Rinker on Collectibles: Developing an Interior Decorating Mindset – Part 2

In my column “Developing an Interior Decorating Mindset – Part I,” I explored the inherent decorating value in antiques and collectibles, stressed the importance of understanding “Looks”—also known as decorating design styles—and suggested methods to determine which Looks are dominant, stable or declining. These topics represent the “broad brush” approach. Now I’ll focuses on details.

In 2013, a Look can be global, national or regional. The common tendency is to focus on global and national Looks and ignore the regional Looks. This is a mistake. First, there are regional Looks that are distinct and centuries old. I am Pennsylvania German and grew up in eastern Pennsylvania where the Pennsylvania German Look is traditional and commonplace. My cousin Diana Davis Moyer lives in Surprise, Ariz. When I visit her, I see the Southwestern Look, very similar in style to the Ranch Look, with its plain adobe walls, muted earth tones and minimalist decorative accessories.

I now live in western Michigan. A Country Look with a semi-rustic/cottage flare is dominant. The Look differs subtly from the contemporary, formal Country Look found in Country magazines.

Regional Looks dominate in areas where there are a large number of senior citizens. Senior citizens are most comfortable with what they know. They preserve the past rather than adopt the latest craze. These senior citizens also produced generations of children and grandchildren whose identities are linked to rebelling from rather than adopting the regional Look.

Second, not every section of the United States has a distinct regional Look. Eclecticism reigns, especially in the urban-cosmopolitan markets. City magazines and regional-focused publications are sources to determine regional decorating preferences. If a regional Look is not immediately evident, it does not exist.

Holiday Looks
During the mid-1940s through the early 1960s when I was an adolescent and young adult, the Holiday Look held sway. As each holiday approached, a new set of decorations appeared. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas featured dozens of holiday-themed items set on tables, buffets and shelves. The decorations were spread throughout the house—living room, kitchen, dining room and upstairs bedrooms. Emphasis was on quantity, not quality.

In 2013, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving get short shrift in terms of home decoration. Easter is fast approaching the endangered category. Christmas is the only solid Holiday Look. Collectors are preserving the early and mid-20th century Holiday Look. Unfortunately, the last 30 years have seen few new items that demonstrate the prospect of reappearing year after year and eventually becoming cherished family heirlooms.

In addition to the Holiday Look, I also grew up with the Seasonal Look. The annual spring and fall house cleaning was transformational. In the spring, the heavy winter curtains and draperies came down and were replaced with their transparent, light summer equivalents. Table linens and coverings were changed. The candleholders and vases were changed to reflect the season.

There is a close connection between the Seasonal Look and the Color Look. Fall was a time for muted, earth-colored tones that reflected the harvest. Winter called for the bold simple colors—blood red, royal blue and emerald green. The fabrics that exhibited them were heavy and warm. Spring brought the light pastels, the soft shades of beige, pink and rose. Summer saw a return to bright bold colors, especially sunshine yellow and tomato red.

Fashion mirrored these interior decorating color shifts. Then, as now, women had distinct seasonal wardrobes. Men are somewhat immune, only the weight of their fabric changing to meet seasonal demands.

Author’s Aside: I did not realize how many decorating changes occurred in my parents’ home until I started writing this column series. The first thing I picture in my mind when reminiscing about my childhood home on Depot Street in Hellertown, Pa., or my first home on Drury Lane in Bethlehem, Pa., is the permanent pieces, especially the furniture. I need to focus more on the smalls, the easiest things to change. The impact of their change was pronounced.

The high cost of decorating in the 21th century, especially with the emphasis on picking a designer look and sticking to it, has reduced the emphasis on seasonal change. After spending thousands of dollars on window treatments, even when buying at a Big Box store, the tendency is to “live with it awhile.” Awhile soon stretches into decades. The same applies to major purchases from furniture to television sets. Many of the individuals who buy at Rooms to Go and similar stores finance their purchase over time. GE Capital Retail Bank is not about financing cars.

Color Looks
Specific colors and hues are associated with historical periods. A light olive green and dark red lines on white indicates the 1930s. Pink and black suggest the 1950s. Turquoise, copper and chrome followed in the 1960s. When Bud George, my builder, installed the turquoise cabinetry in the kitchen of my apartment renovation at The School (the former Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School) in 2000, he commented: “I haven’t installed anything like this in 35 years.” The 1970s saw the rise of avocado, golden harvest and rust. The 1990s is the era of beige and ecru.

These Color Looks were used throughout the house. My favorite method in dating a suburban ranch house is by checking its bathrooms. Kitchens get renovated. As long as they are working, bathrooms do not. I lost count of the pink-black and turquoise theme bathrooms I encountered during my career. My life would be blessed if I never see another.

Pattern is a critical element in any Look. The swirling, interlocking, free-flowing triangles on 1950s Formica kitchen table tops and the psychedelic images on textiles of the mid-1960s and early 1970s are examples. Patterns follow animal, fruit, historic and topical crazes. The surfaces of products from the 1990s featured roosters and chickens, apples and strawberries in the late 1950s and early 1960s, patriotic themes in the early and mid-1940s, and the India—especially the Nehru jacket—in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Decade Pieces
Seeking pieces that “speak decade” is the key to merchandising a Look. A “speak decade” piece is one which provokes the universal comment from any person: “That’s from the 1950s (substitute whatever decade is appropriate.).” “That’s part of the Western Look (substitute whatever Look is appropriate)” is a corollary question. They identify those pieces that are the easiest to sell to a decorator, amateur or profession.

They also reveal a truism. Not every surviving antique and collectible has interior decorating appeal. My guesstimate is that much more than 90 percent do not. While it is possible to identify most objects with a specific time period, they are generic rather than designer statements. Design is at the core of the interior decorating mindset. Only antiques and collectibles with good line, form, color and pattern belong in this category.

In previous “Rinker on Collectibles” columns, I made the argument that once a design style enters the marketplace, it never goes away. The same applies to Looks. However, it is essential to divide Looks into major and minor categories and to be sensitive to the possibility of an occasional “flash in the pan” candidate.

Bridget from Refined Vintage sent me an e-mail earlier this month in response to Part I of this series. She called my attention to the Industrial Look, popular in urban loft apartments, Paris Apartment Chic (the French never go away) and Modern Glamour. I added the first two to my “minor categories” list. However, I am suspicious of the third. It is built around a few current “hot” designers, such as Candice Olson and Kelly Wearstler. It is questionable if this design style will stand the test of time. For the moment, Modern Glamour is on my “flash in the pan” list.

I end this series on developing an interior mindset with another comment from Bridget’s e-mail: “When I am looking for merchandise for my shops, I do keep in mind what is hot right now, and I try my best to cover different decorating styles.”

She clearly has developed an interior decorating mindset.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2013

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