Friday, March 11, 2011

Consider The Humble Milkcrate....

Ah, College, or at least art school. They were some of the best years of my life that's for sure. It was my time away from my parents in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York. It was the late 80s (pity, that) and the city still had its edge. IT was very expensive but reachable if you were clever or lucky.

Now, During my four years at SVA I lived in the dorms. Truthfully it was at the YMCA in Sloane House. We had two and a half floors to ourselves. The rest of the floors were occupied by tourists, old people and other schools.

Now we all had our own rooms but they were tiny. We also shared a studio with a fellow student. The rooms because of its size were sparsely furnished with a mustard yellow wardrobe, a metal cot-like bed with the same mustard yellow headboard. The rooms definitely didn't leave room enough to practice any decent interior design skills. So you had to work around the limitations. And one of the best pieces of equipment to setting up your room to a more livable space was the milk crate.

Not just any milk crate mind you but the kind of milk crates that were common place in the 80s. They were made of polyethylene plastic and measured 13"W x 19"L x 11"H. The ones that measured 13"W x 13"L x 11"H were good but nothing beat the bigger one. They were used primarily to carry jugs of milk but were so versatile they came to have so many other uses.

It was the perfect size to carry vinyl records. And when you stacked them one on top of the other, Eureka! Instant shelving space gets created. Of course you can stack the milk cartons in any fashion to hole other items of interest. They were steady enough to stack vertically three high and horizontally at least 6 crates high. You can lay them flat and store things in them and slide under your bed, out of sight for quick access.

They were good to sit on when you ran out of chairs. They made for ideal ottomans when you didn't. Heck, You can use one milk crate vertically for a chair and the other one horizontally for an ottoman. You can place a wooden plank on top of four strategically place milk crates and voila! You're no longer a bum sleeping on a mattress on the floor! Heck you can practically furnish a whole room with milk crates!

If you were fortunate, You might be able to color coordinate the crates to make the room attractive. When you moved it was easy to move your things around because they were already "packed" in its own box. Easily stacked in a car and van to take on to your next destination.

So, Where does one get milk crates? Well, You can buy them in some of the cheap department stores, But beware, They are more likely to be flimsy knock offs of the real thing. And the real thing? Where do you find these wonderful crates?

Wherever you can.

You see, For many years even before milk crates were plastic, It was a found object. Sometimes discarded, Sometimes stolen, Sometimes given. But the hunt was always the pleasure. I lived in New York City so they were sometimes easy to find. They were in dumpsters, Outside of closed stores, Sometimes in the middle of the street and maybe in a subway station. If I saw one unbroken and it was relatively clean, It was mine!

Early on it took awhile to get them. I got one quickly but it took forever to get the second one. I dreamed of hitting the mother lode and I finally did! Well into my second year when I moved into a bigger room, I was able to get a dozen. It's where I put most of my clothes, my comic book collection and of course the remainder of my vinyl albums I had. I used it to hold my sketchbooks and lent it to a friend who used it to dry his animation cels one weekend.

Possessing milk crates was not without risk. It was against the law for regular folk to possess them. Even if you just found them. The missing crates were costing the companies money and they tried to find ways to get them back. They always talked about law enforcement in getting them back but it didn't amount to much more than bluster.

Anyway, I kept many of my crates for many years though I got rid of them as I bought real furniture over the years. However, I still get a slight twinge of excitement if I come across a discarded perfectly usable crate. I'm still a hunter of found objects, particularly furniture that you won't find in a store. The hunt and the finds still excite me.


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