The Friday Rant: The Importance of Functionality

The Friday Rant | October 30, 2020


Stop me if you’ve heard this one, since I’m pretty sure I’ve told it before…

Last Christmas, my wife bought me this beautiful winter jacket!  Not a “dress” coat per se, but also a step up from my ratty Reebok hooded down jacket that I wear on weekends when I feel like being a bum (my wife hates it…).

I believe it was Michael Kors, or some other label I would probably never buy, but it was great.  Sleek, slim, fit perfectly, and even though I typically don’t care too much about how something looks, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I walked past the mirror a few times and liked what I saw.

Two days after Christmas, I was getting ready to leave and I put on my new coat.  I put my iPhone in my left jeans pocket where it always goes, and my car keys in my right coat pocket.  Then I got out my wallet.

Low and behold, I couldn’t find the inside left jacket pocket, aka the place that every man on the planet puts his wallet.

I felt around on the inside right side of the coat, but no dice.

So I took the damn coat off, laid it down on my office desk, and started searching.

Nadda.

I came up blank.

“This coat has no inside pocket,” I told my wife, as I put on one of my ratty coats that she hates.

She agreed that this made no sense, and said, “I’ll figure it out.”

We were like cavemen trying to figure out how to turn a wheel.

I came home a few hours later to find my wife with a smirk on her face.

“You were right,” she said.  “This coat definitely does not have an inside pocket.”

It made no sense to me.

This was a men’s coat.  Men have wallets.  But more to the point, every coat has an inside pocket.

Fast forward to January and I came into the office for the first time in the new year, and I specifically brought this coat to get an opinion from our resident fashion expert.

I put on the coat and he smiled.  “I liiiiiiiike it,” he said.

He did full walk around me as I stood there, like we were at a Jewish or Indian wedding, and ran his hand down the sleeve.

“Great texture,” he said.

And then I hit him with it: “This stupid coat doesn’t have an inside pocket.”

But he didn’t pause to think or absorb what I said, he instantaneously responded, “That’s the point.  It’s sleek.  It’s slim.  It’s the look.  A pocket with a bulging wallet would ruin the look, the style, and the whole vibe!”

And that, ladies and gentleman, was the moment that I realized I would never, ever have the so-called “fashion-gene.”

I’m a lot of things.

I’m a realist.  I’m logical.  I’m practical.  I’m also cynical and condescending.  I’m easy-going in many ways but stubborn in others.

And when it comes to things that are not practical or functional but look good aesthetically, I have no time for them.

This is how I live my life in oh-so-many areas.

A family friend regales us with his story of going to dinner at an exclusive restaurant, with only fourteen seats in the entire place, which books up four months in advance.  And all I can think about is how uninterested I would be in visiting that particular establishment.

“I would so much rather have a pizza in my basement while watching 22 Jump Street for the 82nd time with my wife,” I told him, much to his dismay.  He couldn’t figure me out.  Still can’t.  He lives his life for what other people think of him, by going to restaurants either hoping to be seen by another person like him, or at the very least, to have the story to tell – to other people like him…

To each, their own.  I get that.

But I have no time for people who try to make their thing, my thing, especially when their thing lacks the functionality, practicality, and effectiveness that I look for in my own life.

And that seems to be reflected in my views on real estate.

I’ve seen a trend of late that I find disturbing.  Perhaps this is a microcosm of society today, but so many buyers, sellers, builders, designers, and the like are emphasizing aesthetics over functionality.

Then again, maybe this isn’t an entirely new trend…

Back in 1992, my parents purchased a house in Leaside and undertook a massive renovation.

My mother and father have two different accounts of the process of “building” the house, of course.

According to my father, he wanted to spend time on design, features, finishes, and make the house beautiful, but my mother wanted no part of it.

According to my mother, my father hired some “snobby bitch,” (her words – feel free to ask!) who took control of the process, was condescending and insulting, and thus she just left washed her hands of it.

I remember that designer.  She was not a nice person, and she represented all that bothers me about designers: she put more emphasis on aesthetics than functionality, exactly as I noted above.

“Elaine,” as we’ll call her, suggested that we put the kitchen towel rack in the cabinet under the sink so that it would be hidden.  My father liked that idea because it would look good.  My mother said, “Do you really think the kids are going to use that?”

Elaine just stood there with a blank look on her face.

“Kids are rambunctious,” my mother said.  “If they wash their hands, they’ll throw the towel on the floor or on the counter.  The only way to get them to actually put the towel in its proper place is to make it easy.”

Elaine won.

She had a chrome towel bar installed under the sink.

One week after moving into the house, my mother bought a hardwood towel bar that matched the cabinetry, and installed it inconspicuously near the window, in between the end of the counter and the front of the kitchen island, where it remained for sixteen years, and was used every day.

So in the end, my mother won.

While there was a massive addition put onto the house and a substantial renovation, there were a handful of existing items that remained.  Case in point: the pedestal sink in the “kids” bathroom.

My dad thought the pedestal sink was beautiful.

So did Elaine.

My mother simply said, “Where do you think two teenage boys are going to put all their stuff?”

I was 12-years-old at the time, and my brother was ten.  But my mother was looking a few years into the future and thinking about hair gel, razors, shaving cream, cologne, and God knows what else two boys would accumulate.

Elaine said, “I’m sure we can keep the sink and seek out some innovative storage solutions.”

My mom said, “That sink is going to be replaced with a storage vanity, I don’t care if I have to rip it out myself.”

In the basement, we had two different rec-rooms, but one was designated for my brother and I.

Filled with toys, sports equipment, remote control cars and whatever other electronic devices we had at the time, the room was anything but upscale.  However, that didn’t stop Elaine from recommending a very specific set of window coverings, with a particular fabric that was on back-order.

My mother thought that the fabric colour, texture, style, and accompanying hardware was all wrong for a room where boys would be throwing darts at the wall, and she also didn’t think it was worth spending money on a window in front of a damn window-well!  It’s not like these drapes were going in front of a picture window in the living room!

Elaine suggested that we wait the 12-16 weeks until the window coverings would be received.

The next day, my mother took my brother and I to Fabricland, and we picked out a fabric that was nothing remotely close to what Elaine had in mind, since I don’t think Elaine was considering………………..World Wrestling Federation curtains!  Yes, we literally found some random spool of fabric that, for some odd reason, was adorned with Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Bret The Hitman Hart, and all the stars of the early-1990’s.

So guess what?

My mother spent an hour on her 1950’s sewing machine, and voila!  The boys now had wrestling curtains in their play-room.

It drove my father nuts.

Now this is a slightly different case than the first two, since here I’m essentially talking about one aesthetic versus another.  But both sets of curtains function the same.  The only difference is that one was expensive, unavailable, and impractical, and the other was inexpensive, readily available, and fun.

I don’t know that my mother was “right” and Elaine was “wrong,” but the process of watching that house get designed was my first experience in putting aesthetics ahead of functionality, as well as promoting particular aesthetics that offer no additional marginal utility.

Last week, I just about went nuts when I visited a new-build with clients of mine, and we were walked through the house by the owner, who was also the builder, who was also the designer.  Oh – and the agent too…

Everything in this house was made for show.

Just look at the little things to get a sense of the big picture, okay?

We were in the laundry room on the second floor, and above the counters, where you’d expect to see the red valve and blue valve that shut off the water to the washing machine, there were none.  Just tile.  Marble tile, as the owner/agent/builder/designer explained, but no valves.

“Where are the valves,” I asked.

“Ah-ha,” she said, rather proud of herself.  “I’ve hidden them here,” and she pointed to the back wall, behind the washing machine.

“Nobody wants to see those ugly, awful things against this wall,” she said, running her hand over the marble.

“But what if you need to shut off the water,” I asked.

“Just slide the machine out,” she said, with her hand in the air like one of Barker’s Beauties.

“Can I see you slide the machine out?” I asked, knowing that it weighed five-hundred pounds and didn’t move easily.

She smiled, and exited, stage left.

This is a small yet classic example of where looks trump functionality and usefulness.  Most new-builds do have the red/blue valves easily accessible above the machine, but if we’re going to start making them completely inaccessible because it looks better, then what’s the point in having them?  Other than the fact that they can stop your house from flooding, I mean…

Another small example?

The master ensuite bathroom, where they had two bathtubs, but neither was really functional.

A higher-end house will often feature a large glass shower stall, often with multiple jets, or a rainforest showerhead, or a steam feature, or something really cool.  Then you’ll see a large bathtub, often floating in the middle of an unnecessarily-large bathroom, often that nobody ever uses because who the hell has time for that?

This bathroom was tight.  The second level wasn’t anywhere near large enough to accommodate their layout (four bedrooms and each had an ensuite), and so the master bathroom was really too small to have the features that it actually did.

Where the large, standing glass shower would normally be located, there was an awkward shower/tub combo.  But they still insisted on a separate freestanding soaking bathtub, which made absolutely no sense.

Why does anybody need two bathtubs in the same goddam room?

So I asked the agent/builder/owner/designer, and she said, “These are three pieces.  Three.”

I can count, so I had already done the math.

“But why do you need two bathtubs?” I asked her.

“For the same reason you need two sinks,” she said, pointing to what looked like a 48-inch vanity that, for some reason, had two sinks.  These stupid sinks were literally like three inches apart.  They might as well have combined them for a third bathtub…

“This is a six-piece bathroom,” she told me.  “It’s worth more,” she said with a wink.

All I could see was a ridiculous, cramped, impractical tile mausoleum.

The shower/tub combo made no sense.  The tub was too short to fit a person, and the shower lacked the functionality of a typical standing glass enclosure with a swinging door.

The separate freestanding tub was also way smaller than it should have been (these are usually like 60-66 inches and this felt as long as the damn vanity), and it wasn’t as deep.  The one side was basically touching the far wall of the room and the faucet and wand were wedged in between the wall and the window sill.  I don’t even know how you’d get that wand out.

Then the vanity.  Geez.  I understand having separate sinks for two people, but not in a space where one fits properly.

All told, this 6-piece bathroom could have been designed as a glorious 4-piece bathroom, but the owner/designer/builder/agent wanted something that looked good in photos and would have more “on paper” value.

Don’t even get me started on the sinks in the kids’ bathrooms.

I wish I had taken photos, but picture the most impractical floating, glass, waterfall sink you’ve ever seen with no basin, that’s too high off the ground.  Let me Google…

…something like this, perhaps:

Those are really neat.  They’re different, they’re sleek, they’re kinda cool, and you might expect to see something like this in a restaurant.

But in a kid’s bathroom?

As my mom would probably say – kids are rambunctious, they splash around, they make a mess.  And maybe this is the father in me now, but I’d much rather see a “hot” and a “cold” tap for my kids than one tap that turns left/right for hot/cold, but I digress…

I had no idea how kids were supposed to reach a faucet that, for some reason, was coming out of the wall, when it was about 3 1/2 feet high.

The entire house was like this.

Every single feature was in place to look a certain way, but in reality, it didn’t function efficiently.

Yeah, I understand that my inner-old-man is showing and that I don’t know cool anymore.  I’m officially one step from being the grandpa who asks “Why would you pay more for jeans with holes in them?”

But I’m seeing this a lot out there.  Builders and renovators are including features in homes that aren’t functional and merely serve to photograph well and look cool during a visit.

So if you’re a buyer out there, pay more attention to the practicality of features, and not just how they look.

And if you’re renovating, for the love of God, pick features and finishes that you like, and from which you would benefit.  Yes, you’ll be selling this property one day.  But don’t install something that you don’t love because you feel somebody else might like it in eight years.

And if all else fails, maybe I can see if my mother can give you her two cents…

Have a great weekend everybody!

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26 Comments

  1. Julia REinvestor

    at 6:24 am

    Perhaps the listing featuring a six piece bath would draw people in, but I think most people would see the features in person and be perplexed. It’s too much effort to undo an impractical new renovation.

  2. Verbal Kint

    at 7:04 am

    Get a seamstress or a tailor to add you a pocket, Costanza.

    1. Marty

      at 9:27 am

      YES, I think a decent thread-wizard can fashion you a pocket in there.

        1. Verbal Kint

          at 11:47 am

          Perhaps you are. If the coat brings him joy, he should modify it (and maybe slim down his wallet by purging the Subway discount cards from 2009) to make it perfect for him. If he’s more comfortable in fishing vests and cargo pants to hold all the stuff that lower middles need to carry around with them, that’s fine, too.

          The key about the upstairs laundry room isn’t whether the valves are accessible, but whether there was a floor drain, membrane and threshold lip. Spoiler: There wasn’t, there should have been, David was looking at the wrong thing, but all that is fixable for peanuts for a house at that price level.

          Above a certain price/income level, impractical for the plebs is the whole game. The key about the basins (not sinks) in the kids’ washrooms is that of course they’re high maintenance. It signals (to some people) that the help details the washrooms daily. Goes right over the heads of others, though.

          1. Kyle

            at 2:05 pm

            Only someone who has not made it could possibly imagine someone who has made it wanting to show other people their kids’ high maintenance washroom, to signal how wealthy they are. Seriously, your posts reek of big loser energy.

          2. Verbal Kint

            at 2:36 pm

            Hate? If he gets himself a sewn pocket, he’ll be happier with a spring in his step EVERY DAY ALL WINTER, and his wife will be happier EVERY day too. Or he can wear his dumpy old jacket, with regret all around.

        2. Marty

          at 7:11 pm

          Look, he likes the jacket. Everyone likes the jacket. Worse-case scenario, the pocket addition goes all wrong, and the jacket is a write-off.

  3. Marty

    at 9:26 am

    You lost me at 21 Jump Street. But you got me right back at “tile mausoleum”.

    Good work.

    1. David Fleming

      at 10:13 am

      @ Marty

      Not the 1980’s television show with Johnny Depp, but rather the movie series with Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill.

      What can I say? My wife and I have the same sense of humour and love for doing the same thing over and over and over.

  4. Appraiser

    at 9:58 am

    More good GDP news from Statistics Canada today:

    “Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew 1.2% in August, following a 3.1% increase in July. This fourth consecutive monthly increase continued to offset the steepest drops on record in Canadian economic activity observed in March and April, however overall economic activity was still about 5% below February’s pre-pandemic level.

    Preliminary information indicates an approximate 0.7% increase in real GDP for September as the manufacturing, public, and mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sectors increased. This advanced estimate points to an approximate 10% increase in real GDP in the third quarter of 2020.”

    https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/201030/dq201030a-eng.htm

    1. Chris

      at 10:24 am

      “Canada’s economic recovery slows in August

      The Canadian economy grew at the slowest pace since the lockdown period in August, rising 1.2% month-on-month, just above Statistics Canada’s flash estimate of 1.0%.

      Key Implications

      Canada’s economic recovery is losing steam. After quickly recouping 75% of the output lost during March and April, the economy is now moving into the recuperation phase, where additional gains in economic activity are harder to come by. With pandemic-related uncertainty weighing on business and consumer confidence, most industries are struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels of output.

      We are now in a phase of the recovery that could see strong winds and dangerous tides. Navigating through the turbulence will not be easy as much will depend on the course of the virus. Getting the spread under control could right the ship, but seas will remain choppy without a vaccine or effective treatment. Calmer waters are still a long way away for the Canadian economy.”

      – TD Economics

      https://economics.td.com/ca-real-gdp

      “Canada GDP recovery losing steam ahead of virus resurgence

      Canada GDP grew 1.2% in August, and has now retraced three quarters of activity lost in spring
      Preliminary estimate of 0.7% growth in September pins Q3 rebound at slightly above 45% (annualized)
      Outlook beyond September clouded by virus spread and containment measures

      The bigger concern is how much of that Q3 growth can be sustained beyond September. COVID cases have been on the rise, prompting local governments to re-introduce some containment measures in hotspots. The less stringent and more targeted response this time around probably means activity held up much better than it did back in April. But the economic rebound was already slowing ahead of the virus resurgence, and there is still clearly a risk that broader containment measures could yet be needed”

      – RBC Economics

      1. Bal

        at 10:07 pm

        OTTAWA – Canada will seek to admit 401,000 new permanent residents next year, a target that if met would be a historic number of newcomers.

        1. Chris

          at 10:35 pm

          I’m surprised the government is setting targets so high, as it doesn’t seem like a very popular policy – as I’ve said before, I think it’s political suicide, given the ongoing pandemic and elevated unemployment and labour under-utilization rates.

          But some have questioned how realistic getting anywhere near the targets are.

          “Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho called the numbers “pure fantasy” and said the government has no plan to bring in large numbers of immigrants safely despite border restrictions and embassy and office closures around the world.

          “There’s just no way that’s going to happen. And I was really hoping to hear an actual plan of how those issues were going to be resolved today. And there was not barely any mention of it at all,” she said.

          She said rapid testing for COVID-19 would be a critical step in helping bring people in during the pandemic, but the government has failed to make the necessary progress.”

          Meanwhile, in the RBC report I posted yesterday, they state “With the border poised to remain closed to all but essential travelers, and most post-secondary students continuing to study at home until immunization from COVID-19 reaches high levels in Canada and abroad – immigration is unlikely to rebound soon.”

          TD expressed similar doubts in their Fewer People = Less Demand report from the summer, predicting “population growth remaining well below rates achieved in recent years through 2021”.

          And the Conference Board of Canada is assuming in their forecasts that “Immigration will not return to announced federal targets for new arrivals until 2023.”

          1. Thomas

            at 11:17 pm

            The government is leaving no stones unturned in the attempt to keep RE going. All that is left to do is to ease off the stress tests.

          2. Chris

            at 10:10 am

            They could scrap the stress test, reduce minimum down payments, extend maximum amortizations, etc. Not sure if they will unless real estate is collapsing though.

        2. Appraiser

          at 6:59 am

          Federal government plans to bring in more than 1.2M immigrants in next 3 years:

          “…The numbers — which represent an increase of about 50,000 for each year — aim to compensate for the shortfall this year due to the pandemic and represent about one per cent of Canada’s population.”

          At a news conference in Ottawa today, Immigration Minister Maro Mendicino said immigrants drive the population and economic growth that pays for vital programs such as health care.

          “Put simply, we need more workers, and immigration is the way to get there,” he said.

          https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mendicino-immigration-pandemic-refugees-1.5782642

  5. GinaTO

    at 10:29 am

    That’s a big pet peeve of mine too! My interiors never had any style, and I couldn’t care less. Things that really annoy me when I look at listings:
    – bowl sinks (the ones that have sides that stick up)
    – open shelving in kitchens
    – the microwave put under the kitchen island so that it’s out of sight, but then you have to bend over with full plates of food every time you want to use it
    – pedestal sinks, yes! (your mom is so right)
    – I never got the free-standing tub thing. Where do you put the soap and shampoo bottles? And when you’re the one who cleans, you don’t want anything that could create even more water mess
    – I have a drip tray that lives in perpetuity next to my kitchen sink. So I would not want the sink to be in the kitchen island, making the tray stand out. For the same reason, I do not like completely open floor plans to the kitchen – I don’t want to see the kitchen mess from my couch.

    Curmudgeons of the world unite!

    1. Marty

      at 7:14 pm

      I don’t even “get” bowl sinks. I *think* I understand the purpose, getting your face closer to the bowl, so splashing is minimized.

      But can’t this be also achieved with:

      1) higher countertops

      or

      2) lowered floors

    2. Shana

      at 8:50 am

      I couldn’t agree more about bowl sinks and open kitchen shelves! My friends have a pedestal kitchen sink and I actually love using it, you don’t get filthy hands all over the tap, then wash your hands, then also have to wash the tap. Saves a lot of time and energy.

      Speaking of drip trays, how about when the sink is cramped between the counter edge and the stove, with nowhere to place a drip tray. I saw too many house renos that cramped the kitchen appliances together like this, probably to prevent moving the old water/electric outlets even though they expanded the kitchen walls.

      My favourite “new reno” was the house with a second floor bathroom, with a full glass door to outside, no safety barriers, AND the door couldn’t latch closed! Your kids will stumble over to pee one night, and accidentally stub their face on the lawn 12 ft below.

  6. R

    at 4:44 pm

    I really don’t understand how you (and most) agents are utterly clueless when it comes to design and architecture* when aside from location, it’s probably the biggest value add of any listing. Look at any of the top sales in any category, anywhere. I’d bet they there isn’t a Laz-E-Boy chair, furniture from The Brick, and a bunch of “functional” Ikea Billy bookcases around….

    The examples you gave may not have been good design, but bragging about hating design in general and having no aesthetic sense?

    Why would someone hire you to find a home if you can’t tell the difference between good design and not? Why would someone trust you to stage a home if you think ugly but functional is just fine?

    R

    PS. Don’t get me started on listings that describe some random new build with Home Depot brushed nickel spindle railings as “Art Deco inspired”…

      1. David Fleming

        at 9:06 pm

        @ Daniel

        I really only have two, and they’re both active here.

        But you have to admit, this blog wouldn’t be the same without them, am I right?

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