The "Making It Happen" series is back online, conversing with Emily Davidow about moving to New Zealand and starting up a home design emporium. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always been a “house” person, enjoying my (sometimes ill advised) attempts to decorate my abode. I’ve always enjoyed home stores, and they are dream businesses for many of us. “One with special things – the kind of things my friends really want,” we say, gazing off into the distant mists, visualizing a design boutique with all of our favorites, or an all-steampunk kitchen store. So it was a great pleasure to get behind the scenes of a delicious home design emporium with Emily Davidow. "Emporium" is the right word for the variety at her retail space in Miramar, Behome. Two floors overflow with rugs, textiles, unique furniture, and even some well-chosen garments. Growing up in the U.S.A., her family's business was home furnishings. After successfully expanding the family business online in the 1990s, and other creative ventures, Emily decided that it was time for a major life change – moving from the U.S.A. to New Zealand. And that led to her opening up Behome in Wellington. Read on to learn about her story, the vitality of beauty in the home, design Down Under, why things cost more in New Zealand, and good advice for your own business. [Read more]
Betsey Johnson, a designer who once stood for femme 80s/90s quirk, files for bankruptcy! Like a bite of some oversweet rose-scented madeline, this has propelled me a la recherche au temps perdu. Johnson herself is 70 this year and, admittedly, the brand has stopped being as revolutionary as it once was. But in the 80s and 90s, she was one of the femmiest femmes out there designing, and I could regularly be found up to my elbows in the sale basket at the the Philly Betsey Johnson boutique. I even got married in a Betsey Johnson dress of deep red velvet. Loving a designer is an ambivalent experience. Aspirational, expensive, worrisome. Will they go away? Will their construction go down the tubes? Will you grow apart? The best that can come of it is confidence in the present day and memories later on. The blogger Gala Darling did a lovely post with glimpses of Betsey's mercilessly feminine apartment and links to more about her. Pinpointing that former boutique, and looking at some older Betsey Johnson clothes - in retrospect, much plainer than I remembered - unleashed a wave of nostalgia for my Philadelphia years. Did I love the clothes, or where I was when I was wearing them? I was young and clumsy and dorky when I rifled through the sale baskets at 18th and Walnut. I didn't make a lot of money, but in 1994 Philly, you didn't have to. Chasing temps perdu online, I found out that the tiny building where I had my first-ever apartment, on Quince Street in Philadelphia, is for sale. I already knew that one of the three miniscule apartments in the building (the one directly below mine - I was on the middle floor) got profiled on Apartment Therapy. I left a long and delirious comment. To blow my mind further, somebody recently did a video praising Quince Street as a favourite place in the city. I could walk back down the uneven cobblestones of Quince Street today, shaded by slow-growing gingko and pear trees, and it still looks exactly the same as it did in 1994.
If you've never loved a city – I feel sorry for you – it’s like never having loved a person, or an animal. What is it like to love a city passionately? I felt like I knew everyone, or a subsection of everyone - a delicious fallacy. I checked out the alleyways and the scary-looking restaurants and bars, carrying away new places to go as urbanite trophies. On my rambles, I learned to love vintage: quirky unchanged lunch counters, stoop sales with Art Deco fragments and old magazines, closing-down stocking wholesalers selling me 1950s boxes of seamed nylon stockings for $3 apiece ("Nobody wants them anymore" they said). I huffed the smell of the sidewalks in the rain. I had my heart broken in that real-estate way, with an apartment broken into at one time, a bad encounter that shadowed the street where I lived another. Still, when I was coming back, I'd see the skyline and smile, involuntarily. And then one day I was done, we were over. Even the sidewalks stopped having their gravitational pull. I realized that I'd lived in that town and its environs for ten years and spent a sum total of eight weeks away. The rest of the world beckoned.
In the present day, I love Wellington, too, though not with that first-urban-love intensity. (Also, I live in the 'burbs, and Wellington is ruthless towards its surrounds.) As a sign of my being at home in downtown Wellington, I felt a twinge when the Calendar Girls strip palace took over from the former Garden Club. The Garden Club was one of those large, indifferent, but available-for-burlesque venues. Its backstage stairs were horrible to high-heeled performers, its barnlike size didn’t encourage after-partying, and the seating was plentiful but good views weren’t. Nobody liked it much, until it wasn’t ours anymore. At least it's ending on an interesting story. I think that in the age of Internet porn, there is something to be said for human beings leaving the house to look at and speak to actual women instead of airbrushed pixels. Those "dirty" urban zones were part of what gave Philly its rough-edged flavor. Will Calendar Girls be successful in this city and era, or, two years from now, will we be pouting at a glossy, dull fusion restaurant and saying “That used to be a strip club! Remember the time we...?”
In early January, my guest room got repainted with a cream ceiling and palest ashes-of-roses walls. But at my house, the post-repaint luminosity and the new gate latch goes unnoticed. People are too busy reliably flipping out about three or four decor elements. At the end of the day, the details of our homes are there for us, not for our visitors. The things we love give us daily pleasure when we live amongst them, just as the spin of a Tibetan prayer wheel generates good energy. "Your apartment, it's like your skin," a friend of mine once said. And just as we are encouraged to care for yet reclaim our own bodies, we should feel equally comfortable doing whatever we want with the spaces we live in. Whether that's the right wall color, a coffee table balanced on an engine, or the Victorian taxidermy turtle dish placed just so. Taxidermy Taxidermy is one of my long-term fascinations. In my living room, there are two pieces of taxidermy: an assemblage of birds and a red deer fawn, known as the "Fawn of Satan" due to its evil, knowing expression. Small children go right up to the fawn, begging to pet it. Adults get stuck examining the birds. Revulsion, fascination, and questions of legality come up. A tastemaker I know declared, "Two pieces of taxidermy is all right. Any more is creepy." If I ever find one of those Victorian turtle dishes at the right time, I'm afraid the room will officially become creepy. You may find it so already... Poignantly, people didn't pay half as much attention to the taxidermy when my cat was alive. Living nature trumps the dead. But when it comes to human attention, even dead, preserved nature trumps the 8 pictures and two shelves of bizarre objects that are also in this room. Evolutionary psychology in action. After a visit to my house, if somebody likes me, they forward me taxidermy links forevermore. Keep 'em coming, my lovelies, especially to sites like Ravishing Beasts. And just as Bon Bon Rocher receives boudoir-themed gifts, I get "mad naturalist" ones. Stingray spines, boxes of shells, souvenirs from the La Brea Tar Pits museum, Neil Pardington's Vault exhibit catalog for my birthday, to my delight. Last year a friend of mine gave me this carefully preserved weta, which I have placed temporarily in this bell jar, like the treasure it is. Nude Photos Are nude or pin-up photos ever tasteful? Are they tasteful when they're nudes of yourself, of your lover, or of a stranger or friend? What about full-color baroque-frame pin-ups compared to artsy black and white? There's a huge discussion on the topic here at Metafilter. For the time being, I've applied the "Rule of Two" to the nude photos...even though a third one is framed up. If you are worried about children seeing your nude/pin-up photos, there's an easy solution. Just put some taxidermy in the same room, closer to a child's eye level. Your nude photos are now invisible to anyone who hasn't reached puberty! Dan McCarthy Print Poster art and screenprints are another of my long-term loves, and lots of my visitors share the love for this Dan McCarthy print. Which surprises and delights me. I never knew so many people shared my taste for skeletons, bees, and dinosaur skeletons, combined into a gracious statement on environmental decay and extinction. I got this for $30 online when it first came out. There are two testaments to this print's power: the many discussions about bee colony collapse we've had at my dining table, and the fact that nobody has ever commented on the fact that the room that has this print is missing its skirting boards/baseboards. Since Dan McCarthy made this print, his art has gone in a completely different direction - his web site is here, but a lot of his earlier prints can be found through third-party sellers. Some day I'll do a post on my retro kitchen, but that's another story...
I'm in a Terribly House and Garden phase here. And yesterday, I had a real treat; visiting the delicous burlesque dancer Bon Bon Rocher at home, and seeing her burlesque boudoir. A boudoir...a powder room...a dressing room...a 'retreat' of over-the-top, unapologetic femininity, to one's personal taste. Bon Bon's own words describe the charm of the boudoir. "It's like a little piece of the things you used to see - your mum getting ready at the dressing table in the bedroom, not standing up in the bathroom. I get ready in there before I go out anywhere. Instead of being "oh god, I have to rush," at a dressing table, I find time to sit and reflect and celebrate being a girl, having such wonderful opportunities. I do everything there, hair, makeup, cleansing." Bon Bon had a very clear vision of what she wanted for a boudoir: a space for her wardrobe, costumes, accessories, and grooming. And, sharing the rest of the house with her partner and teenage son, she took the opportunity to create a space that expressed her femininity. An essential part of this was finding a graceful Queen Anne dressing table, complete with stool and side tables. Bon Bon found the perfect set - in Christchurch, via TradeMe. The room's ample natural light, the petite dressing table, and the wide mirror combine to create an ideal space for getting ready. Before its femme transformation, the room was one of those awkward small bedrooms featured in older New Zealand houses, a mere 2 meters x 3 meters. Bon Bon and and her partner renovated the room in one weekend. The paint color is Resene Cupid, and her skilled partner affixed the vinyl decal onto the wall. Along with the dressing table and a matching drawer set, a clothing rack and clever use of existing storage complete the space. The room is "full of memories and friendship." The lamp from Shady Lady was a cherished Christmas present. "And people gave me lovely things when they heard I was setting up a boudoir - this perfume atomizer is from a friend." Future plans for the room include some art and, of course, a chandelier! We lingered in the pretty room; the space was just right for two women to chat, the afternoon light gentle through the lace curtains. Bon Bon reflected, "I think I dress better, more thoughtfully, because I have my boudoir. It's inspiring, and it's easier to organize my clothes and costumes." Bon Bon will emerge from her rosy retreat, groomed to perfection, to perform at the Glitter Party in Wellington on January 22nd, and she'll have more news soon at her Facebook page. For more dressing room inspiration, here's a post at Apartment Therapy with eight modern dressing rooms, and another gallery with nine dressing rooms. None of them seem to be having as much fun as BonBon, though!
Why did it take me until this month to hear the phrase “vintage and rockabilly lifestyle”? At first, I was grumpy. "How can an aesthetic be a lifestyle?" Then I looked around my house. Er. If a “vintage lifestyle” is about the aesthetic, the look, the stuff, I am guilty as charged. So, what does it mean to love vintage things but be impatient for the future? (By the way, these pictures don't even show the leopard-print sheets. Or the art-deco light fixtures. Or the rusted hand-forged coat hooks I rescued from a junk shop in Auckland, soaked in oil for three weeks, and lovingly hand-sanded. Or the atomic barkcloth curtains that I made with the fabric I ordered from the U.S. for a song (this stuff, with a blue background). I list these things and I think, "Perhaps I could have been saner?" Oh well, moving on.) The other day in a slip of the tongue I said, “Now that we all live in the 22nd century,” then I realized I wished it was true. I like the Internet, eating food from around the world, being huffily offended at the least jot of racism, and women with science careers. You know that it's possible to update a Twitter feed using brainwaves alone, right? How cool is that? And I eagerly anticipate stem cell medical advances and the new ceramics-based electronics. But just as Western culture took 75 years to fully assimilate the impact of industrialization from 1850 to the 1920s, I think we’re not done with modernism and its changes just yet. The 1990s, you may recall, were all about the cyber and the techno and the virtual, glossy Matrix-style coats, rubber fetish wear. We were chafing at the bit to start the future. Then 9/11 happened, and in the U.S.A., people looked backwards. Cupcakes, aprons, vintage Atari games, That 70s Show. Europe soon jumped on the bandwagon ("Ostalgie" in Germany, the U.K. going retro too) and it trickled to the Southern hemisphere. We're still unpacking both the retro suitcase we turned back to (which did have layers and layers of cool things in it) and our massive ambivalence about actually having started the future. For myself, I'm aware that the main space in my abode, my living room, stylistically exiles the Cold War period. As a young teenager I had nightmares about Chernobyl and nuclear disaster - and the space where I spend many hours leaps from Art Deco to 2001, as if the years when we all lived in nuclear terror didn't exist. But from my non-nuclear bunker, I can contemplate peak oil, global warming, apocalyptic science fiction, and social flux, and take comfort from cupcakes. And let's face it: if I had Aeon Flux's cheekbones instead of cupid's-bow lips and an hourglass figure, my personal style would be less retro. Judge for yourself! There is a mind-boggling array of blogs combining housewifery and “vintage lifestyle” content. The blogroll here at B. Vikki Vintage is a good cross section. A vintage lifestyle magazine in South Africa, for a change. Thinky thoughts on vintage lifestyle advantages. Retro-futurism: the past's perspectives on the future. Paleofuture Blog is a treasure trove of this madness. If you're in Wellington, NZ, this month's Nerdnite, on Monday the 19th, is exceptionally interesting. A speaker is discussing Steampunk Digital Humanities, "using new digital tools to reinterpret and visualise traditional data." And, finally, long-term retro aficionado artist Robert Crumb's A Short History of America. So much nostalgia...and this was drawn in 1979. "What next?" as the last panel asks. Crumb himself did an addendum in 1989.
The hand fan, as a woman’s daily accessory, is dead. In its heyday, it was the equivalent of the cellphone. A device associated with expense and prestige, used to send messages, and to display wealth and popular culture, via its materials and adornments. For us today, an antique fan is a pretty, old-fashioned thing to look at. A new fan is, at best, a cute finishing touch for a goth or rockabilly ensemble, a clever wedding favor, or a dance accessory. But there is nothing wrong with a pretty, old-fashioned thing to look at. Many old fans have a “stick” or two damaged. This reduces their value, but they’re still fine to display. Fans should be framed to protect them from dust and UV light. A fan just stuck in a rectangular frame is a sad thing, and it is best displayed with some consideration for its shape. Good solutions include: The fan's not perfect but I'm just loving it - I lie in bed and gaze happily in its general direction through my myopia. Here's some of the detail on the fan. No way can I see this without help from my optometrist! Frame done by Petone Frameworks – they specialize in shadowboxes and they do laser-cut mats. (Disclaimer: I paid. Mentioning them by name because the specialty-cut mat is pretty unusual around here, and they were super lovely. The cinnabar background mat was their suggestion.) To conclude: everything you ever wanted to know about hand fan construction and restoration. And an excellent book, The Fan: Fashion and Femininity Unfolded by Valerie Steele. Which contains the agreeable quote, "Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them." - The Spectator, 1711.