Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why do we "do it ourselves"?

Last week I received two big packages full of magazines from my awesome mother in law, and I spent many stolen moments over the weekend trolling for inspiration. There were a number of issues of My Home My Style, which focuses on DIY projects, and I saw a how-to for the popular "spine" bookcase first made popular by Design Within Reach.

[The Sapien Bookcase, DWR]

The hook:

"These contemporary 'tower' shelving units cost big bucks in high-end furniture stores, but you can make your own in a few hours with just $60 worth of materials."

Now, the tall version of the Sapien available from DWR does in fact cost $298, but there are tons of knock-offs out there. Reichel over at Copycat Chic gave a number of options on her blog about 2 years back, and when I did a quick search today, the cheapest one I found was just $95.84 at Amazon, just $35 more than the make-your own version. And it got me wondering: why do we DIY?

While my DIY impulse probably dates back further, I'm thinking today about my dorm room junior year in college. I remember making a slew of throw pillows for my futon, picking up a little chartreuse tufted velvet chair for $5 at the Salvation Army, and spray painting this thrifted lamp silver, adding the pom-pom trim.

This was largely about wanting a homey space on a budget, but it was also about availability. It was 1996, before the explosion of the accessible design movement, before Bed Bath and Beyond, before "Design for all," and you simply could not walk into a big box store and stock up on designer pillows for less. Now, there are so many inexpensive options, from Target to etsy, I wonder how our motivations have changed.

For me, it's often still about budget. I'm not exactly sure I could quantify the formula, but there always had to be enough value in making it myself to justify the time spent. Is the $35 gap in the sapien bookcase enough to get out the power tools and put aside a good chunk of the weekend? I suppose it depends on what else you want in your room, and where else you need to spend both your money and your time. Remember the negotiations that used to happen on Trading Spaces with the two designers vying for the carpenters time? If he (or she--not forgetting you, Amy Wynn) couldn't finish all the building projects that were requested, the designers' budgets could be blown.

Sometimes, though, I think it's more about having a specific vision. Maybe you want a pair of Christopher Spitzmiller lamps but you will never have the money (or the heart) to spend $600. Per lamp. And Home Goods just doesn't have anything quite good enough. So you customize. By the time you pick up the paint, new shades, fabric and trim and glue to recover them, you may end up spending $100 per lamp, which is still not cheap, plus your time, but you ended up with exactly what you wanted. And there's a lot of value there.

Today, it feels like there's another element at work. We have this aggressive DIY culture, and there is a mix of pride in having made it yourself, satisfaction in figuring out how to do it, and some kind of competitiveness in getting the most from the least, based on basic supplies and a little ingenuity. Maybe we all watched a little too much Magyver (not to mention TLC and HGTV) growing up. And because there are so many inexpensive options out there, because better design is more accessible, there is a desire to set ourselves apart. To be original. To have what no one else has.

As I work on this house, I think my reasons for taking on my own projects are a combination of all these reasons. There are competing impulses--the pride in making something and the pride in finding an amazing deal--but it is all in service to having a home that has my distinct stamp on it, one way or another.

What do you think: why do you DIY?

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