Living La Vida Vintage – The Joys of Living in the Past

Brini in her old apartment filled with vintage

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.

Touchstones to the Past:Brini shares a craft with vintage school art on The Brini Maxwell Show

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:

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.

Design:

“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.

Provenance:Brini at Phillipsburg Manor

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.

Individuality:

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.

Cultural Shifts

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.

Conclusions

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!

26 thoughts on “Living La Vida Vintage – The Joys of Living in the Past

  • August 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm
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    Hello Brini,

    I am a great fan of yours and hope to see more of you soon. Your course was simply brilliant and helped me so much.

    I agree with your philosophy 100% and also collect vintage. My problem; I collect too much due to the abundance of good vintage in my country (Switzerland) since, ironically, the complete lack of interest by ANY generation of people. “Old is old” and even if their raclette heating appliance is literally mint condition, but from 1970, out it goes to the Emmaüs or Salavtion Army. I am overwhelmed by the amount of great stuff available, and I tend to buy en masse. My question to you is; how should I find a method to stop buying great pieces just because they are mint condition and almost given away. (Said raclette appliance, mint and pristine, in bright orange and red flowers is equal to two American dollars ).

    I hope you can help with one of your wise and clever replies. And, BRAVO for your new courses,..I eagerly await the next series.

    Cordially,
    Mme M.Dvanii

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    • August 13, 2017 at 1:10 pm
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      Dear M. I’ll be on the next plane over! But seriously, learning to edit is a skill that must be practiced. I suffer from the same malady – I tend to buy too much and find it becomes clutter (which is one of the reasons I designed this course: http://brinimaxwell.com/the_home_in_your_head.html) I’ve trained myself to only buy the most compelling examples of vintage items that appeal to me out there. It’s the only way…

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  • August 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm
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    What a great read! Brini, you are a wonderful teacher! Thank you for your insight and inspiration.
    Best always,
    Maryann xo

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    • August 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm
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      And your beautiful doll interiors are a perfect example of a creative outlet done right! That’s the best kind of personal expression…

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  • August 13, 2017 at 4:09 pm
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    What a beautifully written piece, Brini. I too, love vintage. The things I tend to hunt down and purchase are simple household items from the early 70’s (I was born in 1969) – sheets, towels, kitchen utensils and canisters, candle holders. I adore Harvest Gold and Avocado Green! For me they evoke the simplicity of childhood and home. I grew up with a Harvest Gold kitchen and I still miss it sometimes. I also love crewel embroidery pieces from the 60’s and 70’s – there are always lots available on Etsy. As for my own creative pursuits – I love counted cross stitch and crochet. Hopefully my children will treasure the things I make now as their own “vintage” pieces to have in their homes someday! 😉

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    • August 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm
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      We are soul sisters, Becky. I collect similar things, for similar reasons. Do you also do crewel embroidery?

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      • August 14, 2017 at 10:52 am
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        I have not tried it yet, but I have a vintage, unopened kit from the 70’s in my craft stash…I need to take the plunge! 🙂

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        • August 14, 2017 at 12:37 pm
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          It’s easy and fun. Give it a whirl!

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      • August 16, 2017 at 2:58 pm
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        I collect needlework and needlework kits/patterns. I do it myself and I appreciate all the hard work that goes into each creation. Just last week I found a late 60’s bellpull, early American theme, for $2. It is over a yard long, and all those tiny stitches! After a trip to the the dry cleaners, it is going in the family room.

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  • August 13, 2017 at 6:17 pm
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    Like you I am drawn to vintage “stuff” especially mid-century. It is a big part of my life, I take it to the extreme when you’ll often, you’ll see me wearing my vintage clothing and driving my 1955 Pontiac which has been in my family since 1955. To me vintage = class. Thank you for sharing “Living-la-vida-vintage.” Love your creativity.

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    • August 13, 2017 at 6:57 pm
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      What a treasure to have a vintage car as a legacy! Such fun to be able to be a self contained time capsule…

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    • August 13, 2017 at 8:38 pm
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      Brini, you are so right! I can’t resist anything both beautiful and vintage, but especially costume jewelry grand parures. (My husband is always threatening to report me to the Hoarding Ordinance officers!). Susan Garrett, Houston, TX

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      • August 13, 2017 at 9:06 pm
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        Ahh yes, I know the feeling well!

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  • August 13, 2017 at 6:56 pm
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    I, too, am a great fan of vintage, and love your style, Brini! My brother and I used to watch your show on Style when we were in high school. We loved everything about you! I have a collection of over 600 vinyl albums…everything from Perry Como, to The Ray Conniff Singers to The Lennon Sisters. I adore the music on your shows and found this gem online of Michael Brown’s music. Love it and love you! https://archive.org/details/TheWonderfulWorldOfChemistry-Dupont-1964NewYorkWorldsFair

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    • August 13, 2017 at 7:11 pm
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      Ah yes, Michael was a dear friend and such a talented man. He was so generous to let me use his music in my productions. It’s lovely to see it online there. Thank you for showing me.

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  • August 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm
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    Hi Brini! I love your videos, your helpful tips and your style! You are pure class! In answer to your question of what pops my cork, I love to paint abstracts. I have about 11 of them now and plan on more. I had painted years ago but sadly all my work was lost. You can see my new work on Facebook on my profile as well as my page. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter. I enjoy sculpting as well using my own self developed medium and have made handmade paper with various added elements to make it special. I write short stories as well as poetry. I am also going to hopefully get into some jewellery making using cord, rope and embroidery threads and yarn. I have a keen interest in fashion design and interior design as well and hope to bring those interests to fruition.

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    • August 13, 2017 at 9:09 pm
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      And you can just tell from you passion about these endeavors that they add such color and form to your life. What a great example you are for the people you come into contact with of how to live your joy!

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  • August 13, 2017 at 10:19 pm
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    Brini,

    Thank you for such a fun and humorous read! I think we are two of a kind in that we both have a deep appreciation for vintage, well made items. My house looks no where near as au courant as yours, but I do have a few pieces that are dear to me, such a my T-20 Sunbeam toaster as well as a chrome Sumbeam Mixmaster from the early 70s. I chose them over their modern counterparts since they were built to last and have proven that longevity. I thoroughly enjoy going thrifting, where I find a majority of my items, and giving those quality items a new lease on life. If the items aren’t working when I pick them up, I’ll tinker with them to get them in working order again. It’s amazing what someone will toss out in favor of something new! In some cases, you simply cannot buy that level of quality any longer and those mid-century pieces just look great on the counter!

    As you can probably tell, vintage gadgetry pops my cork!

    Looking forward to more of your great articles, Brini! Xoxo

    Jason

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    • August 13, 2017 at 10:51 pm
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      I’m right there with you – my kitchen just wouldn’t be the same without my vintage countertop appliances. I’m particularly fond of my KaBobit…

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  • August 13, 2017 at 11:35 pm
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    Oh, Brini, I love vintage items, too, and wish that I could create a total retro look in my home. But, I rent, and I am very much stuck with 90s laminate cabinets and exterior vinyl siding for the time being. I do have a modest hoard of Smith glass and Hildi housewares though that brighten up my kitchen and dining area. But, my real vintage obsession is mid-century television series. I have quite a stash of complete series DVDs including MTM, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP, Taxi, Vega$, Charles Angels, and Three’s Company. And, I have The Love Boat and Fantasy Island checked out from Netflix right now. I love escaping into those mainly 70s shows and revisiting the actors that I grew up watching years ago. I love the flashiness of the era with all of its bright colors, lush sceneries, and glamorous people – nothing on TV today captures my imagination like those classic shows – they really pop my cork.

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    • August 14, 2017 at 12:06 am
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      Right on, Steph! Love those 70’s TV classics too… I find a lot of inspiration in them, and they have a very comforting quality.

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  • August 18, 2017 at 11:34 pm
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    Oh Brini! I feel like we are “two of a kind” too… we need to get all the other “two of a kinds” together and have a cocktail party! I live in California, and I live in circa 1966… a little bit before your time, but you’re always welcome here! I just recently discovered you– I think you are tremendously entertaining, and I really enjoy your style advice and inspiration (note to self- research bold horizontal stripes). I see you as a Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and the Junior League Cookbook Chair- all rolled into one! I feel like I should tell you my favorite colors, but we’ll save that for the next time…

    Let’s hang out on the patio!

    P.S. I’m a vintage lamp nut – let me know if you need any lamps!

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    • August 19, 2017 at 1:46 am
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      1966 is a good year to hang out in. I have a friend who gravitates to 1967. I’m partial to 1970, 1972, and lately (much to my surprise) I’ve been enjoying 1980.

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      • August 19, 2017 at 5:07 pm
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        I forgot that Sue Anne Nivens is rolled in there too…

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        • August 19, 2017 at 7:55 pm
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          Can’t forget Sue Anne!

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