Monday, August 30, 2010

The Whole Couch Situation

I hate red-tag sales. I hate one-day-only sales. I hate pressure sales. When I make purchases under duress, I end up with Buyer's Remorse. The latest instalment in that story is my couch.

One week ago I decided to go couch shopping. I meant to go out and look. Sit. Lie down. Take measurements. Compare prices. My furniture budget had been depleted down to about $360. I didn't intend to buy - at least not that day.

I went with the McQueens. They have an eye for things like colour and design, etc. I don't. They're artists. Actuall artists. I draw on coffee cups. I'm an engineer at heart, and a computer programmer by profession. I value things like function and efficiency. To me function comes way before form. When my brother and I were both learning to program, he'd create beautiful user interfaces. I'd have black and white command line programs.

Before this ouch-shopping day, I had been to Ikea countless times sitting on their couches, trying to decide what I might like. I like Ikea furniture.  I realized the other day why Ikea doesn't have salespeople.  The furniture sells itself.  So far, I have bought a chair, ottoman, stool, a dinning table, 4 dinning chairs, and DVD/CD shelves from Ikea, and I don't regret a single purchase. But, I haven't found an Ikea couch I really like that's comfortable - at least in the Ottawa Ikea. Perhaps cushions become softer with use?

I decided on a few things I wanted, and didn't want in a couch:
Not leather
Leather looks nice, but if it's hot or cold, the couch becomes very uncomfortable.
None of those little buttons in the upright cushions
I always manage to cause them to pop out. If I'm going to spend at least a grand on my couch, I don't want to have to worry about damaging it so easily. It would be one thing if I did it, but if someone else did it, that's frustrating in a different way.
Flat arms
When I was in university I had the ugliest couch and chair set. but the arms were about 5" wide, solid wood, and flat. I would often use it as a TV tray, and would leave my glass, pop can, and/or plate on the arm.
Long enough for me to sleep on
I figure a couch is like a substitute bed. It's going to get slept on. You want that to be a comfortable sleep. My couch in university was like that. I took a lot of naps on that couch. It was the perfect size, even if it was ugly.
Right price
If it was too cheap...well, I believe that you get what you pay for. If it's too expensive, I'd break the bank. I don't want that. I don't want to think about how much flying I could have done with that couch money. I had about $360 in my couch fund, but, given a few more pay-cheques, that could increase. I was planning on spending about a grand on a couch.
The first store the McQueens and I walked into was Dufresne (pronounced Dufrane, rhyiming with Moo-Frame, with the epmhasis on "Frame".). We were greeted by a loud salesman informing us it was their VIP red-tag day. One day only! We were shown a bunch of couches. Most where "meh". Then we sat on one. Oh my goodness! So comfortable! So soft! I just sank in! I wanted it! There was a couch and love seat. There was also a single chair, end tables, and coffee tables too that could come as a package. I wanted the couch. The loveseat was negotiable.

But, I wanted to look around first. After Dufresne, we went to Sears, Lay-Z-Boy, and United Furniture Warehouse. I sat in nothing that compared to that couch at Dufresne. So I went back to Dufresne, got a good deal on the couch and loveseat. I saved $700 from the list price. I set up the delivery for the following Saturday.

On Saturday it showed up. After much struggling to get it into the aprtment, I played with a few different arrangements. I sat in them for a while. I looked at my bank accounts, and finance spreadsheets. Buyer's Remorse started sinking in. Now I'm thinking of returning, either just the loveseat, or both. The return policy is that they'll refund 90% of the money (10% is a re-stocking fee), and I'll have to pay for a pick-up. And, I only have 48 hours to decide. 48 hours, presumably, from delivery, not purchase. That's not a very long period, especially when you're spending, potentially thousands of dollars.  I kinda feel like punishing the company for such poor customer service policies.

I have the following issues with the couch and love seat:
  1. It's big. It takes up a lot of space in my small apartment.
  2. It's heavy. This is a problem if I want to move it around.
  3. It's big and heavy. It had to be disassembled to get into the apartment. You should have seen the delivery guys grunting and sweating trying to get it in. If I have to move without the convenience of professional movers, that's gonna be me - except that I'm not a big, strong, professional furniture delivery man.  I'm a computer programmer.
  4. It's expensive. Even though I got a wicked deal on it, I'm still gonna have rob, not only Peter, but Frank, Chester, Sebastien, and Mary, just to pay Paul. This is actually the least of my concerns. I have the money to pay for it. I just have to pray that I have no unexpected expenses for the next few months while I recoup the losses.
  5. It's expensive. I don't like having expensive things. You always worry if it's gonna break down or get stolen or something. I've seen someone puncture a car seat simply by leaving a pencil in their pants pocket. I don't want to worry about things like that.
  6. It doesn't have removable cushions. Removable cushions are nice if you need to turn them over if someone spills something, or if you need to lay them out on the floor as a make-shift bed.
  7. It's not _quite_ long enough for me to completely lie down on. I know this conflicts with problems 1 and 3, but if it's gonna be too big to get in my apartment without disassembling it, I want a good bed substitute.
  8. It's not _me_. You know how some furniture just has _you_ written all over it? I bought these chairs from Ikea. Solid pine. Light. Assembly was ridiculously easy. $25 a piece. And they go with my table, which is also me because of the way it extends. My problem is that I don't know if a couch exists that is Me.
I should also list some of the positives of the couches (and my answers to them):
The two of them together makes sitting possible for 5 people. That's good for entertaining lots of guests.
I rarely entertain. I don't like entertaining. Having super-comfortable seating is just an invitation for people to want to come over.
It's super-comfortable.
At least at first. After sitting in it for a while, I'm not sure it feels all that good. I bought an office chair from Staples once. Felt great there. When I got it home and sat in it for a couple of hours, as computer programmers are wont to do, my back was killing me! I had to sit in my old, uncomfortable chair for a while before I could sleep at night. It turns out the comfortable chair was actually uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable chair was actually comfortable. This is important, as I will no longer be regularly seeing a chiropractor at the end of this month.
The green couch goes well with my burgundy carpet.
I don't care. I am such a form-before-function guy. I only know that it goes well because the McQueens told me it would. I would have still bought the couch if they said "No.  It will totally clash with your carpet."  I bought it because it was comfortable.  In fact, my decorating mission statement was "I want the apartment to look like a grown non-student lives there. I don't want your used stuff. I want new stuff. But I wanted to leave room for a "woman's touch".  Furthermore, if I move in a year or two - which is entirely possible - it is unlikely I'll be moving into a place with burgundy carpets. I suppose I could get a burgundy rug. Or just spill some red wine on the floor, and not clean it up.
If I return it, they keep 10% of the price as a re-stocking fee. I also have to pay for, and arrange (including reserving the service elevator in my building) a pick-up. Plus, I'd have to do all this shopping all over again. This could turn out to be a $200+ oops.
So I have to decide by tomorrow what I'm going to do.

For reference, here's a picture of my couch from my university days:

And here's the couch I just bought:

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Blinds Side B

Recap: If you missed it last week, I spent a lot of time and gas trying to find affordable blue PVC horozontal blinds for my bedroom and living room of my new apartment. Every store either had an extremely limited selection and/or were going to charge me an arm and a leg. The only good option I could find was to order from Sears online. So I did.

When I got the first blinds, I checked online how to install blinds. I would need wall anchors. I went to Home Depot to ask about them. The first guy I talked to was useless. He told me I'd need to find a stud.  [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here']  If I had wooden studs I wouldn't need anchors. Otherwise, I would.

In fairness to him, he might not have been talking to me.  He wouldn't make eye contact with me and he was speaking loud enough for everyone in a 3 kilometre radius to hear.

So I found someone else who was much more helpful.  In fact people were crowding around him waiting for their chance to glean some home-reno wisdom from him.  He showed me where to get the wall anchors, and a stud finder.  [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] He told me what I needed to know. I bought some wall anchors and a stud finder [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] and went home.

I wanted to install the blinds in my bedroom first. I put my bed by the window so I could stand on it as I installed the blinds. I drove the anchor into the wall with my screwdriver. It took a bit of effort at first, then there was no resistance.  I took the anchor out.  I looked in the hole and saw that there was a metal plate with holes in it. I managed to put the anchor through one of the holes.

I thought I'd better ask the Super about installing blinds before I go any further. He suggested I install the brackets a little closer to the window. The window sill is pretty deep. So I tried that and it worked. The blind went in without trouble or incident. I didn't install the other blind in the living room because I didn't have a chair, stool, ladder, or bed to stand on to install the brackets.

I ordered the two custom fit blinds. When they arrived I decided to install the blind in the bedroom first. This one took a lot more effort than the other one. In fact, I ended up tearing some skin on my hand holding the screw driver. It hurt. One of the anchors was going in vertically, until it encountered some resistance. Then it went diagonal. Then it stopped before it was all the way in. In my effors I ended messing up the head of the anchor, so I couldn't unscrew it. If anyone knows how to remove one of those, let me know.

At this point you're probably asking two questions: "Why didn't you use a drill?" and "Didn't you use your stud finder?" The answer to the first question is that I did use the drill and that's how the anchor got messed up. After that I didn't want use the drill until I knew things were exactly right. It's a lot harder to undo something that's been done with a power tool than something that's been done by elbow grease. 

The answer to the second question is that I did use the stud finder. [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] But, according to my stud finder, my window sill is one giant stud. So, I deemed it to be useless. It works fine on my walls, just not the window sill.

I tried again a little bit closer to the center. This time it worked. When I tried putting the screws in, 3 out of 4 went in easily. The fourth one stopped part way up. My hand really hurt, and I was sweating like that guy landing the airplane at the end of the move Airplane. I was tired. The bracket wasn't going anywhere. The screw wasn't getting in the way. So I left it.

Before installing the blinds in the living room I wanted to 1) let my hand heal, and 2) get a stool, or chair, or ladder to stand on. I figured a chair would be good because I would use it to sit at my table when I got one of those. Off to Ikea!

I must have sat in every chair in the kitchen area. I couldn't decide on a chair or a table. And I wanted them to be coordinated. As I sat there contemplating what to do, I saw a footstool. I walked over to it. It was new to the Ikea lineup. It was $15. It was solid wood. It was almost 2 feet tall. It was perfect! I could use it as a makeshift end-table, or rest my feet on it under my desk. I decided not to decide on a dinning set that day, and just get the stool.

Of course, they didn't have any of those stools in stock. The guy there said they didn't know when they would get any more. I checked their website everyday for two weeks until it was in stock. I bought it. I put it together. Due to a sharp edge in the packaging, I managed to cut my wrist. Now I look like an emo-kid.

This Sunday past, I was sitting in my living room looking at my blindless windows. I had marked out where I would put the anchors. I decided to get a start on it.  The skin on my hand had partially healed.  I had to install 2 blinds, 4 brackets, 8 screws and 8 wall anchors. After six anchors, skin had ripped off the palm of my hand again. I gave it a rest. Until last night, Wednesday night. I decided to takle the last two anchors. I decided I was on a roll, so I kept going. I drove in the screws holding up the anchors. I put the blinds in. Finally, my living room is dark. It might be worth trying to cool down my entire apartment with the air conditioner. My hand hurts. I have several blisters and cuts. I guess thats what you get when you try to do some manual labour after a lfietime of computer programming.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Blinds Side A

I have been in my apartment for a month and a half now, and I finally got my window blinds up last night. What took me so long? Procrastination? Yes. Laziness? Yes. But that's not all. It turns out that getting and installing blinds isn't as easy as it used to be, or should be. It turned out to be a real vortex!

The last time I had an apartment that needed blinds, I measured the windows and went out to Zellers. I found the ones that would fit in the colour I wanted (dark blue). I brought them home. Since I knew nothing about installing blinds I had a friend over to help me. He brought his drill. We got some wall anchors and installed the blinds in one evening. I didn't have a steady job at the time, and still going to school, so I wouldn't have been willing to spend a whole lot.  Four blinds about 3 feet each probably cost me less than $100.

I thought it would be that easy this time too. Boy was I wrong!

I measured my windows. 5 foot, 11 and a three-quarters inches. What an odd measurement! Why don't they make windows a standard size? Why couldn't they have been an even six feet?

I wanted mini, a.k.a. horizontal blinds. I wanted dark blue.

One day I went to Home Depot. As soon as I found the window area I saw three employees hanging around talking. I thought "Great! I can ask one of them for help." Boy was I wrong! As I was approaching I heard one of them say "I'm hungry. You guys want to get some lunch?" They all agreed and scattered like cockroaches when you turn on the lights. I was on my own. So I went looking. There are lots of different kinds of blinds; wood, faux-wood, S-blinds, mini, PVC, etc. etc. The only mini blinds I could find were coloured white and off-white.

So, off to Walmart! They only had white. Someone there told me for better selection to check out Sears.

So I went to sears. The woman there first asked me if I was renting or owning. What an odd question. I told her I was renting. She told me I'd be better off ordering online, or from the catalog. If I ordered in store, it would cost me upwards of $250 for one set of blinds.  I could get the exact same thing for as little as $27 from the catalog.

So I figured I'd order them online. I left the store. As I was driving out, I saw a store called Blinds to Go. Perfect! Blind experts! So I went in. They quoted me $150 for each blind. I needed 2.  Forget that noise!

This was getting frustrating. I tried Bouclaire. They only had white and faux-wood.

I went back to Home Depot. This time I managed to get a salesperson to talk with. If I wanted blue blinds I'd need to get them custom ordered, and that could run well over $100 per blind.

What ever happened to cheap non-white blinds?!

Ikea had limited selection. As did Zellers. As did the Bay. I forget what other stores I checked out, but none had what I wanted.

I went to the Sears website to order. I was nervous about ordering custom blinds. What if they were wrong somehow? Could I return them? Their return policy doesn't allow custom blinds to be returned. So, instead of ordering one blind for the whole window, I decided to order two 3 foot blinds, and two 2 foot, 11 and a half inches. I would order the two 3 foot blinds first because they weren't custom. If they weren't any good, I could return them. Once I was satisfied, I'd order the custom blinds.

This entry is getting long, so I'll stop now, and continue next week.