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Vintage Display Trends...Cool or Troubling?

A few months back, I was shopping at a popular clothing chain store in our town.  As an interior designer, I always enjoy admiring creative visual display and looking for inspiration in unusual places. It was clear the company worked hard to carefully re-use vintage items very creatively throughout the store and I very much applaud their efforts.  The designer or architect had created an attractive (almost patchwork look) wall décor using cut up vintage doors of many styles and colorations on the two story wall area leading to the upstairs.  The doors appeared to range in age from earlier in the 1900’s to the 50’s.  Many of the old doors probably had lead paint finishes (or were painted and then the finish was sanded to create a colorful worn look) and were most likely in bad shape or possibly slated to be demolished when a home or old building was torn down.

I also noticed the store featured merchandise display tables with vintage treadle sewing machine legs from the turn of the century or possibly replicas of them, though I doubt it.  It appeared they had taken apart the machine and removed the cast iron legs then mounted them under custom display tables for a cool retro industrial look.  As a sewer and the proud owner of a vintage treadle sewing machine of my great grandmother’s, I was actually bothered to see the cast iron sewing machine table legs used in this manner.  Perhaps the sewing machine that came with the table was beyond repair and the legs may have been separated years ago.  Perhaps the cast iron legs were reproductions.  We may never know what happened to rest of these cultural historical icons from years gone past.

I also recently saw a fabulous photo online of old cut up vintage suitcase fronts showing the latches and the handles only, forming a decorative and very unique shelf display statement.  The rest of the suitcases were probably discarded to create this wonderful statement.  The designer in me loved the uniqueness of this display but the loss of historical integrity saddened me though.  The original suitcases may have been in really bad shape but by cutting off the back parts, the vintage suitcases are forever damaged.  Very few people I know would ever travel without modern wheeled luggage these days but it still is fun to imagine people lugging these heavy, yet decorative vintage suitcases, to fascinating locales.  Part of the novelty for today’s generation is to see the level of quality workmanship on the vintage suitcase exteriors, interior fabric linings, hinges, locks and handles.  What happens when the cool funky vintage display gets “tired looking”?  Will the suitcase fronts still be saved for a different display use?


Regardless, the deconstruction of antique and vintage items for design and display use has some troubling ramifications.  Yes, many of the doors could have been in really bad shape but somehow I doubt that though.  I suspect the doors were from homes torn down over the years then sold to salvage businesses and purchased by this chain’s display department.  This is a nationwide chain store – how many stores have this cut up door display on the walls?  Just how many doors were produced 70, 80, 90, a hundred years ago?  How many vintage doors of the era now remain?  When you look at the type of wood used then, it was generally much better grade than what is being used now and sometimes manufactured from woods that are no longer commonly used for home décor & architecturally.  Could the vintage doors be carefully cleaned up, repaired and re-used, maintaining their historical integrity instead of cut up into custom sized wall-mounted pieces?  By cutting up the doors they can never be used again (easily) or the quality never appreciated in a more sustainable & historical way.

What about the custom display tables with the cast iron treadle sewing machine legs?  Sewing machines of that era were common fixtures with women many years ago.  They were also expensive investments for families.  I still have paperwork showing the monthly “lay away” payments for my relative’s machine. What to do with your great grandmother or great, great aunt’s treadle sewing machine?  Perhaps instead of taking it completely apart and discarding the machine and wood cabinetry, a person could try to incorporate the entire piece as an interesting conversation piece in creative commercial or home displays?  The history behind it may be much more fascinating than the trendy cast iron industrial design look that may be changed and replaced when the store displays get “tired looking” and something unusual needs to replace it to keep the store looking fresh.  Something to ponder…