A challenging problem in design finally solved

March 23, 2002|By Rob Kasper

THE EGYPTIANS have the pyramids. The Romans have the Coliseum. The French have the Eiffel Tower - and I have my bathroom shelf. It is a thing of beauty.

Like all master strokes, the glass shelf reflects the balance of man and his environment, even if this shelf is still not quite level. It also serves a testimony to the triumph of will, to the power of ingenuity, and to the benefit of making multiple trips to hardware stores.

Like many of life's great triumphs, this saga began when somebody screwed up. In this case it was a couple of workmen who failed, a few years ago, to properly secure the shelf to the wall.

The 24-inch glass shelf, which sat just above the hot and cold water taps of the bathroom vanity and just below a big mirror, was supposed to be a treat to the eye. It was supposed to give the impression that it was suspended in mid-air. Instead it became a droopy, sagging eyesore.

For a time it did function like a ski jump at the Winter Olympics. Anything you put on it - a razor, a toothbrush, a glass of water - quickly came hurdling down the slope and took off. For a time I held the family record for the toothbrush toss - landing one across the bathroom and over the towel rack.

Reading the installation instructions that came with the shelf proved futile. They were in French -who else but the French would think of suspending a bathroom shelf in mid-air? Secondly, the illustrations that came with the shelf showed that before I could even get a screwdriver on the "unsightly" shelf support brackets, I first had to remove a big mirror, which had been installed on top of the bracket. Mirror moving was not going to happen.

In most epic tales, there comes a time when the characters have to endure a long, difficult journey. In the Bible, Moses leads the 12 tribes through the dessert. In The Magic Flute opera, Pamina and Tamino have to endure trials of fire and water. In home repair, you have to make many trips to various hardware stores.

And so it came to pass that I peregrinated through the Home Depot, wandered the aisles of Lowe's, and prowled the vast, lonely spaces of the Internet's plumbing fixture sites. My quest was to find a new support system for the glass shelf. One that would lift the shelf from below, and would blend in with the bathroom's polished chrome fixtures.

It was a difficult, taxing pursuit, often filled with much dark disappointment. Then one day while consulting with a man wise in the ways of plumbing fixtures (Irv the Handyman, 486-7454), I heard the magic words: "Try Designer's Hardware."

As its name implies, Designer's Hardware is a small, high-end shop that specializes in well-made, attractive and expensive fixtures. It sits on the 200 block of W. Read St. in a labyrinth of one-way streets, light rail tracks and narrow alleys that could make an ideal site for seminar for transportation planners. If I ran the seminar it would work something like this:

I would force the planners to try to walk across the streets on the noisy patch of pavement where Howard Street tangles with Read and Chase streets shortly after it converges with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the light rail tracks. As truck, train and car traffic whizzed past, I would tell the planners: "See this! Don't ever let it happen again!"

My problems with negotiating this patch of Baltimore byways might be unique, because when I arrived, on foot, at Designer's Hardware, its aisles were filled with folks who had found the place and were spending their early Saturday afternoon (it closes at 3 on most Saturdays) eyeing handsome hardware and striking plumbing fixtures.

It was in one of those aisles, back near the shower section, that inspiration struck me. There I saw a robe hook - a polished chrome fixture that looked the letter "C," set on its side. In my mind I saw the solution to my sagging shelf. I would prop two robe hooks beneath it, and hooks would lift the shelf toward the heavens.

I ordered two robe hooks, at $34 each. When they arrived a few weeks later, I positioned them on the bathroom wall and watched with wonder as the glass shelf rose from droopy disgrace and became what I now regard as an architectural marvel.

The shelf is now almost level. It has what we designers like to call "a jaunty slant." Not only are these bathrobe hooks in disguise; they look classy.

Now that I have conquered the bathroom shelf, I am working on my next design challenge. I am thinking about a pedestrian bridge, one would float over Martin Luther King Boulevard as well as Howard, Chase, Read and Tyson streets. So far it, too, looks like a bathrobe hook.

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