Design getting doctored

While Hugh Pearman takes a much needed rest his alter-ego, a man who wishes to be known only as Dr Design, fills in with some practical advice

This month I will be focusing on what is wrong with so-called ‘designer objects’. We all know they’re expensive and weird-looking and don’t work the way they should. But how can you improve them without burning another large hole in your pocket? Here are my top ten tips.

Ron Arad Bookworm. If you’re afraid of sustaining whiplash injuries trying to fix that darned springy plastic shelf on the wall, only to find when you finally manage it, it’s all over the place, it’s easy to avoid bendy-shelf misery. Just wrap the shelf in a hot electric blanket for a while (granny should lend you one). That will soften it up nicely. Then lay it out flat on the floor and put heavy weights on it. Piles of telephone directories are ideal. Leave it a week or so and, hey presto – flat shelf. For that professional finishing touch, remember to use a spirit level.

Freeplay clockwork radio. What mad idea was this? The coil spring is heavy and cumbersome, the noise as it unwinds is horribly distracting, and the rechargeable cell provided is too small. Plus it always runs down halfway through Terry Wogan’s best jokes. Solution: remove the clockwork mechanism entirely and put in a nice big battery. Finally it’s as good as much cheaper radios. Don’t throw away the spring. You’ll need it for:

Dualit toaster. You’d think in this modern age, any upmarket toaster would have a pop-up mechanism. Not so the Dualit, which does nothing to tell you the toast is done except by ceasing to make odd crackling noises. Luckily, it comes apart very easily with the aid of a Philips screwdriver. Now take the coil spring you saved from your radio, and with a bit of fiddling, a rivet gun and a spare thermostat, it’s a cinch to convert your Dualit to pop-up mode. But watch out for flying fragments. Always wear safety goggles, particularly if cheese toasties are involved.

Dyson vacuum cleaner. It’s hard to see what all the fuss is about, isn’t it? OK, so it works, but then you have to undergo ordeal by dust as you empty the bin. Manufacturers never think of practicalities, do they? But this is an easy one to fix, and it’s extremely clever. Take a large stout brown paper bag – the sort Indian take-aways come in is perfect. Discard the bin, attach the bag with wire and gaffer tape, and you’ve got a clean, cheap, disposable dust container.

Smart car. Yes, they’re ludicrously small, with no luggage space and no roof to speak of either. How to fit in the golf bags? Drill holes in the back (watch out for the fuel tank) and bolt on a standard opening roof box – vertically. It may not be ‘smart’, but it’s neat. Alternatively, weld an extra rear-facing seat on to a roof rack attached the same way. This may need the approval of the Highways Agency.

Jasper Morrison furniture. Frankly, it’s vexatiously plain. But if you’re lumbered with it, at least you’ve got a surface to work on. With some PVA glue and bits of coloured mosaic, you can really liven it up. Let your imagination run riot.

Talking of furniture, lots of people have got an old Eames lounge chair, usually an unwanted inheritance from seriously unhip parents. With their wrinkled leather and exposed wood, they’re ugly as sin, but even these can be redeemed. Ever considered loose covers? If that’s still no good, consider trading it in for a proper armchair from Multiyork.

Girls. Fed up with Bioform bras that make you feel you’re trussed up in a surgical appliance? Make yourself all the support you need using a pair of handkerchiefs and some old-fashioned fusewire.

IMac computers are all very well, but you quickly tire of those babyish fruit-gum colours and it’s irritating being able to see the innards. Most people are frightened of touching electronic equipment, but it’s the work of a moment to slap some beige paint over the transparent casing. Marine enamel is best. Remember to leave the screen clear. You’re not daft are you?

Finally, architecture. Open-plan loft apartments can be cold and draughty, and there’s never any privacy. But with a bit of timber and plasterboard, you can quickly and cheaply divide them up into lots of cosy little rooms. Hard floors can be covered with patterned polypropylene carpet, which is surprisingly cheap. This will increase the value of your property and make it easier to take in lodgers.

That’s all from Dr Design for now. He may return, once the hospital has confirmed a release date. Readers are welcome to send in their design problems if they have nothing better to do.

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