Evolution of a Workspace

The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime. That’s 11,250 workdays or 43.2 years. Of your life. Working. Over a third. Of your life. Working.

At some point way back when I decided I wanted to make my work environment as welcoming and comfortable as possible if I was going to spend that much time there. Being a graphic designer, I work at a computer. At a desk. By my rough calculations that means to date I’ve spent roughly 16.3 years at a desk of some kind. 5,980 days. 47,840 hours. With conceivably a considerable amount of time still to go.

I’ve had a lot of jobs – and desks – before coming to work at Kiers, but I didn’t keep as much a track of things then. I would still try to customize and personalize my workspaces, but I don’t have any record of them. When I got to Kiers – due, probably, in no small part to the new prevalence of smartphones/cameras – I started documenting things.

2009

At the time, Kiers was situated in an old, converted church. The main area had been converted to a two-story ‘loft’ type setting with open offices arranged upstairs. It was unique in that it could tend to be somewhat dark upstairs which wasn’t all together bad for staring at screens all day. There were windows – due to the nature of the old church windows – they continued up from below so were at ‘ground level’ which made for interesting lighting, but at least there was some natural light coming in.

The divided offices featured built-in desks. My particular cubicle had desk on three of the four sides, allowing for copious surface area – something I readily appreciated.

2011: DIY Standing Desk v.1

Somewhere in 2011, after hearing and reading about them for years, I decided to try and give a standing desk a go. My years of working in school at drafting and drawing tables had already given me a taste of working standing up sometimes and I’d enjoyed that. I think those big drafting tables had also engendered my appreciation of large, expansive desktops with lots of space as well.

After reading about the ergonomics, I decided to ‘build’ myself a standing desk vs. spend on a prefab one, to make sure that it was something I was going to stick with. I’d become more aware of my posture and ‘hunching’ over the years sitting at a desk. It turned out to be relatively easy, I was able to just use the existing plywood desktop and just raise it by mounting it to the wall and some legs that I’d cut and stained. It looked very integrated with the existing built-in pieces.

Over time I experimented with floor mats, and various heights by standing on different things. I found an old adjustable chair online which was great for the occasional times I wanted to sit for short periods. Overall I was really happy with the experiment, and never really considered going back to a traditional sitting desk.

2018: Partial DIY Standing Desk v.2

In December of 2018, Kiers moved next door, into what used to be the rectory of the old church. Having been an interior design firm for many years, it was more of a ‘traditional’ office space, but well appointed.

Since we were making the move, I decided to splurge and get myself a Christmas present. Checking around online, I found an adjustable standing desk base and ordered it up with the intention of finding something cool to use as the top. Poking around town I went to ReStore – a local place that accepts and resells used building materials to benefit Habitat for Humanity. I found an old hollow core door for $10. Picked up some blue wood stain elsewhere and away I went. I eventually decided I needed a monitor stand as well, so I had an old piece of pine shelving at home – stained it the same blue and got some cool hairpin legs online and that was it.

The door offers a ton of desk real estate and included a nice pre-drilled ‘cord port’ on the back side. After some sanding, staining and a few clear coats, both desk and monitor stand were ready to rock.

I am really glad that I chose to go this route and the adjustable base is something I appreciate far more than I thought I would. The ability to move things around once in awhile or adjust better for my chair when I want to sit is a feature I hadn’t thought much of when initially ordering, but am really enjoying now. I opted for the manual height adjustment model, mostly to save a few bucks, but I can see now how the electric versions would be nice as well, especially as some of them offer preset heights you can store and access quickly with a single click.

2020: DIY Standing Desk Corona Edition

So recently when COVID-19 decided to roll across the planet and eventually land in New Brunswick, I decided it made the most sense to work from home (temporarily?) – something I’d always wanted to try anyway. There was no way though, that I could go back to sitting at the desk we had at home for the family computer. In addition, I felt like in order to be as productive and efficient at home as I could be at the office, I wanted to create a purpose built workspace for me specifically.

Although I initially wanted to put it upstairs – more natural light – I was somewhat worried about a lot of glare on screens in all the locations that seemed possible. Checking downstairs, I found a spot that seemed to work in what was already sort of the ‘man lair’ – or the closest thing I have to one anyway. I also realized that putting the ‘home’ office downstairs would make it easier to make the physical distinction of being ‘at work’ and ‘going’ to work and ‘leaving’ work. I didn’t want work to become all-consuming simply because it was at home now.

A trip out to the shed netted me an old bi-fold closet door that had been retired. It was already painted, a little dinged up, but I left it as-is. I was actually able to use the same legs and cross support that I’d used from my first Kiers standing desk in 2011 – I’d saved them fortunately. Instead of free-standing, I mounted this one to the wall at the back, like I’d done with the first Kiers one as well. Brought home my monitor stand, lamp and a few other items from work and voila, DIY Standing Desk Project:Cornona.

I’m pretty happy with the way it tuned out. The door isn’t as deep as the one at my office, but that’s ok as it doesn’t intrude in the room as much that way, a nice feature since this is also the space in the house that I do yoga, stretching and other workouts. How long will I eventually be here vs. at the office? Only time will tell. For now, I’m good.

Being Prepared

It’s not all fun and games in the Clubhouse. Here we see our hero running a check on the generator in preparation for whatever shenanigans Hurricane Dorian decides to throw our way. Couple of years back when Tropical Storm Arthur rolled through we were without power for almost a week. Gotta make sure the snacks in the fridge stay cold and the natives can still work their devices or they get grumpy and savage. Don’t worry, still a good chance there will be riding of bikes this weekend either way. Safety third!

Breathing New Life Into an Old Shovel

The derelict shovel next to some axe handles I recently rejuvinated.

When we bought our house over 10 years ago, I didn’t notice it right away. In the backyard, just a few steps outside the door was a clump of 3 tree trunks and in the space in the middle was stashed a shovel. It seemed odd, like the previous owner may have forgotten it there, but it’s use (I think) eventually became clear. The previous owner was had a dog too and I think he used it for yard cleanup.

Since then, I’ve used it for the same, but also as a general purpose shovel. The shovel has been stuck in that space, in between the trees, outside and exposed to the elements, 365 days a year, for over 10 years. It’s been frozen in by snow and rained on, and yet the other day it occurred to me just how solid it was. In rough shape, for sure, but the handle still felt sure your hand and amazingly the shovel head was still firmly attached – not the slightest wobble or sign of loosening. This was where I got all retrogrouchy and said, “they just don’t make things like they used to.”

There’s no distinguishing marks on the shovel, so I have no idea of it’s origin. I don’t know what kind of wood the handle is (bombproof – apparently) and the head has no tell tale markings other that a ‘HEAT-TREATED STEEL’ stamp. The tool weirdo in me would like to know who made it and where it came from.

A few months back, I refurbished a few old axes I had. The handles were drying out and the heads were rusted and dull. I did the best I could to clean them up and put a decent edge on them with what I had, basically a file, sandpaper and steel wool. I decided to give this shovel a go.

Before and After: Shovel handle originally, and after several sandings and an application of linseed oil.

I started by washing the whole thing and scrubbing with a brush to remove the surface dirt. There was still a lot of stuff hardened on. I worked first on the shovel head removing what rust I could with steel wool and sand paper. Then I hit the handle with several sandings, going with a finer grit each time. The handle was very dry and cracked, and starting to split in some spots. I opted to not try any sort of ‘filling’ of the cracks and just leave them be. I thought the sanding dust would fill them some and then get sealed in a bit during the last step when I hit the wood with linseed oil. I finished the whole process by coating the head and the handle with a few coats of linseed oil, sanding the handle lightly between coats.

In-Process – Here I’d already started to hit the shovel head with steel wool and one pass of sanding on the handle.

What I was consistently amazed by was the method that the head was attached to the handle. It appears to be some sort of pass-through metal rod that was then welded on both sides – it hasn’t budged or loosened a bit over the years – amazing when you think the wood has probably expanded and contracted with the elements over time. I’ve seen ‘modern day’ shovels with screws and bolts and other attachment methods that have all come loose in short order. I actually have another shovel I bought with a fiberglass handle that the head is coming loose on.

Before and After: shovel head. This was as good as I could get it with mere elbow grease. I saw some videos on YouTube of guys using grinders and other power tools to basically strip the metal back to a mirror-like finish. I don’t have a grinder and frankly I like a little bit of patina, so I’m ok with how this turned out. I could have worked indefinitely at it with steel wool and maybe some naval jelly, but I just wanted to get the thing back in rotation.

Overall, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I have a bunch of other wood-handled garden tools I plan to refurbish one at a time. When you sand the handles and clean them up, then add the linseed oil, they really feel great in the hand.

Before and After: Top of shovel handle. I probably could have sanded more and gotten rid of more of the blackened, seasoned wood grain, but at some point I would have taken considerable dimension out of the handle so decided to leave it.

I like the notion that by treating these tools as what they are – a valuable and helpful object to have around – and taking care of them accordingly, not only am I ensuring they’re safe and ready to perform for years to come, but I’m also combating the sort of ‘disposable’ mindset that I find is prevalent these days – one that even I had fallen victim to. Particularly with things like garden tools, I’d started to think of them as ‘one-offs’ – items to be bought and used until broken and discarded – and more often than not it seems they only last a season or two, I think in part due to cost-cutting assembly methods and materials. I like the idea that I’m going to have these things around awhile to develop character. Is it possible to have an emotional attachment to a shovel?

Before and After: Back out to it’s spot in the tree to be of service hopefully for years to come. I won’t wait as long next time to give it some TLC.

The Seasonal Changeover

The garage is a gong show at the moment.

That time when everything has to be moved around to accommodate the coming and passing season. There are generally only two of these each year, one in Fall to Winter and one in Spring to Summer.

I have a two car garage that has only ever had one car in it. Lyn gets to keep her car in it in the winter time so she doesn’t have to clean it off. The other 3 seasons it’s left to bikes and other stuff. The garage primarily holds stuff relevant to the current season. The Garage is Central Processing.

Central Processing.

The changeover is slow. It can sometimes take a period of several weeks, worked on in chunks of hours at a time here and there, hence the state of disarray. I generally try and get it done as quickly and cleanly as possible.

Currently Central Processing is filled with stuff on it’s way out. Winter tires for the cars that have been removed. The Snowblower. Some bags of salt/ice melt. These will be transported to Storage and Waste Management. There are also other items to be processed. Bins of Lyn’s plant pots and potting materials that need to be established in some new location. A dollhouse, foosball table, miscellaneous toys, a drill press and random Thule rack pieces that need to be re-homed. The backlog is growing.

Non-relevant seasonal items need to be moved from Central Processing to Storage and Waste Management. This is often done with the aid of a re-puposed Radio Flyer wagon. Storage and Waste Management is a ‘shed’ at the rear of The Fack Ranch property where items are either stored during their respective ‘off’ season or sorted and distributed either to be trashed/taken to the dump, recycled, or burned.

Storage and Waste Management.

Currently, Storage and Waste Management has quite a few items to be rotated to Central Processing. The lawn mower. All the garden hand tools. The steps that go into the pool (also as yet to be opened for the season) and various pool accessories.

Storage and Waste Management – as it’s name implies – also permanently stores many things. The lean-to next to it covers my main stockpile of firewood that feeds the smaller stockpile I keep in the garage. Inside the barn is my ‘collection’ of far too much ‘reclaimed’ wood. Leftovers from various projects that may be of use some day, miscellaneous pieces retrieved when disassembling various items/structures, etc. Some of it, if too warped, bent or rotten simply gets burned, but if it’s moderately useable it will be kept, at least temporarily.

Storage and Waste Management, mid-seasonal changeover, looking pretty worse for wear. And in it’s case, that’s saying something.

Other items currently in storage are a non-functional 4-wheeler that I partially disassembled in hopes of ‘restoring’ but then realized I was in over my head. When it comes to small engines, I am a cyclist. It’s future remains a mystery. There’s a small garden trailer. There’s several items that were put here for ‘later use’, but now have languished so long that they are no longer salvageable and are now considered ‘waste’. These include remnants of flooring, several old baseboard heaters and some random light fixtures as well as an old shower enclosure (don’t ask).

The one drawback of Storage and Waste Management is that it is not – ahem – ‘weather tight’. It sits on an old (failing) fieldstone foundation and as such there is a great deal of daylight in spots at the base of the structure as well as points throughout. In other words, it’s a wildlife habitat. Often times the best intentions of saving something for later use are foiled by something deciding it makes great nesting material. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. ‘Country Living’ I believe it’s called.

There is a second story to Storage and Waste Management, but it’s only accessible via a rather questionable ladder at the inside rear of the structure so not much is kept up there, as it’s difficult to get bigger/heavier stuff up top.

On the Waste Management side, this is where things go to be stockpiled for eventual removal to the landfill or recycling depot. Landfill trips usually only occur 2-3 times a year so this can sometimes mean a backlog of materials awaiting extrication, lending only further to the ‘Backcountry’ Aesthetic. (See box spring and derelict hockey goals to the right in ‘Figure 37A’)

Figure 37A

Where the Hell is Everything

Although I’m pretty fastidious with systems and labelling, in an operation of this size there is still some product loss issues. After 6 months I sometimes don’t remember where I’ve put shit. During the Seasonal Changeover there is also the process of Inventory Repair and Replacement. Often times at the end of a season, if something is broken beyond repair it is discarded and a ‘mental note’ is made to ‘replace next year’. If it’s repairable, a note is made to ‘repair next year’, so these items need to be sorted as well. Often, due to filing inaccuracies or clerical error, these mental notes get lost or filed incorrectly and this can lead to delays in the Seasonal Changeover process. In addition, Inventory is sometimes not accurate and things are indeed, not where the hell you thought they were.

One side-effect of this is often thinking when you can’t find something that it must have been broken last year, deemed ‘irreparable’ by Facilities Management and disposed of. You end up purchasing a new item, only to find the fully-functioning old item later on, which, due to an error in Inventory – usually the loss of a ‘mental note’ – had been right where you put it leading to an instance of redundancy, which is not always desirable, but often times is sorted naturally, when you get mad and break one of the redundant items, usually by trying to use it for something other than it’s intended purpose – also known as the Everything is Not Necessarily a Hammer Principle.

This year the changeover is going reasonably well. The issue of finding the component to house all Lyn’s potting/plant stuff has led to a bit of a logjam in Central Processing, but with roughly one and a half days worth of Man-hours into the process, I’m feeling pretty confident. Folly for sure, as I’ve added to the docket this year my intention to remove all that reclaimed wood I mentioned earlier, lay it out in the yard, and sort it for easier retrieval when needed. That may have to break out into a work docket all it’s own due to the complexity and time requirements of such a project. I’ll have to consult with Project Scheduling and Management on that. I anticipate a breakout workgroup session to strategize on on implementation of wood sorting best practices and optimization of metrics to determine maximum ROI.

And I’ll probably end up burning some stuff.