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Technological Surrealism / Alec Nerds Out

Ottoman Empire (a belaboured pun)

With apologies in advance: this was way too much effort for a bad pun. A footrest is also called an ottoman. An Empire is a fancy brand of record player. Thus a footrest with a record player built into it would be an Ottoman Empire.

Hur hur hur.

Well, there is slightly more to it than that: I’m also channeling the 1960s/1970s, when stereos were built into actual furniture. (You might be thinking of Electrohome-style garbage, but some of these were beautiful, such as many Blaupunkt units.) Nowadays stereos are just stereos, but they used to ornament the living room too. As far as I know, nobody (else) has made one into an ottoman yet.

I also wanted to make something celebrating concentricity, which this almost does — the turntable, the ottoman itself, and on the bottom, the speaker almost share the same axis.

Around here, we use ALL of the animal. Having adapted the 8-track unit of an old stereo into the 8 Track Tape Backup, I was left with a BSR record changer — the Ford Pinto of record players. They were cheaply made, and googling them turns up thousands of cases of jammed changer mechanisms that rendered the players useless until disassembled and degreased. Mine was one of these. I started by gutting the changer mechanism entirely (with prejudice).

With a vague plan in mind, I went looking for a suitably vintage ottoman. I found it at Refind on Main Street — they’ve recently moved up from what used to be a small trio of vintage/art stores that were struggling to survive at Main and 3rd. (I particularly sympathize with the guy who ran a normal vintage shop for a while but clearly lost his marbles at the end and started collecting a large volume of awesome but probably unsaleable old stereos. This risk is why I can’t ever run a vintage shop.) The new spot at Main and 30th is right by Main Electronics and Lee’s Electronic, thus making it a likely favourite haunt.

Here it is in all its Naugahyde glory:


Hexagonal, pleather, and with a complexion like that, who could say no?

First discovery, and one that shouldn’t have been surprising in retrospect: it contains no structural elements whatsoever. It’s packed to the brim with shredded wood, which expands to ten times its normal size, gets everywhere, and still smells like a wood shop despite its 40-odd years.

Ottoman guts

So, first order of business: build some kind of internal wooden frame and mount the record player into it.

I used a(n indescribably slow) Dremel cut-off wheel to cut the BSR pot metal down to size, then mounted it into a bit of plywood I had kicking around, which was cut into something approximating hexagonal. This was in turn mounted into six pieces of 1/8th inch plywood forming the bulk of the chassis, joined together using strips of hinge. At this point the project looks surprisingly attractive as is; it’s almost a shame to smother it in bilious orange vinyl.

For the electronics, I mounted a phonograph pre-amp underneath the table and gutted a surplus computer speaker from Free Geek Vancouver for the speaker and amplifier. I opted not to include any controls whatsoever, except for a cord-mounted on/off switch and the needle lift lever from the original turntable.

Finally, I poured it into its pleather exterior. This didn’t require any cutting, but I unstitched the cap of the old ottoman and built it into a separate piece so that it could be mounted with hinges as a lid. To crimp the vinyl at the top of the main unit into place and give the ottoman some structural heft where it met the hinged lid, I cut some strips of wood and mounted them to the 1/8″ ply. I haven’t tried sitting on it, but I think it’ll withstand that much. A few details — some thrift store bannister knobs for feet, some jigsaw work to leave enough clearance to get a record in there, some black faux-leather mac-tac for the interior — and then VIOLA [sic]!

For the purists wondering what this has to do with an actual Empire turntable, I’ll concede it’s a stretch. But c’mon — would you rather I gutted a classic? This is the perfect use for a BSR.

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