Category Archives: Drexel Hell

The Poopy Blue Brocade Sofa of Doom

Whenever we go to a new post, we receive a housing survey a few months ahead of time. The embassy does this in order to find out what our preferences are (to a limited degree) before assigning us housing. For example, do you prefer to live downtown or in the suburbs? Do you have pets? And, I was happy to see that on the Warsaw survey, there was a question about home businesses. Why yes, I do have one, thanks for asking!

This survey included a Power Point slide show of several typical properties: apartments, townhouses, and single family homes. It all looks fine, if typically Eastern European. Kitchens are very Ikea-plain, but workable. Parquet floors are ubiquitous. Closets are nonexistent. Bathrooms have some seriously retro tile decor going on, tiny showers and sinks, and lots of bidets. But no biggie, we’re used to all that—and fortunately, we aren’t big people or clothes horses!

However, I think I am starting to have mild PTSD with regard to Drexel. One look at those rooms full of the same furniture I have been hating since 1989 and I get mildly depressed. Drexel makes a even the nicest apartment look like a Holiday Inn. And I’m getting a little old to be living in a Holiday Inn, people.

The kicker was seeing the poopy blue brocade sofa of doom. Over and over and over again…

sofa

Dear GSO Gods, I can take the tacky brass lamps, the scratched-up coffee tables, and the frilly side tables. I can send the carpets back to the warehouse. I can ship my own bed. I can take the polyester drapes down and hide them.

But, please, oh please, do not stick me with the poopy sofas again.

Your Taxpayer Dollars at Work

Well, I was shocked to find that my blog has still not been included on the State Department’s recruitment page. Even with all the posts about fab Italian vacations, which are, after all, absolutely typical of the Foreign Service lifestyle. I guess I’m still not topical enough, sigh.

So, I decided it was time for a one hundred percent Foreign Service post. About the one thing that we all have in common, no matter where we are in the world. The one constant, from Angola to Austria, from Swaziland to Switzerland, and beyond. The finishing touch that makes all our government housing feel like home.

Yep, I am talking about everyone’s favorite piglet on the government teat quality furniture company. Drexel.

Recently, GSO sent a guy over to do an inventory on our apartment. The most interesting aspect of which was the valuations assigned to the furniture. They are a hoot. I mean, really, as a person who routinely shops thrift stores and Craig’s List in the States, they crack me up. You could never, not in a million years, get anyone to pay that much for this furniture in the States. Quite honestly, it wouldn’t even occur to me to sell it if it were mine. I’d donate it or freecycle it.

And then consider that the U.S. taxpayer has actually paid a gazillion dollars and burned tons of fossil fuels to ship this stuff from North Carolina to everywhere in the world. Including places where they make very nice furniture. Cheap. Or places like Vienna, with an Ikea selling furniture made nearby in Eastern Europe, and small apartments in which beat-up old American hotel furniture looks even more ridiculous than usual.

So, just for fun, I thought I’d look up what it would cost to replace my furniture versus what it would cost to buy brand new from the local Ikea. All these prices include VAT, which I don’t think the Embassy would have to pay. So, feel free to mentally knock 20 percent off the price given.

Also, keep in mind that all the Drexel prices are replacement cost for the furniture in “used, fair” condition. Lord only knows what it cost new…

Drexel “18th century” sofa in the dreaded blue-and-poop polyester brocade pattern. Does not look like it has ever been re-upholstered, so we are probably the fourth or fifth family to use it. GSO valuation: $1003.83. If I actually bought upholstered furniture in thrift shops (which I rarely do because of a slight ick factor) I might pay $100 for this, tops—and plan on reupholstering it right away.

Brand new Ikea “Ektorp” sofa with washable slipcovers in a variety of colors (how awesome would that be??) €519 or about $636. Heck, toss in an extra slipcover and it would still cost less than the Drexel sofa in used condition.

Drexel “18th century” easy chair in dingy “greige” brocade. GSO valuation $475.18. Weird and wobbly little “Aunt Mabel” side table to match, $151.00.

Ikea “Ektorp” easy chair, again with the washable slipcovers (in purple, O joy!) €199 or $243.00.

Ikea “Hemnes” side table, €79.99 or about $98.00. OK, nothing special, but functional and unobjectionable.

No, that is not an icebox or a safe. It is the standard kids’ room dresser. It is a Drexel “Windjammer II” (some kind of sailing motif from the 1970s?) chest of drawers. GSO valuation $384.64.

At least this stuff is solid oak and more durable than the cherry veneer furniture like the Aunt Mabel table, above. But imagine what it must cost to ship.

Ikea “Hemnes” dresser, Euro 199 or about $244.00. I think even my 16 year old son would like it.

I decided this was the best way to show what the rest of the furniture looks like. It is dark. Very dark. Pine or maple with a fake cherry veneer that scratches way too easily.

And lots of brass. Just think about the last Marriott you stayed in and remember the furniture in the room. That would be the look, more or less.

There may be some people in the current Foreign Service who love (or even like) this stuff. I haven’t met one yet. I have talked to a few who think it’s just OK, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Of course, not everyone is going to love furniture that is purchased to please some North Carolina congressman primarily for utility and and suit the widest variety of tastes. But that truly does not explain how we end up with such incredibly fuddy-duddy stuff. I mean, what is the average age of a Foreign Service officer nowadays? Heck, what was it when this furniture was purchased? Unless it was about 86, I really can’t understand how we got here. Deep into Drexel Hell.

I used Ikea as an example because everyone is familiar with it. And we have one in Vienna, so I occasionally daydream about what my modern apartment would look like if I could set all this Drexel junk on the curb and buy furniture that actually looks like it belongs here. Wouldn’t that be awesome? If the Embassy could buy furniture locally, they couldn’t possibly do worse than Drexel, and even it Austria, it wouldn’t cost as much as shipping it several thousand miles from the U.S.

Of course, you can’t just go out and buy furniture at every post. But could it be ordered from a neighboring country? Or ordered from a company other than Drexel? Would even Pottery Barn really cost more than Drexel, if the furniture was purchased in bulk?

Pottery Barn Basic sofa, $1,299 new. Comes in lots of different fabrics, NONE of which are poopy polyester brocade. And, get this: it’s made in U.S.A.

I rest my case.

Just This Side of Chaos

I must say, this side is much better than the other side! Which is where we were last week, packing up all our earthly goods to move across town. Yes, it is a mid-tour move! I went into the reasons we were moving a few weeks ago, so I won’t repeat them here.

Even though this week has been pretty awful, I have to say, it has been totally worth it. I did decide, though, that next time I get to a post and the housing just isn’t right, I should not expect the embassy to fix it. Clearly, the system is not set up to deal with that. Instead, I should insist on a change of assignment before the HHE arrives, and save myself a lot of trouble and the taxpayer a lot of money!

Anyway, I’m sitting on my terrace right now, listening to the city sounds and the birds in the park below, enjoying my coffee and decompressing. The apartment is about 90 percent done, and the parts that aren’t done are mostly my son’s room and my husband’s office in which I am only peripherally involved.

See, I hate chaos. I am not a person who enjoys moving at all. I want it over with as quickly as possible. Not a fan of big men stomping all over my house, either. So, I’m the type who tells the movers to just unpack everything, put it wherever it fits, and then git. Which means the place looks like a bomb dropped on it. But it also means I can see everything, and I don’t have to trip over packing material all the time while I am putting stuff away. It’s a system, OK? And it gets it done quickly, which is the most important thing to me. Because I really, really hate chaos.

In this case, a lot of stuff needed to go to Caritas! The apartment is smaller than the last one (though the space is much more useful, not being mostly a massive foyer) and there are NO closets. Not one. There is a dungeon in the basement, but I don’t want to put anything down there that might get moldy. We each get exactly one dresser and one free-standing wardrobe for our clothes, for example.

So, we were ruthless, and altogether, about two packed carloads of clothes, dishes, and other stuff were donated. Because you know, there was some stuff I unpacked, looked at, and thought “do I care enough about this to find a space for it?” And the answer was NO. It’s just as well, because our house back in the States doesn’t have a lot of storage space either. And you know, this being my fifteenth move—I just counted, it’s a masochistic ritual I engage in from time to time— I’m kind of over unpacking and organizing junk!

Anyway, we are just loving the compact size of the place, the spiffy kitchen, and most importantly, not having to lug stuff up that stupid spiral staircase anymore! The neighborhood is great, too, with lots of restaurants. We had takeout Indian from around the corner (that was actually good and spicy!) one night, Greek from around the other corner the next night, and yesterday evening we went to a brewpub about ten minutes walk from the house. Could get expensive living where the action is, but we are going to enjoy it!

Finally, though Vienna is having a warm snap (temps in the 80s), and I am sure our old apartment is already stifling hot, this place, not being on the roof, and having all these built-in cooling mechanisms, like metal blinds and air shafts, not to mention bedrooms on the shady side, has been quite tolerable. They haven’t even turned on the “green” air conditioning yet, which pumps cold water from the Danube through the ceilings. The gearhead in me really wants to see how that works! I know it won’t be as powerful as a big old Carrier unit, but it has to be a lot better than squat-all, which is all we had before.

A few pics of the “done” parts of the house…

New cabinets that I can actually reach without standing on the counter!  Space for a table. No yucky fake wood floors or countertops. And POT DRAWERS.
New cabinets that I can actually reach without standing on the counter! Space for a table. No yucky fake wood floors or countertops. And POT DRAWERS.
Happy with my 89 Euro Ikea cabinet to round out the storage space.
Happy with my 89 Euro Ikea cabinet to round out the storage space.
Nice, big living room where more than two people can comfortably watch TV.  Ikea slipcovers on the way. No pictures up yet because the husband insists that they be perfect.  I am giving him a week...
Nice, big living room where more than two people can comfortably watch TV. Ikea slipcovers on the way. No pictures up yet because the husband insists that they be perfect. I am giving him a week…
What, no dining room?  Nope, we decided this space would be much more useful for my office/studio, and it has good light. And I detest the giant Drexel dining set, anyway.  So, looks like it's casual dining only from here on out!
What, no dining room? Nope, we decided this space would be much more useful for my office/studio, and it has good light. And I detest the giant Drexel dining set, anyway. So, looks like it’s casual dining only from here on out!
Daughter's room/guest room. The bedrooms here are small, but we like them that way.  Cozier.  Also, they are at the back of the apartment so they are cool and quiet.
Daughter’s room/guest room. The bedrooms here are small, but we like them that way. Cozier. Also, they are at the back of the apartment so they are cool and quiet.
Southwest facing terrace.  Lovely in the morning, a bit warm in the afternoon!  But there are many days in Vienna when that could be a good thing.
Southwest facing terrace. Lovely in the morning, a bit warm in the afternoon! But there are many days in Vienna when that could be a good thing.
I'm going to grow herbs and tomatoes along that wall.  The blinds are mechanical and really cool.  They do a great job keeping the living room from getting too warm on a sunny day.
I’m going to grow herbs and tomatoes along that wall. The blinds are mechanical and really cool. They do a great job keeping the living room from getting too warm on a sunny day.
View from the terrace.  Yeah, I know :)
View from the terrace. Yeah, I know :)