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Knockdown furniture nearly resulted in a TKO

by Leon A. Frechette

My home office could use a little organization. Perhaps a bookshelf or two will pull the books off the floor so I can stop tripping over them. My stereo equipment would look better housed in a cabinet than balanced on a wobbly TV tray, and I could sure use a CD tower to store the blues I keep jamming in the background while I'm key-stroking in another how-to article.

I'm in no hurry to invest in expensive office furniture, so like many others, I went the least expensive route: knockdown (KD) furniture. You know what I'm talking about—those heavy cardboard boxes that contain a zillion pieces and so-called assembly instructions.

I made the decision to purchase KD products fully aware that I would dread this project from start to finish.

Why? Because I need to physically visit practically every store on the planet to find pieces that fit the office layout in matching wood finishes at an affordable price. Do you know how many different shapes, sizes, surface finishes, and wood colors are available? The quality levels and prices are all over the map.

Your average mega-store does not specialize in KD furniture, so the majority of the units are still in their boxes. Since the pieces are unassembled, I can't be sure what the units really look like or how big they are.

Quite often, the display models look like they are either ready to fall apart or they don't match the pictures on the boxes.

Many display models are set so high on the store shelves that you'd need a power lift to reach them. Perhaps if I used binoculars I could get a good look at them.

Once you find what you are looking for, the store is quite likely to NOT have the two units you need, or the two units they do have don't match.

Also, there's no one around to help get the units to the cash register and then to your vehicle. The boxes are heavy and awkwardly large so you need a forklift just to get them off the ground.

After wasting time going from store to store, I went to a company that specializes in KD products. Their displays looked great and they carried the Scandinavian designs with hardwood finishes that are not offered by US companies. However—or perhaps I should say, as expected—they didn't have anything in stock; it was "show and tell" time, and I had to order what I wanted. To their credit, once the products arrived, they had willing and eager helpers to lift the boxes into my vehicle.

Getting these bulky and heavy units off my car and into my home is another story. In my prime that wouldn't have been a problem, but lifting and carrying heavy items is getting harder as I get older. Luckily my oldest lives next door and he knows when the phone rings that the old man needs help—again.

With the boxes inside the home, the real fun begins. I know from experience that this is when disaster will strike: pieces and hardware will be missing, damaged, or defective and the instructions are not worth the paper they're printed on.

This time around was no exception. It amazed me to see just how many pieces were in the box and how well organized it was. Unfortunately, I discovered "Made in Denmark" stickers on just about every piece. As if it isn't bad enough, the manufacturer has created even more work: sticker removal.

Beginning with the simplest unit, the double CD tower, I laid out all the pieces and compared them to the instructions. The instructions had great illustrations, so I assumed it would be a breeze to put together—but there were no written directions. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but this is not the time to skip the words.

With no other options, I plowed through the instructions, illustration by illustration. With the unit completed and upright, I began to install (what seemed like) a million shelving pins into what I soon discovered were undersized pre-drilled holes. Unfortunately, if I tried to re-drill the holes I might damage the unit or completely drill through a side panel. I have a drill stop, but I still didn't want to take the risk.

Wearing leather gloves, I rocked each pin back and forth until it was properly seated. After I installed a couple of shelves, I saw that the shelves weren't level because the pins were an inch out of alignment. I checked the instructions only to realize that there is a correct way to install the center support. I had to put on my glasses to see what this speck of ink showed and even then I had a hard time seeing the print. This was a pretty important item that really needed to be highlighted, so why didn't they? Nothing is more irritating than to disassemble a unit that already has its back nailed in place, especially when the nails have a ring shank.

Over the course of eight hours, I built two full-length (floor-to-ceiling) bookcases, one two-door cabinet, and one double full-length CD tower. There's no way this should have taken eight hours.

I had to pull apart the CD tower to correct an issue that should have more visible in the illustration. I had to pull apart the two-door unit several times because the drawings didn't match the pieces. I later learned from the retailer that that the company was phasing out some of the component pieces and the instructions hadn't been updated. Really?

A side panel for one bookcase was missing the pre-drilled holes for the cam pins and dowels. Naturally I discovered this flaw after the store closed for the day. I ended up drilling the holes just to stay on schedule. The second bookcase assembled smoothly except for a missing cam and one that snapped off as I tightened around the cam pin.

Since the instructions contain no phone number, I was at the mercy of the retailer to assist with the missing and broken parts. At least KD products made in the US include a customer hotline to call for missing or damaged items, and I know from experience that they are extremely fast at getting the parts to you.

While my home office has taken on a new look with its knockout Scandinavian design cherry hardwood finish, the assembly of the pieces was a real knockdown. I believe that manufacturers need to do a better job on quality control, and the best way for them to learn what is wrong is to assemble their own products following their own instructions. Only then will they discover what customers learn every time they put a KD unit together: they're just not user friendly.

Copyright © 2006 LAF/C.R.S., All rights reserved.


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