I recently had a crisis of morality, darlings. Let me preface by telling you this: I did not cave, but I did spend a long time pondering it after the fact.
When I left for work one morning, I saw on my next door neighbor’s porch a bevy of old (gasp, read: retro) furniture. Good golly. Unfortunately for me, it was tagged to be picked up by Family Services. This service provides all kinds of things to families in need. This is a wonderful service. Therefore, I didn’t want to take these things off her porch—and by that I mean technically steal—that my neighbor had decided to donate to charity. I’m less than flush, but not quite charity. So, I didn’t take anything. Still, it was hard to just walk away. I’m still at the point where I’m trying to acquire enough furniture to fill a house, so it’s hard to imagine being able to get rid of multiple pieces. Especially VINTAGE pieces.
Have you ever noticed this? You spend your whole life getting things, then, once you have enough, you try to get rid of them all. Usually, I’m there to usurp the good ones.
In college, I took a course in French Cultural Affectations, or something of a similar college-y name (I was working toward a French minor to go along with my two B.A.s, however I stopped six credits—that’s two classes—short for various reasons. C’est la vie.) While we studied French literature and architecture and painters (we spent practically an eon studying Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is how I was able to lean over to my boyfriend during Titanic 3-D and say, “That didn’t sink on the Titanic! It’s in the MoMA!”…Poor Boyfriend). But a huge influence was placed on French furniture—mostly of the baroque movement. I can still remember taking pop-quizzes (otherwise known in that class as “expositions”) rambling on for two pages about everything I could remember about the curvatures of baroque chairs. Ah. Bonne chance with that to anyone enlisted for that class next semester, and every semester for the foreseeable future.
But anyway, the point about the baroque chairs is this: is it just me or is furniture one of those rare things in the course of human events that becomes more practical and functional and less ornate? Is it possibly true? Is it just me? Has no one else ever thought about this before? OK, OK, maybe you need to be familiar with what exactly a baroque chair is before we continue. Do you know? If not, please Google/Bing/other search engine it. OK, I’ll wait…OK, done? Got it? Do you see it? I’m sure other similar-looking furniture came up in the search also. See all the curves and ornate-ness of it all? Now, if we took a Retro Recon field trip (we should start doing these!) down to any furniture warehouse or store—any one from Unclaimed Freight to Pottery Barn—I feel confident saying perhaps in the oft-forgotten corner we would find some faux-gilded wrought-iron vanity chair that looks vaguely as though it were trying to be from France right around the time the harpsichord was being invented. But alas, that lonely little chair would look out of place next to plush sectional sofas and high-backed rolling desk chairs to accompany desks with many boxy utilitarian drawers instead of carved swirls. See? I think furniture is getting more functional and less ornate. It’s, again, like how we spend our whole lives collecting things only to later try to get rid of them all.
Of course, baroque is too far back to be considered “retro”—I realize this. Similarly is Paul Revere’s house, which I recently visited in Boston. While Paul Revere was certainly not destitute, he was not the richest of our revered (ha, get it?) revolutionaries. Yet, the Revere family furniture is well-made and, I’ll say it, pretty gorgeous. The fabrics are divine. The chairs have rather delicate features. For some reason I expected something much more primitive—but of course the 18th Century American home is far from baroque. I’m OK with this. I’m not saying I disdain furniture of the baroque period. I’m not saying I would turn up my nose and turn down a baroque chair if I was given it or, I don’t know, won it on a game show or something—I just don’t know how I would reconcile it with the rest of my belongings.
I’m not really sure what my home furnishing style would be called. I suppose it’s shabby-chic. I suppose it’s urban-rustic (I don’t know what that means). Once a friend of mine said he felt like being in my abode was like being in the dwelling of a well-read, book-obsessed, WWII pin-up—I suppose I like this. I like hardwood floors. I like furniture made of wood rather than metal or plastic. I like French doors and old-fashioned (shock!) kitchen gadgets. I don’t know what to call my household aesthetic. I usually know how to describe what I’m wearing: “Oh. Today I am waiting-for-my-beloved-to-come-home-from-fighting-Mr.-Hitler chic.” Or: “Look at me serving 1950s housewife glam.” Maybe: “This right here is early 1960s career-gal fab.” Sometimes: “Well, I’m wearing jeans and a cardigan…how’s it going?” However, with furniture on such a less noticeable continuum, I don’t know what to say? I want to create a habitat that looks like it could be a mid-century home with the polished flair Hollywood gives period-specific flicks, perhaps? Furniture only looks starkly out of fashion when it is completely authentic…and usually it’s met with a negative response.
I’m sad that, in my youth, I gave away my grandmother’s vanity. I have retained a post-war looking open cabinet with shelves that hung on my kitchen wall growing up—I’m not sure if my parents put it there in the 80s, or if it was there when they bought the house. It used to hang above the stove—this big giant thing—for pots and dishes, now it sits on my floor and holds books. Almost as dear to me is a little cabinet my grandmother brought from Norway. I don’t know what its intended use is. I don’t know why it was made. My father used to store records in it. Really, it’s a perfect record-storer. They fit on the bottom shelves; a door opens on the top where the record player could be. I use it to store sweaters, and for a little display on the top of etiquette books and candles. I’m not sure how to feel about the journey of this cabinet. I’m not sure how I feel about giving wonderful things away vs. keeping things you don’t have a use for.
Really, I also don’t know how to feel about just letting a vintage highchair pass me by when it was only on the other side of my porch railing. Then again, as we keep saying, I don’t have children yet.
C’est la vie.
by Laura Hallman