Paying For Vintage at Modern Prices

When did used and damaged goods start fetching such high price tags?

Every so often, I indulge in a little “me” time by venturing into my favorite home décor store. It’s a realm of hope and possibility, a fantasy world free of clutter where someone else does the dusting and money is no object.

Lately, though, an unsettling reality has invaded my happy place. I see that simple, galvanized metal container erupting with perfect peonies—the display that artfully juxtaposes the decorative and the utilitarian, the natural and the industrial. I’m drawn to it, thinking, “I could do that.”

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The annoying thing is, I really can do that. Take a closer look: It’s just a bucket, people. Granted, it’s a shiny $65 bucket filled with impossibly pretty artificial flowers—but it’s a bucket, nonetheless.

Is this a good thing? I really don’t know. I’m in favor of any retailer selling reproductions of furniture, art and housewares I’d never be able to afford otherwise—but expensive likenesses of things I have in my garage? Ridiculous.

I have an old bucket somewhere. It’s dirty and has some rust on it. All I have to do is find it. It makes me wonder what I’ve thrown out that could be residing on a mantel or wall.

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Still, I have to question the worth of anything with a hand-applied rust finish. Consider this actual description from one of the many catalogs on my coffee table: “This authentic metal bucket was used for years to harvest Turkish olives. … These originals are made of galvanized metal with a crusty, rusted paint finish.”

Can there really be that many olive buckets lying around to satisfy the whims of Western decorators? Seriously? Somewhere in Turkey, olive growers are kicking themselves for the missed business opportunity. (Not that those olive pickers would even recognize their buckets from the description above.)

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The catalogs I peruse have a language all their own. “Vintage” is really just a fancy term for “used.” “Distressed” means tattered by time—possibly even chewed by a dog. And, to me, “patina” equals “unremovable crud.”

It’s also useful to know that “reclaimed” is code for “dug out of the trash,” that “inspired by” is interchangeable with “a cheaper version of,” and that “salvaged” can only mean one of three things: “rescued,” “liberated” or “stolen.”

Lansdowne’s Samantha Drake hopes to get around to finding that old bucket and putting some real flowers in it.

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