Weekly Wrap-up: Retail Despair, Bill Cunningham & Fuschia Exteriors

  • Find of the Week, or, Why I Closed my Shop

This week I went to Target to buy a bunch of those big stackable plastic storage bins that I strongly believe will make my life better. I only mention what I bought in order to to emphasize that it would have been hard to shop in downtown Rockport for this particular item, thus absolving my own guilt and appeasing any local shop owner who might be reading this. Of course I won’t detail what else I bought while I was at this corporate behemoth, or one of Satan’s Gift Shops, as I like to call Big Box stores. But while wandering around Target, my keen former retailer’s eye couldn’t help but spot all the attractive pieces on display, or, even more attractively, on display at serious discounts. I think if I had seen such sights a few years ago, when I still had my small shop open (just to clarify, a “small shop” is a sort of 3-D experience in which you can walk around a space smaller than 1,000 square feet and pick up things to buy) I might have offed myself right there in the aisle between chrome-plated piggy banks and vintage-inspired lighting. And what would have pushed me over the edge is this: a perfectly harmless small black globe with a silver base for twelve dollars and forty-eight cents. This is what small shop owners are up against. Massive stores filled with relatively attractive pieces at rock-bottom prices. Well, you might say in the attempt to talk me off my ledge, the quality of these items is terrible — just a bunch of crummy imports and cheap knock-offs while most small, local shops are selling a better product, not to mention offering customer service and actual human-to-human interaction. I agree, but while these points sounds good in theory, the reality is this: the stuff at Target looks cool, and 99% of consumers will choose a low price over paying for quality (or vintage patina, or construction, or any number of other factors) every time.

Curse you, globe, and the store that spawned you.

  • Film: Bill Cunningham’s New York

When it comes to design, The Roving Home addresses interiors far more than fashion of course, but what Bill Cunningham has to say in this documentary transcends any false distinctions we might make about aesthetics and our ideas about beauty. He is a photographer (and former milliner) who chronicles fashion as seen on the streets of New York with two weekly columns in The New York Times.  That he has an infallible eye for both what is current and what is timeless almost goes without saying. But more than this, he has a tireless dedication to what is good and true. He has freed himself (not without difficulty — the details of which he does not divulge) of the things that distract the rest of us: money, eating, lust, money, psychology, money & money.  His ethic is something rarely seen in modern life: self-denial in service of a greater idea.  Which in his case is the search for beauty. And the consequences of this search were in evidence in this film: his life seemed sort of transcendent, if poignant, marked by generosity of spirit, good will, kindness, and the gift for truly being fed by beauty. It was like something out of Greek myth, or like watching a nearly-extinct species of rare bird go about his daily business. Soon we won’t have people like him around at all anymore as our love of excess and money, across all social classes and subcultures, consumes us completely. It was a lovely privilege to see a glimpse of this man up close and I am thankful to the filmmakers and to Bill Cunningham himself for going to the trouble of making the movie. And if all of this is too much abstraction for you, it’s also just fun to watch. And that’s okay too.

For more, check out this link: Bill Cunningham’s New York

  • Design Decision of the Week: Exterior Paint Color

My adopted hometown of Rockport, Massachusetts is an amazing place. This small village offers up endless delights: rocky shoreline vistas and miles of wooded rambles, two in-town beaches, a world-class Performance Center, an Art Association, free Sunday night concerts at the bandstand (a gazebo!), some amazing shopping, a working harbor, fresh lobster, historic houses, and bright fuschia exteriors. Whoa! Hold on there! What was that? Yes, it’s true — and our Yankees ancestors are rolling in their graves as I write this. An 18th-century building in Rockport was just bathed in the saturated hues of a pink that would put Pepto Bismol to shame.  While Pantone just hasn’t quite got around to declaring it Color of the Year, it seems that (according to Rockport at least) Honeysuckle is out. There’s a new broad in town, and her name is Blinding Fuschia.

When good buildings go bad: Fuschia Pink exterior.

Objectified: Designers Think Out Loud

Weekends in our household are spent with our good friend Netflix.  By now Netflix knows me better than I know myself; when Netflix guesses just how many stars I’ll give a particular film, Netflix is usually right.  It’s all very Jetsons-ish.  When it comes to weekend viewing, I just sit back and let Netflix do my choosin’ for me.  Now if only Rosie would come up to my computer and- with a few robotic this-es and thats – enter the movie into my Netflix queue, the vision of the future according to the Jetsons would be fulfilled.  I could just sit back and drink my slurpee and watch away.  (No, I don’t really drink slurpees, I just wanted to invoke an apt image of sloth.)

This weekend’s viewing included the documentary Objectified, a film on the world of industrial design and how it intersects with all of our lives, every single day, whether or not we are aware of this fact.  It’s strange to consciously realize that everything we use was designed by someone – usually with an end toward function that, if executed well, does not draw attention to its design.  Meaning, our favorite pen is our favorite pen because it works so beautifully, not because we are conscious that it was “well-designed”. Continue reading