15 August 2008

This is whack

I had a conversation with a client yesterday and I was trying to explain to her that the images of glamorous kitchens she sees in catalogs and magazines aren't real places. For the most part, those images are sets in a studio or on a sound stage. As fully-designed sets, their reason for existence is to sell you something, not to act as a template for what your life should look like. I hear that same sort of thing a lot; "make my house look like the one in As Good As It Gets" or "I want this to look like a Pottery Barn catalog." It's a strange, internalized kind of consumerism. One where it's not enough to want the goods for sale, rather the goal seems to be the acquisition of the advertiser's whole imaginary universe. It shows up for me in requests from people who think they want to live in a magazine spread or in a model home. Newsflash: no one actually lives in a model home and that magazine spread is peddling a fantasy.

Real life is messy but it's also a lot of fun. My goal as I set out design a space for someone is to minimize the messy part of life and accentuate the fun parts. Clean up should be simple. Everything should have a place that's easy to get to. Rooms should be furnished and accessorized with things that reflect the lives of their owners. I want the art on the walls to be art you like and that you pick out. I want the photos on the book case to be your photos. I want the stuff that's lying around to tell a story about your life. It's your house, not Arthur Rutenberg's and not Pottery Barn's and not mine.

Anyhow, as I was ruminating about that I came across something on Consumerist that may be the root of why I approach residential design the way that I do.

Buried on their page two was a brief mention of something they were calling Wacky Packages. Well, I remember them as Wacky Packs and for better or for worse, my design sensibilities were deeply affected by them when I was nine or so.

Wacky Packages were a collectible sticker series that were put out by Topps (the baseball card people) in the '70s. They were graphic, sophomoric, brilliant spoofs of consumer products and my brothers and I couldn't get enough of them. The mention in Consumerist alluded to their value as collectibles now and there's actually a website dedicated to buying and selling them. What does that have to do with making a house reflect the people who live in it? Hold that thought.

This is a photo of my mother in the kitchen of my childhood home in about 1973. Looming behind her is a cabinet door covered with, you guessed it, Wacky Packs.

Here it is in close up.

My mother, bless her heart, allowed her six sons to cover a cabinet door in her kitchen with Wacky Packs. It's an extreme example, but there can be no doubt that the house I grew up in reflected the fact that nine people lived in it. Seven kids are hard to miss to begin with; but just in case you did, check out this cabinet door! Thank you Mom for putting up with us, thank you Tom for getting us started with Wacky Packs, thank you Steve for scanning all of these old family photos and thank you Consumerist for the walk down memory lane.

Here are a bunch of original issue Wacky Packs, many of which were on that cabinet door. They mock the Cold War, they mock hippies, they are decidedly irreverent and gloriously offensive. They are aimed squarely at nine-year-old boys, yet they include some heavy allusions to cigarettes and liquor. I cannot get over how many of these things I remember, yet I haven't given them a thought in at least 30 years.

Now I doubt that I'll be encouraging someone cover a kitchen cabinet door with stickers any time soon, but if somebody really wants to; what's it going to hurt?

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