A decision by former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley to purchase furniture from the governor’s mansion is creating some headaches back home — including criticism from his Republican successor — as he campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination.
When O’Malley and his family moved out of the mansion in January, they took dozens of items with them that his administration deemed “excess property,” according to state records. As first reported over the weekend by the Baltimore Sun, the family paid $9,638 for beds, chairs, desks, lamps, mirrors and other items from the mansion’s living quarters that originally cost taxpayers $62,000. Many of the pieces were eight years old or more, and they were discounted by administration officials to reflect their age.
O’Malley aides were quick to point out that his Republican predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was given the benefit of a similar arrangement when he moved out, though Ehrlich’s purchases were on a smaller scale.
O’Malley’s case has drawn more notice in part because of reports that the State Ethics Commission is reviewing the transactions at the request of a state lawyer. Officials said Monday, however, that O’Malley is not the subject of an ethics investigation, and that the commission has been asked for its advice on state policy in this area.
The Sun story raised questions about whether it was violation of state regulations for governors to be given a chance to buy state property without it being put up for bid and the public being notified. The state also has a policy against “preferential sales” of property to government officials.
Faced with those questions, a lawyer representing the Department of General Services on Friday sent a letter to the ethics commission seeking its input. In the letter, Turhan E. Robinson, an assistant attorney general, asks for “a determination on the propriety of sales of excess/used furniture to an outgoing public elected official.”David Nitkin, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Robinson was “seeking clarification” on a policy question facing the Department of General Services and “not seeking an investigation of a former governor, O’Malley or Ehrlich.” Robinson sought the advice so that he can better advise his client, Nitkin said. Robinson was said to be unavailable.
Michael W. Lord, executive director of the ethics commission, declined to comment, citing commission confidentiality rules. He would not even say whether the agency had received Robinson’s letter, much less what actions it might take.
O’Malley’s campaign directed calls to John Griffin, O’Malley’s chief of staff before he left office, who called the episode an “intergovernmental procedural policy issue.”
Griffin said the former governor had deferred to the authority of the Department of General Services and “followed their protocol and standard operating procedure that was consistent with at least one prior administration.”
The furniture in question, he said, was found by a unit of the Department of General Services to be “close to the end of its useful life and authorized it to be thrown out — junked.” According to Griffin, the O’Malleys offered to buy the furniture and a longtime state official computed a prorated value for the pieces they took.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, whose family moved in after O’Malley moved out, took to Facebook over the weekend to criticize O’Malley on the issue. The Republican wrote that “if they call that expensive, beautiful barely used furniture ‘junk,’ I’d hate to hear what they call the 20-year-old stuff I brought with me from my house to replace it all.”
Hogan, previously an Edgewater resident, also questioned why O’Malley would have taken the furniture to his new home in Baltimore if it was in such poor condition.
Hogan had more to say about the furniture on Monday.
“None of it would have been ‘thrown out,’ or surplussed, or sold in any manner,” Hogan wrote. “Had it not all been removed a few days before we moved in, our intention would have been to leave all of it in place, just as it was, in the people’s house.”
I need a new dining room table, and finding one isn’t going to be easy. See, I don’t have a dining room. My home is an apartment in a former tenement building in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood, and extra square footage is not one of its charms. There is, however, a lovely 117-by-79 centimeter nook that needs furnishing. Seeing as that’s not exactly regulation dining room table size, I’ll probably need a custom design.
Pretty soon, I’ll have the option to get my oddly sized dining room table through an app, courtesy of a new company called Tylko. The young, Warsaw-based furniture brand launched this week at London Design Fair, and it’s as much a design company as it is a technology startup. Tylko makes products ranging from tables to shelves to pepper grinders, but their marquee product is their aforementioned app. The idea is that shoppers can use it to not only customize the style and dimensions of a piece of furniture but actually visualize that furniture in their homes, with augmented reality.
Tylko’s app upends a few of our expectations when it comes to buying furniture. “The furniture world hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years,” says Yves Béhar, who is an advisor to Tylko and designed the Hub table for its inaugural line. “You go into a store, bring in measurements, hope that things will fit and look right in your apartment, wait a few months for something to ship from very far away, and you still have very limited amounts of choices.” There’s a handful of other design upstarts that are also tired of that model. Campaign and Greycork, for instance, are tackling the problem from a packing and shipping perspective, by offering attractive, easy-to-assemble furniture that ships to your door. Tylko approaches things a little differently, breaking the mold by giving its shoppers what Béhar calls “adaptable authorship.” By using the company’s app, in other words, you become a sort of co-designer.
Here’s how: Let’s say you wanted Béhar’s Hub Table for your home office. Béhar has already crafted the basic table template, which has rounded corners and is billed on the Tylko site as a “rigid, highly practical piece of furniture.” In the app, or on the desktop platform, a render of the desk appears next to a legend with a sliding scales for dimensional features like width and length, which correspond to the table leg design. Another scale, called “motion,” adjusts how knobby or streamlined the legs will be, and allows for aesthetic input.
As you adjust the scales to your liking, Tylko’s engine uses parametric modeling to adjust the design and price in real time. You can even see how it will look in your office through the app’s augmented reality capabilities. (Ikea offers a similar service with its Ikea Catalog app, which lets users imagine the newest collections in their home through AR.) Once you’ve settled on the right size and finish, Tylko’s platform converts your design into data and sends it to the appropriate manufacturing partner. This is only logical, says Benjamin Kuna, one of Tylko’s founders. “The furniture industry is on route to digitization,” he says. “The factories are already digitized. They all use CNC machines that you can feed with any data you want. So producing a bespoke piece of furniture is no longer a problem.” Consumers just need a vehicle to make it happen.
Tylko is not, Béhar points out, a DIY free-for-all. To save shoppers from themselves, the app has built-in limitations that prevent customers from ordering furniture with structural or engineering problems. The creations also need to look good and feel good. All the products offered will come from bonafide designers that the company partners with. “The integrity of it has to come across,” Béhar says. “This isn’t just 3-D printing something in some sort of plastic.”
We live today in what is known as the ‘jet age’. Our lives are fast, are work is tedious, our comfort zone is minimal. In a given week we are found to be spending more time at office than at home. ‘Home’ seems to be a glorified name for a place to rest, before the bugle blows once more and one heads to ones cubicle. We have no clue what harm we’re imposing on our bodies due to this lifestyle. A recent survey showed that the youngsters today are more at risk to spondylitis, back and spine problems, head aches, and stress, than their parents or grandparents. It is slightly ironical that the world we created to make life easier for us, has turned around and made it more stressful than we can bear.
Doctors, physicians and trainers world wide have suggested small changes which we can implement to minimize stress and discomfort. These changes range from psychological changes regarding the outlook towards work, to physiological changes, including eating healthier food, wearing comfortable clothes and making our surrounding as comfortable as possible. Doctors now suggest that one invests in furniture which is ergonomic, that is, which follows the body’s posture to make our rest and relaxation more restful. This is where beanbags come in.
Bean bags are the absolute opposite of those hard unyielding wooden chairs, sitting on which was an ordeal. Imagine the incalculable harm these chairs have been doing to your body over the years. A bean bag will simply follow your sitting posture or lying posture to accommodate you better. No hard chairs, no back pain.
Bean bags have a variety of use. You’ll find it easier to relax on a beanbag with your partner and watch late night movies, cuddle up or go to sleep. Bean bags come in variety of sizes which will accommodate both you and your spouse in one chair. The good news doesn’t end here. Bean bags also have added accessories like drink holder or popcorn holder, which can make movie viewing quite an enjoyable experience. If you spill drinks or food on the chair you have, you’d probably stain it for life, but no such problems with beanbags. They are completely washable, so you need not think of ruining the bag hen you’re eating popcorn, while sitting on it.
Depending on your taste and your end use you can choose from a variety of bean bags available in the market. You can make your room jolly and colorful with bright colored bean bags or use sober colors to match your personality. You can get a beanbag for just yourself, or you can get a luvbag for your partner and yourself for those times together. You can even find bags suitable for the entire family of 4-5 members.
Bean bags need refilling periodically to maintain their comfort level. You just need to visit the nearest supplies store and get yourself a packet of the pellets which make the bag. They are widely available. If that sounds too much work, spend a little more and get a foofsac which promises durability for a much longer period than regular bean bags.
Consumer goods are increasingly made of synthetic materials and coatings. The carcinogens they give off when they burn could be driving high cancer rates among first responders.
Tony Stefani had been a firefighter in San Francisco for nearly 28 years when, one January day in 2001, he was out jogging and began to feel weak. “The last mile I could barely run, I had to walk,” he told me recently. When he got home, he urinated blood. He was soon diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma, a rare cancer of the kidney.
Chris Miller, a firefighter in Kentucky, had lymphoma 10 years ago. He got chemo, went to rehab, spent six weeks in a hospital, and lost 60 pounds. He took four months off work. The chemo wore him out and made his limbs tingle. It made him sterile. He will be 45 in November.
In 2008, Keith Tyson had recently retired after 34 years of firefighting in Miami when doctors found an aggressive cancer in his prostate. He says roughly a third of his department has had some form of cancer in the past three years.
“I’m not saying that every single one of those cancers was caused by the job,” Tyson said. “But at the same time … we have a problem.”
Ironically, the most dangerous thing about an occupation that involves running into burning buildings isn’t the flames, but the smoke. Cancer is the leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths in the United States, and according to the International Association of Fire Fighters, about 60 percent of career firefighters will die this way, “with their boots off,” as they call it.
There’s a misconception that only the firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 risk developing cancer, because of their exposure to asbestos and jet fuel. But in fact, cancer threatens firefighters everywhere, every day.
Although a causal link has not yet been proven, the association between firefighting and a greater cancer risk began to build about 10 years ago. A meta-analysis found that firefighters have a higher risk of multiple myeloma, and possibly a greater risk of contracting non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancers.
Rise in Firefighter Cancer Deaths Since 1950
IAFF / Susan Shaw
From there, more evidence rolled in: Research into Massachusetts firefighters found greater odds of developing brain and colon cancers. Firefighters in their 30s and 40s from five Nordic countries were found last year to have a greater chance of developing prostate and skin cancers. In 2013, researchers studying 30,000 firefighters in three U.S. cities found the profession was associated with “small to moderate increases” in risk for various cancers, particularly respiratory, digestive and urinary malignancies. The study also found that the risk of lung cancer increased with every fire they fought.
“The longer you’re a firefighter, the greater your chance of getting some kind of cancer,” says Susan Shaw, the executive director of the Marine & Environmental Research Institute and a professor of environmental health sciences at the State University of New York in Albany. “These are people who have a gladiator mentality, and they’re really tough. [But] now you have a different kind of danger.”
* * *
The problem is our stuff. Possessions make our lives cozy and convenient, but when they catch fire, they become noxious fuel. The cancer rates are being driven up, researchers believe, by chemicals that lace the smoke and soot inside burning buildings. Consumer goods are increasingly manufactured using synthetic materials, and fires are more toxic as a result.
A century ago, we furnished our houses with wood, cloth, metal, and glass. Today, it’s plastics, foams, and coatings—all of which create a toxic soup of carcinogens when they burn. Fire experts say synthetic materials create hundreds of times more smoke than organic ones; flame retardants alone double the amount of smoke and increase toxic gasses 10-fold. Your TV, your kid’s Barbie, your Saran wrap, your couch: all of them can be poisonous when they’re ignited and their fumes are inhaled.
“Every substance, when it burns, changes its chemical structure,” said Timothy Rebbeck, a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health. “Particularly when you burn something that’s synthetic or man-made, you’re creating strange compounds that we don’t know what they’ll do.”Among the chemicals Shaw and others suspect might be harmful are benzene, found in furniture wax; the formaldehyde in cleaning materials; hydrogen cyanide, which is used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers; stick- and stain-resistant coatings like Scotchgard and Teflon; and the flame-retardants that are added to the foam inside furniture.
In 2012, Shaw had paramedics draw the blood of 12 firefighters after they responded to a fire. Their samples contained three times the level of flame retardants as the general population. Their blood levels of perfluorinated chemicals, which are used as non-stick coatings, were twice as high as those of the World Trade Center first responders.
Some flame retardants were phased out in 2005 after studies showed they were building up in human breast milk, but they were replaced with new compounds. Most new couches contain flame retardants, and researchers know little about their health impacts. “The chemical industry replaces the phased-out chemical but with something similar, but it has one bond difference,” Shaw said. “Scientists are trying to follow the market and figure out, ‘What’s in it now?’ It’s extremely frustrating.”
The American Chemistry Council has defended flame retardants. “Protective chemistries like flame retardants help prevent fires from starting, slow their spread, and reduce their intensity,” the industry group said in a statement.
All people are exposed to these household chemicals, but fires magnify this exposure. When flame retardants and other compounds burn, they create reactive oxygen species—molecules that bind to DNA and cause mutations that can lead to cancer.
“Think about smoke as a bunch of carcinogens, because that’s basically what it is,” said Virginia Weaver, a professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University. “The more synthetics there are in the home, the more chemicals are present in the smoke, and the more chemicals that are carcinogens.”
* * *
Firefighters have between one and two minutes to get ready when they’re called. That’s 90 seconds to don 25 pounds of “turnout gear”—thick pants, a coat, boots, gloves, a hood, and mask. The coat and pants don’t seal together. Smoke snakes up under the coat and clings to the body; toxic soot settles in the gaps between gloves and sleeves. Around their necks, firefighters wear permeable, sweatshirt-like hoods that are porous to chemicals.
The suit itself soaks up toxins and later “offgasses” them. Studies have confirmed that firefighters’ gear and skin gets coated in higher levels of potentially carcinogenic compounds, such as phthalates—chemicals that are added to plastics to make them soft—as well as arsenic, lead, and mercury.
The extreme heat helps chemicals enter through the skin: With every 5 degrees that body temperature rises, skin absorption rates increase by as much 400%.
The gasses creep in through mouths and noses. As a firefighter at a house fire, you wear a mask connected to a can of compressed air that you carry on your back. Each breath is effortful and makes a faint sucking sound. The mask is unbearably hot and uncomfortable—it feels like swimming goggles encasing your entire face. You sweat, and it slides around. Leaving a burning building, the only thing you want to do is rip it off and gulp fresh air.
That’s also the worst thing you could do. The “overhaul” period—when the fire is mostly out but the embers are still smoldering—is often when a fire is at its most toxic. Some fire departments have begun stationing safety monitors at overhauls to make sure firefighters don’t take off their masks prematurely.
Ideally, the turnout gear would be laundered immediately. But it requires specialized washing machines that are expensive and not widely available.
Marc Bashoor, the fire chief of Prince George’s County in Maryland, said a few of his stations have the washing machines, but they break easily and are expensive to repair. He says the county firefighters’ gear gets professionally cleaned once a year, which isn’t nearly enough, according to Shaw.
To further reduce risk, firefighters should have a second set of turnout gear to wear in case there’s a fire while the first set is being cleaned. But that would cost at least an additional $1,500 per firefighter—a sum many pinched municipalities don’t have.
In Boston, where fire officials estimate that members of the force are 2.5 times more likely to get cancer than civilians, Kathy Crosby-Bell, the mother of a fallen firefighter, raised $500,000, in part to equip the city’s firehouses with washers and dryers.
“This major health threat deserves urgent action on all our parts,’’ Crosby-Bell said at a city council hearing last year. “I’m shocked they don’t have something so basic as a washer and dryer for their gear.”
In the meantime, firefighters around the country are educating each other about strategies to prevent cancer despite their departments’ budgetary limitations. Ryan Pennington, a firefighter in Charleston, West Virginia, said he sometimes takes two or three showers after responding to a fire. The tough-guy image of firefighters, their faces smeared with soot, is actually a dangerous one, he says.
“We all think of firefighters as gritty folks with black all over faces,” he said. “But really, we need to be the squeaky clean people who could go into an office.”
The woods that are fashioned into furniture fall into threecategories:
Even the term ‘hardwood’ or ‘softwood’ is deceptive.Hardwoods aren’t necessarily harder, denser material. Forexample, balsa wood is one of the lightest, least densewoods there is, and it’s considered a hardwood. Technically,lumber is classified based on how the tree reproduces. As ageneral rule, though, softwood trees are evergreen yearround while the hardwoods create the gorgeous autumn foliagethat we all love so much.
Hardwoods are considered the highest quality and are themost expensive. Their natural colors vary from the darkestwoods to the lightest ones and and they can be stained orpainted for even more variety. Hardwood furniture is leastlikely to warp or bend and is prized in all high qualityhomes. The five woods most commonly used in furnitureproduction are cherry, walnut, oak, maple and mahogany.
Softwoods are less expensive than hardwoods, but theyrequire extra care. Because they are less durable, it’s mucheasier to scratch or dent softwood furniture. In addition,they often don’t have the beautiful grains of a hardwood,and therefore don’t stain as beautifully.
Pine is an example of a softwood that is commonly used forfurniture. These woods are often used in construction aswell so the choicest pieces are reserved for furniture. Inconstruction, knots and splits are common. Lots ofconstruction lumber will not accept paint and this kind ofwood is used for shelves or packing crates.
The softwood used in furniture is designated as “Appearance”lumber and includes most softwood lumber that has beencustom milled to a pattern or otherwise surfaced on all foursides.
Composites are the cheapest form of wood and are literallymanufactured, rather than grown.
1. Plywood: multiple layers of thin wooden sheets are gluedtogether and pressed. Plywood is strong and resistsswelling, shrinking and warping. There is some furnituremade directly from plywood, but generally it is only used asa support when incorporated into furniture.
2. Particle board: sawdust and small wood chips are mixedwith glue or resin which is then shaped and pressuretreated. When used for inexpensive furniture, particle boardis usually covered with laminate or veneer. This isnecessary because particle board splits easily and thelaminate prevents splitting. However, the downside is thatthe laminate may separate from the wood because the particleboard responds to temperature and pressure changes byswelling and shrinking.
3. Hardboard: is made like particle board but it’s placedunder higher pressure so it’s stronger.
4. MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard: wood particles arebonded with resin and compressed. It is harder than particleboard or hardboard, and can be cut like plywood although itisn’t as strong as plywood. Some MDF is covered withmelamine which is a durable plastic in a variety of colors.The exposed edges of MDF are rough and need covering withmolding or some other decorative material.
Technically, furniture made from all of these wood productsis “real” wood furniture, even the composites. Prices andquality range from the hardwoods down to the composites.The higher you go up the spectrum, the more you can expectto pay for your wood furniture. The good part, of course,is that with proper care hardwood furniture will last fordecades or even generations. If you can afford it, alwayschoose hardwood furniture
There is nothing more rewarding, and perhaps exciting, than taking up the task of furnishing your home. The greatest thing about home furnishing is being able to express your own personality throughout the different rooms of your house in any way you please. Therefore, you get the opportunity to express your personal tastes into everything around you. You can be completely unique or trendy depending on your own likes and dislikes. Your living space can become an extension of how you live your life.
Another appealing fact is that you can have fun decorating your home. While some people may think of this task as a chore or a necessary annoyance, you don’t have to. Many people find shopping for that special center piece item to showcase a particular room very fulfilling and quite entertaining. Or shopping for that last office item that will put the finishing touches on your new home business space.
Another misconception is that home furniture shopping is an extremely expensive ordeal. This is not always the case. In fact, if you do a little homework and shop around for deals you can save a large amount of money in your search.
I personally recommend shopping online to find the best furniture deals. You can find everything your heart desires right on one computer without ever having to lift a leg. One problem with shopping at a local furniture store is limited selection and higher prices. You don’t want to be squeezed into buying something that won’t fit with your artistic visions or your budget. If you find something online that you want and the price is a little too high, it’s very simple to find the exact same item at a different website even cheaper.
Many people like to decorate different parts of the house or different rooms based on themes. For example, perhaps you have a great love of tropical type furnishings that you remember from your vacation to Hawaii. You could decorate your living room or sunroom with rattan and wicker furniture. Perhaps you’ve grown very fond of a particular style of French furnishings such as the bombe chest with hand-painted motifs and a classic rich look. Maybe you love the modern contemporary look and decide to decorate your living room with a widescreen home theater entertainment center. There is no limit to the themes you can design for each room of your home.
Alternatively, you can decorate your entire home in one theme if you’d like. If you prefer the modern look your could purchase and decorate all the rooms of your home in a comtemporary way with clean lines and colors. Artwork and lighting should always add to the room and not take away from it. You’re only limited by your imagination and the work you put in. If you follow these basic steps and have fun in the process your home will become an extension of you, the person. Happy home furniture shopping!