Friday, August 13, 2010

When Home is... an Object

Is there any one object in your home that encapsulates all the emotions of home for you? For me it would perhaps be my collection of old silver cutlery, which I slowly bought during a number of trips to the UK when I was in my 20s.

I remember walking into those antique shops in tiny little villages and feeling so excited matching up odd bits of cutlery for my future home. I imagined my future children using the cutlery and knowing its history; knowing I lugged it home at the bottom of my suitcase all those years ago from the other side of the world; knowing it was now part of our family story.

I often think of an old lady who died during the Victorian bushfires of 2009. She was found in her car with a full china dinner set beside her. What memories did those plates, bowls, cups and saucers hold for her? Perhaps it was her wedding china; or her mother’s? Imagine all the meals eaten off them. Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries... the precious conversations, intimacies, maybe even arguments that those plates may have been privy to?

The power to attach emotions to objects is very strong and this is also one of the reasons why my sister wanted to open a shop which sells, amongst other things, vintage and retro objects.

She says, ‘What I really feel like I am doing is giving objects from the past with their own stories and histories the chance for a new life with a new "custodian" for want of a better word. These pieces all have something appealing about them - be it their colour, shape, function ... or quirkiness. And when someone sees something they just love and have to have that makes it all worthwhile.’

Justine’s customers may already be collectors: ‘I have a lady who comes in only to buy coloured glass and she just keeps on adding to her collection: sundae dishes, wines glasses. It's the colour and the design of them when all combined together that she loves.’

Or they may have just started collecting: ‘Another customer owns almost as many ramekins as I do now (and she owned none before!). I'm pleased to see I am not the only one who is obsessed with the most practical invention in the world: everyone needs a ramekin...or 50.’

And have now become passionate about it: ‘An older man comes in regularly to buy different pairs of vintage champagne glasses; he likes that his collection is made up of numerous different pairs. He told me he has never collected before but is now addicted to it and he looks forward to family celebrations so he can pull them all out and tell everyone the story.’

But there are also those special stories of customer’s looking for a very specific object:

‘A woman once came in to buy the exact 1950s mixing bowl - colour, shape and brand - that she and her grandmother would make cakes in together when she was young. It was the only thing she wanted to keep after her grandmother died but it was broken in the cleanout of her home. She had been searching for years and she found it here. I don't think I have ever seen someone so ecstatic to buy a yellow & white polka dot mixing bowl.’

‘One lovely lady, who has always popped in since I opened the doors 12 months ago, asked me to keep my eye out for a 1950s set of MacArthur Splayds - just like the set she was given as a wedding present but had since lost after numerous moves and life changes. I did search and of course she checked in every week to see if I had found any. For months I couldn't; it was like they were hiding!’

‘Then one day I did and that morning I was so excited to call and let her know. Literally as I picked up the phone she walked in the door! She was so elated about them and the timing she went straight across the road and bought a lottery ticket for us to share. We didn't win anything but that's not the point. It was just one of those moments you couldn't make up.’

Of course, there doesn’t need to be a significant history or price attached to an object to create strong emotions: ‘A customer who works nearby is addicted to the handmade felt flowers I stock so every few weeks she pops in and adds another to her collection. She says they just make her happy.’

When I think of the favourite objects – new and old – in my home they all have one thing in common. They make me happy too.

Retrospections is open Tuesday – Friday 10am-5pm; Saturday 9am – 3pm
498a Miller St

Photos © Justine Joffe

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