April 5, 2009

a few really good things

I've said it before - I really like things. Beautifully crafted, cleverly executed things. In general though, I think most of us have way too many things. Cheap, poorly designed, throw-away things. Things for-the-sake-of-having-things things.

The last few years, I've tried to apply the "generation test" to potential new acquisitions. How long will this last and will my kids or (if they're not blessed with their parents' impeccable aesthetic) will someone else's kids value and use this years from now? Doesn't matter whether it's a toy or a book or a planter or a sofa, the same test applies. I also try to go for vintage or pre-loved items wherever possible - generally, if something is still around and looking beautiful after all these years, it means it was made really well and will likely be around for some years yet.

Granted, this philosophy does usually mean spending more money than you would on the here today,toss it tomorrow version.

When I find myself faced with the dilemma of spending what seems to be a lot more for the quality item, I think back on a piece of advice I was given years ago. When we lived in Toronto, I used to love visiting Yank Azman's stall at the Harbourfront Antique Market. Yank's shop was filled to the brim with beautiful, exotic and weird things from centuries past. Crocodile valises, first editions of literary classics, pith helmets, elephant foot humidors, you name it. I used to drool over a fine first edition of Out of Africa but being a broke recent graduate, couldn't bring myself to make the purchase. Yank told me that sometimes you just have to buy the thing when you can't afford it, because by the time you can, it won't be around or accessible. He told me the story of how back in the 80s he had a chance to buy a lifeboat from the Titanic - he passed thinking he couldn't afford it. Fast forward a few years and the release of a certain cheezy blockbuster, and well, that seemingly pricey investment was looking like a bargain. Granted Yank was speaking from more of a collecting and investing perspective versus pure longevity, beauty and value which is where I'm coming from.

A few years ago we were (again) broke students living in Vancouver. We spotted this iconic Hans Olsen for Frem Rojle dining set in a second hand store on Main Street. Though we absolutely couldn't afford it, we got it anyway. Designed in 1953, this is still a much coveted set. You'll find write ups about it all over the internet, at listing costs of more than double what we paid.

A thing of beauty really is a joy forever. The fewer and finer things you have, the more likely you'll actually use and appreciate them.

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