What we used to term jargon is now ‘(pick your industry)- speak’, and while ‘jargon’ had the connotation of something that was, within its context, esoteric and recondite, certainly in the antiques, art and design trades, most of the short hand terms are used to give something cachet. Watching the Antiques Roadshow, the proper name ‘Chippendale’ is widely applied to virtually any furniture piece in even the vaguest of mid 18th century English or English colonial style and of such degrees of quality, usually bad, that it is surprising that we haven’t heard that the master’s mortal remains have spun to the surface of the ground above his final resting place.
A trade-speak term that has sadly found currency is the term ‘vintage’. As near as I can understand it, ‘vintage’ is anything in the decorative arts that has some age but is not nearly an antique. Terms change, but something that is now vintage is what I would have termed for most of my life ‘used furniture’, or if speaking amongst my franker colleagues, ‘firewood’. As my few loyal blogophiles will know from reading one of my recent entries, very many new furniture mass market retailers are producing pieces of vaguely period design, and whose faux distress both in show frame, upholstery, and underframe, while meant to betoken age actually functions to mask inherently poor quality. It is therefore comical to see in the work of many designers an admixture of so-called vintage pieces that by their inclusion seek to give some sort of sophistication and depth of feeling to newly made crap. Just one man’s view, of course, but any contemporary use of a 50’s Heywood Wakefield coffee table is always going to put me in mind of Eve Arden and ‘Our Miss Brooks’.
I’ve seen this bizarre mix of the pseudo period and the vintage lots of times recently, and in a couple of settings here locally- early 20th century houses of neoclassical design- the juxtaposition was truly horrific. The newly bleached parquetry and painted over/painted out plaster grotesqueries and arabesques did make matters jarringly worse. I do not know why householders do not know that unusual compositions in marred and inappropriate settings do not betoken cleverness. They are what they are- just plain odd. Mind you, I am not stumping for some notion of strict adherence to a design aesthetic that, even in its own time was largely the fancy, albeit a studied one, of the designer. The interiors whether of Robert Adam or Frank Lloyd Wright were rarities in their own day, and seldom survive unaltered. Eclectism is the natural result of spaces lived in and when this happens to good effect, it becomes a happy union of the period and the more contemporary, when and if, of course, exterior and interior architecture provide a congenial matrix. An interior scheme that is botched in conception, disjoined from its surroundings, won’t be helped by the addition of so-called vintage material.