This post originally appeared on the blog December 9, 2010
My regular bus driver and Lou Reed's drug dealer have more in common than you would initially think. At 7:50 this morning, the scheduled time for the rapid transit bus to be reaching my stop, I was thinking of the lyrics "He's never early, he's always late-- first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait" and stamping my poor little feet for warmth. Cursing the world. Nineteen degrees, Nashville? Seriously? When the bus did come, I hopped aboard in my twenty layer, Stay-Puft shaped winter clothes, found an unoccupied seat near the middle, and cracked open a delicious slice of 1958 homemaking for the ride into town.
The above copy of Homemaking for Teenagers (Book 2! Intermediate level!) was first spotted peeking out from a stack of 60's religious tracts at an estate sale off Gallatin Road two weeks ago. The man running the sale was trying to hard sell me a pair of ceramic cast Persian cats; I, not interested in said cats, was nevertheless more than happy to take this and a 20's Meal Planning for Families book off his hands (I think $1 for both of them?), and did.
One full, mostly color illustrated, chapter is devoted to the art of interior design. Be still my beating heart. Things of note-- the knobby texture of the goldenrod sectional and the tiny figural statuettes at the upper left, the faux Picasso blue period and the cobalt, plum, and yellow color scheme at the upper right, the decidedly un-Christmasy muted green and red combination to the lower left. I know these are showroom examples, and actual household snapshots may differ, but I'm always impressed with mid century design's spareness. Estate sales have spoiled me rotten, in the sense that I'm able to buy, even on my limited, mid-twenties single girl income, vast quantities of vintage knickknacks for a microscopic fraction of their original price. Thus, I am compelled to drag home backseats full of Avon bottles, ashtrays, and wall hangings in vast quantities, disregarding the "less is more" with gleeful abandon. Ah well. To each their own. It's nice to see, at least in photographs, that some can use even a modicum of nest-feathering restraint and only put into place a dozen decorative items, instead of a gross.
Speaking of decorative items, I am FASCINATED by the number of primitive art items in these examples. The term sometimes refers to weathered farmhouse kitchen tables; I'm talking about the cave drawings of Lascaux-esque wall art in the very top photo, next to the cover of the text, or the weird, semi-banjo looking musical instrument in the photo to the lower left. Could you just buy these items at Sears back in the day? The caption in the book refers to the aforementioned item as "the old musical instrument"...and this is in no way a singular, bizarre item to have in one's home, laying around? Sure, everybody has a couple of zithers and balalaikas lying around in the attic, why not put them to use? I do relish the idea of walking into the art department of Sears circa 1962, sidling past the "pricy" Vincent Price Collection, and ordering a knockoff cave painting in my choice of frames.
Additionally, to the right-- I love shuffleboards on rec room floors. It would be like having a crusie ship's deck in your own basement. Maybe someday I'll live in a house with a basement and make an attempt at one, they seem tops.
The last group of items from the textbook that I'd like to address is posted below from a section on "good taste in furniture".
And I quote: "Can you tell at a glance which of the two davenports shown above is in good taste?...If you are not sure, you might say to yourself, 'Which davenport would I rather see in my living room day after day?' Certainly you would tire of the one with the awkward shape and bulging curves...This type of design, which some would call 'cute' or 'different', should be avoided. It is neither beautiful nor truly useful."
OUCH, PEOPLE. The authoresses' scathing indictment of the second davenport's "stylelessness" (which goes on for several more sentences, which I have spared you) is wro-o-o-o-o-ong. Well, maybe not entirely wrong, but good night, which of these would people rather have in their homes today? The former, in a pretty, knobby textured turquoise, similar to the goldenrod colored one at the beginning of this post, might do all right at an estate sale. But the second one? In a nice cherry red? Shut the door, buddy. You are not getting any kind of deal on that guy, he's collectible. And you can see why! Where the women's complaint of design might have been valid to a contemporary audience, you won't see any vintage collectors levying similar criticisms to what seems like a fun, kitsch, NEW idea of a design. I can see where the course is trying to protect its student from being stuck with an ultra-50's couch that has to last one for more than the three or four years in the 50's in which that style is ACTUALLY the living edge of home furnishings, but honestly, I think it the design far outpaces its contemporaries or successors. If you love a style, you should ride it out.
Ditto on the chairs above. The text stresses "usefulness" and "classic lines"... but when a woman buys shoes, are they always oxford laceups? Or do you need a few pairs ankle straps wedges that make no sense on a practicality level, but gee they're knockouts. I think the same should apply to furniture choice. Otherwise, we would all have office furniture for our homes.
I'm not even going to tell you which of the above lamps is my favorite. Is that a man painted on the side of the lamp? IS THAT A MAN...? I love to think about what colors each of these will be.
Anyway, that's all I took away from the book in a lunch hour and a bus ride here... I'll update you on more ways to make your 1958 household the most efficient and harmonious household it can be, as I delve further into the chapters. Go ahead, click on any of the pictures above for a larger, more generous view of these rooms and schemes.