Recognizing trendy and what will be dated (long, with pics)

plllogAugust 29, 2011

Recently, I've become very aware of lamps. I've seen some really cool ones that will be perfect for particular projects except for one thing: They're cool now because they're a bit different but on the cusp of the trend. They're also pretty hideous if you look at them for long term design. Not just "will look dated". These very cool lamps are the "will ask what you were thinking" variety.

So many people here worry about what will become dated (e.g., subway tile, which is classic, but so popular right now it will be a date-identifiable feature, but it will never go ugly), I thought it would be fun to look at some more ephemeral things like the lamps to get a good idea of the difference between dated and you've gotta be kidding. :)

I loved this first one when I saw it in the Horchow catalog (I use catalogs as a short cut to knowing what's up commercially. Not sure if we'll be buying or creating for this space, but if we buy it'll likely not be from national catalogs), but it's a bit different than I thought. It's hard to tell online unless you go to the website and use the zoom. It's kind of perfect for the loft space I'm designing, but it's going to be so hideous I don't think it's a good value for the money ($2450). It's really hard to see in this picture, but there's a crystal chandelier with curliques and swags inside of a mesh drum shade, on a turned metal shaft sitting in a dish on a tripod made of overgrown hatpins. It's like a table lamp, a chandelier, a kitchen ceiling fixture from the '60's, a rabbit hutch and a Victorian photographer's equipment had a love child. In the catalog picture, I thought it was more of an industrial style tripod, like a surveyor's, but black and silver, which would have been cooler. (like this one from Restoration Hardware with the idiotic table lamp trapeze shade). The look for now, today is awesome even as it is, but boy oh boy is it hideous. :) And it's going to be impossible once the chandelier craze is over.

The latest trendy word is "steampunk", which they're bastardizing in order to capitalize (what's new?). Take a look at this steampunk eats chandy version of the chandelier on a stand trend from RH, named for Foucault:

This one at Horchow is actually named "Steampunk" and is more authenically so in shape, but not in concept. It's pretty simple and I think it could last over time because of that.

This is another RH one that I really like the look of, but it's totally useless for the loft, and most other uses. It's very big for a chairside reading lamp, but with that downward cast, and metal shade, it's not for room lighting.

This one is the polyamorous marriage of three trends: Retro drum shades, retro industrial, and retro theatrical lighting. It's actually pretty ugly already with the shade cocked like that, but with it level it's quite interesting, and not as ugly as some of the ones that are better now will be. It'll be tolerable a lot longer. But it sure is weird!

One I think will make the cut is the "Spotlight" by Jamie Young also at Horchow/Nieman's. The link has a far better picture than below.

I like this one because it has that current vibe while having fairly classic proportions, and while it has some of the look of the currently shown stage style lighting, it has more of a residential feel. It doesn't have one of the forced style marriages which are interesting appositions when they're new, but tend to squabble and move to Reno for a quickie divorce once the infatuation is over. This one is what it is. The same kind of globe or gyroscope arms around the head as the Foucault surround a matching globular object, so it makes sense. And the light is positionable, making it useful, while the angle allows the light to spread, unlike the farmhouse or steampunk ones.

It's very hard to deal with trendy and stay away from fad. The kitchen was planned to be dark aubergine gloss lacquer. The overuse of purple in garments last year wasn't enough to disturb this plan, but the advent of all kinds of dark purple housewares, some in really sickly hues, this year is really bringing up the question mark. I've always tended to be in advance of the color trends. Occasionally, I'm sure, because I may have seen the leading edge, but I think also I'm reacting to the same stimuli that the trendsetters are so end up in the same place often enough for it to be a noticeable pattern.

This one, however, didn't come up because aubergine is trendy. When I flirted with ranges four years ago, I was looking at either the pale blue of the La Cornue Chateau in the local showroom, or aubergine. I tend to prefer aubergine to black. The client wants shiny, dark and warm, however, and doesn't like black or burgundy, navy is too cool, so I figured that left aubergine and she loved it.

Will aubergine be just too too 2012?

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The last 2 are ok and the Horchow "steampunk", but I don't feel my heart pitter patter for any of them. At those prices, or what I imagine they are, I'd want a little more funk/originality.

I love aubergine and have loved it while everyone else was into red/orange/gold/sage/chocolate/smoky blue. I also love a perky green or yellow and not earth toned/beige kinds. I worry that the drab subdued colors will go out and people will hop on my bandwagon. I think styles will invariably run the gamut in predictable cycles, so one almost can't help being on trend at some point. I'll use what I want and just hope the trends miss what I am doing. I'd hate if my house looked interchangeable with everyone else's.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 10:02PM
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When looking for DR lighting, I first drooled over the Moooi chandelier surrounded by a mirrored drum shade-- sort of like the concept in plllog's first picture-- but I balked both at the price and the inevitable tackiness it will represent once it dates. You can see it here and it is spectacular IRL turned on!

In the end I ended up with a classic criss cross Nelson lamp pendant (actually a 1990's reissue of the 1950's version) that looks as new today as it did back then, IMO. (I'm having trouble posting pics today, but it's visible in my post over on the "show me your DR table" thread.)

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 10:43PM
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Such a bullseye topic for me at the moment, p111og. We're in the midst of making purchasing decisions for decor in almost every room, and finding that perfect blend of what feels fresh, yet is anchored in classic is so tough.

I have to admit I'm frozen.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 10:53PM
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Well, there is nothing remotely steampunk about any of those lamps. The catalog copywriters just got tired of saying "industrial." Steampunk is unrelated.

The RH Foucault's folly will have you saying OMG what was I thinking, even before you buy it. I just got the new's not a catalog. I think it's called the "Idea Book" or something, and it's 615 pages long--that part I remember clearly. The whole tome is a monument to the CEO's ego, sort of like Mad Ludwig's castle. Anyway, the Foucault fixtures are striking when you see them full page in print. But boy, will they date. The problem isn't pairing chandeliers with industrial or rusted material; that look has been around for a long time. But those RH fixtures smash you in the face with one over-the-top high concept. They're trying to create a "Wow"! moment. The problem with anything that makes you say wow is, when it's over, it's over.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 10:57PM
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Not many people are so prescient that they can predict what's new now and will be classic later. I don't think the installers of avocado fixtures and appliances were thinking that they were buying the Unspeakable of tomorrow.

There are a few factors at work here.

One factor is that many of the "classics" of today were prime examples of a new movement of yesterday and while some of them were instant classics, some of them were almost universally disliked at first and slowly gathered an audience. Peggy Guggenheim didn't amass a fortune's worth of great modern masterpieces by paying a premium for them. She bought art that a lot of people hated to give the artists grocery money.

The other aspect of pieces arising from a new movement is that there hasn't really been a new movement in design since, perhaps, post-modernism, but as that was a jokey take off on the classics, maybe there hasn't been a truly new movement since modernism.

Steampunk isn't really encompassing enough to be a movement, its a particular style, but it's not exactly new either. There is a lamp and fixture maker here that has been doing this for 20 years, as have others, but it has recently gained enough momentum to be noticed by manufacturers, given an official name, and codified into a certain style of mainstream design.

(The punk movement itself is pushing 40 years, having started in England and Europe in the early 70s---and yet kids will still glue up their mohawks and think they are being radical, where they are adopting a look that their parents could've had--but it is still edgy to an extent.)

So, I think you have to look at craftsmanship and perhaps rarity (in this era) to define what may become a classic of the future. So, pieces by Thos. Moser will be classics, simply because they are well crafted and made-to-order. Some really strange, beautiful/hideous and unusable furniture created by artists and sold by places like Moss, will also be classic due to rarity.

There may be the odd piece of non-modernist vernacular furniture that has been designed in the 90s -2000s that becomes a classic but I am not sure what that will be yet. Perhaps some of the Baker pieces by Michael Vanderbyl, Laura Kirar, or Barbara Barry--although these are mostly based on classical archetypes.

As for those lamps, none of them really blow me away, but my prediction is that the style that will be evocative of this era will probably be the chandelier combined with the large translucent over-shade or some other structure. I don't particularly care for that type of fixture but it is the only really new look that I can think of that is not modernist. I predict that it will first go through a period where almost everyone thinks it is embarrassing to have in their houses first, just like sputniks and brutalist torch cut fixtures did. My choice for a new and classic fixture of the period is this: its blingy, expensive, but also rather minimal in form

Here is a link that might be useful: Schonbek Vinci

    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 11:13PM
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Pal - that screams "disco ball" to me...although, I appreciate it more than most mass produced lights I see. I think that pendant lights over an island or peninsula will be something lighting related that dates to this time period. It is hard to name a recent kitchen that does not have that. If we go back a year, or a few, it is the orb light fixture with upturned bowl in amber (the bug/dust catching kind). There are very few houses newly built or renovated in our area that don't feature that type of light.....paired with the tumbled trav, cream/rust/brown granite counters, stainless appliances and stained wood cabs. In fact, I bet the pendant light and orb bowl light would be neck and neck if we took an inventory of recent builds/renos.

btw - I notice GW ate another one of your n-o-n-e-s. I still don't know what GW has against that word!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 12:26AM
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Well, Marcolo, of course there's nothing steampunk about those lamps!! They're from mass production outlets! I noticed the same word ("steampunk") in a clothing catalog yesterday too.

Have to agree about the RH folly. They sent me two of those tomes, and there are exactly two pieces that caught my eye. Most of them look incomplete, dirty, ill made and way oversized for most people's homes.

Palimpsest, I do agree with you on an intellectual level, but none of this mass produced stuff is ground breaking. I mean, as far as I know, mounting a branched and swagged chandelier as a floor lamp hasn't been done before the current trend--and I'll add, nor should it--but that doesn't make it groundbreaking. The only mass production design icon that comes to mind is the Eames chair. Even that whole era's iconic chairs. The current fads become fads when a designer does it, someone copies it, the designers/buyers for the major outlets identify it as a trend and make lots of it, people actually buy it, and then everyone moves on to something new. It's about merchandising rather than design.

Still, while one can make just about anything into a lamp, even on the high end it's usually cheaper to buy something than to design it fresh and have it made, especially if it's cast. So I look at the trendy stuff, partly to see if there's something that works because it'll usually be less expensive, and partly to see how their design groups are thinking. When you have a client who wants to look very current, and wants to look like the magazines and catalogs and stores, then this question of what is going to be hideous no matter how cool it seems now is really important.

Not many people are so prescient that they can predict what's new now and will be classic later. I suppose that's true, but some people can do it pretty well. Geometrics in proportional harmony endure. That's why the 6"x3" classic white subway tile may be really stylish now, and may have been really stylish the first couple times around (seems to be about every 30 years), and may become "out" for awhile, but it's always going to be good design, and will never be hideous (excluding fungus).

Similarly, natural forms generally endure well, as do natural colors. Whereas "fun" colors and overall patterns do not. Regular stripes, polka dots, lime green and candy pink have been with us in and out for the minimum of a century, but they don't do well for enduring goods. They get tiresome and old. Interestingly enough, however, varied stripes and plaids with multiple hues and widths endure much better. I think it's because they resemble the patterns in nature, and the world in general, where you have a whole bunch of different lines of different sizes and colors all over the place. It may be the regimented regularity of evenly spaced stripes and polka dots that make them so annoying over time, and maybe also what makes them so fun and cute in the short term.

BTW, I don't claim to be prescient about colors. It doesn't happen with everything, and it's only in hindsight, when all of a sudden my "out there" colors are the latest trend that I know I was ahead of the wave.

I should say that in the above pictures, only the last lamp was being considered for the loft. The first one is interesting because the shade is an open screen that resembles a cage. The base is way too fussy. If it were simpler the thing might be interesting because of the whole idea of a chandelier in a cage and the cage on a stand. As it is, it's just way too far gone. The rest were just interesting to me as examples of the merchandise which is being pressed upon the public.

I'm still wondering about the aubergine, though. It's the right color, but it's the kitchen cabinets and range. This can't be something that lights up like a rocket then plummets like a stone. Now that they're selling all that cheap purple cookware I worry that people will bring it as gifts to the very expensive purple kitchen (being that people are philistines and can be relied upon to not quite get it), and that that will just ruin the lovely aubergine experience for the owner.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 1:57AM
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It's interesting that this subject is coming up now - and in regards to lighting options of all things. As I ponder what I'm drawn to and what has attracted my eye over the past couple of years in the realm of kitchen design, I am persistently asking myself to consider fads, trendiness, and whether the choices will stand the test of time for me.

My mom, who doesn't give a great deal of advice these days, made one assertion about the kitchen, and it was a strong one. She has proclaimed that nothing dates a house quicker than lighting fixtures and she, therefore, strongly advises recessed lights in the kitchen and that's it. I, on the other hand, don't want recessed lighting in my kitchen - but after doing some preliminary pricing of lighting options for the kitchen and dining room, am carefully considering the balance between how lighting can make the look and how lighting can date the look.

It would be nice to be an expert in such things... I'm considering a lot of options that I am going to have to live with a long, long time...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 2:56AM
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>I mean, as far as I know, mounting a branched and swagged chandelier as a floor lamp hasn't been done before the current trend-

Actually, yes. It was fairly popular back in the early 90s to use a birdcage holder as a stand for a small chandelier in cottagey design. The difference is that now you need the birdcage itself as well.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:27AM
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Aubergine is a strange like-it leave-it color. I like it. I was originally going use it to paint my cabinets but I figured out I didn't have the energy for that kinda of commitment.

Every guy I showed the scheme to wouldn't use it. Even when they agreed that the samples (actually painted wood) worked well. Dunno why.

rh is really pushing it with the lastest catalog. I had to turn on the Sound of Music and follow it with The King and I to rinse out the gloom, doom and even more apocalyptic visions.

That guy needs a sun lamp and a pop of color delivered with a cannon.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:54AM
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This is an actual Steampunk lamp, produced by a guy who's been doing Steampunk for quite a while.

Nothing like anything in RH. And nothing like what a lot of people on this forum call steampunk. I will never forget the first steampunk thread on GW, where the same people who asked what it was in comment #4 were opining, "I think steampunk is more like...." in comment #44.

Actual steampunk shows more signs of being a genuine design movement than anything I've seen recently, an entire iconography and common vernacular shared by most of the works of the genre, the way an Art Deco ashtray can remind you of the top of the Chrysler building. However, the Chinese outsourcers took one look at it and said, "No." Even in a simplified mass-market form, it would take too much re-tooling, too much detail, too much design for a business model built on producing absolute garbage overseas and selling it for high prices here. So, they took something completely different, and called it steampunk.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 8:48AM
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I think RH believes that sending out tomes will enhance their reputation as an oracle of taste. (It is supposed to feel like taste but act like a trend, so that customers will come back to purchase the next look.) 615 pages is about as subtle as a Cadillac Escalade, and I hope everyone will think about just saying no, as indicated below, inviting RH to beguile you on-line instead.

I think all of the lamps are "trendy." I think the fourth one down is to die for, except that the base is so impractical.

I think everyone should decide for him/herself what attracts solely for its novelty and what resonates at some level that precludes becoming embarrassed by having chosen it. Some errors will be made, but him/herself will glow with the sense of having at least tried to develop an independent context-specific aesthetic.

Here is a link that might be useful: Catalog Choice (it really works)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 9:27AM
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PS on novelty and context.

The former need not be something promoted by a vendor: I came back from Tuscany the first time with visions of pumpkin with green trim as THE look for houses. The latter invokes its own caveats: Pumpkin with green trim was clearly not going work in a neighborhood of c. 1900 rowhouses.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:38AM
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Jumping in with an unusual prediction, the tumbled travertine is going to become classic. Just my 2 cents.
Even though there is so much now it seems over done. For exactly the reason P111og mentioned:

"Similarly, natural forms generally endure well, as do natural colors."

Overdone or not, it goes with everything.

Marcolo, that is a very interesting thought re mass production...

"However, the Chinese outsourcers took one look at it and said, "No." Even in a simplified mass-market form, it would take too much re-tooling, too much detail, too much design for a business model built on producing absolute garbage overseas and selling it for high prices here."

If buyers want to be seen as more original, will that eventually mean more complex and less easily reproduced?
Like hand made tiles are?

For instance, the clean-lines MCM designs Pal referred to could be easily reproduced, so will they flood the market?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:49AM
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Aubergine is a classic color and the client loves it. There is a difference between a few accents and total immersion, but if she hasn't expressed any reservations then it's a good choice. Because she's personally invested in the color I don't think she would change her mind after the fact because a few dear friends and family didn't get it.

Recently I've been thinking of the correlation between the economy and color choices and trends. Usually it's safer, more subdued colors in a down economy. RH certainly took this to a new extreme. Looking through the new "magalog" I was reminded of Marcolo's previous comment about the Belgian aristocrat fallen on hard times and laughed my way through.

I do like the RH weathered oak and researched it for existing cabinets. The best answer I found was "Get Photoshop."

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:55AM
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It is almost impossible to avoid trends, because we are somewhat constrained by what is available to buy. A few ideas...It may be hard to know the next trend, but I know what will be "out". Assume the people who spend the most on their homes are, say the 35-45 yo cohort. Whatever their parents house looked like, is out. So today that might mean hunter green walls with white trim and oak floors, white cabs with brass knobs and a bs in white bas relief tile with a fruit motif ?

How to avoid trends? It's not trendy if it suits the style of your home. Mission tile wont date in San Diego. It's not trendy if it has meaning to you because you made it found it or inherited it. It's not trendy if it is a genuine antique. It is. It is not trendy if you bought in on your travels ( and I don't mean a junket to the Mall of America). It is not trendy if it costs so much that it cannot become ubiquitous. My two cents. ....

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:00AM
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Steff, thanks for the wise words. The place seriously needs color. It's a cavern. The reflections in the lacquer are going to help too. ;) I've been trying to think of alternatives, but nothing works as well as the aubergine.

Marcolo, that is iconically steampunk in looks, and very cool. :) But "authentic" steampunk is/was the province of nerdy boys playing dress up, and living in their imaginations, not a design aesthetic. I just think it's fascinating that the whole idea has made it out of the geekosphere into Restoration Hardware and kitsch catalogs, even though what they're selling has nothing to do with the real thing. It's especially funny to me, who was there at the onset of steampunk and have long moved on to see it become a fad. :) Yes, like most fads, it has nothing to do with its progenitors, but that's the way it goes. Agreed about the design decisions made on the basis of factory tooling. BTW, I wouldn't be surprised if the rise of steampunk were the seminal occurrence to the renaissance of brass. :)

ACK!! I was going to respond to more but I have a meeting... Bet you're all going "Phew! Dodged a bullet!" huh?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 12:11PM
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Good question on the aubergine, and while I think you're safe with wall and appliance color because they are huge commitments and so many folks want safety in their large ticket purchases, I do think accessories in aubergine are going to explode.

Last night mr. sandyponder and I were watching season 3 of Breaking Bad and the kitchen in the upscale ABQ home of the second banana characters is some sort of medium wood (but I don't think it's oak, maybe something more southwesty) with tons of aubergine accents; tea kettle, pots 'n pans, dish cloths, etc. The female kitchen owner character is a mid 30's striver who they have made very style specific (read: mostly trendy) in her dress and choice of vehicle. However, I read that the house they use as a set is actually a real house of an upper middle class ABQ couple (yup, we're true fans of BB, read everything we can about it), so maybe the purple is IRL and not done be a set decorator.

Our 13 yo DD has wanted to paint her turquoise and apple green room (the taste of a 6 year old) for a year now, and first she wanted aubergine, aubergine and more aubergine, dark for walls, lighter for trim and doors. She has suddenly done an about face and wants BM Jute walls and Marscapone trim, she said she's seen too many purple dining rooms in my deco mags and has come to think of aubergine as "old lady" (to her that means women young enough to be my daughter, I was a very late starter to a family) and "eating area ish".

She also has a collection of 3 vintage office machines that she wants displayed on distressed shelving, is that sort of a bastardized steampunk vibe? I really don't know.

Interesting topic.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 12:38PM
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But "authentic" steampunk is/was the province of nerdy boys playing dress up, and living in their imaginations, not a design aesthetic

That's pretty much the definition of a design aesthetic. What is Gothic but the visual representation of angels dancing on pins, or Baroque but the image of power told through allegory, or Art Deco but a comic book of fast trains and fluid women, or modernism but a high-level abstraction of urban living whose only natural home is LeCorbu's drawing pad? It's all nerdy boys playing dress up, and living in their imaginations. Only difference is that in the late 19th and 20th century, girls joined in on the act.

Look at RH and look at the light fixture I posted. The real steampunk one fits into this definition of design. You can explain it as reimagining the way the past imagined the future. It's always a union of futuristic technology and vintage materials. Very Jules Verne--it all looks like it came out of a movie or graphic novel about an alternative reality. That's totally missing from the RH versions.

I think one hallmark of timelessness might be authenticity. The ersatz will date a lot faster, and get a lot uglier, than the real.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 1:04PM
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very interesting reading...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 1:24PM
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Random thoughts - my Rh catalogue came in the mail, I thumbed through it in the front entrance and it went in the recycling just like the last 4 of them ; I was in Italy in 1985 and the colours for clothes was pumpkin with green trim (I bought shirts and shorts in that colour and was ahead of the game when I came home - the only time I've ever done that in fashion); I have an aubergine wall in the DR - now what do I do with it? - I do lament the loss of colour in homes (see the RH catalogue) but have noticed that Elle Decor and Traditional Home are both starting to show some colour and imagination in the homes.
Some day I would like to be on the forefront of choosing the next colour and incorporating it into my home but that is not likely to happen. I don't have the imagination for it.

Alabamamommy - we finished a whole house reno almost a year ago and I am still frozen in decorator choices. This is our forever home and I have hopefully chosen basics in terms of flooring, cabinets etc that will stand the test of time. (notice I didn't say timeless or classic). But now what - what colours, what style of lamps, coffee tables, area rugs, window coverings and how to pull it all together in a cohesive manner. What's the new buzzword? Decision fatigue!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 1:47PM
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Yes. As were those initial lamps. As for what will become dated, guessing among all the different things that show up, those just plain in bad taste are pretty safe discards. Yes, I know, but we tend to "know it when we see it," even in its various guises.

BTW, Marcolo's friend's steampunk lamp is something else altogether. Not sure what, but I predict a select, hot auction 60 years from now for it.

Plllog, you know, if your clients live in a trendy neighborhood among trendy people, any choices defined as being in style now will fairly quickly be out--by definition since they were in. Inevitable as gravity. Even something as lovely and right as aubergine done perfectly. Unless its moment wasn't very noticeable? In any case, hopefully, their neighborhood is more characterized by its pervasive good taste. :)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 2:08PM
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You hit a nail on the head with authenticity.

I have been getting a lot of "I can't believe you bought a.." or "I don't think you will be happy in your..." 1963 brutalist house. (Since I really embraced the Greek Revival I am in now). But I think a genuine or authentic house is what I was looking for, and I could not afford a genuine or authentic 1840s an authentic "something" fit the bill.

In terms of design, I dont think there is a whole lot that is both new and authentic going on that can actually go (semi-)mass market like modernism and MCM did. Steampunk relies on its "found object" quality, and if you start mass producing found objects to make the steampunk piece from, then it is no longer genuine.

The things that are becoming classics right now (in terms of new and durable design) are, imo, not typical residential pieces. I think functional, ergonomic seating pieces, and modular pieces like storage units and work stations that in production now are what are becoming classics. Aeron chairs, Freedom chairs, Chadwick chairs, --these are the kinds of things that are taking high tech materials and other technologies and turning them into something, much as happened with the formed fiberglas and plywood, and foam technologies that helped drive the modernist and MCM movements.

The thing is that these types of things are not embraced by a lot of people for home use. The Aeron chair is *really* comfortable, and comes in different sizes. But it is expensive, and I don't see many people spending $800 -1200 a piece for six to go around a dining table, although they would be great for this.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 2:08PM
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No, no, no, no, no, no, no!! Marcolo, I was talking about the ones who attended Comic Con before it was cool, who read Morlock Night, dressed in fin de siecle finery and cobbled together valve controlled, rather ineffective, weaponry for fun, while playing Let's Pretend and role playing Jules Verneian exploits. It wasn't a design aesthetic. It was a game. It included coding crude computer games in Ada just to be cool (because in that crowd you were cool if you just knew what (and who) Ada was let alone could create time wasters with it). Most importantly it was the idea of the Victorian era (aka the Industrial Revolution with high tea and Empire) as a largely untapped setting for science fiction. "Steampunk" was coined to describe this subgenre of SF, and didn't really catch on away from the nerdy boys (and, yes, girls) until The Difference Engine came out. The Difference Engine was the ne plus ultra to me, and sort of shut the door on the all that.

There's way too much art in the lamp Marcolo posted to be really and truly "authentically" steampunk, though I admit it follows the rules of the design concept that came after Sterling.

Sandyponder, the current rules of steampunk chic allow for anything analog that was the tops in it's time (i.e., '50's clock radio, yes, 90's clock radio no). The true aesthetic pulls from Victorian commercial design--steam powered, brass tubes, valves, chased and ornate decoration, some cast iron and bronze as well, and all of the decaying decadence of the end of the 19th century. Rich brocades, stripes with florals, weighted silks and moires. Also Rube Goldbergesque mechanisms. Lots of springs, pulleys and levers for looks almost more than function. Marcolo's lamp is more refined. It uses period industrial cues in a sophisticated and symmetrical way, and depends on the beauty of the retro lightbulbs as much as the fixture.

What your daughter is going through, and the kind of questions Rosie has, are what make me question the aubergine, and especially the way purple has been used in shows like Breaking Bad and Big Love. This isn't a "neighborhood" though in the more conventional way of thinking. It's a true loft (not a "loft apartment" which is a dinky place where they keep the cost down by leaving out the ceiling). It's cavernous but has terrific trusses and catwalks and amazing fenestration. The client is more interested in how it looks than how it functions, so long as it functions adequately.

Back to the meeting mill. :)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 3:14PM
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Thanks for the detailed def plllog, speaking as someone who had never heard of Comic Con until I started to watch Entourage a year or so ago, a lot of what you said is above me both in IQ and cool Q, but it was interesting and I appreciate you taking the time to explain in detail.

Also, never noticed purple on BL, but we haven't seen season 5 yet, no cable, so we DVD TV, but you can bet I'll BOLO for all manner of it when we see the final season. I mention BB cuz purple seems so blatant as to be almost product placement (not that aubergine or purple is a product per se, it just seemed very deliberate).

I am no design maven, but IMO terrific trusses, catwalks and amazing fenestration mean you can use a popular color and it will not swallow the space whole. I think I hear you saying that you want the guests of your client to say "Wow, what a space" and not "Wow, s/he must really like purple" when they leave. If there's a lot going on, the, ahem, au courant elements will blend in.

I am trying to decide whether to use a nice, safe linen fabric I already own or purchasing a trendy fabric that I love - today - for drapes in our den. I am still in official dither mode because while I love the trendy fabric, I don't want the room to be all about the drapes. However, in the scheme of things, these are good problems to have, so I'll keep the plain black K-Mart drapes until I decide or my trendy fabric shows up at the dollar store in a placemat print and be thankful that I have options.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 3:41PM
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plllog, of course Steampunk had a pre-design phase before any artist picked it up. So did modernism. It's common for the story to precede the design. The Greeks revolted against the Turks, spinning comparisons between ancient and modern democracy, before a single Greek Revival house was ever built in upstate New York. That lamp is from a pretty longstanding steampunk artist, and there are lots more like him. He's part of a natural evolution of steampunk. So are other branches, like the people who started to pilfer Art Deco, machine-age elements to use in their steampunk creations in preference to Victorian detritus.

There were a lot of mainstream design ideas that could have flowed naturally from steampunk. Even the most basic concept of returning ornament to functional objects could have made a legitimate return.

Instead, we got RH. And RH has no connection to steampunk at all. Nor does that Horchow lamp, although I do like it. The mass marketers have stolen the name but completely changed the game, neither preserving what was good nor adding anything of value.

What's particularly weird to me is that stealing the steampunk name squashed two movements, not one. A lot of those industrial Frankenstein lamps are based on originals that have been produced in NYC from found objects for quite a few years now. Now RH has told that movement it doesn't exist either, it's "really" steampunk, with which it had nothing to do.

I feel like we're living in the reign of design locusts, who pounce on each new green shoot of a new idea and rapidly consume it into extinction. That's why there is no major innovation in design any more--it is all forced at gunpoint to become a "trend" for the next seasonal catalog, then rolled out of the car on a dark road when it's all used up.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 5:27PM
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marco - ITA with your design locusts analogy. I began to post a similar (but less eloquent) thought this morning and didn't have time to finish. Even classic items become trendy (and potentially dated) when they are over used, used out of context or replicated cheaply.

I remember a GW member lamenting that she searched high and low and spent considerable money acquiring French advertising posters. Flash forward a few years later and imitations were readily available everywhere.

I don't think access to classic design and accesories should be defined by the size of your bank account. But there is something disturbing about the marketing herd mentality.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 5:58PM
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This is what I think of as steampunk:

The first is a lamp that was wired from something in it's original from from 1900-1920 with a glass shade added:

The second is an x-ray tube from 1900-1920 that was rewired for a conventional lightbulb, and put on a tripod from the era instead of leaving it on it's armature.

There is no way that something that is massed produced can qualify as steampunk, compared to this.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 6:00PM
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I find these quite handsome although I don't think they qualify as steampunk since they are now being produced in small quantities by Peter Jensen, a nixie tube clock maker:

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 6:07PM
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I think Marcolo's last paragraph summed it up.

I am so tired of houses and decor all being so similar. With a global economy and access to so much more choice, why do people all jump on the same bandwagon, happily, no less?

To me steampunk reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and all the crazy inventions and decor in that movie. I don't see any of that in the mass produced steampunk pimped in magazines/catalogs.

What saddens me is when people take the newest RH and PB and consider that to be the epitome of style. The whole idea of style is to make things personal, not to slavishly copy what is being marketed to you and everyone else. I want my surroundings to reflect my own tastes and to also see favorite pieces that have been passed down, acquired gradually and things I have found by searching, not by stumbling in the local JCP and buying a tableau. I don't want my neighbor to have the same stuff I do. It may not be high style, or look like an interior decorator did our house, but it will be OURS, for better or worse. I will update things from time to time such as wall color or accessories, but the basics (antiques) remain the same. Most of the pieces I have are beautiful in their own right and so do not ever become dated to me. I have a few pieces that we use because they were handy or cheap, but the majority are keepers. If I had an almost unlimited budget, I doubt much of it would go to new stuff and most would be new "finds".

I have my aubergine walls because that is what I love and not because it is in the shelter mags, which I don't subscribe to. I didn't even know it was in there until it was mentioned here. We used mostly light color walls in our last house and while we loved it, I wanted to step outside our comfort zone when doing this house. I was hoping to be more daring and it has paid off. I still think our last house was done well but just did not want to make this one a repeat.
I used to get Cottage Living (one of the "get 5 magazines for pennies" deals), but that went under and I never replaced it. I liked how they dealt with using space wisely and loved how the people took their often older places and restored them and made them fresh at the same time. The style mags usually showcase stuff I could not afford and much of it is not my cup of tea anyway. Not to say I do not love expensive things, but they often show stuff that is trendy and it often looks like they are trying too hard to be fabulous. I don't want things that scream "look at me and how clever I am", but rather pieces that were lovingly made/designed that make me comfortable and happy when I see them. I want our house to look like a home and not a movie set. If we take ourselves too seriously, then we have missed the mark.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Marcolo said: "I feel like we're living in the reign of design locusts, who pounce on each new green shoot of a new idea and rapidly consume it into extinction. That's why there is no major innovation in design any more--it is all forced at gunpoint to become a "trend" for the next seasonal catalog, then rolled out of the car on a dark road when it's all used up."

This is capitalism eating itself, it seems to me. I recently heard an interview with someone who asserted that this exact thing is happening in Hollywood with the movie industry. New, novel, creative ideas are not marketable. Instead, the movie moguls exploit an idea that has already been flown up the flagpole successfully and beat it to death with remakes and II, III, IV version 'new' movies.

Not to derail, and I certainly am no expert on this from a design perspective, but I was struck by the fact that the exact same critique is showing up in various arenas. Now that I think of it, it also reminds me of my #1 gripe about 'new' cars. Everything on the road looks practically identical in this country...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:49PM
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Yes, eating the seed corn is now a pretty widespread observation throughout our society; witness the people who destroyed the financial system to make themselves richer quicker.

I constantly hear about young people wanting "the Pottery Barn look." I see it online, too, although on the Internet I can't give them the loud belly laugh that I typically offer in person. Yes, please give me a cheesy mass-market look so I can prove my tastes are just as sophisticated as all the other mall rats.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:51PM
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Eh, Pottery Barn is at least comfortable, accessible and traditionally based vernacular furniture, which makes it better than when price point furniture was matching "sets" available in plaid Herculon with wood grained plastic end tables.. I think it has its place. The downside of it is that it tries for an accumulated appearance rather than creating its own identity. Its "identity" is that of something older, worn, found, unique, but it is an imposter. So, it ends up being "flat" stylistically.

Restoration Hardware, on the other hand is trying to invent itself as a lifestyle, and take this "curated" and "accumulated" approach and offer it turnkey to the individual who doesn't care enough to curate or accumulate their own surroundings. Sure, people *do* hire designers to curate, accumulate, and collect *for* them, but the good designer will actually collect real stuff. I have done this for people, and as someone who accumulates for myself, I think this feels a bit phony, especially when there is a time frame. (like accumulating enough Italian glass stoppered genie decanters from the mid-60s to make a collection (say 8-12) in a short period on eBay...I feel better about this if the client continues the process themselves, but honestly a lot are just as happy for you to do the legwork for them. (Anyway, I digress)

I still think that artisanal furnishings and furniture-designer-designed pieces that are at least made to order or are expensive enough to end up being uncommon are the only things of interest that will be collected or looked at as classics coming out of the residential arena at this point.
(as opposed to the cheap enough to furnish a dorm with postwar fiberglas pieces from Knoll and Herman Miller that people have been collecting over the past decade or so. However, my college freshman dorm had this and it was disposed of wholesale my sophomore year and replaced with modular oak that no one will Ever collect -- I don't think--)

Innovative design is happening more in the commercial market, and it goes back to needing a new material or process to at least *help* drive the creative process.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:18PM
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RH and PB are the same company. I think they're both selling a "look" based on fake found objects, though obviously RH is way more ostentatious about it. The worst thing about PB, aside from the quality, is that if you ever do go to Brimfield and pick up some sorta rustic, sorta country-ish interesting piece, every single person who comes into your home will say, "Get that at Pottery Barn?"

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:37PM
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I think WestElm is the same company too? (their lowest price point?) but at least it has its own identity of sorts and its cheap furniture that looks like what it is, which is ok.
(I guess they are the Old Navy, GAP, Banana Republic of furniture)

It is rather annoying to have something real that someone assumes is from a mass retailer that annexed the look. I had a Pakastani "War Rug" from the Gulf War era that someone asked if it was from IKEA, because it was "really cool". Moths destroyed that one...but yea, real stuff, real antiques that people think are knockoffs. Kinda depressing that we've come to that.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:53PM
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I have a clock that PB copied. I'm still bitter about it.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:41AM
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Steph, Blame it on the MBAs. It's the culture of valuing the sell through rather than serving the customer. Whether it's Hollywood or lamps, it's all merchandising. This isn't so much capitalism, per se, as the Greed is Good wing of capitalism. (Capitalism positing that more is good is a natural state from which equilibrium will settle in a free market; Greed is Good being about amassing the biggest pile as quickly as possible by any means necessary and pulling out).

Okay, Marcolo, I'm with you now. It's just that my experience of steampunk was very personal and what was being designed were time machines made out of caned settees and submarines made out of water heaters--nothing actually useful. I can't help feeling that the commercial steampunk movement, of which your lamp artist is a member, is post-steampunk in some ineffable way. But that's okay. I get your point about the development and expansion of the idea, and totally see what you mean about a return to ornamentation being a possible extension of it.

The steampunk discussion is interesting of course, but my point in mentioning it was exactly what you're saying about the design locusts. Especially the dresses with the brass rivets being called "steampunk".

Thank-you SO much for explaining about the NYC found object lamps. Whereas these manufactured ones are borderline monstrous, if they were made out of real stuff they'd be so much cooler!!

Palimpsest, I think I'd call those industrial folk art rather than steampunk, but that's quibbling. :)

Dianalo, you're right! Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was steampunkish.

Deee, that marketing herd mentality is just what I'm trying to work with here! The client is young and doesn't have a good sense of what she'll tire of, but she wants sort of Crate and Barrel Industrial.

Sandyponder, I'm sorry to go into flights there. It's been a busy day, but I was so interested in what you all were saying and in trying to clarify my own thoughts without having time to pick over them, that it just came out all in a blort download (i.e., mental barf). The purple on BL is just the last season and in the clothes. I had been thinking how clever the wardrobe people were in using the array of shades to underscore the rest of the art direction and the mood of the story when I realized that, more or less, purple was the new red, and to a great extent what was available in cute, new non-black clothes.

Definitely, it's a wow what a space kind of place. The kitchen is under an overhang, and in its own kind of area of the floor, with space for tables in front and to the side, then it opens up into a huge double height living space. The old kitchen is poorly designed and pretty ugly for something very plain. It's a very small part of the overall space, so the aubergine will be like an accent color on a wide chimney in a traditional living room. But shiny, literally and in a Firefly way.

So, what y'all have been saying as I've been finishing my work and writing this is right on point. The young woman whose place this is is exactly the PB influenced one of the crowd you've been describing. Unlike a lot of people, she can have much better, but I'm trying to keep things in a vernacular she can understand while bringing out the best in the space. This isn't a full on design of the whole place. She does want to accumulate her own gewgaws, art, and sundries (Palimpsest, I'm right with you on the pre-fab kind, but I've thought that the look owed a lot to distressing hiding a lot of finishing flaws), but she needs help with color and scale for the kitchen and main space furniture, and we've been kicking around some out there ideas for the main bedroom.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 1:12AM
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So I'm going through an incredibly old box of paper... I used to save glossy pages with color and pattern for collage, beads, etc., this just moved along with me for awhile until the bottom got wet and I had to dump it out. So everything is bottom up, and I found a bunch of catalogs and some magazines from 1993! Y'know what Palimpsest said about not much new? And about not being able to predict what's going to endure? Both are borne out.

There are a couple from a Beverly Hills jeweler--the kind that also sells high end fine china and tchotchkes. The quality of the paper is amazing. You don't see that since the paper crisis of a few years later. Almost everything in them looks like it could be on offer today. Taken all together there's a whiff of the past, but only very slightly. Mostly, I'm guessing these are the things they'd be showing now, as a group, but would be seen in the national decorating catalogs.

There are also some circulars from the Century City mall (just west of BH). It's large tabloid format, and most stores have a full page showing a single vignette. The clothes are baggier than now, and there are still ladies' shoulder pads, but a lot of what's being offered could also be now. Impossible to compare this one--the Aussies took over the place and got rid of all the cool shops.

I don't know if this means that for all that we think things are changing they're really standing still, or if it's just that trends start in Beverly Hills and take a couple of decades to spread out.

...though, come to think of it, the one page of dishes which have colors and patterns that could be now, does have a slightly dated shape. That's the sharp rims and straight sided cups with no feet. There's a distinct move back toward coupe shapes now (leaving aside wabi sabi in fine china), though cups now are taller than a true coupe, so they can hold more.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 3:00AM
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Pal always says there is currently no technology breakthrough to drive new design, but I think other kinds of changes affect design too, including economics. Comparing your early '90s merchandise to today's, I think I see the effects of moving from early globalization to late globalization.

Back then, lots of stuff was still manufactured in the Near and Middle East. Some in South and Southeast Asia. Thus the rise of the "British Colonial" look, as well as Moroccan design elements like those eight-pointed tables and blue tiles. Today, of course, it's all about China--and guess what the design trends show today? Faux bamboo, Chinoiserie, Chinese Chippendale.

Of course, these influences are always presented with a story designed to flatter the buyers. The British Colonial look harkened back to the last time the West was inundated with goods from the Middle East and India, but through the gauzy lens of Empire, when the US and Europe were economically and militarily superior. Same with Chinoiserie, which uses Chinese motifs but reminds us of a time when Western tradesman ruled the waves and the Chinese were a doddering old, opium-laced empire in decline. In other words, the foreign goods are presented in a way to make them novel but still safe and comforting.

I think one of the tragedies of the pillaging of steampunk is way it destroyed an interesting response to today's economic trends. I always thought of steampunk as very creative, imaginative and positive. It wasn't reproducing the past, it was creating an imagined world. By contrast, RH's version of so-called steampunk looks like an embrace of decrepitude, as if the only way to respond to a nation in decline is to accessorize it.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 8:46AM
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The mention above of Banana Republic made me think, as always, how odd it is that some marketing executive once decided, and the American consuming public swallowed, that "Banana Republic" would be a nice, positive and just-exotic-enough name for a clothing store. Marcolo's latest comment (and his phrase "through the gauzy lens") helps to explain it, disturbing though it remains.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 10:49AM
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"I feel like we're living in the reign of design locusts, who pounce on each new green shoot of a new idea and rapidly consume it into extinction. That's why there is no major innovation in design any more--it is all forced at gunpoint to become a "trend" for the next seasonal catalog, then rolled out of the car on a dark road when it's all used up."

"I feel" truly one of the best statements here ever. :) However, I'm wondering if it isn't the commercial design industry, the one that creates looks for the purpose of putting them out of date as soon as they're sold, that is in the process of gobbling itself up, feet first, until it...well, final gulp and gone! might be too much to hope for, but maybe finally just a big money-sucking hole those inclined have no trouble avoiding?

The increase in the speed of trend turnover and the increasing expenses of trying to keep up with fads should be on a collision course with the newly possible availability of non-mass-offered products, both new and second-hand. Surely a very dangerous development for them and a wonderful opportunity for us and for design?

Not to mention the reality of an ever-increasing percentage of us who have no interest in lining up for yet another mass milking. That advertising ignores the older population in spite of all its wealth is an indicator, all right, but not that we don't purchase and not that we aren't at least as interested in design as we ever were.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 11:12AM
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While I agree the name of the stores was an interesting choice, Banana Republic was founded by a couple, Mel and Patricia Ziegler (IIRC) and bought by The Gap in the mid to late 80's. The first store was in Mill Valley, CA, which is nothing if not a trend making area and the name was the Ziegler's choice, their clothing was safari/exotic travel kind of stuff back then, no $200 FMN pumps or skin tight anything, just basic travel clothing. I, ahem, wrote a paper about The Gap when getting my MBA (don't shoot me).

And while we are on RH, we finally got their massive tome, err, catalog yesterday in the far reaches of NNY and, well, what can I say? Sepia toned clones IMO.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 11:19AM
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sandyponder, thanks for the Gap/Banana Republic history. I hope I didn't come across as up-in-arms or about to shoot anyone, but rather merely puzzled that all the negative connotations of a such term could be so easily and successfully glossed over.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 11:53AM
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I remember that when they first started to go national (I might still have an old t-shirt with a rhino on it), there was a spate of criticism over the name.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:02PM
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Ah, so I'm not the only one. Nice to know.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:09PM
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I remember seeing Banana Republic ads in the backs of magazines, selling safari-kind of stuff. Sad when it got bought out and its identity was killed.

A strong visual for me wrt Steampunk is the design for the film The Golden Compass, even though it comes late in the history of the term.

This is a great, wide-ranging thread; thanks for starting it, pllog.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:18PM
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BTW, I meant my original comment as a quick aside, and didn't intend to derail this thread from the original discussion of how to judge whether a design has lasting merit or is only attractive due to it's being current. Thanks, plllog and others, for the interesting reading.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:26PM
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Oh, mnerg, no offense taken at all, I just remembered some details about BR from the paper I wrote and was passing them along. And the MBA comment was in jest, responding to something plllog said about MBAs ruining Western Civilization (exaggeration), which, of course, *some of us* have, others have used our powers for the good (wink).


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:41PM
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Circus Peanut

"The things that are becoming classics right now (in terms of new and durable design) are, imo, not typical residential pieces. I think functional, ergonomic seating pieces, and modular pieces like storage units and work stations that in production now are what are becoming classics. Aeron chairs, Freedom chairs, Chadwick chairs, --these are the kinds of things that are taking high tech materials and other technologies and turning them into something, much as happened with the formed fiberglas and plywood, and foam technologies that helped drive the modernist and MCM movements." ~ Pal

Of course, those are also the pieces (office furniture) that underwrote the initial modernist designs, as well. The Bauhaus was supported in part by large industrial concerns who saw the savings in modularity but still wanted high quality.
Having seen the prices my place of work is willing to pay for simple lab table from Steelcase or Herman Miller, it seems that the corporate world is where the real $$ in furniture production is (and it may also be the last bastion of interior furnishings manufacturing that is still at least partially located in the US).

In any case, that point brings up an important distinction for me in defining trendy vs classic: not only is a classic well-designed, it's well-made. Well-fabricated, high-quality materials, durable.

Recently, we have been on the hunt for a new foldout sofa/daybed, and have despaired of finding something new that is both aesthetically and functionally pleasing. I've decided to just go ahead and reupholster my old John Stuart teak daybed from the early '60's, since we just cannot find the same quality of springs anywhere. Not to mention that it's made of solid teak, and good luck finding a "real wood!" sofa today that isn't cheap dyed rubberwood. ugh.

For more $$ than I have, I could buy gorgeous bespoke pieces from Thos Moser et al, but what's frustrating is that all the lovely pieces I do have from the 1960's (yes, my home is filled with teak, avocado, mustard and burnt orange. wanna take it out back?) -- these pieces were actually made at a very reasonable price point for their era. That was the point: making good design accessible. Now such quality manufacture is rare -- and priced accordingly.

Not that I mind seeking out, maintaining and reupholstering vintage pieces (it's a soothing hobby), but I'm beginning to fear that this is the wooden window --> vinyl replacement window discursive shift, all over again. Are people really so allergic to the idea of "proper maintenance" that they will buy a series of flashy cheap sofas instead of one really nice piece that will last 50+ years if they just take care of it a little bit?

Restoration Hardware. Gah. It's marketing the putative upscale lifestyle, all right - but with a distinct locusty focus. Notice how their new fabrics are all linen and silk. Yes, those crushable, so easily rippable, stainable fabrics. "See?" that half-acre-of-trees-worth porn mag is saying, "I'm so rich I don't buy well-made furniture; instead I buy disposable furniture I can AFFORD to replace in just a few years." It's the same lack of social/ecological consciousness we found so galling in that odious Blog That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again.

And don't EVEN get me started on the abomination that is Design Within Reach.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:46PM
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Marcolo, I totally forgot about that British Imperialism trend! I used to look at that stuff and say I'd only consider using it if it came with "native bearers" or other even more offensive language for oppressed and enslaved populations, trying to shock the people dealing in it into recognizing the horrific images that crap conjured up. Most especially the Caribbean end of it which was presented with vignettes right out of the overseer's house in Jamaica, that made me think there had to be slaves working the sugar fields for the triangle trade just past the plantation shutters.

Interesting point on the economic influences... (con't later)

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 1:31PM
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I don't think they mean that it is Within Reach financially, I think they mean that they offer it directly to the public when, for a few previous decades, Knoll, Herman Miller etc. were available only to the trade.

I think the concept of durable life-cycle has gone so far by the wayside that it had to be reintroduced as part of "being green" and you can actually be rewarded for it (LEED credits, and all that) I am not criticizing this movement at all, just the fact that it used to be something called common sense. I also don't think that disposable goods are exclusive to the rich, just because they have the disposable income. I think that buy cheap, lay waste to, and continually discard--cuts across all classes and since I don't want to start another classist argument I won't mention where I think this type of behavior is most pervasive.

I think that reasonably *designed* items are available at lower prices than ever before, and this is what may lead to some of the waste. I am old enough to remember going into K-Mart, McCrory's, Woolworth's etc., and thinking that cheap also meant automatically hideous.

Now you can walk into K-Mart, Walmart, Target, and buy not only knock-offs of items designed by people like Sandy Chilewhich, but you can buy things purposely designed for that outlet by people like Thomas O'Brien, Karim Rashid and others who design for much higher price points as well. Is it well constructed? Some of it is fine. The furniture probably not so much. But almost anything taken care of, no matter how cheap it was, can last.

The problem is that some of these things are so inexpensive that people don't feel that they have to take care of them. If you spend $2.00 each for a knockoff of a Chilewhich placemat instead of $14 each (still no great expense) for the real thing "why not?" throw it out at the end of the summer? I know people who buy toaster ovens and microwaves and throw out the old ones *when *they *get *dirty.

Contrast this to my father (87) who had a fit when the 35 year old microwave had to be replaced, because "doesn't anybody make any gd thing that lasts anymore?" Not because he couldn't afford 100 new microwaves at the prices they are offered at now, but because things should last, iho.

Actually it goes to more extremes in that household: we tore the house apart looking for the bottle opener that my parents got in 1954 as a shower gift, because it was THE Bottle Opener. My friend the "one woman landfill" was visiting & offered to go to Walmart and "buy ten bottle openers" so we would stop "being so ridiculous" Of course we have had one bottle opener in the kitchen for 57 years, and she has probably had 100 and she still doesn't know where hers is---we do.

I think if you look at furniture, people paid more for furniture if they wanted something well-designed, per a percentage of their total income, than they do now. I might not be right about this, but if you factor in adjustments for inflation and income changes I wouldn't be surprised to find out that we are paying less now than our parents did.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 1:54PM
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This thread is the best.

I'm not sure about pal's estimate of percentage of income spent on furniture. It would be interesting to see the numbers. All I know is, I ended up recovering a couch and loveseat for this house even though it's not the ideal fit for the room--because the same couch I bought in 1995 for around one or two thousand (I forget) today costs more than $10K due to its construction. And I decided to get curtains because my mom always had them, having no idea how obscenely expensive they've become. (Remember that CEO with a $7K shower curtain? Yeah, well. That's normal.) Seems to me that to have a middle class lifestyle in America today, you have to be rich.

Anyway, I wanted to say something about plllog's original point. Obviously, what changes over time isn't the object, but how you see it. Some of those industrial '20s fixtures would've made even a flapper swoon if you actually brought them into a house, and no one who looked up at them in a factory thought they were attractive in any way. But the characteristics that were invisible to the original owners of old hardware or fixtures--like the chunkiness and detail and texture, which were common in all machine-made elements back then--make them highly novel and hip to us. The real challenge for plllog, and the rest of us, is looking at an object and deciding whether it says anything in addition to "new and popular," which are characteristics that will disappear, to see if there are other features that might (not will, just might) endure.

And as far as seeing things a different way goes, I really wish some designers would take a stab at reusing vintage pieces on a larger scale. Flea markets and cheap antique stores are full to the brim of old dishes and vases and ashtrays and glasses that aren't quite cool or different enough to stand on their own today, but are perfectly charming and well made. What they lack is rearrangement, a designer's eye to pair them up with each other, and with other design elements, so that we can see them saying something other than "gramma."

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 2:30PM
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Circus Peanut

"But almost anything taken care of, no matter how cheap it was, can last."

But this isn't actually true. My windows are a case in point: I am spending a lot of time fixing up old wooden sash to fit in the holes left by the vinyl replacements the PO put in -- they are only 6 years old, but the vinyl has cracked and the mechanisms decayed, rendering them both hideous and completely unfunctional (they don't open, they're all fogged up and they let water in, which all rather defeats the raison d'etre of a window).

The point is that there's no way to take care of them even if I wanted to take care of them: anticipated maintenance is not even built in as part of the manufacturing process. There are no replacement parts available, and once an insulated window fogs it cannot be restored. The wooden window sash I'm restoring are from a house even older than mine, and we fully expect them to last another 100 years. They were made to be maintained.

Viz. the many kitchen ranges these days which cannot function if the microchip breaks - and the microchip cannot be fixed, least of all by the owner. They must be exchanged out entirely for new ones, just like my windows. It's riotously bad -- and intentionally bad -- design that hurts not just the owner but the entire class of tradespeople who were historically trained to service these items and make a good living from doing so.

Thanks a lot, Thorstein Veblen.

Good question re. percentage of average monthly salary spent now and a generation or two ago for a basic living room set, for instance. Anyone know? Must. Research.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 2:40PM
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I sense the need for a new Arts and Crafts movement. From Wikipedia:

"It was largely a reaction against the impoverished state of the decorative arts and the conditions by which they were produced...It also included advocacy of economic and social reform and has been considered as essentially anti-industrial."

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about an Arts and Crafts revival (especially not one with RH glomming onto the aesthetic). I mean that I feel that we are experiencing a repeat, or at least an echo, of the commercial and social conditions that prompted the A&C movement. Eventually, I think that has to prompt a response in the design community. I'm talking about a return to craftsmanship and quality, and valuing the craftsman.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 2:44PM
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Circus Peanut

cawaps: Handicraft: yes. Don't you think that the current appeal of "steampunk" industrial -- P1llog's lamps -- or even the faux-human-upholstered RH linen bath chair, is largely due to the fact that these objects reveal the otherwise concealed existence of human hands? You can touch the knobs, fiddle with the knobs and buttons and turnwheels. And they're METAL. All metal and glass. Hand-formable elements. No plastic.

For a generation that grew up with the Easy Bake Oven turned into a seamless sleek pink microwave, how novel must that be?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 3:03PM
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Oops, I really should've put a caveat there about what I was talking about. Mechanical, cheap building materials, electronics, stuff like But some relatively cheap furnishings and goods can last if they are treated well--you can buy some of the case goods at IKEA or West Elm and not treat them either as if they are disposable, or as if they are indestructable, and they will last well enough. Anybody can ruin the upholstery on a $10K sofa or dining table as well as they can one from some discount house, but they are more likely to do so with the cheap stuff, because there are less consequences.

The thing about the windows though, is that I don't think something as relatively cheap in terms of price or in terms of construction quality used to be available. 100 years ago a wooden sash was a wooden sash and while there were differences in quality of some sort it wasn't the wide variation that is available today. I priced a window for my bathroom to replace one that was bricked up.

I priced everything from an an inswinging casement with a round spoked pattern set into a square to a square with a simple muntin pattern of 4 lites. Wood and exterior clad.
(I skipped the round operational pivot window knowing it would be astronomical)

$8000.00 - $1000.00.

Then I priced a vinyl window with standard between the glass muntins, and I could get one in this size for about $100.

That's a multiplier of 80X

of course some $100 POS is going to disintegrate, and I am sure that is what your previous homeowner put in, because he could REPLACE that POS 10 to 80 times for the price of a quality window. That's a pervasive mindset, and it is what drives much of he market.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 3:09PM
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circus--that's what I was going to say. Steampunk was the new Arts & Crafts movement of the new Gilded Age, until companies like RH showed up and threw it in the back of a dark van while it was walking down the street.

pal: Planned obsolescence. A cheap crap window is a recurring revenue stream. A good window may be sold only once. Those prices are set not by the actual costs to produce, but by a desire to shape consumer behavior.

That kind of pricing is what drives people into the arms of the malls. If you want something to last, buy handmade. Buy something no one else has. Translation: Spend a million bucks, unless you have a really keen eye for design. So, off the the mall, most middle class people go.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 3:29PM
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Spend some time at the BAH forum and you will see people building houses that I know have to be in the $700k and up range complete with fancy granites, lots of corbels and enough spray jets in the shower to clean even the stinkiest Lab (like mine), BUT, they have cheesy vinyl, grids-between-the-glass windows, which, to me, and IMO, detract *significantly* from the $$ value and aestetic value of the home.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 3:38PM
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Ack! I'm loving this discussion so much and it's sending my mind in so many interesting directions, and all I have time to reply on are the most concrete and unimportant of them. Sigh.

Palimpsest's analysis of how people buy windows, combined with the whole discussion of merchandising and sell through are the kinds of mindsets I was referring to when I talked about the MBA-ing of the decision process. It wasn't that MBA's are bad, either the degrees or the holders of them, but the maximize short term profits and live by statistics method which we used to call "Whartonizing". If you're a theoretical economist you know that clean air, good quality of life and job satisfaction for your workers, community participation and responsibility, pride of workmanship, satisfaction of serving customers by providing what they need, "goodwill" (a good corporate name), etc., etc., are all part of the reward for a company, but these things don't show up in tax accounting unless there are direct governmental monetary incentives, and quantifying them so that they can show up in a balance sheet is nigh on impossible.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 4:59PM
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palimpsest's example of the difference in price between a wood and vinyl window is a classic example of the fact that it is just not possible today without a gazillion dollars to try to recreate the quality of workmanship or materials that was possible in the past. I really wanted to try to create an "old world" feel in my house with trim work and I'm spending a small fortune for the trim I am getting and it is still not what I originally wanted, which was several rooms full of real raised panel. I brought up the idea of doing real raised paneling in some rooms with my builder and was essentially told that the price would be so astronomical that I shouldn't even bother to price it ($200-$400/sq ft or something like that). This must be why in 99.9 percent of pictures of trimwork I looked at online, you see "fake" wainscoting (the picture frame molding under chair rail with everything painted the same color as the trim). While that look is fine (although not what we ended up deciding to do), you just didn't see it in old houses where you see the real paneled walls. I don't know whether this has become so costly because overconsumption has driven materials to be more expensive or because it simply isn't done any more so you pay a premium to find someone who is willing to do it?

I also think marcolo's point about needing to be rich to live a middle class lifestyle today is very true, and is reflected in the fact that there are very few households nowadays where one person works and the other stays home. Unless you're lucky or willing to really sacrifice, you need two incomes to have the things that people a generation ago could afford with one. Of course, part of that I think also has to do with the fact that the idea of what you "need" to be middle class has changed due to changing technology. Even aside from the fact that every family has two cars now (minimum), there are so many things that didn't exist a generation ago that you "have" to have to be middle class (flat screen TV's, 1000 channels of satellite tv and dvr service, cell phones, ipods, a computer for every house). By the time you buy all these "necessities" who can afford to spend $8000 on a window and who can take the time away from the channel surfing and web browsing and the working to pay for it all to be bothered to maintain that window.

The pottery barn phenomenon discussed in this thread also reminds me of the Friends episode where Rachel bought the pottery barn apothecary table and other items and had to tell Phoebe that it came from a flea market because Phoebe hated the pottery barn aesthetic- and then Phoebe saw their entire living room in the pottery barn window and decided she had to have the lamp to complete the look. Once you start down the catalog path, it becomes so easy to get sucked in and it is so much less effort than spending the thousands of hours looking in flea markets and antique stores to achieve that eclectic and put together look naturally. And who has thousands of hours to devote to that when everyone is working to pay for their iPad and then watching their DVR when they get home. It also reminds me of a very entertaining website Catalog Living.

I am also amazed at what it costs to get a good quality sofa these days. We priced a Stickley sectional and the floor model was $12,000 during the 45% off sale. Is that really a reasonable price to pay for a couch to sit on and what choice do I have but to buy it unless I want the made-in-China version (which I don't). Even companies that were once OK-to-good brands (Ethan Allen, Henredon) are now outsourcing a lot of their production to China from what I am told and the quality has declined with the outsourcing and the need to be somewhat more competitive in pricing with the mass-produced cr*p. With an average income for a family of 4 around, what, $50,000, that would be almost 25 percent of an family's annual income for a couch. Plus, of course, no one wants to save up and delay gratification for things anymore, so the quality of furniture people buy is probably largely dependent upon how much they can qualify for in 36-month-no-interest-financing programs.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 6:16PM
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Fori is not pleased

I prefer to buy things that are already dated. Then I know how they will look when they're old hat. Also I can't tell if something is any good unless it's been beat up and tested before I buy it. :)

That RH book thing was an amazing thing. I can look through the worst catalogs out there (SkyMall? Harbor Freight ad?) and find something I might want. But that was just a string of ew ew ew. Okay I only flipped through it, and if there was a page of their cabinet hardware tucked inside, it would have been a nice break because it was just yucky blah things I would not want to see anywhere--certainly not in my home.

(I like their hardware assortment, mostly because it has some nice shapes that come in many sizes. Maybe they should get back to the roots they pretended to have when they named themselves (grammar police stop me now).)

But really, where are normal people supposed to get decent furniture? I had to replace my fat TV with a flat one due to the weird proportions of my TV room. But where am I to get a sensible piece of furniture upon which to set it? I really don't know where to find a reasonable selection of case goods appropriate for smaller homes. I can't be the only person forced to buy dead people's junk because I can't fit new furniture in my house.

Those lamps, Plllog? All I see is big. If I got a floor lamp with that big a footprint, where would I put the vacuum cleaner?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 6:35PM
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What a fascinating thread..

Wearing my MBA marketing hat, I recognize the whole stream of find a look, accesorize/expand to a theme, make it a cookie and send it along the cookie selling journey (cheaper low-cost country sourcing & production), catalog, product placement, showcase lifestyle).. eventually this loses steam after even lower cost replacements start appearing at target and walmart. There is a certain economy and standardization to this that is very much the essence of american/ perhaps western consumerism. Works for skinny jeans as well as beach/ cottagey look by pottery barn.

As a consumer, I loathe this "categorization of people".. I don't often belong and dammit I don't particularly want to. Especially for things that should have longevity.. I want something because I want it and like it in a personal way. I want it for a long time .. like rest of my life. My taste haven't perceptably changed. I still want the soapstone cookware and bronze spice jars from my grandmothers house.. I still want a swing. When you get into a project like remodeling that keeps trying to box you into "spanish mission revival" or "up-scale cottagey", it gets very peculiar and irritating. Like the KD I interviewed who felt that my love for Gaggenau or Miele suited a more modern european kitchen aesthetic and the farmhouse sink and soapstone don't quite belong. She should know that it would "clash".. as afterall her expansive portfolio of homes for silicon valley jackpot holders makes her more of an expert than me..

So I live in this conundrum --> market the cookies for livelihood and rebel against the magnetic pull of consumer categorization.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 7:15PM
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I think there has also been a transition in tastes where instead of a low-priced item looking functional and expressing itself through its materials, and being what it is--it's almost as if the cheaper it is the more faux riche it has to look.

Since we have talked a bit about building materials, I'll do another comparison:

Hollow core doors:

Flush birch veneer ~$35
Molded panel door ~ $35 "colonial" wood grain

Solid core:
Flush birch veneer ~ $100
Molded panel "colonial" ~$65

True panel colonial door in solid poplar or red oak: ~$200

Semi custom door from Simpson or Trustile ~$400

Full custom door ~ $1000

Most builders and consumers will pick the hollow "paneled" door rather than an honest solid slab door. Even though most hollow molded doors look no more like a solid wood door than I do.

When I was shopping with a client to find a wood replacement front door for his 1850 house, unless he wanted the fanlight style colonial revival door he already had, (and he didn't), it was MUCH cheaper to go with a full-blown "Victorian" design complete with beveled glass and brass caming, than it was for a plain, appropriate paneled door with a bit of glass at the top.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 7:26PM
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It's my understanding that DWR started out selling unlicensed replicas, hence their name, Design Within Reach. Once they started selling the real thing, or at least reproductions licensed by the estates of the designers, their designs became remarkably less within reach.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 7:52PM
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Back to the aubergine range...

I know many on the forums eschew design mags, but I love them and subscribe to 6 of them, to learn and, yes, to snark to myself at the bland sameness of many of the homes. I just finished looking at the September issue of HB (the "Art of Color" issue, chock o block with white rooms with splashes of color, sigh) and they had a kitchen that was truly colorful, complete with a pistachio Aga range, Delft tile and baby blue stained cabs. Pistachio is the owner's fav color and she designed the kitchen around it. The house is an upper midwest fishing cabin, and nothing like a loft with spectacular fenestration, but it says something about the owner and her fearlessness (something good IMO).

WRT the hollow panel door discussion, oh yeah, when we were building this house we were shown 2 styles of hollow doors and told to pick one. I said, "uhh, no thank you", and we sourced the doors from auctions, salvage places, garage sales, a dumpster (really), etc. Not a one matches (and neither does the hardware), and we don't care, they are all real wood and some are vintage, which gives a well used and loved vibe in our newish house.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 8:08PM
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IMHO it's really really simple. Anything designed to be contemporary to the time it was actually designed in will NEVER be dated or "out of style".

What I mean is a mid-century lamp designed in 1945 and made in 1945 will always be cool and in-style. It's dollar value may fluctuate based on trends and fashion but it's true to its era and is authentic.

A truly innovative lamp designed in 2011 reflecting the aesthetic of the time, the artist's intentions and the mood of our era will always be undeniably authentic, simply because it is.

However, all this 'Restoration Hardware / Pottery Barn' nonsense made overseas disguising itself as mid-century or 'antique' design will never be authentic, never hold its value, never be 'in-style' and should just plain be ignored and avoided.

If you want a rusty old looking lamp, buy a 70 year old rust old looking lamp. If you want a crystal chandelier, buy a proper lead-crystal high quality chandelier.

If it's authentic, it will never be dated.

That being said I know from experience buying true mid-century industrial pieces can be difficult and if you're in an urban center, the design shops have likely grabbed them all and are commanding big prices. So if you're stuck on a budget and happen to love the lamp you strolled past in the mall at Pottery Barn, well then buy it and toss it out 20 years from now.

Maybe it's that I grew up in a family run antique business, but I can't bring myself to buy any furniture that isn't 'original' or 'authentic'.

I mean really, Restoration Hardware selling $300 'Toledo' stools made overseas last week? Shoot - for $300 you can buy the real thing made 60 years ago and actually have an investment in your house vs. throw away crap.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 8:58PM
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First of all, thank you so much for an entertaining thread. I sort of needed that today! I'm laughing because my DH and I had many of the same thoughts when that catalog came. We decided that the guy (CEO?) on the front page summed it up pretty well. "Look at me. Look at my distressed jeans and leather jacket. They look like I've broken them in, putting in many hours of sweat and hard labor. But yet, my hair is still perfectly coiffed and my trim-fit cotton T is still white." In reality, it's all about appearances. They only LOOK like they're worn. Same goes with the quality. My husband was reminded of an old Texas saying...All hat and no cattle.
That said, I'll probably buy something from the store before my addition is done! lol

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 10:11PM
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Looking at the website is much less annoying than looking at the catalogue because you can look at the items individually on virtual cut sheets and bypass all the overblown self importance.

Tik Tok (and Dorothy)

Oompa Loompa

Gary Friedman

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 10:56PM
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Fori, you aren't the only person buying dead people's junk because you can't find furniture to fit in your home, and the biggest thing bothering me lately is that I can't find a decent piece of furniture for my tv. A few years ago, I went into a bit of a rant at a local furniture store and asked when they were going to figure out that people don't want outsized dining room furniture and bulbous sofas. They looked at me with disdain and said, "This is what people want." I'm satisfied to see that the furniture is starting to shrink, but it isn't shrinking fast enough.

On the subject of doors and windows, I'll say that it makes me sick when I see people pull out perfectly good wood framed windows and solid wood doors to replace them with "low maintenance" vinyl windows and doors. The vinyl (plastic? Plastic coated mdf?) doors really get me. They have wood grain imprinted on their glossy plastic surfaces and it only serves to make them look even faker. Sort of like the fake wood panelling from the 70s. Fake and ugly.

Rant over.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 12:09AM
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Marcolo said: But the characteristics that were invisible to the original owners of old hardware or fixtures--like the chunkiness and detail and texture, which were common in all machine-made elements back then--make them highly novel and hip to us. The real challenge for plllog, and the rest of us, is looking at an object and deciding whether it says anything in addition to "new and popular," which are characteristics that will disappear, to see if there are other features that might (not will, just might) endure.

That's exactly it. While the home itself is pricy (most people's houses cost less than this condo), and the client has money to spend furnishing it, it's not an indefinite amount. The whole thing could be done attractively enough in CB2, but there would be nothing unique about any of it, and it would all fall apart. It's likely enough that when marriage and children hit, a house in a suburb with a lawn and a pool and a commute will substitute for this urban loft, so there's an argument that she doesn't need investment quality furniture that's not going to work for her down the road. She's already bought into the lifestyle however, and she wants the interiors to be as dramatic as the setting, but she also wants to feel like it's hers and not her mother's or a designer's. This is the kind of consulting I do. I'm not going to shop out every item. I'm here to guide her in pulling things together to get the look she wants, which is Italian modern with neo-industrial accents, scaled to be a good setting for human beings while highlighting the drama of the space.

There are trade-offs. Italian kitchen with cool italian appliances? Or locally made, not as cool, save some money for the furniture. Cool rocking bed that humanizes an oversized room and is like sleeping in an art exhibit and can never work in a normal house and costs a bundle, or interesting plywood construction that looks cool but isn't intrinsically anything more than a stage set, costs little and is just a bed? Mazelike custom sofas that create a fantastic environment for parties and have nowhere to go but this particular space, or the weird Italian sectionals she loves the looks of, but kind of rankle her PB sensibilities (I don't know why she likes the very impractical maze I drew, but possibly it's because it's not a real thing, just an artistic notion...I have to be careful on the custom stuff to make sure she really understands what she's getting).

A lot of the lighting in this place will be installed. Ceiling and indirect fixtures that aren't really seen. There need to be some lamps that can be turned on individually, that are on a more human scale, however, and they have to be interesting without being statements. They also have to be in the least spendy part of the budget. That bottom one in my first message is still in the running.

The aubergine kitchen is a go. That's the cabinets, probably not a range.

Thank-you, Palimpsest. Your door example has cured me of whatever lingering guilt I may have over my own kitchen. :) I spent for the quality stuff, and at times have thought that it was silly (I do have a business head as well as an art head), but your list of all the crap that one could buy, and which I don't want just reinforces in me that I did the right thing.

Catching up with some scattered ideas up thread:

Sharonite, that Moooi chandelier is cool. I also think you made a wise call. :)

Alabammamommy, are you still reading this thread? Has the discussion helped? It's helping me figure out where to let what's trendy in, and where to draw the line. I'm also trying to pull together an overall concept so the place doesn't look like an art gallery.

Dianalo, I think you're right on about the pendants defining this era, especially the small ones. Those do have some of Palimpsest's new tech driving design to them, but there's also the very practical idea, where the trend probably started, that the pendants act as a visual barrier defining a wall space where a kitchen has been opened into the next room.

Steph2000, where do you see yourself going with your fixtures?

I'm with you on the cars! I can't stand that they're all varying colors of fog. The only excuse they have for the sameness is the wind tunnel, and I'll give them that. There is a particular shape that presents the least amount of face, which minimizes drag. I'm willing to give up the aesthetic differentiation for gasoline conservation. My problem is that this also leads to some ergonomic weirdness. I can't drive leaning back like a cool dude. I have to sit up straight. Finding a car with a windshield I can therefore see out of that fills the rest of my requirements is very hard and I really need a new one...

Writersblock, that's interesting about the birdcage stands. I hadn't seen those.

Bmore, I think aubergine might not have been manly enough for your guys. Guys don't like painted cabinets anyway, by and large, at least guy-guys who aren't interested in design but just like wood to be wood. Those kind of guys identify aubergine as "purple' and purple as second only to pink for being a girl's color. OTOH, I'll never forget reading about when Kate Jackson was on Charlie's Angels and the crew painted the race car she was supposed to drive around a track orange. She had a hiss and said she wasn't going to drive an orange car. The crew guy who chose it was bummed because he thought it was a really beautiful color. :)

Honorbiltkit, that's hysterical about the 1900's row houses and the pumpkin and green. :) I absolutely love Ndebele design, but can't imagine how it would go over in the neighborhood. :) People always comment on the purple house or the salmon house or the ocher house. My opinion is that CCRs are for the birds, and people have a right to paint their houses as they will, but I'm not so bold myself.

Biochem, I think the MCM knockoffs did try to flood the market awhile back, but people weren't buying. It started with people who couldn't afford new finding "dowdy" MCM furniture in second hand stores, and people buying brilliantly MCM houses and trying to restore them to their furnished to the walls intentions and doing the same. It was a trend. They tried to market it. They succeeded with some of the easy chairs. Less so with the case goods, though old MCM low credenzas did catch on as the best shape for under the new big widescreen flat TV. As the price of the latter came down, the credenzas started to be copied to go with them, and then morphed into standard furnishing with all kinds of different design details to fit into various schemes.

Mtnredux, what if the home itself if trendy? You're so right about the white backsplash with the bas relief fruit!

Blfenton, unfortunately, I think the loss of color in homes is probably here to stay, at least for a good long while. When Beau Brummel declared that a man needn't wear anything but simple black (or perhaps a dark blue) in the evening the edict became codified as The Way and is in effect today. The Do Your Own Thing-ness of the '70's brought us men's evening costumes with elaborate trims, tails and cummerbunds, in all kinds of absurd colors including sky blue and horse-pat brown. It was an aberation that passed very fast. Neutral decor fits a society that uses and dispenses with houses and furnishings regularly. It's the "anyone can imagine himself here" of it all.

Palimpsest, I think you're onto something with the office creations, and you've inspired me to look at office chairs for my kitchen. :)

Rosie, I meant to say earlier, this isn't a neighborhood, per se, being a true loft (converted industrial space). It also has location and square footage going for it. If the person eventually buying it doesn't like the aubergine they'll replace it. I just don't want the client to get sick of it. :)

...the commercial design industry, the one that creates looks for the purpose of putting them out of date as soon as they're sold Interesting example of this on Design Star last week. Real kid client. Asked for bunk beds and "locker room". Designer went to Pottery Barn. They don't sell that anymore. I don't know if it was the previous season's Pottery Barn Kids catalog that made the 7-8 year old boy say that was what he wanted, but he hated what the designer did (it was a crappy design anyway, but it was so wrong he was totally crushed).

Marcolo, another pity hit: RH's version of so-called steampunk looks like an embrace of decrepitude, as if the only way to respond to a nation in decline is to accessorize it. Thanks for that bon mot. It actually gave me a new direction to think this through in last night.

Mnerg, Re Banana Republic, they used to have this cool store with banana plants and an old Jeep in the front. Then one day I went in looking for a photographer's vest for a gift and all they had were yuppie clothes...

Flyleft, more visuals of current Steampunk are in the Syfy channel show Warehouse 13. And, of course, the TARDIS in the 11th Dr. Who.

Circuspeanut, When I moved here, I had my mother's old love seat and chair, which became mine in my "off campus" years, reupholstered. A designer friend had it done for me and she screwed up. She changed the arm and the skirt so that the proportions are off, and she let them remove the springs from the cushions so they're not comfortable any more. I'm still looking for someone who can restore the springs correctly. Be careful with your daybed.

Re the disposable furniture, I think that goes with our disposable houses. The old deal was your folks help you buy a family home when you're starting out and you live with bricks and boards shelves and repurposed crates for furniture until you can grow some money for the real thing. Then you furnish it once, and "redecorate" when things get worn by replacing some of the textiles. When the kids are long grown and you're old and feeble and can't deal with the big house any longer, you move into a retirement cottage and distribute your good tables, and other fine furniture to your kids and grandkids as needed. Back then, most rentals came furnished.

Fast forward a few decades and you have college kids who want trendy design instead of mom's castoffs buying the cheapest crap from IKEA which they sell to other college kids in a couple of years when they move for grad school or career. Where they feel they have to instantly have a home that establishes their identity, so they buy PB or RH or CB or CB2 or DWR or West Elm, and when they have to move again they sell it. And they keep moving. Instead of buying the house they want to live in forever and waiting to fix up the kitchen and buy the good furniture, they move. And leave their things behind. I don't get it. Guess that makes me a fogey. :)

Palimpsest, The Spotlight lamp is $1185 at Nieman Marcus (Horchow). That's $508.21 in 1982 dollars, or $162.20 in 1962 dollars, when the median family income was $6000. Median household income in 2009 was $49,777. That's 2.7% of 1962 income. In 1982 it was 2.52% of income. Now it's 2.38% of 2009 income. So the relative price is declining slightly, but not by much. That's easy to do on consumer goods. Harder to tell on custom design. You're so right that well designed consumer goods are far more available at a far lower price point than they used to be, but even somewhat pricy, moderately design consumer goods, like that lamp, aren't much of a comparative bargain. This doesn't answer the how much do people actually spend on furniture question because there are so many variables you'd have to do a very detailed study to come close to getting useful answers.

My perception, which is only from accumulated bits, not any true knowledge, is that adequate custom design and good manufacture used to be available across the country in the middle of the 20th century, and that better trained designers may now be available in more places, but that it's much harder finding sources for high quality custom manufacture.

I'm not sure I agree with you about taking care of poor quality things. I do have some old, vinyl and chipboard office supply store bookcases that have held up for over 25 years, but the shelves bowed long ago, and it's because I haven't found just the right thing to replace them with that I still have them. And I've seen what the IKEA $200 sofa looks like after a couple of years with no wrestling kids or pets or anything. They're just not made to last. My comfy,loss leader, leather sofa from 1990, however, is doing just fine with no babying. It was only cheap from being the loss leader, though. It's good quality merchandise. When a couple of big guys flop on it there are no boings or groans or splitting of the wood. And it still looks good, even if it has dated pillow arms.

LMAO, Peanut (Thanks a lot, Thorstein Veblen.

Cawaps, I think the new arts/crafts thing may well be happening, encompassing what Marcolo was saying, too, about what is just out there waiting to be reused. My own economic forecast, from the late '90's, was that big box type stores and chain outlets would take over the local sales of indistinguishable goods like toothpaste and tires. There would be limited selection in brands and types, but they'd have the mass sell through for those who aren't too picky. At the same time, other bricks and mortar stores would become more market responsive and would specialize in the unique, or focus on variety. The rest would be available online. That's when I got out of trade. And it seems to be coming true. There are a lot more individual vendors of unique things than there used to be, and many of them are specializing in artisanship, small production and other interesting stuff. Most of the home furnishings, however, because there's still the economic reality of sales that smaller is easier to sell, aren't built on the scale I need right now. :)

Beagles, one of the reasons it's impossible to get the kind of panelling you were looking for, for a decent price is that there aren't the trees. They deforested a couple of continents to make those grand old houses. Within the last decade I saw a magazine layout, probably in Architectural Digest, but I'm not sure, of an exquisite room done by a master carpenter, entirely out of wood. Maybe mahogany. I just remember it was red. It was exquisite. The kind of thing you'd swoon for. The secret was the carpenter had come into a cache of old wood and had saved it for this one master project.

Re the middle class acoutrements, I do know people who make it on a single income without succumbing to consumerism. They just have one computer, not one for every family member, and one video player and one TV rather than one for every family member, and cell phones that are phones not mobile data devices. These type of people read library books, take walks, go to free concerts, and civic events, and eat at home. That way they do have money for tickets and meals out sometimes and make an occasion of it. And probably enjoy it more becasue of that. They camp and see the country rather than flying to far points of the world, but they have satisfying and fun vacations. They don't redecorate a lot and are careful with their purchases. But to a one, I don't think any of them buy furniture from any of the chains we're talking about. :)

Beagles, be the sofa, look into custom. You can get measured to fit, bespoke here for less than that...

Fori and Mcmjilly, I feel your pain about the small furniture. Maybe something that's meant to be a bedside chest could be adapted for the TV? Hinge some drawer fronts and replace the back with something that breathes and has holes for the cords? Re the lamps, I need big. Everything in the RH book was oversized for most folks' homes, which makes it a shame that the stuff is so awful, becasue I need big! So...who is going to buy all this BIG furniture? The market segment it's aimed at don't have big enough places, and the seven figures home owners don't buy ugly!

Lalitha, that KD was unbelievable! Appliances are appliances. This isn't Disneyland. Show her the Louvre (the courtyard with the pyramid) and tell her you want a French style upscale cottage. If the KD can't figure out how to develop a context for Gaggenau, soapstone and farmhouse sink together that makes good design sense, she just doesn't have the depth of imagination to be useful to you.'re saying you market the Kool-Aid but refuse to drink it? :D

Wolfgang, didn't they get sued? DWR for the knockoffs?

Tim, I totally get your bent toward the authentic and original. I do sometimes like the referential if it's well done. Most of it is just ghastly. But I could disagree with If it's authentic, it will never be dated. If things are the authentic icons of their eras of generation, they do become dated. If they're well designed they may eventually become classic or at least retro or cool, but it's not guaranteed. And if they're poorly designed they can just become ick. Possibly well made ick. But ick.

LOL!!! Burnsie, that's it! All hat and no cattle exactly describes the current worn look.

So, Pal, Gary Friedman is as orange as an Oompa Loompa? Spray tan, ya think?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 12:24AM
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Sorry for mental core dump. I had to get all that out so I could process the whole thread, but kind of hit "submit" before editing... :(

So, I just thought of something. I have a client (I've finally succumbed to the word "client" for my consultees) who has three four kinds of seating (large house). One of them is a second hand vinyl "leather" box chair which was second hand decades ago. He is loath to be rid of it, and it looks good in his study. It's even pretty comfortable. In the LR he has a good quality sofa and chair, made to order but out of the manufacturer's book, though I can't remember if it was the manufacturer's fabric or if we bought it. He also has a couple of small upholstered chairs from Crate & Barrel, who have a custom order sale once a year, which meant being able to get both in the same fabric without overpaying. The quality is okay, though not stellar, the fabric is durable enough but not indestructible. No one ever sits in them anyway if there's another seat open, though they're comfortable enough.

The couch and chair in the TV room, however, are bespoke custom tailored. He lives on them. Reads the paper, watches TV, naps, listens to music, etc. Guests get the manufactured LR furniture. :) Part of the custom of the custom furniture is that he doesn't like cushions with springs so has dense foam, and, because he naps on the couch he wants it to be soft and cozy and insists on chenille. That means every five to seven years it gets recovered when the cushions have compressed flat and the chenille has worn through.

So. There you have the rich guy who keeps his old junk well, buys the mid-range consumer goods for "decor", and gets just what he wants, including the "disposable" impractical fabric and stuffing, for his own pleasure. He's fine with replacing the chenille and foam instead of subjecting his tender self to the rigors of something durable, but he'll have the actual sofa and chair, frames, springs and all, for the rest of his life.

He'll probably have the rest of them forever too. I just wish I could convince him to have the stools that came with the kitchen redone, at least the fabric if not the finish. They're comfy but ugly and stained.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:24AM
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Love all the thought-provoking idea here. Stretching my aesthetically challenged sensibilities, and that is good.

plllog: Small point to clarify here. Kudos for taking the time/trouble to calculate inflated dollars and median incomes, but your example does not do what you intend it to do. It does not tell us whether people spent a larger fraction of their income on furniture previously or not, as Pal wondered. Rather, it just tells us whether median wages have kept up with inflation or not. (Your numbers say that the median income has slightly outpaced whatever values you found for inflation.) After all, the $1185 in today's dollars you cite could have been spent on furniture, or dog food, or art, or spa treatments, but your numbers would not have changed.

Thanks for a fascinating thread.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:11AM
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Angie, worry not, I did what I intended to do. What I was trying to show was the amount the relative price vs. purchasing power had changed. At the end of that paragraph I specifically said that it didn't address Palimpsest's question. The easiest way to show buying power in adjusted dollars is to compare to percentage of actual median income.

So for a more concrete example from my trove of ancient catalogs: A two quart round Le Creuset "French" dutch oven list price $100 at Bloomingdale's in 1994--that's .31% of median annual income for that year. Currently, the same pot is on for $175. Since I don't have a projected number for 2011, but I found a reference which I think says the list price was the same two years ago, in 2009 the pot would be .35% of income in that year. Today's $175 is $116.41 in 1994 dollars, meaning the list price showing that the list price really has gone up in a more direct way.

BTW, I also have a Pottery Barn catalog from Spring of 1994. If you don't look too closely at the exact colors and motifs, the items aren't a lot different from what's being offered today, though the styling is. OTOH, the Bloomingdale's Home catalog is positively dowdy! They even make the Le Creuset look dated, and that's an enduring classic (okay, part of that is the prominent saffron color). There are also three pages of clothes, one of which looks more or less current (and contains a dress I actually owned), and two pages are hopelessly dated. I wish I knew what I thought of that Bloomie's catalog at the time other than "good for paper beads". I haven't owned anything like most of what's in it, but it's from a year when I didn't have a lot to spend so that might just be that I missed it all. Except the dress, but I think I got that on clearance. :)

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:48AM
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When I bought my first home a little over 10years ago, I "invested" in what I thought was classic, timeless furniture. Cherry, mahogany, Stickley, Kindel. It cost a small fortune. I figured I would never buy furniture again.
Fast forward, we moved from our 1904 brick Georgian to a rambling connecticut farmhouse estate. All of our old stuff is too formal.

I talked to a dealer, and she told me that they call all of my stuff "brown wood" and right now no one wants it. Maybe it is worth 30% of what I paid, but it would not be easy to sell.

I know really question what kind of furniture I should buy. Should I recognize that it is fashion, and buy something I wont agonize over changing ever five years? Or always buy quality and take the hit when it becomes dated?

I will I don't think I will ever again buy high end new case goods. It seems to me that used and antique pieces are a better value.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 9:42AM
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I've found this thread fascinating, and it's given me some things to think about. I don't know enough about design to comment on a lot of it, but here are some ideas that come to me from other perspectives.

Do you think there's a bias toward things that photograph well, even if they don't feel good when you're occupying space with them? I need to think this through a bit, and I'm not sure I know enough about photography to say what would photograph well or not to draw a conclusion.

From my perspective as someone who has a passionate interest in a handcraft, namely knitting, prices may have to be high for handcrafted goods to convince people of their value. I had a friend who knit exquisite toys, and said people had suggested she sell them, but she'd have to charge at least $25 just for the mouse, and no one would pay that much. I said, no, but there are boutiques where people would pay $75 for them. Lots of people believe that handcrafted is inherently inferior, and people would only make things by hand, or with minimal machine aid, to save money. Of course materials and time are more expensive with good quality handcrafted items, but the prices have to be much higher still to convince some people that they're as good as mass produced.

On the subject of proportion of income that goes to various types of things, the blogger Yglesias has written about this. He's a progressive political blogger, so if that will raise your blood pressure you may not want to look up his posts. Food has come down as a percentage of income over the last century. Many electronics just aren't available in a form that would cost much as a percentage of a rich person's income, so the money has to go to other things. For example, you can't buy a $5000 IPad. You can, however, buy a $5000 Ipad cover. Recently, he said one of the areas where rich people spend a much higher proportion of their income is rugs.

I'd love to see the kitchen with the pistachio Aga. It sounds lovely.

And now I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I'm going to DWR tomorrow to look at the Nelson pendant lamps, because they look nice on paper and I want to see how they make me feel when I see them for real.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 9:50AM
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It's not that the furniture you have has become d----, it's that your lifestyle, or at least your house, has changed. My gut would be to keep the furniture that you like best whether it is "too formal" technically, or not. You may not use all of it, you may not use it in the same way, but I don't think it is necessary to get rid of it.

I have disposed of things as my tastes have changed, or at least when what I liked the most became more accessible to me, but that change probably happened mostly in my early 30s. But I won't get rid of a perfectly good piece of furniture that I like (especially if it's not salable) just because it doesn't "go". So, in this house I have a round Stickley Dining table in one of the bedrooms because it didn't look right in the large Greek Revival living area. In the bedroom, it is a library/office table with books and a lamp on it. In the next house it will probably become the dining table again, even though that house is a 1963 brutalist. In some ways Stickley was a brutalist of his day, stripping superfluous ornament from his pieces and allowing structure to be exposed. (Or at least if I *think* of it that way, I will be able to let it work).

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 10:35AM
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True, if I hadn't moved into a totally different home, I wouldn't think twice about my furniture.

But that doesn't change the statement "nobody wants brown wood", meaning it is dated ...

PS I did take all the leaves our of my dr table and repurpose it In my entry hall. I knocked it down a bit by putting it on a kilim and tablescaping it with old books and a decrepit urn. But that still leaves 12 chairs secreted through the house .... I do try to repurpose but I have learned that you also have to be brutally honest and say .... Would I use that there if I didn't already own it?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 12:38PM
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Fori is not pleased

MCMJilly, I ended up with this under my TV. It cleaned up nicely. Solid wood paired with bookmatched veneers and now I have a reason to unpack my LPs.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 12:53PM
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Everything, unless it is already a recognized classic (which includes very little manufacturer furniture of the last couple of decades)--is essentially "used furniture" for a decade or so after it is produced, almost no matter what it is.

But I would be really surprised if you looked in the Stickley and Kindel catalogues and didn't find the same furniture for sale now as when you bought your furniture 10 years ago.

There was a thread a few weeks ago where someone found a double pedestal table that was about 25-30 years old, and wondered if $X00 was too much to pay for it. I believe it was Kindel, and I went on the website, and with some minor changes to allow for the decade in which the table was built, they still made it. --The 1980s table was a bit plainer, coming out of a 1970s traditional esthetic, and the current table was more blingy, more high-Federal. The table listed at $9000. I know no one pays list, but my point is, that no one wants to pay even close to 50% for something that is still made, if it is a few years old. There are people who think everything used should be cheap, there are people who would rather pay $9000 (or whatever) new, and there are only a small group of people who would pay a moderately high price for used fine furniture because they recognize what it is and don't care that someone else used it first.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:01PM
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I agree with Palimpsest. Mtnrdredux, I get your repurposing of the dining table, but I would put it in the dining room. I do not at all get why it doesn't go in a rambling farmhouse. If you want to dress it down in the dining room, try a print tablecloth and canvas chair covers.

If it were a real farm you wouldn't waste fine things. Have you read Cathy's thread about her Summer kitchen? Where she does her canning? Almost everything is repurposed and scrounged. On a real farm, if Aunt Ettie May left you heavily carved Black Forest hideous, heavy and extremely ugly dining room suite, and you didn't have dining room furniture, you'd repurpose the whole suite as dining room furniture.

Frankly, however, I don't find Stickly all that formal. It's a look that can be set formal or casual as you will. If it's really more Federal, that's fine, because there's no more iconically Federal house than a Georgian.

Oh, dear! I hope that doesn't sound like a harangue! If you're not comfortable with your old furniture, you're not. I just wish you'd reassess it because I wouldn't give up quality for looks.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:40PM
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The facts about the double pedestal sound so similar to my table that I am wondering if you are muddling posts? I bought a double pedestal DR table from Kindle about 11 years ago. I think I paid about 10K, but I'm not sure (I try to block unpleasantries!). I looked it up online and they still have the very same table. List is now 17,700, which I assume no one pays. But the dealer tells me all "brown wood" is a hard sell and I would be lucky to get 30% of what i paid, ie 3000.

I can appreciate that, when you can get 25% off without even asking, and you are in the awkward stage of used but still being made, a big discount is in order.

All I am saying is that this experience has been instructive to me. If we admit that furnishings are almost as mercurial as fashion, and that, like fashion, your own tastes and needs change, too, then you need to really think whether buying the best quality is always sound.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:47PM
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This is a wonderful thread. Thanks, everyone.

mtnrd, first, you have to agree with the statement, which I don't, and second, it's dated only until it comes back into fashion again.

This "in fashion" and "out of fashion" business -- and it is just business -- and fashion/trend vs. style, is what moves catalogues and sells merchandise, especially nowadays. It's what keeps RH trolling for the next big (in their case, REALLY big) thing, whether it's Belgian gray/steampunk/industrial or some sort of even unholier hybrid. How long will it be before the dealers are saddled with Belgian/Scandinavian "gray stuff", a la Chateau Domingue (and the ubiquitous Kooboo chairs and Mora clocks), no wants, and then I suppose everyone will want the next big thing. Back to brown, most likely.

Most of my furniture is "brown stuff" -- especially Kittinger and Henckel Harris from my parents, which they bought new in the early sixties -- with a few antiques and vintage pieces thrown in. But I tend to go with what I love/like and tend to pass on trends. Easier on the psyche, stomach, and wallet that way.

And thank goodness, because I understand the latest big trend in clothing is green pants, and I am NOT participating in that either.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:49PM
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mtnrdredux I still would like to buy furniture from you if you are looking to sell.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:10PM
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Fori is not pleased

What color is wood supposed to be if not brown?

(Slightly off topic, not that I was ever on topic here, but I just got the RH "baby and kids" catalog. Those sad depressed looking little grey children in their somber grey rooms that would be overly frilly if they weren't so dour! You just feel that those kids were orphaned by cholera. Even their pinks are gloomy.)

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:19PM
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I think the statement that no one wants brown wood furniture is ludicrous. How much more obviously self serving can that be for a salesperson who does not sell it?

Becky - I love green pants. I'd wear them whether in our out of trendy. Green looks good on me, and I wear it in many incarnations. I don't look good in yellow, red or orange, so I don't wear them no matter if they are in or out. Now, I would not wear harem pants even if they are back in style and green, lol....

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:25PM
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If brown furniture is out of style, then what color is "in"? Black? Grey? White? Is it a certain shade of brown that is out of style?

Fori, I love your tv stand.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:35PM
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The quote "no one wants brown wood" was a little off handed. This was a friend of a friend who does estate sales. She wasn't trying to do business with me, I have a lot but not enough for an estate sale.

A more nuanced statement might be: this traditional mahogany and cherry stuff is out of style in this area and a lot of folks selling or downsizing are trying to get rid of it, but most of the demand from people buying used furniture is for real antiques or for MCM. As a result, you can lose more than 70% of what you paid in just 10 years ...

Green pants? There are a lot of greens...

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:38PM
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I don't think furniture is mercurial at all, but people seem to be getting more mercurial about it.

There is not a piece of furniture from my parents house that I would not gladly take and use, except for perhaps my sister's 1969 ivory and gold "provincial" bedroom set, because it is so obviously girly. Fabrics can change, Combinations can change in terms of how things are put together, but I don't think a lot of furniture changes unless you buy at the top of every trend and buy it all at one time. And I don't think that Kindel, and Stickley or even Baker is know for trend setting. Henredon, well that has turned into a mixed bag and my feeling is that some of their stuff is not going to age that well because not many people are furnishing castles...but I digress.

The thread that I am thinking of is someone who found a table on Craigslist but was not familiar with the name, and did not know if the seller was pulling her leg when he told her that the table even used, should be going for much more than several hundred dollars. I don't remember now if it was Kindel but I do remember that the 2011 version of this table went for $9K

I think what you have to start doing is looking at life cycle. Not the life cycle that should be, but the life cycle that is realistic for you. Since my mother died I have been going through some things and found all the receipts, hangtags and swatches for the LR furniture, and their LR sofa started out at something like $1500 in 1969 and they paid $1100 when it went on sale. That was a LOT of money for a sofa in 1969, considering that they bought a car at the time for about $2000. So lets say that sofa would cost $15,000 now.

The sofa was reupholstered once and that was probably close to $1000 given fabric and labor. So lets say $2000 went into this sofa

in 2011 dollars, This sofa has cost them $47.60 a year.
I don't know what it cost them in 1969 dollars, but whatever it was it is a heck of a lot less than someone who buys a $1000 sofa every five years in 2001 2006, and 2011 dollars.

Although you can't buy this exact sofa 42 years later, you can buy one that looks an awful lot like it, even though its not a trendy sofa, but it wasn't then, either.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:51PM
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Long time lurker, I rarely post, but this one brought me out of hiding. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the best threads I've seen on here in ages. I have learned so much from everyone, and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for the stimulating conversation.

As a side note, all I have is "brown" furniture. Nearly everything I have is furniture that has been passed down through the ages. Most of it is several generations old. Since I don't know squat about furniture, some of it may be antiques (meaning valuable, I guess), and some of it may just be really old but still quite useful. I keep all the pieces because they all seem to be so solidly made.

Heaven only knows what my house must look like to folks like you with a trained eye. The only common theme is that it's all old but sturdy as a tank.

Occasionally I look at something new, in the stores, and I just can't believe the poor construction of most current "wood" furniture. My house may not match and the wood colors/grains/species may be out of current favor - but I can tell you nothing will fall apart. Most everything I have will outlast me.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:02PM
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"How much more obviously self serving can that be for a salesperson who does not sell it?"

It occurs to me that that would be a good way for a salesperson to obtain said brown stuff from a desperate seller for cheap. Only to turn around and tell the next person in line, "Oh, brown stuff is where it's at", with a correspondingly higher price tag.

"Becky - I love green pants. I'd wear them whether in our out of trendy. Green looks good on me, and I wear it in many incarnations. I don't look good in yellow, red or orange, so I don't wear them no matter if they are in or out."

Dianalo, that's just it. I look lousy in green, and wouldn't wear it in style or not. I buy for myself and my house what suits *me*, although I realize that approach gives merchandisers fits...


    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:13PM
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A specific question.. Plllog started of this thread with "Recently, I've become very aware of lamps"... DH and I seem to be liking some of the weighted pendants we have seen. Do these really work (go up and down). Do you think they are a trend? Any particular ones that would look nice over a sink or maybe an island? Are some better than others --> How do you recognise a "looks and works good" one from something that only "looks good"

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 3:49PM
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They should work, yes, if you are talking about the pulley type fixtures. This is the type of fixture I would probably want to test drive myself even though I am pretty fearless about ordering from catalogs.

They are currently a trend although the height-changeable pendant shade was popular in the 1950s and 1960s in a slightly different form. The current ones are based on historical functional/industrial lighting from earlier in the 20th century

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:16PM
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plllog - There's a limited population that a "purple" kitchen works for and your client is there so I'm so glad she's set on it.

lalitha - The lights you describe are based on an old style so wouldn't get dated quickly. To get more details, start a new thread so those who have them can see it and respond.

beckysharp - Love your take on what's currently "in" with certain bloggers. White slipcovers work for them but not for me and I've wondered how long until that look is "out" again.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:16PM
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I do think pulley fixtures are trendy, but I like them anyway! I bought mine, which I use for bedside reading wall lamps, from an online place called Loblolly. I love the infinite flexibility for bedtime reading.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:25PM
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I'm not thinking that its some dealer conspericy to obtain brown furnature cheap.

I dislike the formal "brown" furnature, sorry, not my thing, its way too formal, queen anne legs and all.

I'm one of those young people who has some peices from Ikea, Pottery barn, raymore and flanigans and some second hand stuff.

I'm kind of in the middle here, and I don't really know which end is right....

I want something nicer than ikea, I don't want to spend 9000 for a table or a couch, it doesn't seem worth it. With the cost of everything from housing to gas, to utilities and gadgets, it doesn't seem worth it. The middle seems almost gone. EIther your sitting in the Macy's Raymore and Flannigan camp with disposable furnature, or you're spending many thousands of dollars on something. Where is the middle ground between the $800 couch and the 6K-12K couch, my understanding is, it isn't at pottery barn or macys, they are basically the $800 couch.

I really don't mean any offense by this, but I don't think its that people don't like hand me downs, or second hand furnature, its somewhat the way we have lived has changed, everyone with a formal dining set take note, I don't want it, and you may not either at some point. My table i bought on craigslist for $850 (a lot for craigslist) its a farm table with 6 chairs, it fits the space and formality of my dining, yes it is brown and its probably 20 years old.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:27PM
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Lalitha, I absolutely agree with what Steff and Palimpsest on the lights. Since you asked about trends, however, yes, they were really big about five years ago. Still available, but on the downslope. I'm assuming you're talking about the kind with visible pulleys and acorn counterweights. There are also very sleek, modern ones that operate on the same principles, with sleek, modern bar shaped counterweights.

Some do really work. Some really move but don't have well designed mechanisms. Some are crappy knock offs and aren't made with functional pulley mechanisms at all but just the look. You have to check them out in person, and even then I'd closely quiz the help, after befriending them, to make sure that the store's handy man didn't fix them and make them work better than the way they came.

Getting the balance right so that the mechanism runs cleanly and it is as happy to be stopped at one height as another is tricky. A lot of them are meant to get the height right once, place a stop, and leave them that way. The very best can be raised or lowered at will because they're balanced just right.

I know someone who used them in the corner of a great room type space where his drafting table sits. He actually changes the height as projects vary, and that's what he bought them for. His have double counterweights.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:48PM
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I think a lot of people feel the way you do. That is why I do think furniture has more in common with fashion then the people selling it want us to believe when they are selling it.

When I think of things I have bought in my new home, nothing was new and nothing was brown.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 4:49PM
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talk about disposable - this is the scene in front of our rental property today - near BU. You could furnish a small city with the stuff the kids throw out - AND a lot of it still works from vacuums to microwaves to lamps to TVs. Tons of bedding, clothes, mattresses, pillows... I try to get them to recycle - they can't be bothered!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 5:30PM
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Why don't people bother to recycle? This week for "big trash pickup day", I saw a sofa, a book shelf, a storage cabinet, a child's bicycle, and lots of other good stuff on the curb. I'm pretty sure all of it would have been welcome at Goodwill. The concept of "disposable furniture" wouldn't bother me as much if people donated their old furniture once they tired of the color or style.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 5:54PM
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About the idea that "no one wants" brown furniture or formal dining sets: Drivel. They still sell them, and still sell them in a range of prices up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, someone wants them. In fact, lots of people with money want them.

So why say no one wants t hem? Here's something about modern American life that people keep forgetting: Almost all public speech today is commercial speech. If you've heard it on the news, seen it online, or heard it "on the street," chances are, someone originally said it so they could make a buck.

So it isn't that no one wants to buy used Baker furniture. I've seen it in plenty of upscale consignment galleries, still selling in the thousands. It even sells for a lot on eBay. The issue is simply that your estate sale friend sells to a particular market niche that doesn't want it. She can't make a buck off of it, so that's all she cares about. I'm sure she never spent ten seconds of her time checking around locally or online to see if anybody else can sell it; she can't, so she just doesn't care.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 7:21PM
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I agree that if "no one wanted" this formal furniture, no one would be making it, and companies like Henkel Harris, Kindel, and Stickley would be out of business. There is always a market for this furniture, and its not the market where people look at furniture the same way they look the shape of the heel of a shoe this season. The used market for it may be a bit different because not everybody who wants a formal table is that familiar with the used or consignment market. Upscale consignment shops are not all that common in some areas. (my mother got rid of a couple decades worth of semi formal and full ensemble-type outfits a few years back, and it was hard to find someone in the area to take them for free who would not bundle them up in garbage bags and ship them off to some processing center somewhere--if she lived here she could've consigned it on a regular basis)

As for the furniture on the street, unfortunately its cheaper to dispose of this stuff than store it or transport it, and when I tried to get rid of some solid but unremarkable furniture (for free) I got a spiel from a couple places: "no IKEA, no knockdown, no home painted furniture, no, no no". I finally gave a piece to a place in the neighborhood whose politics and mission statement I disagree with simply because they were the only people who would come and take it away. CL helps, but sometimes putting something out on the sidewalk and hoping for the best is all you can do.

A neighbor of mine works for corporate meetings and events and regularly comes home with packs of computer paper, pens, note books, PRINTERS, FAX MACHINES, and things like this that companies purchase for a meeting or event and leave behind for the trash because it is cheaper to buy it and junk it after even a day, than it is to transport it back and forth. Its really a shame.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 7:44PM
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I'll scan a pic of that pistachio Aga kitchen and post tomorrow, it is pretty cool.

WRT the pulley pendant lights, we have one and it's from....RH (hanging head in shame). It is operational and I like the kinda, sorta retro look. I looked all over for a vintage one, and couldn't find one that wasn't all faux colonial, complete with mustard yellow metal shade with black wheat stenciled on it (that I'm pretty sure came straight from S&H Green Stamps). We got the RH one during their 30% off lighting sale, so it wasn't bad. The color is great, the workmanship pretty good, you would not mistake it for a vintage piece up close, but I really wanted one of these lights, it reminds my of my family's camp when I was a kid and I'm trying to evoke a little of that vibe in my kitchen.

It's over a stainless table, competing with 3 modern/contemporary (I never know which is which) pendants, a vintage brass chandelier and two other 3 armed pentants over the sink that are decidedly unvintage, but which I painted to look vintage.

Winter pic (sorry!):

You can see 3 of the lights here:

Close up of the RH fixture:


    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 7:48PM
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Just got here and had to pipe in on what a travesty RH has become, and what a shame. I used to really like their stuff-- and my entire bathroom is straight out of the catalog (Gramercy suite) ---it just works in my house. RH really did the world a service -- they looked at some of the stuff that was untouchably expensive, by, for example, Urban Archaeology, and they offered knock offs that were certainly not as good quality, but decent, that you might actually afford. My two Keller sconces were about $120 each if I remember. They're decent. It's all made in China. But they're OK and the design is a pretty good copy of sconces offered by UA at about 5 times the price. RH also takes good care of you if you find the right person. I have had no complaints at all.

But now! The whole thing is turning into Gary Friedman's wet dream that he is Ralph Lauren incarnate. I mean, look at the get up -- if that isn't a Ralph Lauren wannabe I don't know what is. I cannot believe he doesn't perceive how all this comes across.

I still like some of their stuff. Recently bough the Toledo barstool and a bunch of hardware for the kitchen. Couldn't help it -- looked everywhere and this was what worked. But now I have to buy it in spite of the whole marketing vibe. It is so off-putting. And now RH is almost no more about hardware than BR is about bananas. That bozo keeps talking about striking out in a new and original direction but they have forgotten their compass and lost their way.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 10:08PM
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Sandyponder - Great lights and great pics to show them in a real kitchen. I really like them, but they didn't fit in my kitchen.

Modern/Contemporary - Contemporary was used in the 1970's to mean current style and not modern from the early 20th Century or MCM style. It's confusing since we are long past the '70's and what is contemporary now isn't '70's style. You can use it in context to mean current style but it's tricky.

Just because the current RH catalog is depressing doesn't mean we don't want their stuff! I have several things from them and am very close to ordering RH outdoor lighting. Also have some PB items too though I passed up the wine bottle chandelier.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 10:10PM
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Fori is not pleased

I miss PB's apothecary table.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 10:27PM
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I agree with folks above that kitchen pendants are a fad ... still, they'll be easy to remove when you get bored with them. They're kitchen jewelry, like fancy backsplashes.

Re furniture the good news is that functional furniture is cheap if not free -- I think I furnished my first apartment with what BU students were throwing out. And there really is a lot more variety at different price points than there was before the internet era. Perhaps people have forgotten how depressing furniture shopping was 20 years ago.

Look for interesting antique stores -- with cheap container shipping, there are businesses opening up moving all kinds of stuff from parts of the world where is has lower value. Britain, the Baltic states, Indonesia ... it's one way to get away from the catalogs.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 11:24PM
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Hm. Colin, I actually thought furniture shopping was a lot easier 20 years ago, but I had the design district in L.A. to shop in, so I guess that doesn't say anything to the rest of the country. Nowadays, there's so much standardization and submission to chains, and so little is made locally anymore, that it's kind of a nightmare.

Fori said: Those sad depressed looking little grey children in their somber grey rooms that would be overly frilly if they weren't so dour! You just feel that those kids were orphaned by cholera. Even their pinks are gloomy. That made me go look up the RH kids collection since I haven't gotten the book yet. OMG!!! PERFECT description. Just what you want for your baby. A desaturated, monotone room that convinces the child there is no joy in the world. That the furnishings are the color of spit-up and therefore easy to keep looking new is beside the point. How a California company can put out those rooms with the chandeliers over the cribs and the mirrors over the beds, I don't know. How to clobber, impale and lacerate your child all at once in an earthquake. Or just if the hook comes loose. BAD mommy!!

What both collections show is a design aesthetic that's supposed to look like a faded photograph from the '30's. A badly kept one. They do this in period movies to give a sense of time, even though the period between the world wars was full of all kinds of color. Real life, current life, the life we want to live, however, is not faded and foxed. Who wants furniture the color of cheap paper with too high acid content? These desaturated beiges and grays make buff look joyful and lively.

Re "contemporary", Steff's right, but since there's nothing that's really now, just different versions of retro (discounting Palimpsest's office observations), it's hard to know exactly what that is. "Modern" in current usage doesn't have to mean Modernism or Mid-Century Modern specifically, but is often used to cover anything that follows the Modern aesthetic, even if it's something new. Which makes the whole thing very difficult.

The only really new, contemporary design I've seen being displayed to the masses is what Bob and Courtnay Novogratz are doing. They're incorporating a lot of what's currently happening in art into their spaces, often with a street art or graffiti vibe, or a repetition such as you might see on a construction barrier. They also use a lot of old items and edgy new items together, as well as cheap and haute. It's very eclectic, very current, and I couldn't live with most of it. They really are using today's aesthetic. An awful lot of what's being shown nationally either in wide circulation magazines or on TV is regurgitation of past styles or merchandising of "partner" companies.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:07AM
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"About the idea that 'no one wants' brown furniture or formal dining sets: Drivel."

In fact, RH babies and toddlers seem to like brown stuff. Which is good because I think it would be a lot more forgiving of stray crayons than the bleached Belgian stuff. And you'd need some crayons to liven that up.

"They do this in period movies to give a sense of time, even though the period between the world wars was full of all kinds of color."

plllog, and even when the sets were white in the b/w movies -- think Jean Harlow's bedroom in "Dinner at Eight" -- they were a brilliant, bright white.

As an aside, my husband is a builder, and he's noticed since last summer, with several severe hail storms that have brought out of town roofers here, that they find it easier and more expedient to take the leftover, unneeded, brand new, unused, shingles to the landfill site for disposal after a job is done, rather return them to the stores for credit, which is what all of the local builders do. Disheartening.


Here is a link that might be useful: brown stuff for RH babies and toddlers

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:40AM
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bostonpam: I want that blue couch on the sidewalk.
When I moved out of my parents home ( a looong time ago), I scrounged furniture from their basement, their friends basements, their friends parents estates, and I still have almost all of it - couches, tables, chairs. Why? because the stuff is probably 60 - 80 years old and a whole lot better quality than what I can afford to pay for now. I just recover stuff as needed. My tastes have always been clean lines, simple construction and that has not changed.

We are currently looking for a new kitchen table and have been for a year - haven't found anything in which I can trust the quality.
RH - no, Pottery Barn - never, Ethan Allen - maybe 15 years ago.

Back to colour for a minute - I think the problem is that with the economy the way it is, people are afraid to make colour a permanent part of decorating. It is easier and cheaper to use accent pieces from Home Sense etc and then beable to change them out in 2 years when colour trends change.
Catalogue decorating - I remember walking into the living room of one of the moms at school a few years ago and thinking to myself - this came from page 14 of the Bombay Company spring catalogue - very uninspiring.

How and why do trends become a permanent look, a fixture for long term decorating, where their "name" becomes part of the decorating lexicon.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:53AM
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"How a California company can put out those rooms with the chandeliers over the cribs and the mirrors over the beds, I don't know. How to clobber, impale and lacerate your child all at once in an earthquake. Or just if the hook comes loose. BAD mommy!!"

plllog, LOL! I had to go look at the cholera orphans after I read your post. You and Fori both hit the nail on the head (I live in California, so the lack of earthquake common sense particularly hit home).

I used to like Restoration Hardware's retro vibe, but they took a sharp left turn to the dark side a couple years ago, and I can't even walk into one of their stores anymore.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:06AM
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Becky, you're right. And a lot of the in between tones in the B&W movies were actually vibrant colors. What I was talking about is when they shoot current (or at least post-1970) movies on good quality film that holds color well in washed out tones overlaid with golden brown lighting to give you a sense of pre-WWII, 20th century America. The British films depicting that period actually do it in washy blues. One of the things I love about Victor/Victoria (which has totally awesome rooms) is that it's all full color, the exception that proves the rule.

It's this old faded photograph colorscheme at RH that really bothers me.

It made me nuts when everyone was gung ho for black and white baby furnishings after studies found that they are more stimulated by high contrast than by colors. Like, why would you want to put your baby to sleep in the most stimulating environment that you can find? Those old time "baby" colors, the soft pinks and blues, are very relaxing and boring and good for sleeping. They paint prisons pink to calm the violent inmates. Pink is very soothing.

That idiocy, however, is nothing on this current one. They've removed anything interesting or stimulating whatsoever so that overpriced baby can get an early start on ennui, vapidity, insoucience, lassitude and apathy.

If you ask children, they'll generally tell you they like the kind of colors that are usually provided to them. Just as baby talk comes naturally to caregivers and is actually a useful communication tool which babies innately respond to, so do children's colors come naturally to people who actually interact with children. Children like simple colors much more than complex ones, and they like saturated colors more than tints or shades. They generally don't like brown, but they do like a rich, medium blue.

So...not only have the merchandising you know whats who are causing the downfall of civilization created a perceived need for the middle classes to keep up with fashions in furnishings practically unheard of since the upper gentry all over Europe felt compelled to reproduce the court of Louis XV, now they want to reinvent childhood as some effete, tortured poor little rich kid environment with no love, joy or even entertainment. Did you notice that even the few toys are desaturated too? And almost all of them are put too high for the kids to actually play with?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 2:00AM
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Typo. Meant XVI.

I looked up RH. It's not affiliated with Pottery Barn. Just snagged PB's former president for their CEO. PB is owned by W-S.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 2:12AM
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Great. You made me go look up the RH kids' collection.

Playdate with Death.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 9:20AM
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Circus Peanut

Curious about the RH children's aesthetic, I took a look, and good lord, indeed. Those bedrooms are tailor-made for the personality-disordered mother in suburban Connecticut who's convinced her daughter is really Anastasia.

For kicks, here's a shot of my current new-old window replacement project: vinyl on the left, re-replacement wooden sash on the right. Sandyponder, I agree with you: these two windows are exactly the same size -- who on earth would deliberately choose the left-hand version?
(And that's the corner of my 1960's Henredon sofa in its third iteration of orange mohair velvet. I just ... can't ... help ... myself. Plllog, no fear on the reupholstering: I do it all by hand and wouldn't ever let anyone else touch it.)

Which brings me to: what do folks do when they want durability and good design, but have no money? They learn to do it themselves. I could never afford to have my pieces reupholstered professionally, nor my windows replaced by an expert. But I can't stand living with ugly.

In our current socio-economy, what are the options? 1) Luck into antiques that don't need maintenance, or 2) start teaching oneself the trades. Lots of trades. The internet has become a veritable trade school. No matter what I've taken up, from tiling to trim carpentry to upholstery, there is bound to be a forum somewhere with a crusty old guy named Bob who will walk me through the paces. But how long can Bob afford to do this?

I've lived in Europe off and on for years, and one thing that always puzzled me was the guild system for the trades: I thought it was hide-bound and socially rigid, just a medieval throwback. But the more I see what has happened to our country with its own rigid ideological insistence on "college for everyone!", the more I realize the wisdom of state-supported trade schools. Craftspeople in this country have little training and even less respect. Craftspeople in Europe have their own color overalls, a firm backing by the state, and the respect of homeowners everywhere.

Bring back the guilds, I say! And let new house builders have the opportunity to hire skilled people who know what wainscoting or coped picture rail are, even though you can't buy them ready-made off the aisles of Home Depot.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 9:34AM
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Pistachio Range!


    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 9:48AM
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The RH in my neighborhood has recently closed. I've been wondering if it's an indication that the location was a problem, or whether their direction of the last few years has finally driven away enough customers.

Two blocks up the street, a building is being renovated for what I'm told will be an Anthropologie. Having only a passing familiarity with their offerings, I was just looking through their website to see whether their slant is substantially different from the departed RH. I came across the Splayer Sofa (link below--sorry, I've never been able to embed any but my own photos), designed to look like the upholstery job was only half completed.

Can someone explain this sofa to me? Is it an example of the "embrace of decrepitude" marcolo accused RH of upthread? Otherwise, I'm stretching to try to come up with an explanation. Is it about blatantly showing the handwork of the maker? A statement that the underlying structure is more important than a polished surface? An allegory about life being an unfinished process?

Here is a link that might be useful: Splayer Sofa

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 10:12AM
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If the proverbial "starving artist" found that sofa on the curb in Williamburg outside a Kravet sweatshop, then carried it up their 4story walk up and draped it with a suzani yurt blanket they got while backpacking in Turkmenistan, it would be fabulous.

But trying to mass produce quirky, character and a good story doesn't work. If it had a real story, I'd put it in my home. To buy it on line ... Embarassing

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 10:53AM
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And here I thought the "Playdate with Death" (love that) baby furniture was beyond the pale, a sofa with strings hanging off of it for $6500+-? I guess I am so old and downmarket that I can't see spending that much on even a *finished* sofa, let alone one that looks like it recently graced a shooting gallery with a resident feral cat population.

mnerg, perhaps it's a apocryphal tale about what having too much money does to your sensibilities.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 10:57AM
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That is a lovely kitchen. From the glimpse, it appears to fit the house very well. I love the ceiling and fridge.

Two missteps, in my book. Black hood is too heavy. And it looks like she tried to match the cabs to range, and it's a near miss ((at least in this light). It has to be spot on or a contrast ... Near miss looks odd to me. Spot on pretty tough going metal to wood.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 10:58AM
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The Splayer sofa is the exact same shape as my sofa which is a high quality early 70s sofa that (I thought) is in desperate need of new upholstery. Who knew I was so fashionable! All I need to do is tie some stings to it and I'm in business!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 11:13AM
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Great explanation on the Splayer sofa mtnrdredux. I enjoy Anthropologie and never miss a chance to walk through the store. Their displays always make me think and see ordinary things in new ways. It's the only chain retail space where I tell the associate who greets me that I just want to experience being in the space and they always understand. The best new ideas outside of the local art and resale shops district.

The pistachio range looks great and that's pretty kitchen. Agree that the "matching" cabinets are a miss. I do like them though and thinking pistachio is the new turquoise.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 11:40AM
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I think things like the Splayer sofa have their place. I don't think at $6500 it will be too mass market. I wouldn't buy it myself...

It's kinda like the furniture with the blowtorch finish or the guy who creates the sofas & chairs with "duct tape" rapairs on them that are actually metallic leather. Its deconstructionism or nihilism without the smell of cat pee (or the dead baby rats falling out of the bottom--true story). It's creating a history of some sort for itself, just not an upscale one. Anybody who buys reproduction antiques or lives in a new house built in a historical style is creating a history that isn't as real as the real thing, so I think this is similar.

Almost all modern fashion starts from street culture. You are wearing the cleaned up adult version of what some 25 year old in NYC LA London or Tokyo was wearing 5 years ago.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 11:47AM
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Slightly OT.
About that pistachio range: Has anyone seen that color in person? I covet it, at least the way it looks in photos, except that I want it in the "companion" version. However, I associate "pistachio" with more of a parrot green color than the aqua look in the photo. Could it be one of those colors that always photographs a specific wrong way? BTW, the designer of that kitchen said that the owner always wanted that range, but that the cabinet color was designed to blend, not match. Defensive or true or both? 'Dunno, but they used Ben Moore Everglades paint, thinned down to be used as a stain so as to expose the wood grain. I suspect it works better IRL than in the photographs. The black tile for the hood was chosen to match the black range top. I think they could have found a way to integrate the range top color with a lighter touch. Overall, although I'd change a few things about that kitchen, I do adore it!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:09PM
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If you look in the description, stuffed dead baby rats to go with it are available on line only.

I can't help it, i really like Anthropologie. I think they sell what I would have bought at the Pasadena flea market a decade ago if i were hip and had a "good eye". I am not in Pasadena and not hip and better at mimicing other's good taste.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:12PM
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I like the slight "offness" of that kitchen, but I tend to like things just a bit off kilter instead of dead on.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:19PM
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In the mag pics I think it looks more "Tiffany" blue than the pale, kinda, sorta minty green that I associate with pistachio.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:28PM
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IKEA sells stuffed baby (and adult) rats. I'll have to get a few for my sofa.

I like that the pistachio range doesn't quite match the cabinets and I like that the navy in the backsplash in not the color one would expect to see there, but I'm not into matchy-matchiness.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Fori is not pleased

No, I'm wearing what I was wearing 5 years ago. :P

Some of the RH kid stuff would be nice. In small amounts. But they just do themselves in by assembling rooms of the garbage. They need to plop a depressing greige crib in a meadow and photograph it there where it can be pretty. It WOULD be pretty in a typical baby's room with bright colors and Huggies boxes scattered about.

I suppose they used caucasian children as their models so that the grey cast would show better on their skin. Really well thought out. I would have thought they'd try to appeal to their consumers by mixing up the toys a bit--let the girl have a lion on her wall instead of a crown perhaps--but I would have thought wrong.

That beatup sofa...I'm guessing they have none in stock and would fall over in shock and amusement if anyone placed an order. Sort of like a concept car at the Detroit auto show. (Think Ford Nucleon.) I hope it's advertised in Cat Fancy, cuz I think a cat would fancy it quite a bit.

But now I'm going to go paint an accent wall. It's going to turn into a regular matching wall. Let's just say that's why I'm wearing old clothes. And people, before you paint a small chunk of wall over your fireplace Aggie maroon, think! Don't do it!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:34PM
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"What I was talking about is when they shoot current (or at least post-1970) movies on good quality film that holds color well in washed out tones overlaid with golden brown lighting to give you a sense of pre-WWII, 20th century America."

Yes, plllog, I was agreeing with you and making a comparison to the original (bright) vs. contemporary (washed out) versions of 1930s sets. But apparently not very well!

"there is bound to be a forum somewhere with a crusty old guy named Bob who will walk me through the paces. But how long can Bob afford to do this?"

And how much longer will he be alive? Maybe this is why RH thinks we should embrace decrepitude, with their help, now.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 12:46PM
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KD-- I've seen Aga's pistachio color in IRL. It is definitely more pale yellow-green, pistachio-like than the blue-green that is coming across my monitor.

That Splayer couch reminds me of a trained artist who is struggling to reclaim the energy that once drove his or her primal, unforced initial attempts at artmaking. The irony of their resulting work is that it becomes a clash of masked intent versus raw spirit which typically ends up looking fake and trite. Then, the dealer gets in the game, markets it as an exotic new find worthy of big ducats. Yeah, right.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:20PM
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That couch reminded me of a rich girl I knew in the late '80s, who spent about $900 per outfit on Newbury street to look punk. She didn't. She looked fake.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:24PM
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Oh, great. It's not bad enough that we have to sully de Saussure's name with Derrida's brush, but now we have to have nihilistic sofas??

I'd actually like the Anthropology sofa if it were part of a set piece. It works as small "a" art. But like runway clothes that look clownish when real people insist on wearing them in the real world, this is dumb looking as something for a real home. I get the anti-sleek, but there are plenty of rat free used sofas to be had in the world. Merchandising decrepitude to the middle class is just obnoxious.

I suppose this is what naturally comes after distressing. The whole point of distressing is that the vendors and movers don't have to do as good a job. In the '70's, my mother refused to pay extra for the distressing (in her haughtiest voice she informed them that she had children for that). Now you have to pay extra--even on made to order--to forgo the distressing because they have to make it look good and actually apply craftsmanship. OTOH, the Splayer sofa requires some extra for the strings and all, hence the price that's a bit high for A's target market.

Marcolo--you were right about accessorizing The Fall. leather sofa which got an irreparable tear in the back two moves ago is actually the height of chic now? Especially with the worn area that looks dirty from too many man-naps?

There are a lot of other people showing pale neutrals, but not the wispy dead ones of RH. Even the Splayer sofa has some richness in the color. I've seen some rich, neutral linen linens, and some desaturated darks which still have color to them. It is possible to do this without going all "Playdate with Death".

Fori, good point about the grey children. I have to admit, when I was flipping through the rooms I mostly noticed their total absence, and averted my eyes from the ones who were there. Usually, the model draws your eye in, right? These rooms made me want to turn away from the poor children who were stuck in them.

Ordinarily, I'd say RH were doing a good job just because they got us talking about them. And Fori found a few things in the kids catalog that were worth consideration. I found two things in the general tome (the Belgian floor lamp and the wrongly proportioned but useful looking trunk desk). Would any of us actually be tempted to actually buy these things? Mere toleration isn't enough. Do you think there are people who are buying them? Besides the totally colorblind who feel good knowing that they can put dust colored, dung colored and dirt colored together and not have them clash? Will people buy knowing that used stable bedding has more visual richness?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:27PM
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Oh! Sorry, Becky. My misunderstanding. Yes, they used to make beautiful sets!

MV--totally!! Your description and Marcolo's define the same aesthetic. Sometimes, refined "fake" can be pretty spectacular, but fake fake is just fake. You don't think the designer of the Splayer cut his teeth in Jeff Koon's art factory? And doesn't quite get the joke? (Best anti-Whartonizing art out there is Koons in his prime!)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:36PM
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Thanks, Marthavila. Although now I'm a bit disappointed. I suppose asking for color swatches or RAL equivalents is the next step.
Marcolo, "Playdate with Death" may just be the next movement, PWD for short.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:46PM
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The kitchen with the pistachio range would look better without the delft tile. The pattern is way too busy for me, esp. repeated as it was. I like something more mellow than visually busy.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:48PM
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There are two ways to be creative. Put something together. Or take something apart.

We've been watching artists take things apart since Pollock started pissing paint on paper. Well, actually, before that, but you know what I mean and I liked the alliteration. We've deconstructed this and that, made things too big, too small, taken them out of context, turned them inside out, shown the underpinning, masked the underpinnings, distressed them, regressed them and undressed them, and now we're outright shredding them.

Enough already. I get it. I got it decades ago. It's no longer edgy or hip or eye-opening. We've been there, done that, read the book, saw the movie, rented the Blu-ray, played the game, bought the T-shirt, downloaded the mp3. And now we're done.

But no--the merchandisers want to just keep going. Eventually they'll have us living in piles of actual dung.

What I liked about steampunk is that it was both taking things apart and putting them together at the same time, in an inventive way. Not totally original, but better than what we've been seeing. That's why RH had to destroy it.

Once, Gothic and Georgian and Victorian and Deco all had to be invented. People were capable of creating entirely new styles, then give them the cohesion and vocabulary that any of us can recognize today, whether we're looking at a whole building or just a cabinet knob. Not any more.

I think this is related to the radical narcissism of our culture. We want to play at being "bad" boys and girls because somewhere out there daddy will take care of us and make sure all of our needs are provided for. Adults don't behave this way. If you're a grown-up, you don't get pleasure from seeing things destroyed, because you paid for them--and there is nobody else you can turn to to fix or replace them. You don't act like total disorder is fun because you know if you don't bring order to the world, no one will.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Nah, Plllog, I don't get that the designer is a Koons mentee. Not quite enough banality here to suggest that. (Maybe some tribal war shield pillows would've hinted differently.) Instead, as I look at his colors, textures, draped string, etc, my guess is that he's just trying to look accidentally casual in channeling some South African bush influences, (minus bold patterning of course), and then marketing it to a Euro aesthetic. Which again, imho, is looking too forced in its execution to be regarded as $7k worth of "serious" work.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 2:36PM
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As someone with absolutely no design background, this thread has truly been a fascinating read.

The RH baby catalog is so completely depressing. As someone who's 4-month old lives in a technicolor Lorax room, I couldn't stomach that pale, bland washed out look.

And I'm so glad that I get to go home and take the slipcovers OFF the upholstered chairs that the cats have scratched down to the wood - they're actually stylish!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 2:48PM
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Fori is not pleased

Didn't cats recently become the most common household pet? Maybe this can all be blamed on CATS.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 3:17PM
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Ooooh!! Technicolor Lorax is exactly the kind of color scheme kids actually like. I'm not so sure about what babies like, per se, because the only measures we have is what they're drawn to or stimulated by, but surely by the time the baby is thoroughly interacting with the room, he/she will have grown into it. :)

MV, a lot of people disagree with me on Koons, but I remember when he got started and his art was all about separating rich folks from their money for overprice crap. He employed his experience as a commodities broker to realized he could manipulate the art market and make a killing. So he employed a bunch of young folks to churn out the crap, signed it, and put outrageous prices on it. I thought it was brilliant performance art. :) I actually like a lot of his stuff as art, too, but it's hard to grow up and maintain that subversive edge and, like many successful artists, he's repeating himself.

What I meant about the designer of the Splayer sofa (named for the act of pinning pickled frogs for dissection? Or for the friend of a friend who reduces one's furniture to that state through being too wasted to go home and slpaying himself, and his putrid excrescences all over it) is that he must have had that same idea of pulling one over on the buying public and been giggling over the idea of what absurdities he could pull off at a $6500 price point.

Marcolo said it very well.

And again, to cite a nationally known look, I'll refer to the Novogratzes. Their designs are very now. Much more so than anything the chains are selling. And there's not a shred to be seen. They do a lot of Lorax-chic, too, which makes sense given they have a whole flock of kids, but while they may deconstruct things, they do so with complete finishes and polish.

Come to think of it, I never had much use for bad boys, I never bought distressed jeans, but let them fade and fray through use to get "good", and I never slashed my clothes, though would sometimes wear things that self destructed. And I kept the ripped sofa... It's one thing to accept the natural decay, and another thing to fake it. It bothers me when museums conserve ephemeral art. Yeah, they spent big on it (silly them!) but the decay is part of the art, and conserving it is just as destructive and idiotic as when they turned off Niagara Falls to reverse erosion because tourist dollars are more important than nature.

I think maybe we need to look to the kids to find the adult design? A lot of students are using resins and other very sleek, polished materials (thinking of Palimpsest's interest in new vernaculars following new materials) to create mufti-functional, sleek, living units. A lot of post-Transformers stuff. If you look at the art they're doing, as well, it's polished, colorful, and figural. The boomers might still be waiting for Daddy to fix it, but the kids are all right. :)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 3:51PM
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Marcolo I think you are right about the level of self-absorption in our society but on the flip side of that is the increasing awareness the the world is not our oyster to be exploited to the fullest, and exploitation was ---pathognomonic, practically--- of the boisterously inventive Victorians. Their lack of empathy (poverty was a lack of self discipline), and ostentatious displays of wealth, imo, outstrip ours. But it was still a wildly creative period. Because everybody embraced all the advances in technology

People just don't embrace the technologies that're developing now, not within residential settings. We could have liquid crystal temperature sensitive floor and wall coverings if we wanted them (think mood ring). People do amazing sculptural things with simple things like Corian, but most people turn their noses up at things that "feel like plastic" --It is plastic: what is it supposed to feel like? We could probably have tempur-pedic furniture to sit on, and plenty of digital sorts of things, but it seem to be something that not enough people want We have the technology to live in a house of fantastical shape a la Frank Gehry, but not enough people want that to bring the price within reason.

Digital Media was supposed to be the next big art form, but it is so ubiquitous that people can't take it, or the people that create with it, very seriously. And unlike photography, which people assumed would supplant painting, it hasn't really forced other media into different directions, like photography did, pushing painting into impressionism and finally abstraction.

And, so I think we are in a period like this, one of stasis, and of rehashing and reviving, of deconstructing and remuddling. I think on some level the creativity is there, but you won't do well creating things that people don't want.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 3:56PM
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I hear you completely on Koons! Point well taken. In responding, I guess I was being too literal in thinking only of what the work of a Koons mentee might look like and then deeming that couch short on sufficiently explicit kitsch. Funny thing is, though, as I thought it about it more -- I could see a couch like that in an appropriate context -- a game lodge, perhaps (i.e., in the bush, but remaining "above" the bush). But you know, as it's being hawked in Anthroplogie, that's exactly NOT where it's headed. lol.

Confession: what I really need to do is go back to this thread from the beginning and then have the discipline to read through everyone's comments, point by point. The bit of selective reading I did do before jumping into this thread, turned up some really well thought out, fascinating stuff! Some great minds here, indeed. Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 4:26PM
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I'm at the tail end here and haven't read the whole thread but will later. Just noticed the RH catalog mentioned and I have to get this off my chest - no really I just must...

The RH style looks like the decrepit mansion of an ancient vampire, full of faded and threadbare old furnishings, creaking with disrepair. Cobwebs and dust in every corner and smelling of sour alcohol and cat puke.

My copy went straight into the recycling bin. Blech.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 4:38PM
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gina, a few times in my above replies I came close to mentioning what I came across earlier this week in my blog reading, so now here goes. And perhaps not so coincidentally in Belgium.

What I wouldn't give for those kitchen ranges, though. I'd be willing to sit through the last instalment of Twilight with hordes of shrieking teenagers for those.

PS I hope the thread will be continued with a Part II when it hits 150. Please...


Here is a link that might be useful: the decrepit mansion of an ancient vampire

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 4:59PM
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At least it's a real Belgian mansion and real deterioration.
Those missing parquet floors probably ended up in a Faux Chateau somewhere.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 5:47PM
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I just looked at the RH children's site and I have two observations:

1. I know the furniture is too posh for an Eastern Bloc orphanage, but that's what comes to mind when I look at the images.

2. I have the Emilia tall dresser, but mine is an antique. I'm officially offended.

I guess if RH has my dresser's evil twin, then the stuff doesn't look so terrible if taken out of context. I think it's the context that makes it so wretched. The last time I went into one of their stores, it was so dark it seemed like a CSI crime scene. (Why do they never use lights on that show?) It wasn't inviting. If you want to sell something, then make your store seem inviting. Likewise, the website creates the wrong context. Drab neutrals can be part of an inviting scene. The website doesn't present scenes that look inviting. People buy when they see a layout and think to themselves, "That's the life I want." Does anyone think that when they look at the RH images? When I look at the images, I feel that whoever lives there is neglecting something. Their children. The furnishings. The housekeeping. Something's off. That's not the life I want to live.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 6:10PM
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All this talk of decay and decadence brings me back to this project, which is to humanize a living space that's proportioned, except for the average sized kitchen, along palatial lines, while leaving the open concept open. It's interesting that with all this marketing of the raw, this former industrial space is pretty polished. The concrete is clean and smooth (not really anything like Palimpsest's favorite Brutalism), the metals (trusses, stairs, catwalks, ducts, window frames) are smooth and painted an appealing white with a green cast, and are in great shape and don't need to be redone. These may be industrial relics, but very civilizedly so. The decadent part is the size of the space, especially for one person who is barely beyond being a "girl". Most urbanites would be comfy (well...cramped but content) in something the size of the mezzanine. Without the upper bits, it's basically a two bedroom, two bathroom, open concept apartment with a dining area, living area and kitchen. On steroids. Big time. :)

The owner is confused by our discussion, as I've relayed some of the more interesting bits, but it's helped us focus on how to make the living room functional for more than cocktail parties. She doesn't want to divide the space, which would suck all the grandeur out of it, and she doesn't want conversation groups. Palimpsest's digital living gave me an idea which I thought was silly, but might be a go, for a central tower for media, rather than putting it against a wall. This must have been done before--it doesn't feel particularly original--but I think it would work. We talked about making it out of wood and hiding all the blackness of the equipment, but it would be awfully big and block the view. More honest and practical would be to have a central service column with all the cables and juice, and put lots of screens on swing arms, as well as media players and the like. Perhaps have smaller screens facing into the catwalks. It would sort of be an inside out control console crossed with the monolith from 2001. Or it could, I suppose, be made of of brass steam fittings and go all steampunk. :)

Becky, I totally forgot about that place!! Thanks for linking it. I think its the Navajos who don't tear down old structures but let the earth reclaim them naturally. Seeing it done on a castle scale is offputting, however, to put it mildly. I used to know someone who had owned and lived in a castle--the real ancient fortress kind--for many years. It really sounds dreadfully uncomfortable, and one imagines that they do best as amusements for tourists.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 6:50PM
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No go on the media column. Originally, there was only going to be TV in the master bedroom. Then there was the whole game day party question. Then, speaking of RH, in there was the idea of the easel which could be arranged to suit the seating rather than the seating to suit the TV, but talking about black holes! I knew she wouldn't actually like to have that. The steampunk brass column might have flown if it wouldn't have required steampunk encasements for the equipment, because of the whole blackness thing. I thought the combination of today's electronics with the steam valves would have been an interesting juxtaposition. Too interesting for the client.

So, the easel doesn't have to be RH, right?

Too messy and real looking. The brand new easel is too "student" looking (not that students can afford brand new easels).

Comes this projector by David Riesenberg. Palimpsest's new materials design. It's "semi monocoque carbon fiber". Too bad it's just a concept! Some kind of movable projector might be the answer.

Rather than going spendy on a whole system just for entertaining sports obsessed men, considering how light monitors are now, it might be better to put in a satellite/wi-fi service with multiple channels, and do bring your own screen parties. Not sure where this is going yet...

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 8:50PM
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Circus Peanut

"I think this is related to the radical narcissism of our culture. We want to play at being "bad" boys and girls because somewhere out there daddy will take care of us and make sure all of our needs are provided for. Adults don't behave this way. If you're a grown-up, you don't get pleasure from seeing things destroyed, because you paid for them--and there is nobody else you can turn to to fix or replace them. You don't act like total disorder is fun because you know if you don't bring order to the world, no one will."

But we're not even bad boys and girls any more, gleefully smashing guitars. Now we are simply bereft gray little orphans.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 8:54PM
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Circus Peanut

Plllog, now that we've reached 150 posts, I think you should do the honors of creating Trendy Discussion, Part the Second.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 8:59PM
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