Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shopping Time

Photo courtesy Flickr

Set up smart-do a little homework-it’s fun, easy on the feet, and easy on the wallet.

Etiquette expert Miss Manners commented once that the scions of prominent English families had had “major shopping done for them two hundred years ago”. That’s a helpful reminder that the time one spends on procurement is itself a significant investment. It’s not a bad idea to start by buying good garden furniture, new or used, until more formal chairs and tables come along. Terence Conran’s classic but dated House Book lays out an intelligent sequence of purchases.

Several unwitting behaviors have taught me ways to choose furnishings that don’t have to be replaced. The first is the simplest and cheapest: research. For years before I thought of buying real estate or much of anything else for that matter, I read everything the public library carried in interior design and gardening. I already owned a full hiking kit, the contents of an old-fashioned hope chest, and the tools of my trade.

Norma Skurka’s New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration and her Underground Interiors are still relevant, if you can find them. Vita Sackville-West’s garden book lays out the fundamentals of English practice. Content that precedes the mid-Eighties is dense, well-researched, and gives the lay person a good grip on the basics.

A second unwitting behavior was scouting thrift stores. I have made a good few hundred dollars’ worth of mistakes, but the shops are a vivid education in the life span of commercial products. I can now cruise the aisles of a big-box merchandiser and predict with over eighty percent accuracy which offerings will end up costing fifty cents used. I can’t, however, predict which offerings will end their lives as the beloved collectibles of a generation.

A third unwitting behavior was visiting museums. Train the eye. Don’t work at it, just look at things.

The Internet, of course, is all of the above and a great deal more. Design is wide open: all periods and styles are worthy of respect if only for the carbon price of their production. Keep an eye on English Conde’ Nasts’ World of Interiors for well-informed navigation, and keep an eye on vulgar Juxtapoz for a squint at the frontiers of good form. Its recent article on the work of Retna shows his glorious evolution from felon to scribe.

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