I have 8 vintage phones in my 500-square-foot apartment. There’s an extension for practically every member of the King Family. My kitchen appliances are all at least 30 years old – by choice. They take a little babying, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Vintage. For many people, that’s just old stuff. Not for me. The mid-Twentieth Century has defined my life, both personal and professional, since I was old enough to go to the neighborhood garage sales by myself. Vintage is a bit of an fixation for me. My M.O. in every apartment I’ve had has been to make everything meant to be visible, vintage – to recreate the past in an orgy of retro obsession that would make a time traveler feel right at home. When it comes to decorating, pick a year and stick to it, I always say.
Why would I do this, you ask? Well, to be honest, I’ve asked myself the same question. The answer can be hard to pin down. But what I do know is there are some definite benefits to living La Vida Vintage, and to making strong choices, in general. I’m not saying that you need to follow me down the retro rabbit hole, but there are some distinct joys to letting a little vintage in your life.
One of the benefits of recreating the past is the touchstones made manifest. We all have triggers in our history that set off sense memories for us. We can activate those triggers by rediscovering objects from our past. There are countless examples of this in my life. One of them was the keychain from my first car. Sure enough, there it was on eBay, waiting for me to rediscover it.
Irony is defined as “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” So much of what we once thought was cool or stylish is now, by it’s very nature, dripping with irony. Soap on a rope, mullets, the Macarena… There’s a lot of meat on those bones. You can derive endless pleasure by surrounding yourself with these ironic artifacts from the past.
“You’ve got to admit it, at this point in time, that it’s clear – the future looks bright.” So said Donald Fagan in the song I.G.Y. The mid-century was a time of great vision and optimism. That’s a compelling combination. The democratization of design saw to it that everyone – not just the elite – got to participate in the forward-thinking momentum of industrial designers from around the world. Products ranging from automobiles to dish detergent bottles were made over with design in mind. Great thought was given to color, shape, texture and finish. The items designed then were frequently well-thought-out, and generally, made to last. Color choices were strong and sophisticated without being funereal. The result was that people took more chances with their design choices then. Having these well-thought-out objects in your home can be a real joy.
As objects age, they take on a patina that belies their history. This hints at a provenance – a series of events that brought that object to you. Sometimes that provenance is known to you – as in a family heirloom – sometimes it’s not. In either case, the object develops a visual weight that newer objects don’t have. We enrich our lives with the history of these objects when we include them among our belongings.
Though the items may have been mass produced in their day, their numbers have dwindled over time. They tend to be unique to you in many cases. They become conversation pieces that more contemporary versions would not be. Expressing your individuality, whether through collecting vintage or by any other means is an important part of my philosophy for living a Gracious Life.
Why the Mid-Century?
I wouldn’t want to actually step back in time to the mid 20th century. I appreciate the social and cultural advances we’ve made since then. As I mentioned before, the design of that period was exceptionally strong and forward thinking. There is, however, something more that inspires me to drag the play-heads across the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s over and over again.
That period was one of great change. There was a shift in focus from adult pursuits and diversions to youth culture. Don’t trust anyone over 30… to design your hippie squat. And the tension that this brought about is palpable, not only in the generational wars of the period, but in high and popular culture as well. Formality still had a grip on behavior, dress and manner, but it was tempered with a new, casual point of view that colored what was once only black and white. (Mary Tyler Moore said ironically, to Julie Andrews in the swinging sixties musical throwback to the 1920’s, Thoroughly Modern Millie, “machines, like gloves, should be either black or white.”)
People were becoming more sophisticated in their appreciation of art, design and media, thanks to the ubiquity of these elements in the popular culture of the day. This all translated to high concept, clever advertising campaigns, featuring an emphasis on good composition, lighting and styling in product photography, colorful, well-designed consumer products and exuberant clothing and personal grooming choices.
We had yet to enter the digital age, so we sought to reach the pinnacle of the analogue. Add to that the post-war economic boom which elevated so many more people than before to middle class status with more cash to spend and more places to spend it and you have a perfect storm of consumer desire and marketplace sophistication.
What About Today?
Mass design today is much more conservative. Products are generally utilitarian, limited in color to black, white, grey and beige. Manufacturers reserve attention to detail for ergonomics and functionality. There are some bright spots that hint at a possible new renaissance in design. Apple products are one, and the democratization of manufacturing brought about by the crowdfunding phenomenon is another. Time will tell if that new renaissance comes to pass. In the mean time, I’ll stay happily in the mid-century of my own making.
When it comes right down to it, living La Vida Vintage is just a personal expression of my own individuality. Part of my theory of Gracious Living is that in order to be happy we must express ourselves as fully as possible. Making strong choices about our personal expression is a sign that we know what we want and we aren’t afraid to put it out there. So whatever it is that pushes your buttons is worth pursuing. Make those strong choices and revel in the joy that comes from it!