"She loved beauty and she was creative,
but her creativeness found its joy in the
shaping of everyday life to a form of comeliness,
so that it became not just something that one put up with,
but something that was enjoyable and lovely in itself."
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge
This past week I had a quarterly doctor's appointment and a long list of errands afterwords. One of them was a quick trip into Sam's Club to buy mixed nuts, apparently the best price for them in town. I took the long way to the nuts, passing the tables with the books and magazines first. Of course. It struck me that most of the decorating magazines were on the subject of vintage decorating.
Being a pondering kind of person, I found that interesting. What is the draw of old stuff for the modern decorator? It has been that way for awhile. When I last walked down the aisle of the local antique mall, I noticed stuff that was once hard to give away was now selling at a hefty price. For instance, really old beat up typewriters had a $150 price tag on them. Yikes.
I think our love for vintage has to do with how it makes us feel.
Not only is there the desire for old stuff in our homes but in the way we eat as we set aside microwave meals for "farm to table" feasts. It all seems so appealing and so back-to-nature and downright romantic as the Instagram photos of beautiful vegetables are showing up everywhere.
However, growing any garden is hard work and those vegetables do not come out of the ground looking like that and while I love barns more than anyone I know (and I thank God constantly for this house that has a view of a red barn)... it is a very hard lifestyle. Ask any farmer if you can get them to stop working long enough to talk to you. The simple life is not simple.
It really is about feelings. I know it is for me. There is a different feeling when I stir a batter in the vintage Pyrex mixing bowl than when I whip something up with the big Kitchen Aid mixer. Not that I'd give up my Kitchen Aid, mind you... but it doesn't bring up images of a 1950s housewife making a meal for her family. I feel life is simpler even if it is an illusion.
It's the same as when we grow heirloom tomatoes and raise old fashioned roses that actually have a scent and learn to make our own bread and make our own cheese and knit sweaters by hand. It feels good to work with our hands. I think we've reached a time when we now understand racing through life to get to the next thing isn't really... a life.
Our hearts long for the good old days even if they weren't all that good. I love early American decorating but I'm not so sure living during the American Revolution would have seemed... romantic. Looking back on it is, reading about it is, but living through it must have been very challenging... if not frightening.
Many of the vintage kitchen items I'm attracted to are from the 1930s and 1940s when kitchens tended to be painted in cheerful colors. However, we must remember why families needed cheering at that time. For these are the years when families were just coming out of the Great Depression only to find themselves in a second World War.
Perhaps that is part of the attraction we feel towards vintage items and antiques. They have a past. A story. They remind us that we as a people have faced adversity before and came through it. I believe they also remind us of a truly simpler time. Not perfect. Never has there been a perfect time since Eden. But simpler? Definitely.
Our world today is moving faster than we thought possible. We feel as if our destinies are out of our hands. The news is always bleak. I used to tell my son when he lived at home that I had to turn on the news first thing to see if the world was still there. Now I prefer not to know, at least until I've had my first cup of coffee.
A melancholic way of looking at life for a sanguine personality? Perhaps. I just feel so out of control at times. Except... and this is a very big exception... we do still have our homes. Whether we live in one room or a mansion. They are our canvas and our Art. How we decide to live each day and what these homes look like is often up to each of us (in agreement with those we live with, of course).
We can look back and learn from those who came before us. Especially our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. When their world was uncertain, they brought out the cheerful paint and made colorful accessories. They wove wool rugs and sewed beautiful quilts and put together delicious meals with little to work with.
Women before us created their days in such a way that their years were livable.
They took care of each other with meals and babysitting and helping with the dishes. The coffee was on in the morning to share across a kitchen table. The tea was stretched for another friend to join in the afternoon, served in pretty china to bring a smile. They went to church and prayed together and displayed a faith to take their families through the hard times.
I think that is the draw of vintage that decorators may never understand. It isn't the stuff even if they are beautiful. I get that. I love vintage decorating. However, they only represent the people that lived through those times and how we remember them. Perhaps our love of vintage is a way we honor their lives all these years later. Their creativity. Their hard work. Their faith.
Image: Interior With the Artist's Daughter by Duncan Grant