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  |  Dec 23, 2021 

Dog in the Night

Design "tipping points"


Mark Nielson
Owner, Ironwood Mfg

When I was a teenager my bedroom door never quite latched shut, which meant anybody could enter by simply pushing on the door. That was fine with me until our dog, Charlie, figured this out. After that, Charlie would wait for me to fall asleep at night, push the door open, and jump into my bed. Then he snuggled between me and the wall. Charlie was a big dog, but it was cozy, and I really didn’t mind, at least not until he started straightening his legs against the wall. He would slowly push further and further, driving me steadily toward the edge. I never even noticed until I reached the point of no return and startled awake as I thumped onto the floor.

I think poor Charlie spent his whole life wondering how I could go so quickly and inexplicably from calmly asleep to excitedly launching him bodily out of my room. Charlie never learned to avoid the “tipping point” on that bed, which cost both of us many a good night of sleep.

I bring up Charlie’s exploits because designs, like beds, can have tipping points. For example, experienced designers know that countertop materials like laminates or solid surface come in standard sizes. Common widths include 30, 48, 51, and 60 inches. Designing a countertop in solid surface to be 30 inches wide or slightly less leads to little waste at the factory and good pricing. On the other hand, a 31-inch-wide solid surface design may require the manufacturer to order as much as two 30-inch-wide sheets, splice those sheets, and then be left with 29 inches of “drop.” That’s about as appealing to manufacturers as my nightly “drop” to the floor, courtesy of Charlie.

Toilet partitions are often made from the same materials as countertops, so they also have tipping points. For example, materials often come in 120- or 144-inch-long sheets. If a partition door or panel is just under 60 inches tall, or just under 72 inches tall, then the raw sheets can be cut in half to produce two parts with almost zero waste. However, if the component heights are specified at or slightly above 60 or 72 inches, the amount of waste jumps dramatically.

There are other tipping points, like panels over 60 inches wide, but you see the principle. When in doubt, it can’t hurt to contact your manufacturer to find out where things “tip” for materials you are considering.

As Malcolm Gladwell observed, in his book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” life is full of tipping points. Some work in our favor, some do not. Some are intuitive, some are not. I hope this short tale of dogs and materials gives you some insights to help you create affordable beauty.

Sleep tight, and peace to my good friend and old companion, Charlie dog.