"fabrics and furnitures and experiences to which I will never belong"
March 11, 2015 1:26 PM   Subscribe

 
Nicely done - This essay occupies that very, very narrow window that I sometimes live in, which comes of being descended from upper-crust academic Boston-Brahman types on one side of the family, and blue-collar ex-military Swamp Yankees on the other. It's a really unique thing to know that the upper-class manners which you've had drilled into you all fit into a different world, to which you will never gain citizenship.

Fortunately, though, I also have a dash of New England Frugality which makes me go on to think "pffft, why would you want to spend as much as a house for a mattress anyway if your old one is still working? What a dumb-ass idea," and that helps so much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


I also wanted to mention the two "precursor" essays that sort of set the scene for this one (Why I'm Not a Homeowner and The Home I would Choose for Myself), but they're not as focused on the same topics and ultimately I felt it could stand on its own.
posted by psoas at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ha ha man just when I think I'm ready to ease up on the rage bucket class warrior thing I am reminded, no, this is my eternal duty, fuck that chair, fuck that launch party, burn it all
posted by beefetish at 1:51 PM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Furniture feels like one of those things where you have to buy with little information and few options (unless you're willing to pay through the nose). Mattresses, as I understand them, are essentially a racket, where you have no way of actually getting a good deal.

Houses, it depends. There's a lot of crap out there, but except for some of the more bullshitty items (garage doors, so-called "radiant insulation", white goods), you can get something functional at an honest price.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:58 PM on March 11, 2015


I liked that the author made an effort to see the other party guests as a group of strangers, rather than a solid mass of "they", and that she did it in order to avoid losing sight of their humanity. She tried not to use people to make a point--instead, she focused on interactions with the physical environment (the feel of fabrics, the look of the clothing the other people wore--notice that she said nothing about their grooming or anything else about their appearances, just about the materials they wore).
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:05 PM on March 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is pretty much the first and only thing I could think of while reading that.

"Ron's in Bloosh!! Ron's in Bloosh!!"
posted by primalux at 2:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


She actually went! So pleased, I read the other articles where she mentioned she might do it. Great piece, as usual, the billfold is one of my (other) favourite places on the internet.
posted by ellieBOA at 2:15 PM on March 11, 2015


Oh, wow, psoas, those two prelude essays are hitting me hard because HOLY SHIT SHE'S ME.

Although I would predict - or at least hope - that there's a fourth and final essay, where she finds a way to reconcile "I've finally given myself permission to have preferences as to how my home looks" and "I can't afford the style I've apparently fallen in love with" - by coming around to "I'm smart and resourceful enough to figure out a way to either make-do or DIY a way to give the look and feel I want without the expense, and that makes it even better than just buying it".

That "giving yourself permission to want things" when you're a little strapped for cash is a really, really big thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ha ha man just when I think I'm ready to ease up on the rage bucket class warrior thing I am reminded, no, this is my eternal duty, fuck that chair, fuck that launch party, burn it all

Can I think this while also still liking my own personal chairs, several of which are no-name midcentury modern via the thrift store back in the late nineties when you could still find good chairs at the thrift store? Could we burn the social systems but rescue the chairs and redistribute them? I mean, if the chairs have to go then they have to go, but [whines a little about chairs].
posted by Frowner at 2:17 PM on March 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


This article really hit home for me since I'm engaged in some long delayed furniture shopping right now and I made the mistake of using Houzz in my search for a dining table. (If you haven't used Houzz, it's like a specialized Google for interior design.)

Houzz showed me tables that are way, way, way out of my budget range for this purchase. I know I shouldn't even have clicked through, but I did, and now I'm lusting after these gorgeous hand-crafted tables that cost as much as a car. And the other, more affordable, tables I was considering now seem dowdy and "not right for the space", lol. This is why I have avoided looking at "consumption" magazines (e.g., every single interior design mag ever published) for most of my life, but since you actually have to look at furniture when buying it, I think I will just have to be glad I can afford any table at all when making my purchase.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:19 PM on March 11, 2015


"I read Paul Fussell's Class . . ."

There's your problem. You can't unread that book, try as you might.
posted by Oxydude at 2:28 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Of course Frowner!! I'm not angry at the concept of durable, beautiful goods. I like durable, beautiful goods. I don't like the notion that the only people permitted to possess these goods are the kind of people who would be found at the Overlook in the old days, you know what I mean?
posted by beefetish at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


fucking liberate the nice ass chairs, nice ass chairs for the people is what i'm saying
posted by beefetish at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Houzz showed me tables that are way, way, way out of my budget range for this purchase. I know I shouldn't even have clicked through, but I did, and now I'm lusting after these gorgeous hand-crafted tables that cost as much as a car. And the other, more affordable, tables I was considering now seem dowdy and "not right for the space", lol

See, I think when it comes to furniture I'm kind of like Phoebe on FRIENDS - she liked old quirky antiquey-looking things that you could get at thrift shops and flea markets because they had "character", and she turned up her nose at the Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma kind of things that were made to COPY the antiquey-looking things. But the "character" isn't the only reason I want the thrift shop version - I want something that's already beat to shit so I don't have to be all precious about preserving it.

I know exactly the kind of kitchen table I want for my dream kitchen - a big thing that looks like it was made out of an old barn door, plain design, nice and solid wood. But - old and used, because I am going to be beating the HELL out of that thing. Basically I want my aunt's kitchen table from when I was a kid, which was big enough for me and my brother and parents and her and my uncle and three cousins to all gather around for breakfasts when we visited; she ran the kitchen like a sort of a half-DIY restaurant, where you'd stumble downstairs and she'd be there with her coffee and say "oh, Good mornin', you sleep okay? Listen, whatever you want for breakfast, we got it all - there's cereal and toast in the cupboard over there, I got dishes in that other cupboard, and your daddy said he was heading to the Dunkin' Donuts if you want that instead, and we'll be making eggs and bacon and pancakes when he gets back, coffee's over on the counter and I got two kinds of juice in the fridge, you just help yourself, here's the comics." And you could grab whatever you wanted and just sit there at the kitchen table and chill out, and say hi to other people as they came in, and it was all loose and comfortable and because the table was so old it didn't matter if you spilled anything on it and you didn't have to be careful because it was built like a tank, and it didn't matter how it looked anyway so much as who was there in the kitchen with you, and -

So, yeah, that's the kind of table I want. Solid and scuffed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Okay, that's good. If I can't [sit comfortably on my large secondhand originally custom-built-somewhere-in-Wisconsin sofa] to it, it's not my revolution.
posted by Frowner at 2:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I came in here looking for the Dwell design conference?
posted by infini at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


and she turned up her nose at the Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma kind of things that were made to COPY the antiquey-looking things.

I couldn't buy the PB/WS furniture even if I wanted to, since, as I found out after visiting what felt like every furniture showroom in NoVA last week, furniture has gotten HUGE. (And it's not just my opinion - the Grey Lady agrees!) Almost everything I've seen in person is way too big for the 1940s house I live in. So my table will need to be second-hand or made to order. But there are made to order tables and made to order tables. And my eyes have stupidly fallen in love with the latter.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Please forgive my ignorance. I assume there's some point about brandname-checking so clothes and household items so diligently?

Also, off to read about the cited "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" for a better explanation.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of kind of part of the chair launch party world and am here to speak in its defense. Most of the folks who attend these things are people in the interior design industry: designers, sales people, architects and people who do other jobs in those kinds of businesses that are able to score invites. Plus friends and SOs. Maybe they wear black, but it's not like they are all 1% elitists. These things can be fun to hang out at and have free drinks and food.

Most likely they don't have $2000 chairs in their homes.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:04 PM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think wearing black in the designer/architecture/art world is kind of an egalitarian phenomenon - it's quick and a little bit boring, sure, but it also can be very inexpensive and look nice/okay, no matter what.

It reminds me a little bit of Richard Feynman's experience wearing academic gowns at Princeton:

"Every night we wore academic gowns to dinner. The first night it scared the life out of me, because I didn't like formality. But I soon realized that the gowns were a great advantage. Guys who were out playing tennis could rush into their room, grab their academic gown, and put it on. They didn't have to take time off to change their clothes or take a shower. So underneath the gowns there were bare arms, T-shirts, everything. Furthermore, here was a rule that you never cleaned the gown, so you could tell a first-year man from a second-year man, from a third-year man, from a pig! You never cleaned the gown and you never repaired it, so the first-year men had very nice, relatively clean gowns, but by the time you got to the third year or so, it was nothing but some kind of cardboard thing on your shoulders with tatters hanging down from it."
posted by suedehead at 3:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mattresses, as I understand them, are essentially a racket, where you have no way of actually getting a good deal.

I had to haggle my way through buying a used car from a dealer once, and it was still less unpleasant that buying my mattress.

Although I would predict - or at least hope - that there's a fourth and final essay, where she finds a way to reconcile "I've finally given myself permission to have preferences as to how my home looks" and "I can't afford the style I've apparently fallen in love with"

I wonder which is worse — this, or having the need and the means but no idea what you want and what is good.
posted by indubitable at 3:29 PM on March 11, 2015


We bought our bed online from Bed In A Box several years ago and got a great mattress for a lot less than what it would have cost us going to a mattress store. (Not affiliated with them in any way, just giving alternatives to what sounds like a terrible experience).
posted by KGMoney at 3:39 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can relate to the comment about furniture all being too big for your house if you do not own a McMansion. We live in my parents' 50s Cape Cod which we inherited, and had to replace some stuff that had finally worn out beyond repair. We were only looking in standard suburban furniture stores, nothing exclusive or classy, but I was amazed at how huge, ugly, dark and pretentious just about everything was. Not a single thing that would be comfortable in our home. When did that fake mahogany look become a thing again? When did elaborate dark drapes that weigh a ton return to haunt living rooms? When did couches all become brown , black, or white leather, or some variation of beige fabric that begs for stains?

The massive faux Victorian beds were actually scary. They looked as if they would eat anyone who tried to sleep in them, and they all reminded me of the bed Lincoln died in. Dining room tables were just as bad, massive things for the Great Hall set of B movie, with chairs that would not survive long if anyone actually ate on them and spilled something.

Thrift stores are about the only places to get anything to scale, not butt-ugly, and affordable.

We did finally find a kitchen island that was not made for a commercial size kitchen, but it was the last of its kind in the store, so luckily on sale. It is plain and painted red with a light wood top and cheerful, so obviously nobody would want it.
posted by mermayd at 3:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


When the aliens come to buy, they will wear those chairs on their heads. I saw a piece in the Times about custom bathtubs, $150,000 a pop. The allure of luxury drives all kinds of people and processes. I like little rocks I can put in my pockets and make a new home for. I am not speaking of crystallized carbon.

I am glad the writer went out, and has a clearer idea of what she is willing to work toward.
posted by Oyéah at 4:19 PM on March 11, 2015


oh man another thing to scavenge from abandoned buildings when the Antarctic ice sheet melts
posted by angrycat at 4:34 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


furniture has gotten HUGE

No kidding! This (along with budget, of course) is why I have so many pieces from Ikea -- their stuff mostly hasn't gotten huge, and fits in the modest-sized houses that my lifestyle allows. I have a few older pieces, too -- mostly not "ooh, what beautiful antiques!" old, more like "hmm, why do we still own this? Can you remember what garage sale we bought it at?" old.

The article is great, and I can really relate to that realization that you are visiting a social space to which you will never belong. I've been in those spaces (sometimes for work, sometimes as a guest) and it is lovely to be there momentarily, but for me it comes with some envy and discomfort because I am not on the kind of economic mobility path that will allow me to live that way for real.

And at the same time I try to remain aware that my own more limited prosperity allows me to care about materials in the sense of buying slightly better quality brands when I care to; my mattress will never cost as much as a house but it has also been quite a few years since I had to buy a used one, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Enjoyable article I found after reading this thread: Class Dismissed: A new status anxiety is infecting affluent hipdom
posted by oceanjesse at 5:18 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't notice the links until after I commented, but her homeowner piece is even better. She has a good eye and I like how she captures the interplay between expectations and reality.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:19 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am here to defend something. Not sure exactly what it is though. Something about aesthetics and quality, maybe? I definitely feel something I hold dear is under attack though.

Good chairs invariably are expensive unless you can buy second hand at auction. Made not by factory sweatshops in SE Asia for pennies brokered on the bleeding exploited hands of children and such.

We know they are expensive and uncommon and desirable, and they are manufactured that way. Ruinously expensive, they are mainly purchased not by homeowners but designers for a home they are furnishing for a homeowner who has no idea what a good chair looks like and has money in spadefuls.

Much of it is designed not to be paticularly useable either, but to look lovely and to look expensive. Class markers and so on. Form over Function. Sevres porcelain. Maison Jansen spindly coffee tables.
Celadon things behind marquetry cabinet doors and the Desede DS600 that looks plush but you are not allowed to sit on.

What am I defending again? Not sure actually, something indefinable and probably indefensible anyway. As you were.
posted by Plutocratte at 7:07 PM on March 11, 2015


So, let me get this straight - the Haves are buying bigger houses that need bigger furniture that costs a lot of money, like more than a week's pay for a chair, and a chair that's going to need several others just like it, at that - and Mr. & Ms. and their little Have-Nots are trying to figure out how to afford adequate food on minimum wages. Haves buy lumpy organic mattresses at great expense, but Have-Nots pay whatever the market will bear for a pillow-top that's probably not too bad.

This is why there should be taxes on people who have too much money.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't help thinking that the particular chair in the article is way overpriced. Even if I had all the money in the world, I'd never buy it because I would feel I'd been scammed. This sort of skews the article for me.
posted by mumimor at 3:55 AM on March 12, 2015


I think there's an argument that only producing utilitarian crud and having everyone wear burlap sacks is probably not a desirable world for most people

but like holy shit we are nowhere close to that world as reality and god what I wouldn't do for like a chair that doesn't fuck with my lower back issues, won't fall apart in three years, and doesn't cost more than $50 new
posted by runt at 5:33 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]



but like holy shit we are nowhere close to that world as reality and god what I wouldn't do for like a chair that doesn't fuck with my lower back issues, won't fall apart in three years, and doesn't cost more than $50 new


And I mean in theory wasn't this what a lot of the mid-century stuff was supposed to do? Not the, like, Mies chairs with the leather upholstery, but all those Eames-ish bent plywood chairs and so on? I am a little bit weak on the design ideology of the period, but IIRC quite a lot of it was about mass producing well-designed stuff for ordinary people, or at the very least, small-scale mass production (ie, large semi-industrial workshop) production of high quality stuff that ordinary people could conceivably afford.

This reminds me of the Google thread, in that both seem to be about a utopian idea that gets recaptured by capital - probably because it wasn't really separate enough from capital in the first place.
posted by Frowner at 6:46 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


40/4 is the chair you are looking for. Excuse me for the sad site, but it was the best price I could find in a five minute search (not 50 dollars). Used, it comes dirt cheap, and it's easy to renovate.
The link is to the classic steel chair you probably know from institutions everywhere. But it also comes in a swivel version, a veneer version, with upholstery etc, etc. I miss mine which was broken by teenagers, because it was the only chair I could sit in for a whole day of computer work. I'm definitely saving up for a new one.
posted by mumimor at 8:00 AM on March 12, 2015


I'll start off by saying that if the recession hadn't nailed the building industry in the goolies, I'd still be in architecture. But there was a gradually lengthening list of things which I found less than good about the profession and my place in it. One of the things I don't miss is the obsession with materials. The downright snobbishness about craft. The displays of perfection. And all this on a middling salary.

I was also raised with manners and by a mother who enjoyed and understood fine things. We had a house full of fancy china and silver and entertained important people and Generals. All that skill is fairly lost in my current world. And it's very hard for me to move in and out of those spaces.

Great essays.
posted by amanda at 8:02 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


frowner yes seriously

i feel like the essential failing of both utopian schemes is they have a clearly defined goal but not clearly defined methods, so the goal of "internet data technology connection data!!" or "beautiful, affordable goods!!! craftsmanship!!" gets subsumed back into the capitalist/imperalist mode at light speed because nobody cares HOW we get there, just that we get there

i feel like there is an opportunity to get just a little Dr. Bronners about the whole thing and make a really lively zine
posted by beefetish at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2015


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