Too new to be called antique

All sorts of items get `vintage' label

Design Line

June 08, 2008|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Tribune Media Services

Shops that sell old and used designer apparel often refer to their wares as "vintage clothing." And now I'm seeing stores offering "vintage furniture."

Can you tell me what exactly that means? I do like both traditionally styled and modern furniture, whether newly made or originals. Can modern-type furnishings qualify as "vintage"? And where are some places to find them?

The world of interior design does share some similarities with the clothing industry. Both are strongly influenced by fashion trends, for example.

Yet, there are dramatic differences, as well, such as the staying power of styles that were introduced 50 to 75 years ago. Not many women today are wearing the types of dresses that were fashionable in the mid-20th century, but the looks of some of the home products manufactured at that time remain quite popular.

The term "vintage furniture" can refer to a wide range of styles as well as to a broad span in the age of pieces and their relative quality. It has also become a hip designation used by sellers of all sorts of furniture - modern and traditional alike - for originals and reproductions that are not identifiable as "antiques."

Modern pieces, as you're probably aware, can be the acknowledged classics of 20th-century design, or might be simply funky, exotic or downright weird. Furniture of that sort reflects the exuberance and experimentation that characterized interior design during the 1960s and '70s.

Maybe you've seen chairs of that era that look like huge baseball mitts, ice cream cones or even eggs. One example of this genre is shown in the accompanying photo, which comes from a book about collecting and living with vintage furniture. Written by Fay Sweet and published by the Antique Collectors Club, it's called, appropriately enough, Vintage Furniture: Collecting and Living With Modern Design Classics.

Here we have a sofa produced in homage to the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. He had designed a quite similar piece in the 1930s that was meant to resemble Mae West's lips. Studio 65 updated Dali's design in 1972 and called it the Marilyn Sofa - in honor of Marilyn Monroe.

Both the Dali original and the Studio 65 version can be considered vintage classics. But that designation does not apply to the actual piece seen here - a newly manufactured copy in a material different from what was used for the 1972 original. Another such reproduction differs even further from the original in that it's intended mainly for use outdoors.

You asked where to find vintage modern pieces. There are stores that specialize in this kind of furniture. Such pieces can also be found at auction and on the Internet, though not necessarily in the best condition.

But buyer beware! As I noted, all sorts of pieces can qualify as "vintage," but the one thing they have in common is that none of them is new.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with interior design questions can e-mail her at rsca@ritastclair.com.

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