I finally got my dining table delivered after three months of waiting. As I salivated over my new dining table, I found that the tall ceiling of my loft really overwhelms the scale of my new table. Being a renter, I realize there is limited amount of what I can do with the space. Yes, I know we all fantasize about having those ingenious custom casework we saw in design blogs. But if you don’t have a carpenter friend or easy to access a wood shop, most people just can’t justify spending that type of money to custom build your own casework for a rental. The key is to find a solution that is easy to execute, scale appropriate and affordable.
Before I go on to describe the solution itself, there are several conditions I think many loft dwellers would relate to.
1) If you ever live in a loft, you will know that the high ceiling and the open expansive space requires spatial division in order to accommodate various daily activities. Without it, unless you are the ultimate minimalist with very few things scattered throughout, your loft would quickly feel like a warehouse with all of your belongings displayed in plain sight.
2) In order to have a spatial impact on a great big loft, these dividers usually need to be substantial in scale for it not to be dwarfed by the high ceiling, Be it a large painting, a substantial light fixture or a series of bookcases, you need several big pieces to delineate the multiple living zones that you have in a loft.
3) The prices of these substantial pieces are usually substantial as well. For instance, I have a 15’ high ceiling. For a piece to be proportional, it would need to be at least 7-8’ high and equally wide in order to create a scale that befitting for a dining room.
Having these considerations in mind, I begin to sketch and 3D model some ideas out. The first idea that I had is a cantilevered multi-purposed wall using plywood and stud framing. It would act as false ceiling to bring about an intimate scale for the dining area and also double as a bouldering wall.
Upon closer inspection, I decided against it due to the lack of tools and space available for assemblage. Many other design ideas were also being vettoed due to similar concerns until I chanced upon a fascinating material called Bendy Ply.
Bendy ply is 1/8” thick plywood made out of poplar. Unlike other plywood, it is flexible without being steamed and molded. You can bend it 180 degree with two fingers in as tight as a 12” radius. It is usually used for cladding curvy surfaces on a piece of casework. The flexibility and the workability of the material is perfect for my situation of being without a workshop nor extensive collection of power tools. I decided to buy 4 sheets of 4 by 8 and took it home.
Of course, once I got home I feel instant buyer remorse. At work, I usually begin the design process with the required programmatic needs and derived a general form accordingly. 99% of the time you know exactly what your end product will look like before you procure the raw material. Very rarely you begin the design process with a specific material without knowing what the general form will look like. But here it is, given that I am essentially making a piece of furniture, why not give it a try to see what you can make this piece of bendy ply into.
Intuitively, the urge is to let the bendiness of the material manifest itself. Rather than using a predetermined frame and clad the plywood on top, the design was to make use of the ever bendability of the wood. The first initial idea was to hang a pendant light from the top of the panel and let the weight of pendant light drives the bending form of the panel. Thus when you can hang something heavy the panel would bend lower and hence gives you a lower ceiling for the dining area. When you take off the heavy pendant light then the panel would revert back to being a wall panel that leans again the wall. It is a very simple idea and I still think it has potential for future projects but as of now, the material that I bought is just too flimsy to support any type of pendant light being hung at all. Without a workshop to calibrate the bendability of the material, it is hard to execute this idea.
The current solution turns out to be a rather primitive spatial intervention. It is basically big wall hanging taken the form of a plywood weave. By simply making notches on the plywood at regular intervals, you can make use the bendiness of the plywood strips and start to weave them together without any substructure. The end result is a series of gradating plywood strips being weaved together. The execution of the panel is simple, only involved a weekend of utility knife cutting and varnishing plywood strips.
In the end, the panel hung over the dining table like an abstract painting, not exactly the interactive object that I envisioned. But when you are building a project for your own apartment, taking a risk is much more fun than following some youtube videos. There is always the next DIY project in perfecting what you want.