* better. North America is actually more-forested today than it was when Europeans started conquering it in the Age of Discovery. So it’s not inherently bad that we rebuild instead of maintain – it might even be cheaper, when considering all costs. It certainly doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted how many trees there are.

    There’s also a considerable benefit to being *able* to rebuild one’s physical environment. We may not have as many heirlooms, but we have much more furniture overall, and we can change our minds about what’s most useful to us.

    All the above being written, I still prefer to ‘buy it for life’ when I expect to need or want something for long periods.

    P.S. We actually have two IKEA items that have survived moving; one’s even survived two moves!

  2. I think another critical factor we are missing: 300 million Americans. Think of that. 300 million Americans. How much virgin redwood and quality stone etc. etc. is even available to supply the quality construction and materials?

    Of course, once the Clown Car takes 100% control, we can just clear cut and strip mine all the Forest Service lands and heck, why not, the National Parks, like G.I. Sloppy Joe and his crew are demanding up in Oregon.

    1. Quality building materials needn’t be old growth redwood. Every part of the country has local materials that are abundant and potentially beautiful. Adobe in the Southwest is just mud and straw and can last for centuries if done correctly. Field stones in Vermont are endless. You just need to pick them up off the ground. But cheap dimensional lumber, vinyl, and gypsum from industrial suppliers renders local labor-intensive construction uncompetitive. Production builders don’t have any clue how to build a stone wall from scratch these days. And local regulators are wholly unable to wrap their minds around adobe construction in most jurisdictions. The’ve all been raised on the mother’s milk of Oriented Strand Board and PVC.

  3. «a papier-mâché 5,000 square foot home with a four car garage and two master bedroom resort wings is critical to their quality of life»

    The goal is to *look* rich, even if it means asset-stripping yourself. But as long as the Fed and Treasury keep pushing up debt and leverage the asset-stripping can go on.

    The sociologist take on this is probably that we live in a society-of-spectacle, and thus the middle classes (especially female ones) want to live in a movie of their own making, including what in effect are not “upper class” homes but the Hollywood props of “upper class” homes.

    1. Actual need and affordability is often less important than fantasy fulfillment and social status for a lot of people. But I’m not sure this is female based. The four car garage (and the toys inside) smack of penis to me. In my experience couples tend to horse trade their way up into McMansion status. Partner X says, “I want the mega kitchen of my dreams.” Partner Y says, “Fine Honey, but I get the bonus room for the 85″ plasma TV.”

  4. If our housing financing system made any sense, for houses made after 1960 it would be like Japan’s financing system, where the majority of modern houses aren’t expected to last more than 20-30 years before being torn down, and their actual value depreciates. In fact, the value of the house starts depreciating as soon as the house is built (like cars or other commodity purchases). The Japanese at least will admit to it. I guess our financing system still believes all the houses we make are like they were 100+ years ago and are solid and sturdy. Hah!

  5. Bravo, many in the construction industry are building to the least common denominator, if it’s inexpensive its “sustainable”.

    We should all be building robust over engineered and unique buildings, that will last one hundred to two hundred years..that is true sustainability, not bamboo countertops!

    1. PVB,

      I would like to see more of this too, but it is also true that no one is willing to pay the costs of what a “robust over engineered and unique building” costs. Such projects are very expensive these days. I wish I better understood the economics and finance behind the rise in costs.

      1. I agree. Buyers are as much to blame as builders. People believe that a papier-mâché 5,000 square foot home with a four car garage and two master bedroom resort wings is critical to their quality of life. They don’t care that it starts to self destruct the moment the paint dries. The average home in a place like Phoenix (for example) is only held by the same owner for five years. There is no “long term.” For exactly the same money a buyer could have a 1,700 square foot home built of real materials with skilled labor. But that’s not what most people want – or are willing to pay for.

  6. There is a lot of this in Houston where I live. Numerous nice looking. new town homes and apartment buildings turn out to be complete lemons. In the Woodlands, which is a very affluent planned town north of Houston, the homes have more of an Ikea feel to them than a sturdy Victorian feel.

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