The below paragraphs are taken from a chapter in our book ‘Cozy & Worn: The Complete How-To Guide to Painting & Distressing Furniture. In the midst of our site redesign we have begun setting some goals for our shop. One of those is that we have determined to dedicate more time to maintaining a valuable and informative blog in the future.
With that in mind we felt it would be appropriate to go ahead and include this excerpt from our book. This is an opinion piece and represents just some of our views on modern furniture design, and it’s contrast to the old world furniture that we love so much.
It is directed also at people looking to learn how to distress and age their own furniture so keep that in mind as well.
Feel free to join in the conversation and weigh in your opinions as well.
Nostalgia and Beauty in Design
What is it that draws you in when you see a gorgeous piece of antique furniture? When you are in a shop or an estate auction, what is it that makes you stop in mid-stride, and turn your head rapidly toward a simple piece of furniture? Several dozen other people may have passed right by that same piece without ever glancing in its direction, but something about that particular one calls to you from the great beyond. You cannot say just what it is. Perhaps it’s the color, or the design work or maybe the aged patina. Whatever it is you know that it calls to you, and you have to have it.
The explosion of the distressed furniture market in recent years raises many questions as to why so many of us go out of our way to find a piece of furniture that is scratched, beaten up, faded, dirty, has cracking and peeling paint and looks, well, distressed. It is not in the furniture and home décor world alone where this phenomenon is occurring. Chris is an amateur musician and worked in Nashville in the corporate office of a famous guitar manufacturer for a few years. Many guitar players pay this company a premium in the thousands of dollars for a certain expert to distress a brand new guitar (which can cost several thousand in the first place prior to distressing), and make it look like an authentically aged instrument from the 1950’s or 60’s. Vintage t-shirts, distressed jeans, classic cars, you name it, the world is longing for something that the sleek, sophisticated and super-shiny modern world is not currently providing. And we are looking deep into the past to find it.
So, what is it? Is it a fad? A rebellion from the commonplace and the norm? Will it be over the minute it becomes mainstream? Perhaps, but I think the desire for vintage and distressed items will continue to be sought after for a long time to come.
The reasons lie in the reasons why.
While this may or may not apply to things like jeans and guitars, I think there are two main causes for the popularity of distressed furniture in recent years. Yes, there are probably many others, but these two seem to be the best explanation of the seemingly odd obsession of purposefully destroying perfectly good, shiny and new objects.
Nostalgia plays a powerful role in the desire for distressed furniture. Many times you can look at an old antique and it reminds you of summers at your grandmother’s house, or the chair your father sat in on Sunday evenings when you were a child, or that faded photo of an age long ago where people seemed friendlier, and life more simple. Sometimes a certain item can trigger nostalgia to come over you like a flood, and a flurry of untouchable memories race through your mind so quickly you are not even sure they are your own. It’s like you have been there before and you long to touch that place again, but it flies away as quickly as it came, and you are left there trying to sort it all out.
Humans are naturally drawn to the past. We miss it, we long for it, we feel like things were better in previous times, and we wish we could go back. Perhaps it is easy to forget the day-to-day hardships in previous years and only remember the good times. Perhaps there are people that are no longer with us, places and times that cannot be recreated that makes it seem more special than today. Or maybe it’s just that we know how the story of the past ends that makes is desirable. Today and the future are too unpredictable to be very enjoyable oftentimes. Plus the hardships of today are all too near. Time has not had a chance to heal them yet, so we can sometimes invariably drift into that sense of desire for yesteryear.
This is the power of nostalgia in the human experience, and it will always be partly responsible for ensuring the longevity of the antiques and vintage merchandise markets.
The Loss of Beauty in Design
The other thing that I think draws us to pieces of furniture that are (or appear to be) very old, is the modern world has lost its love of beauty in design. Not that we, the lovers of antiques and distressed pieces have lost ours. It is simply that modern furniture manufacturers have abandoned higher aesthetics in their design work. The sleek, boring, black and white box furniture is a modern design born from a post-modern philosophy and culture. We live in this post-modern world, and architectural and home décor designers have too long reflected the values of that world in their work. The consequence has been that transcendent beauty has all but disappeared from our buildings and our furniture. Elegance and beauty in design were the standard until the 20th century, when we divorced ourselves from the old ways in search of some new and ‘enlightened’ relationship with beauty that ultimately left us empty and alone.
However, this abandonment of beauty in design has led to the rise of a revolution. Too many are now left unfulfilled by the blasé boredom of cheap, box-design furniture, each with the same golden stain color as every other piece in the store. You have seen them. They may be cost effective, but they have little else to offer besides their base function. We are humans who were designed to love and seek for true beauty, and when it becomes difficult to obtain we will either pay a premium for it, or make it ourselves when possible.
But designers, manufacturers and retailers are finally taking note. Post-modernists are still business people and they will fill the needs and desires of the market when it shifts. Now, you can go to stores like Kirklands and others, and find all kinds of cheap goodies that look like they came from the old world. Boutique shops are stocking distressed furniture, and even large furniture makers are attempting a return to more elegant designs.
We could write an entire book on this subject, and we do not want a fun book about how to distress furniture to turn into such a deep discussion on society and culture, but you have to give credence to the idea that many people are unfulfilled by modern furniture offerings, and we are paying high dollars to find those pieces that still retain that value of design beauty that has been lost in recent decades.
If you are reading this book we have to assume that you are a person who is longing for decor that is special, and truly more beautiful than anything you could buy at the local stocker of cheap Chinese furniture.
So what do you think? Feel free to weigh in.