What were once stalwarts of the antique industry; Victorian, rustic, early American, and silver, have all given way to more futuristic constructs, from mid-century modern to the more recent vintage and retro infused themes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
And yet, while many of these recent trends have sailed past the popularity barriers of niche collectors, and into the mainstream markets of such giants as Wayfair and Amazon, it is these old flavors from yesteryear that are now raising an eyebrow amongst some of the country's top decorative arts specialists - many who worry about the lack of new and original styles being created today, for the potential collectors of tomorrow. Or, as Terrence Henessy, a young furniture designer from Los Angeles put it, "Are we creating any new trends for our own generation, or are we simply rehashing familiar designs from the past?"
For many, cultural motifs of the time such as post-war modernism and space-age futurism were once the impetus for change within popular styles of the decorative arts, but today there's a feeling we're simply recycling old ideas - while adding only marginally new twists onto variations of a theme, says Rocko Jacques, an interior designer from London who works both sides of the pond. "We copy the mid-century motif instead of creating a new one." Retailers such as Wayfair are not mirroring fresh new ideas and designs reflected in the social and technological advancements of the day, but instead are simply copying and producing what's popular with those in the vintage and retro marketplace.
According to Jacques, websites such as Etsy, along with millions of other entrepreneurs selling their vintage wares online, have become the barometer for what's trending, "They're not just reflecting popular tastes and style, in so much as they're creating them," said Jacques. "This is where the new design trends are coming from - they're not really original - but rather just recast from years gone by."
Henessy, who echo's many of Jacques thoughts, also noted that while some of the pieces in his LA design shop utilized the curvy plastic look from the seventies, he tries to keep the "borrowing" to a minimum. "The decorative arts style of the early 70s with it's modular design, egg-shaped chairs, and heavy use of wrap-around white plastic was completely new and based on the futuristic themes inspired by the space race," says Henessy, "To copy it too completely is not paying homage to those great original designers, but instead is really just ripping them off."
For some, the trend-setting variance is simply a matter of degree. Where designers once took their cues from large changes in the social and political movements of a time, such as the space race, it seems that today we're left with a far different landscape. iPhones and the like can have an effect, but it's not as transformative in the way it once was. IBM gave way to the notion of real computers in the 1960's, and the public's imagination soon followed - all the way to the silver screen - with films like Space Odyssey 2001 and the nefarious HAL computer, which not only inspired a generation of tech geeks (think Bill Gates), but trickled down to fashion and décor with uniform style pant-suits, and modular spaceship furniture. The seventies became a generation inspired by its own time - not the other way round.
For many in the decorative arts field, there's a strong sense of optimism that something fresh and new might be looming just over the horizon - a renaissance of spirit and original design. Whether this generation can salvage its own unique and iconic trend-setting style remains to be seen. "I wouldn't necessarily bet against it," said Jacques. However, when presented with a recent article from a top design school that showed seven out of ten students chose mid-century modern as the most influential trend of the time, Jacques responded, "Well, I guess we've got a way to go then..."
- AIA Staff Writers
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