Monday, October 04, 2010

Form. Function. Folly? ...

Some of the interior design folks I follow on Twitter are chatting this morning about design shows, and what they'd like to see.

I am a design-show junkie. I watch HGTV far more often than any of the other channels that I now pay far too much to receive. I thought I would be much more inclined toward Food Network, but I'm not. HGTV satisfies my visual yen.

Some shows – some networks, even – have come and gone, and I can't quite remember what net hosted what shows, but I've sampled a wide swath of 'em in finding my favorites.

One of the topics on Twitter this morning suggested disclosing the budgets for makeovers. I heartily support that idea. Candice Olson pulls off some spectacular spaces, but wouldn't it be fascinating to know it took $50,000 to overhaul a kitchen? Or $30,000 to transform a bedroom? (Or whatever the costs may be.)

Price tags only seem to appear on the low-end shows. "Design on a Dime" makeovers happen for $1,000 or less. "Design Remix" grants folks only $50 to supplement whatever they have on hand.

And you know what? The rooms on "Design Remix" always look like someone spent about $50 to spruce them up.

Even "Design on a Dime"-type shows leave me wondering about what the rooms really look like. They may appear nice-ish for the reveal, but that painted armoire? How does it look up close? Better yet, how will it look in a month, once it's been in service?

Another topic that came up on Twitter, though, was that not every show should be about low-budget design but rather the time is nigh for high-end, luxury makeovers.

Which set me to thinking about the prices people pay, and why.

My enthusiasm for angelo:HOME stems from his mission to make good design affordable.

Which isn't to say there isn't a place for heirloom-quality pieces, but so much of design seems priced for status and nothing more.

It's much the same with fashion. What makes a skirt worth $700? The label. That's it. Which isn't to say there aren't degrees of quality in clothing. Of course there are. Design, fabrics, details, and workmanship all go into the cost of a garment, but much of what goes into the jaw-dropping number on the price tag is the status of owning it.

No thanks.

And so, when I flip through design magazines, I can't help but question the prices of some of the items. Oh, what a lovely bench, I might think. And then wonder why it's $8,000.

Well, because the designer wants $8,000 for it, that's why.

Yesterday, I was at an antique show at the Merchandise Mart. And I saw a lot of lovely things. (I saw a lot of ugly things, too. I'm sorry, but what's the appeal of majolica?)

I saw a lovely painting. It was $22,500. Nope, won't be owning that.

Art, incidentally, is one of the few things I think is justifiably priced much of the time.

But if I consider that painting as one element of a room? That's going to be an expensive room.

I remember watching "Sensible Chic" and balking at the price tags of the designer rooms. Really? $90,000 for a living room? Who are the people who have $90,000 to throw at decorating a living room? But more importantly, why would anyone spend $90,000 to decorate a living room?

How much excess is enough? I know I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, but I couldn't spend that kind of money to decorate a room knowing how much good I could do with that kind of money.

Mind you, I like nice things. And I have far more than I need. Depending on which end of the lens through which you view my world, I live either a very modest existence or one that's very opulent. By Beverly Hills mansion standards, I live in a hovel. By hovel standards, I live in a mansion.

When I bought it, my dining room table set me back a couple grand. It's a solid cherry table. I'll be able to pass it down to someone. It's built to last more than one lifetime. By that measure, it was a bargain.

I paired with it the Parsons chairs that surrounded the former table (which is now in my basement and very handy for extra seating when I have a party) for which I ordered custom slipcovers. I could have bought new chairs, but a) I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars per chair, times six; b) I really like these chairs; they're very comfortable and I'm all for comfort when it comes to dinner parties, for encouraging people to linger around the table and chat; and c) I couldn't see replacing them because they were in fine condition, save for the fabric, which was looking a bit worse for the wear. So the slipcovers were the perfect solution.

The "sideboard" is a bit too small in scale in relation to the table, but the color of the wood matches the table almost exactly and it does a fine job of holding my stemware and some silver pieces. It easily gets as many compliments as the pedestal table. And I bought it from Crate & Barrel, a flat-pack piece I assembled in about 20 minutes. And it cost $250-ish, if I remember right.

Could I have spent loads more money on another piece? You betcha. But I'm glad I didn't.

So, my point in all of this? Oh, hell, I have no idea. Other than musing about the motivations behind paying large sums for design. Are our lives enhanced in any way because we spent $1,000 for a lamp versus $100? What are we trying to tell ourselves and the world with what we choose to buy?

Because, in the end, it's all just stuff.

Yesterday, my mom and I drove past the property where a dear friend of the family used to live. Her son has since sold it. We hope that the person who bought it brings the house back to life. It's a lovely house on a lovely wooded lot.

It set me to thinking about what happens to our things when we die. At the antique market, Doreen had commented about how things arrive at such fairs. Did someone decide to sell those things? Did someone need to sell those things? Did someone die and the family sold off possessions in an estate sale?

I like buying things at antique stores. I like the thought that items have a past, that they once lived in someone else's space, and were appreciated for a time. I like putting things to use in other ways (my steamer trunk is a coffee table, my wooden drafting stool is a plant stand). And I like that not everyone will have the same things as me.

I like that most everything in my living room has a story behind it. By design standards, my home is devoid of status.

But it's full of interest and items well-loved.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I'm with you on that one. I'd like to see the price tag for one of Mike Holmes' renovations. I'd like to think that I know rebuilding a foundation while the house is still standing is going to be expensive, but _how_ expensive? I love Candice Olsen's kitchens, but I don't know if I would like it at two years salary.

And Design on a Dime, please. $50 to paint a room? Come on, it costs me $1200 for a painter to paint a room _without_ doing the trim or the ceiling! And I can attest that built-ins are a little more than the $40 for plywood. Those budgets never account for the labor involved.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I read somewhere once that Mike donates his time to those jobs in most cases, but in others charges folks about 10 percent of what would be the cost of the job.

Whether he also gets the subcontractors to work for free wasn't mentioned. In any event, yeah, what do those massive repairs cost?

And why can't he name the contractors who screwed up? It doesn't seem like libel should enter into it. We can plainly see the shoddy work or the resultant damage. As a viewer, I really want to know who to avoid! (Even though he's in Canada. But you know what I mean.)

As for painting, I chuckled at your comment about $1,200 to paint a room, exclusive of trim and ceiling. Have you honestly paid that? Yikes.

I love to paint, so I paint my own spaces. I use Benjamin Moore paint, which sets me back about $40 a gallon. So, with the paint-tray liner and a brush for cutting in and a roller cover, yup, I spend about $50 a room.

But you're right on about the shows never factoring in labor. "Designed to Sell" is a big example of that. Sure, $2,000 for materials, but how much for the professional crew I'd need to hire to knock down a wall and redo a space?

12:35 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I've been quoted $1200 a room several times, I've never paid it. We're painting fools as well. Just got done doing the whole downstairs from top to bottom with trim & ceilings; 21 gallons. I have a contractor account at my local Benjamin Moore dealer (although I'll admit to buying all my supplies except for brushes at HD).

10:17 PM  

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