July 5, 2006

Nomadic Furniture 2: DIY Kidgear Boogaloo

3-way_nomadic_shapes.jpg

I was still buzzing from my eBay discovery of Mario dal Fabbro's How to Make Children's Furniture... a couple of weeks back when I came across James Hennessey and Victor Papanek's 1973-4 Nomadic Furniture books. They were part of a self-conscious "youth-culture" movement that sought to change the world through, non-commercial, eco-friendly, self-sufficient, global-scale nomadicism.

What with all that free love and stuff, kids were an inevitable part of the equation.

Eric Hunting has a picture of a young family on the porch of their "first generation microhouse," built using DIY techniques from the nomad guru Ken Isaacs. And while I wait for my copy of Nomadic Furniture to arrive, I couldn't resist a trip to the library when I saw they had Nomadic Furniture 2 on the shelf.

Sure enough, there's a 14-or so page section on Children, Babies & Small Kids that includes spreads on used tire playgrounds and scary-looking swinging contraptions. I scanned in a couple of pages, including Hennessey and Papanek's "manifesto" for little hippies that reads in part:

Parents are a real sucker-market [Grandparents are even worse], easy prey to the manufacturers and their snake-oil brigade from Madison Avenue...Like adults, babies and small children can make do with a lot less [and should: the average American baby consumes 54 times as many products as, say, a child in China.][ah, the old "there are children not shopping in China" trick -ed,]
nomadic_crib_thumb.jpgAs befits a section on page 95 of a sequel, the kids' projects generally assume a healthy tool fluency, but they're still pretty cool: there are plans for knock-together modernist plywood furniture reminiscent of Thomas Maitz's Max in the Box and Offi's Sled Desk. There's a reversible crib [left] that's brilliant--alas, no plans--even if the spindles are too far apart for contemporary safety regs. [And while we're on the topic of safety, did they really think back then that using lead pipe for a children's storage unit wasn't harmful? Definitely caveat fabricator there.]

Anyway, this blurb for a little photoset on flickr has turned into a wannabe magazine article, so apologies. The real takeaway, though--and it's a lesson I'm learning over and over--seems to be that a lot of what I [we?] consider to be our own generation's baby/parent-related thinking and innovation has actually been thought up and acted upon by previous generations--including our own parents' generations.

And yet, for whatever reasons, the mechanisms and media to communicate that continuity fail to do so. Not only do we constantly think we're inventing the parenting wheel. but we think we're inventing the road. And in reality, we're just going in circles. But maybe that's the point.

"Nomadic Furniture 2" for kids photoset [daddytypes on flickr]
Buy the Nomadic Furniture books on Amazon. [amazon via boingboing]
Related: gallery - Urban Nomads [eric hunting]

3 Comments

These are some of my favorite books. I love the DIY cardboard car seat, how did any of us survive? Another favorite is the multi hoop tree house, not sure if it is 1 or 2.

I'm also been a bit peeved at how directly the Max in the Box rips off the "open-source" design in the Nomadic furniture books for a premium price. I made a couple of them for a friend and her kids loved em. It cost me no more than $25 in materials. Some CNC'd "dovetails" can't be worth $200.

[that carseat must be in 1; the hoopty tree house/swing is in 2. -ed.]

Thanks for posting this article! I read this book more than 20 years ago and loved it, but forgot it's title and author.

I have all the books in this collection, and even had the honor of learning directly from Victor Papanek. Funny thing is I got these books from my dad in the 80's, they were his when they first came out. I really love the designs, even if they are a bit questionable. I also love the inclusion of a new outdoor company's sleeping bag "THE NORTH FACE".

[I just got my "vol. 1," and it's fantastic. I'll post some more, especially the cardboard carseat... -ed.]

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