Thursday, July 23, 2009

Herman Miller Bucket Drawers


Several years back (probably 2000 or 2001) I was looking for a desk to use for my computer. I wasn’t too picky but I wanted something simple, and due to my prior experience with “ready to assemble” furniture I knew I wanted something a tad more sturdy and something that would last more than 9 months without needing to be sent to a landfill.

I found myself in an office furniture store, and soon thereafter I discovered the mythical back room that was stacked with used desks, chairs, cubicle walls… you name it. The place had somewhat of an eerie feeling as if you could smell all of the old companies that found themselves in bankruptcy and were forced to liquidate and auction off their equipment.

There was no consistency in any of the furniture, and there was a collection including all shapes and styles. There were chairs that looked like they had been designed in the 70s and not used since. There were rigid metal desks that looked like you would need a small forklift to move them five feet, and there were random conference tables and work tables of all shapes and styles.

I remember noticing some of the furniture had various character flaws. Tables were scratched, desks were chipped or dented, cubicle walls had torn or dirty fabric, and there was even a single table that had a bow in the middle which made me think it would have been great for writing because your pencil would never be able to fall off the edge. I actually contemplated buying the table and flipping over the work surface so the weight of my computer monitor would actually make the desk flat again, but it just wasn’t quite right.

As my search continued, I found a simple desk about 60 inches wide by 32 inches deep. It had a top made out of laminate, a pair of funky “t” shaped black and chrome legs, two black plastic drawers and somewhat of a modern look. It was buried under another desk and some chairs, and it had probably been sitting in that room for years. It looked to be in good condition and even the keys to lock the drawers were there, so I proceeded to look for a price.

Much to my surprise, this particular desk was priced at a whopping $50. I spoke to a saleswoman and told her I’d take it, so we wrote up the bill of sale and she marked it as sold. She told me she would have someone clear off the items on top of it and get it ready to pick up, so I made arrangements to stop by within an hour to pick it up.

At the time I was driving a small car, so I enlisted the assistance of my older brother Scott to help me pick up the desk. Since he drove a SUV it would be a simple process of loading it into the back and taking it home, and as an added bonus he could help me move it. So we drove over to the store, met the saleswoman and as she held the door we proceeded to haul my new prize out and load it into the SUV.

It was fairly clear that Scott wasn’t overly impressed with my purchase and when he saw the plastic drawers he thought they looked like buckets. So, from that point forward – my new desk was referred to as “the bucket drawers”. It wasn’t called the desk with the bucket drawers or the desk with drawers that looked like buckets – it was always “the bucket drawers”.

In any case, I took the desk to the house I was living in at the time (which coincidentally was actually Scott’s house) and it became home to my computer. When I moved from the house to an apartment and from the apartment to a townhouse the desk came along for the ride, and whenever Scott saw it he would make a joke about the bucket drawers. When I moved across the state I left my desk in Scott’s basement for the time being but soon I found myself moving back and the bucket drawers were pulled out from retirement once again.

Eventually I bought a house and the desk moved with me. I had thought about replacing it with something new, but a part of me just liked the bucket drawers and saw no reason to spend money on something else. A few years after buying my house, Scott was giving away some of his furniture in preparation for a move. He had a nice oak desk and since he offered it to me I accepted. The bucket drawers looked to be on their way out.

I considered moving the desk into the garage and using it as a workbench, but I just left it sit in my basement for a while. As I used the new desk Scott had given me I realized it just wasn’t right. I couldn’t pull a chair under the desk because the arms would hit the pencil drawer. The desk had a wood top so I had to use a coaster if I had a cold drink, and my computer was constantly at risk of overheating due to the closed design of the cabinet.

I tried my best, but I soon realized my old desk was quite simply more up to the task than the new desk. One could even say I missed the bucket drawers, but in reality it was just missing the modern simplicity that comes with something that just works. Long story short I ended up sending the oak desk with a friend and the bucket drawers once again became my primary desk.

I’ve moved my desk from a house to an apartment to a townhouse, from one room to another, from the townhouse to my house, and at least three different times to three different rooms in my house. It has survived at least half a dozen different PCs in it’s time and four or five different laptops. It has been with me through three different jobs and it was with me as a single man, as a married man, and now as a father.

A few months ago my wife and I were out shopping, and we found a desk that we think would be an improvement. It has tons of more storage, and a design that would allow both of us to use the desk at the same time. There is room for more than one computer (since I have a personal desktop, a personal laptop, a work laptop, and plans to acquire a personal Mac in the near future), and it has more of a contemporary style that goes with our other furniture.

In the meantime, my sister had told me she actually liked my existing desk and would be willing to take it from me if I replaced it, so I actually considered that to be a good thing since I wouldn’t need to deal with selling it or trying to dispose of it. As my wife and I were standing in the furniture store considering the new desk I was literally seconds away from saying we wanted it, but at the last second I changed my mind. For some reason I thought the bucket drawers still had life in them. I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t think they were ready to be replaced yet.

So imagine my surprise when I was crawling under the desk one day to fish some cables up to a computer and I see this sticker that says “Herman Miller”. Now I’m not a huge fan of design and I couldn’t give you five names of designers in the world, but I had heard of Herman Miller, so I found this interesting. A few minutes later after some random Google searches, I soon learned the desk I had was designed by George Nelson for Herman miller probably sometime in the ‘60s or ‘70s and that this particular size with the drawers was worth between $800 and $1500 or even more depending upon condition.

So let me get this straight… I bought a used desk for $50 in the back room of a now-defunct office furniture store that turns out to be worth at least 16 times what I paid for it? Heck, if I could sell this thing for $1500 that would be a 3000% gain – I can’t think of a single investment in my entire life that has provided that rate of return.

If I were the type to carry around a Macbook Pro in a canvas carrying bag, wear t-shirts that were three sizes too small and be sporting a strip of hair below my lower lip then I'd probably think it was the greatest thing since the coffee shop inside of Barnes & Noble. However since I'm none of those things I still think it is a desk regardless of what fancy name might be attached to it or how much it is worth.

The thing is, even though I know the desk is worth considerably more than I thought, I really have no desire to sell the bucket drawers. They have served me well and they will continue to serve me well for years. The only problem is, I now find myself wanting to find an office chair to match the “retro modern” look and that isn’t exactly easy. I’ve seen those mesh style office chairs that would be a perfect match, but I couldn’t seem to find one in any of the stores I look at.

So wouldn’t you know it, after another little Google search I found the maker of the mesh office chair that I have desired to be none other than… you guessed it, Herman Miller. The name of the chair is the “Aeron” and apparently they have quite the following for those of us who sit in a chair for hours a day. Of course it goes without saying that the chairs are prohibitively expensive and the MSRP is over $1200! Of course you can find them online for about $600, but honestly… no office chair on the planet should cost $600. If the thing gave me a massage while balancing my checkbook and handing me an ice cold beer upon request it might, possibly be worth $600, but even then I’d have to think about it.

Sort of makes me wonder if I can find a used one sitting in back of an office furniture store.

2 comments:

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