Alvar and I

Musings about vintage design furniture

Look, don’t sit

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Like old relatives, vintage chairs, couches, and sideboards appreciate a little respect and attention.

It’s all fine for tidy couples who dine out with friends and insist on having the family reunions at the house of grandma and pa. What when kids, pets, friends, house workers and other hazards lurk around?

Furniture was first designed to be used before being fetischized, unless you call home a museum. Granted, special items need a bit of extra care. They cannot suffer the same abuse as the old couch that mum and dad gave you to keep company to your game console and empty beer cans in your student pad. Still, vintage pieces have to coexist with unruly kids or careless visitors.

First, let’s pass on the über-sensitive and emotional topic of pets, of which we have no experience so far  (the blog sphere is actually replete with photos of Rex and Fluffy on the Eames rocker). Our best proxy are kids.

Kids, as would be expected, have no concept of vintage furniture, nor of any thing that Mum and Dad might find precious besides themselves — and they famously also lack a sense of danger (yes, that includes climbing on and jumping off your plywood couch, magic markers in hand). Here it is necessary to draw a fundamental distinction between one’s kids — perfectly well educated — and the annoying offspring of other people. Actually, when talking of vintage furniture, there is an element of truth in that distinction. Our kids have learned quite rapidly what is permitted and forbidden in terms of our most fragile pieces. Of course, they test the limit regularly, but a bit of attention and appropriate use of language does the trick: “Poul (not his real name) climb off the couch immediately or I’ll kill you!”; “Tapio (still not his real name): last warning; if you come within 2 meters of the credenza, we’ll send you to orphanage”.

As for other kids, well… If the parents are around, we suggest keeping your eyes on them first to ensure that they are constantly on their progeny’s case. It is amazing how parents immediately become more relaxed and liberal around other people’s furniture: washing hands becomes optional, and of course the poor kids must spend their energy on something since they don’t have their toys around (yes, your Nelson sofa with its mint Kvadrat upholstery will do). If parents are not there, containment in a kid-proof part of the house works very well.

Guests enjoy this delicious sense of ease brought by the knowledge of not being at home. And so friendships get frayed as you keep pushing coasters under your friends’ drinks. Adults in our experience are as dangerous — if not more — as kids for our fragile friends. But when you start wondering why people cannot lower their posterior gently onto your fifties couch, rather than flinging themselves onto it as if it were an eighties’ waterbed, it might be time for a change of tack.  After a couple of near-misses and genuine accidents we opted for preventive strategies, including  moving some of our most sensitive pieces out of sight. What a pity that not only can you not sit, you can’t even look. But we have found that there is no way to really give an adult a dose of tactful reminder without appearing fussy.

Similarly, your beloved Aalto does not necessarily welcome a vigorous Pledge polish. Better to remove everything but the fabric wipes from the cleaning closet and pretend that it’s all out of care for the environment.

Do not believe that this is pure paranoia: those measures were taken after a hefty glass of wine nearly ruined a non-varnished wood tabletop, and the original webbing of a thirties’ couch gave way after not one but two friends sank into it with blissful abandon. Not so long ago, the original fabric of newly purchased chairs was baptized in its new home with chocolate ice cream. In all these cases we had bought the furniture only a few days before.

We are now warned and ready. You’d better be as well…

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Written by Alvar and I

February 13, 2011 at 2:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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