Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Retro?

Have you noticed that television shows, furniture and clothing are all being re-introduced to us with a healthy dose of 1960's reality? So what if it doesn't reflect 2012, maybe it just simply makes people feel happier. When life feels complicated, we crave simplicity, we reminisce about how things used to be.

Even people who say they don't like retro are drawn to the occasional piece that is totally out of character; suddenly finding themselves being cheered up by a square, orange teapot, or a ridiculously, impractical new dress. Typically, the colors back then were brighter, and the designs more streamlined. TV shows from that era depict an old-fashioned view of life; men and women had defined roles, and families spent more time together. People drank a bit too much, and smoked without worrying about getting sick. Technology and cars were limited and expensive, making your private life very public, and forcing teenagers to rely on the availability of their parent's old station wagon.

Of course our nostalgia removes all of the bad bits, but a retro life, on the surface, just sounds less complicated. Incorporating our lives with these quirky, bold reminders makes us smile when we are over-scheduled, forcing us to take ourselves a little less seriously.

Some trends are deliberate, forced upon us by bored designers, but I don't think this one is. I think it was born from an emotional need to cheer people up when the world became a little glum!

How can you be worried when your sofa is lime green? Living with a little bit of retro makes you feel like it can all be fixed with a pie in the oven, a good hug, an Elvis record and a shiny, pink Cadillac!

(Lovely photograph courtesy of Kate Bingham, UK, with a little bit of Elvis added in for good measure)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Buying Furniture (caveat emptor)

I have a confession to make, I am becoming a furniture snob. As you know, I love anything that relates to decorating the home, especially furniture; my heart beats faster when I see a quirky, vintage chair, or a table, so exquisitely built that my sense of reason (and budget) is momentarily lost. Take me shopping, and I will touch everything that catches my eye, thinking of inventive ways to take it home, strapped to the roof of my car if necessary. I will obsess over it, creating stories in my head that explains why I must include it in my life. I may not take it home, but I can guarantee that I will dream of it that night ...

But, recent experiences have tilted me towards furniture snobbery, and I hope it makes you feel the same way. Have you bought a dining or bedroom set lately? Did you see the signs that said "Wood", and the description that said it was "Cherry"? Automatically, you would assume that it is made of wood from a Cherry tree. Right? Wrong. I just clicked to the website of a very well known furniture store. Went to Dining Room sets, and hit the Cherry option. A 7 piece set (which is code for a table and six chairs, go figure) was $2,300. Go to the product description, and you find out that Cherry is the color, and it is ".....crafted of hardwoods, cathedral cherry veneers and exotic avodire veneers".

Don't get me wrong, veneers and composites are a wonderful, and possibly sustainable (?) way to produce furniture, but it is also a way to cut costs and create things that appear to be what they are not. If stores are going to use them, and charge those prices, then say what they are, don't try and trick the consumer into thinking they are getting a quality, solid wood piece of furniture. Veneers and composites have more parts, therefore they will automatically have more issues than solid wood - the veneer may lift up, the glues can come apart, and the stain will often wear off more quickly. I did contact the company about their $2300 dining room set. With your purchase, you get a free one year warranty that covers manufacturers defects, or, you can spend an additional $230 to get their 5 year warranty. This will cover all sorts of spills, dents and normal wear and tear.

It used to be that wood was more expensive than veneer, but somehow that has shifted a little. I found a comparable, solid wood dining table and 6 solid wood chairs for $1600, at a very good on-line home store. In my opinion, solid wood has a couple of advantages. One, it will wear well (there is nothing to peel off or come apart), and two, it will probably last longer, and definitely look better as time goes on. FYI, soft woods (pine) will dent easily, whereas hard woods (oak, mahogany etc) will resist dings.

Whatever your preference, promise me to do some shopping around before you buy. If you are buying from any store, ask about the warranties and look for feedback on their website. Consider on-line catalogs and home stores; these used to be a lot more expensive (and style specific) but are now much cheaper, and offer a lot of solid wood choices. Also, if time is something you have to spend, go to some local thrift stores or second hand retailers - older pieces tend to be more solid.

Furniture can be an expensive, and permanent, purchase for your home, so don't be afraid to do your homework first. And, if you're wandering the stores, undecided, just give me a call!

p.s. Photograph of this lovely, mis-matched, reclaimed dining room set is from House Beautiful

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Your Home, Your Story

After 3 weeks of being in New Zealand (where I grew up) I am a bit flummoxed about what to write. So many ideas come to mind, but many would need to be edited, and others would be, perhaps, uninteresting to those who don't know me very well. So, I decided to write, in bite-size pieces, about the homes that I visited. Apart from the fact that I love all of these people, the best part is that who they are is truly reflected in where they live....

  • A lovely home that was changed, discreetly, to accommodate a wheel chair. A rose garden, immaculately tended by an 86 year old who cares for his loving wife.

  • Encased in sunlight and flowers, minimal but beautiful; this home makes me feel like a child again, taken care of and nurtured.

  • A window seat in just the perfect spot, a place for dreaming. Random swatches of paint have become optimistic pieces of art.

  • Years of memories are lovingly displayed in a grand, mahogany cabinet. Each piece is personal, and tells a story.

  • Welcoming, wide open spaces (and cupcakes) lead to a stream and a stone bridge. Built by hand.

  • An iron gate, flanked with tall, blue flowers leads to a family of chickens with funny feathers on their toes. The wooden porch is home to a very healthy, persistent passionfruit vine. Inside, the house is filled with comfort, laughter, kittens and dreams. Outside, the children climb fences and search for fresh eggs.

  • Close to the beach, and surrounded by trees, a home has speckled, soft (yes, really) concrete floors. I have to stop myself from lying down on them, and try to be content to just touch them with my bare feet....

(The gorgeous photo above is of Hobbiton, a place created for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and filmed in NZ)