30 October 2003
Because you love nice things
The title here is a slogan from the old Van Raalte company, which during the Forties and Fifties sold upscale lingerie and hosiery and such, moving into pantyhose in the Sixties and disappearing sometime in the Seventies. As commercial appeals go, it cuts straight to the chase; only L'Oreal's "Because I'm worth it" exceeds it for ego massage. But we wouldn't respond to it at all if it weren't true: we do love nice things.
I'm reading Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, and one paragraph continues to poke at me while I decide how to dress up my new home. It's from the very first chapter, The Aesthetic Imperative:
People have always decorated their homes. But the aesthetic quality and variety of home interiors have increased dramatically. Furnishings once reserved for rich aficionados are now the stuff of middle-class life. In the early 1990s, when Pottery Barn launched its interiors-oriented catalog, American home owners could not buy a wrought-iron curtain rod without hiring an interior designer. "We had to go to a little iron shop in Wisconsin and teach them how to make a curtain rod," recalls Hilary Billings, who turned the Pottery Barn catalog into a home-furnishings source for the aesthetically-aspiring middle-class, a niche that rival Crate and Barrel also filled. Now such once-exotic offerings can be found in discount stores. "Crate and Barrel changed the world," says [former Art Center College of Design president David] Brown, "and then Target changed it again."
Target certainly seems kinder to my pocketbook, anyway.
This week I received a catalog from an operation called Design Within Reach, which is presumably aimed at people with homes worthy of coverage in Architectural Digest, with budgets to match. In years gone by, I would have tossed it without a second look. Not today. I pored over the pages, wondered what it might be like to own a chaise longue based on Le Corbusier's 1928 design, or a Ludwig Mies van de Rohe daybed, and, for a few moments anyway, ignored the financial realities.
So maybe it's not quite so imperative, this aesthetic, at least just yet, at least for me; get a knockoff of this chaise into JCPenney, though, and I'm in.