Design Advice for Making the Practical Pretty

This article is part of our Design special section about new interpretations of antique design styles.


I’m looking for a new, ergonomically correct desk chair — but I want it to look nice. Is that too much to ask?

Certainly not. These days, plenty of options deliver good looks and comfort. And it’s a smart idea to get an ergonomic chair. Studies show that working from home, where one is likely to improvise seating, can lead to increased pain in the lower back and neck — especially if the worker is sitting improperly. A good chair can help.

At its most basic, the chair should be adjustable (in terms of overall height and armrest positions in particular) and support your lower back to minimize strain and reduce fatigue. You want your forearms parallel to the floor and bent roughly 90 degrees.

Branch Furniture makes particularly swell-looking chairs. Their Ergonomic Chair, which starts at $329, has lumbar support, adjusts eight different ways and comes in five colors (black, beige, two grays and blue) with black or white frames. For extra swagger, Branch’s Verve Chair is offered in cobalt, mint green, white, coral or navy and is from $549.

Less spiffy, perhaps, but top-notch ergonomically, is the classic Aeron chair from Herman Miller, which comes in three sizes to accommodate a wide range of users. It has breathable fabric, adjustable pads for lumbar support and fully adjustable arms. It starts at $1,275.

For something different, Humanscale’s Freedom Saddle Stool is a triangular seat without a back or arms. The stool supports a healthy lumbar spine and reduces pressure points. It comes in 13 fabrics and two frame colors and starts at $352.

I recently knocked over my LED lamp and broke the light source. I called the manufacturer, and it cannot be replaced. What’s up with that?

LED technology has advanced tremendously over the past 20 years, and many manufacturers are using what are called integrated LEDs in their designs. These light sources are not standard bulbs that snap or screw into the fixture. As the name suggests, they are part of the lamp itself. LEDs can do all sorts of things regular bulbs can’t — including curve in (nearly) limitless ways, assume extremely slim, flat shapes and remain cool, which allows them to be combined with materials that incandescent bulbs would melt.

The San Francisco-based lighting designer Pablo Pardo notes that integrated LEDs “should never need to be replaced over the life of the product.” According to Mr. Pardo, integrated LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours, which translates to slightly more than 17 years when used eight hours a day. His lamps, however, have a plug-and-play design that allows for replacement in the case of damage to the bulb or improvements in the technology.

Mr. Pardo said that most manufacturers didn’t offer replacements; break the bulb, and you have to toss out the entire lamp. This has consequences not just for the owner’s wallet (a replacement bulb for his company Pablo’s Brazo floor lamp costs $50, substantially less than the fixture’s $650 retail price), but also for the environment. If a lamp can be disassembled when the light stops functioning, more parts can be recycled. “Full life cycle is the most responsible and most sustainable approach,” he said.

Ping-Pong is something of an obsession in our family, and we want to put a table in our living room. But we want it to look more like furniture and less like summer camp.

Most people are familiar with the standard-issue folding Ping-Pong table made from particle board that is native to basement rec rooms. It supplies hours of fun but is not the prettiest. Game tables — pool, foosball, Ping-Pong — have now been invited into living rooms and other public spaces in part because of better designs and higher-quality materials. (I suspect they’re also a spillover from open-plan work environments with recreation areas.)

Killerspin’s Ping-Pong tables are sleek and often colorful. The Revolution Classic SVR has a matte steel base and purple top and is $2,699. Pool Table Portfolio’s Arock Lucite billiard table sits on transparent legs, and its Tekku Outdoor pool table works nicely if you have a very large patio. (Prices for both are supplied on request.)

Sean Woolsey is a furniture maker who builds great-looking indoor shuffleboard tables up to 20 feet long with maple and walnut. Prices start at $14,000. Kettler’s indoor/outdoor foosball table (about $1,600) is a major step above the ones found in the backs of bars. And if you’re feeling thrifty (or nostalgic) you can still get an old-school Ping-Pong table from HooKung for about $100 on Amazon.

Our mud room, where we keep our washer and dryer, is one of the entrances to our home, yet it looks sad and neglected. How can I make it more inviting?

Mud or laundry rooms are sometimes the first spaces guests (and you) see, yet many don’t get the love they deserve.

So, make yours look as nice as any other room. Paint the walls an interesting color, coordinating with the washer and dryer. Add a runner or small area rug (use one designed for outdoors if it’s regularly going to get wet). Hang wood cabinets if you need them.

Instead of simply screwing in a few hardware store hooks for coats, find a beautiful coat rack. Provide a bench for putting on or taking off shoes or boots. Add a pendant light or chandelier. (Make sure it’s high enough so don’t hit your head while sorting your colors and whites.)

If you really want to make the room special, install a patterned tile floor or wide oak planks, whichever coordinates best with the rooms that follow.

source: nytimes.com