For a while now, vintage…

For a while now, vintage has been considered the height of cool style. A piece that shows its age, whether it's a bomber jacket or a battered chest or a copper pan, tends to be seen as more valuable, more stylish, than an equivalent new item. Vintage doesn't mean the same thing as antique -- for one thing, I think technically antiques have to be a certain age? (Maybe at least 100 years old?) Whereas vintage is a much vaguer term. And perhaps more relevant, vintage doesn't necessarily carry the same connotations of expensive as antique does.

I found a wheel that came from an old wagon
Lying in a field behind my neighbor's barn.
I took that wheel and fixed where it had rotted
I painted it bright colors
You ought to see how it shines.

Interestingly, equal if not greater value is given to vintage things you find cheap at thrift stores -- you get extra cool points if you not only have this ancient rusted gorgeous thing, but you paid less than ten bucks for it. Right? I see that all the time in threads at Apartment Therapy and Design*Sponge -- people in those discussions appreciate beautiful design, but they tend to be dismissive of beautiful expensive design. Sure, anyone can have a gorgeous home if they can afford to drop a boatload of money on it, but the real challenge is do it on a shoestring budget. And then detail just how cheap everything was in your blog post. :-)

Isn't it amazing what a little bit of glue can do
What you can fix with a nail or two
Taking your time, doing it right
Make sure everything fits real tight
Little bit of wire, little bit of rope
Wrap it up with a little bit of hope -- oh yeah!

I mock it a little, but I do buy into that idea too. I LOVE seeing how creative people can take something old and battered, see the beauty in it, maybe fix it up a bit with some elbow grease and a bit of paint, and place that object perfectly in their homes, so others can appreciate the beauty of it too. (I hope that with this whole renovation we've been doing and I've been detailing, even folks who don't have the budget for things like adding on to their house or getting custom millwork done will still find elements / details of what we've been doing that might be inspirational for their own homes, for things they can do within their budgets. The color of a room. The juxtaposition of metal and stone. Adding a little shimmer. That kind of thing.)

I found a house in the middle of the city.
It was anything but pretty
About to come tumbling down.
I took that house and fixed where it had rotted
Painted it bright colors and the house became a home.

Finding great vintage pieces has been hip for quite a while now, long enough that stores like Urban Outfitters have built a brand on selling you things that look vintage. Anthropologie and Restoration Hardware do exactly the same thing, at even higher price points. I think their ad copy reflects that pretty blatantly -- I was just glancing at the RH zinc medicine cabinet again, mourning the price, and noticed that they explicitly call it out for looking like something you might have found in a market somewhere. "...its rustic appearance, so credibly aged, could be a salvaged find." Hah!

It's sort of hilarious, right? If part of the value of it is supposedly in your hunting for it, finding it cheaply, you're now paying an extra premium in price for their faking that hunt for you. I.e.:

  • actual cheap metal medicine cabinet you found somewhere: $5
  • typical medicine cabinet bought new: $30 - $75
  • high-end fancy Robern new medicine cabinet: $100-$300
  • fake metal medicine cabinet that looks like the cheap vintage one: $500-$600!
That's sort of insane. And I'm totally mocking myself here, because I really want that Restoration Hardware zinc medicine cabinet. Yes, I'd ideally prefer the $5 one that I found through lazy weekends of thrift store hunting. The one that was sort of rusty and cruddy, but that I cleaned up and fixed the hinges and and de-rusted (I don't even know how to do that) and made beautiful and unique. That would be way cooler.

But the truth is that I'm not twenty anymore, or even thirty -- I'm almost forty, and between work and house and yard and kids, my time is way tighter than it used to be, though I'm sure the college students in my classes (currently cramming for exams and scrambling to write final papers) don't believe it when I say that. I spent many years with way more time than money -- now, oddly, I sometimes have a bit more money than time. And in fact, many of the ways I spend money now are in efforts to buy back time -- childcare being the prime example.

So I haven't had time to go thrifting (or antiquing, the slightly higher-end version) for a couple of years now. And I'm really hopeful that our lives are about to get much more relaxed, and that we'll have lots of time for that sort of thing again. That's the plan. It sounds like fun, taking Kev and the kids to weekend yard sales, hunting for treasure. But until we have more time than money again, that RH medicine cabinet will remain a temptation. Even though, really, it's stupid expensive, generic, and fake to boot.

What do you think? Do you find items like that desirable, or just ridiculous? Do you like the idea of hunting for rusty one-of-a-kind treasure, or would you rather just have new, well-designed items that are also affordable (a niche that Target and/or Martha Stewart are actualy specializing in really nicely these days). I kind of like both of those options. Some of my favorite dishes are a set of Martha Stewart cream stoneware that I bought at K-Mart several years ago; I use one footed stand constantly as a fruit bowl, and it's just lovely. It was perhaps $20? Great design at a great price; it's really terrific that that's become so much more of an option lately. (Although, sadly, I can't seem to find it now to link to it -- maybe she's not making it anymore? Pfui.)

Or maybe you just want gobs and gobs of money, so you can buy anything you feel like? One friend of mine says he won't feel rich until he has a private jet and can fly wherever he wants, whenever he wants. Lord. I admit, it sort of shocks me just how much you can spend, in theory -- I subscribed to Architectural Digest for a year when I started this renovation, and I won't be renewing the subscription, in part because I already feel like we're spending a silly amount of money on some items in our house, and the objects in that magazine are easily ten times the price of what we have. (And some of them are UGLY.)

I actually was going to start this post talking about whether 'custom' is the new 'vintage', but now that I've written this all out, it's long. So maybe I'll save that for a later post!

You found my heart, it was torn and tattered
Worn and shattered
About to come tumbling down
You took my heart, gave it what it needed
Helped to stop the bleeding
Turned my world around

-- all lyrics from a piece I love, "The Wheel Song," by The Billys, from The Time Has Come

2 thoughts on “For a while now, vintage…”

  1. Heh, this reminds me of that Friends episode where Monica buys a “apothecary cabinet” from Pottery Barn and then lies and tells Phoebe that she found it at a flea market (I think it was).

    I have neither time nor money right now, alas, but in theory I like a combination: fixing up old things is fun/ satisfying, but it’s nice to have something new that works well without a lot of effort, too.

    I’m also constantly rejecting DIY stuff b/c of the danger/ annoyance of trying to do it with a small child around. I look forward to more complex mother/ son arts & crafts as he gets older!

    That said, I just found out something I’ve been wanting to buy for years now is actually an easy DIY project I can do in about half an hour! So excited to try that out soon! It will be a mother’s day gift to myself 🙂

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