Sunday, April 13, 2014

Remembering Our Housing Interiors & Gadgets

Looking at the interiors of homes is the most problematic area of looking back at eras. There are a number of reasons for this which I will soon discuss. Fortunately for us, one of the easiest eras to spot from the inside is the 1950s. The neon pastel colors, the double beds for the master bedroom, the blond furniture in the main rooms, the linoleum in the kitchen, the entirely ceramic bathroom, the small refrigerator and the ubiquitous opaque, to the floor, print drapes.

The 1960s are even brighter, if possible. They are also sleeker. The refrigerator is bigger, as is the tv. The phone is more modern as is the toilet fixture. It is more prosperous, more modern all the way around.

The 1970 are when we are adults. There is still some of that hippie mod art look to things but it is less bright overall with fluorescent color. White or another neutral is used in a really big way.  It is more casual, more leisure oriented than the prior two decades. Like the clothes, that is a trend which will only grow.  People have less and less time for stilted, formal living.

I think our memories are still pretty good from that point forward as we moved through different phases of our housing lives. But here's what's problematic about housing decor. People differ substantially as to their aims on interior decor. For some people this is a major artistic statement about themselves. Thus, the way the house looks is very much a statement they are making about themselves and their taste. There are more women than men in this group. The other group is focused on comfort and ease. They don't care all that much how it looks although they may be just as clean. What they really care about is how they feel when they are using their living space. The more relaxed they feel, the more content they are. There are more men than women in this group.

There are hybrids as well who reach some compromise between the two poles, especially if they are married and have opposite aims. The first group remains up to the minute on decor but the second group is almost impossible to tell the passage of time by their decor unless you study their gadgets. This is because they rarely if ever toss out anything which makes them comfortable. The English are much, much worse about this than we are. Holding onto furniture which is just about falling apart all around you is almost a sacred trust to them, with the upper class being the worst.

Do you remember the tv show Frasier? The father and son live together. The father insists on using his easy chair which he has had his entire life. It is duct taped in places. This galls the son enormously because it ruins the statement he is making with his ultra chic decor. They never resolve this. These two characters exemplify those two poles.  They end up just never agreeing about it.

We had neighbors decades ago who were both on the same page as to their decor aims. The two of them spent all of their free time redecorating their home. They also did major conversions of the kitchen, deck, pool, and other features.  It took them several years to achieve their aims. They held a party upon completing their work and everyone loved what they had done to the house. Six months later they filed for divorce. I spoke to the woman and she told me they discovered when they were done fixing the house that they had nothing else in common. Having been raised in the real estate business, this was not that strange for me to hear. Housing, just like aging creams, is often seen by people as hope in a bottle (ad men's phrase), that their lives will be perfect if they can only have the perfect skin or the perfect house or fill in the blank.  All successful salespeople know they are not selling just skin cream or shelter. They are selling hope.

So decor alone has to be one of the worst ways of telling an era unless you know that the owner is one of those into making artistic statements au courant. Many other people are not going to change much for decade upon decade. Some of these people also had parents just like them. Thus our interior collages above, about our growing up eras, may not have been in the second group's houses.  Indeed, their parents could have been holding onto furniture for decades before the 1950s and then passed it on to them!  So, everything else we've examined in earlier blog entries is a better indicator of an era than interior decor.

However, even the biggest Life of Riley comfort type does not class his or her gadgets with furniture. So looking at their gadgets is a much more reliable way of telling an era.

There is one gadget that has been with us Baby Boomers from the beginning and I consider it the Holy Grail of gadgets for most Americans.  This is the tv set. I have two collages of tvs.  This first one is pre 2000, going right back to the first tv set. The smaller the visual area in proportion to its cabinet, the older the set.

These are 21st century sets and there is no cabinet. Tvs are now virtually all screen.  99% of Americans own a working tv set. Tvs stop working so there is only so long they can be kept going.  Tv sets are a really good indicator of passing eras. We are likewise able to tell by looking at computers and phones which era we are in.

Computers have only been in the home for a few decades but they look completely different as time marches on. The more computers and mobile devices a family has, the easier it is to date their era. Apple has always led in distinctive design so let's look at Apple computers from the start to present day.

This is Apple before the 21st Century. It is easy to see the same loss of cabinet going on here as with the tv set. Although the screen space keeps getting bigger with each incarnation, they still are stuck with the key pad on all of them.

This is Apple in the 21st Century. It has gotten more and more mobile and with more and more screen space. Many of the devices have virtual keypads so no space is lost. If you buy Apple, it is unlikely that you have only one of these products or that your children and grandchildren do. Thus, walking into your house is a time line from one room to the next.

Phones changed a great deal as well with perhaps myself as the biggest lamenter of this development.  If I could keep every other computer device I own but phones could go backward to being like in an earlier era, I would be blissful. However, it may be people's behavior on phones which really annoys me, not the phones themselves. I suppose we could thus add on here that one could chart the change in eras by the levels of obnoxious behavior which grew apace with having a mobile phone which fit in your hand and worked everywhere. Phones today are really computers which is why I also show the iPhone with the Apple products.

Appliances and fixtures in houses are also good indicators. Generally, they too have gotten smaller but more powerful. The photo shows today's pod coffee maker next to a 1970s Mr. Coffee and an early microwave from the late 1960s to a present day microwave oven. Gadgets also are becoming more ecology oriented and thus more efficient. Those who value their comfort over their interior decor artistic statement are usually the first in line to improve their appliance and fixture comfort. They can afford it since they don't buy furniture! I was just reading this week that the huge bath tubs in modern homes may be on their way out as they are very water wasteful. Other new water gadgets will be offered instead.

Just like cars had to change substantially for the fuel crisis (and they are nowhere changed enough) so too one fixture and appliance after another will be used in replacement in housing interior decors. There are some severe droughts occurring in the West so expect there to be many ecology water oriented fixtures and gadgets for homes there. This does mirror what we saw in clothing which was likewise designed anew for the changing roles in society.

As for our younger people, your children and grandchildren, they cannot be carting around heavy furniture with them as they are expected to lead increasingly pick up and go lives at their own expense, not some company's expense. There is one word that covers their needs completely: Ikea

Invented by a minor in Sweden, Ikea is the ultimate in modular furniture which is easily connected, torn down and reconnected again and again so as to be easily moved anywhere. Ikea is also fashionable and comfortable. If you study the 1950s or 1960s collages above, these pieces do not look that different from those.  The difference is in the materials and construction. The aim has become lightweight, modular and easily broken apart and reassembled. Since the closest city to us for an Ikea store is Pittsburg, I instead buy my Ikea pieces on eBay. I also am thereby able to buy pieces which are no longer carried in the Ikea stores. I could live with every piece to the left quite nicely.

There is an Ikea app for iPad and iPhone. Go to the App store to download it for free.

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