06 May Call it Spring Cleaning
by Tom Callaway
It seems to flow in the bloodstream of most every designer I know: to grab “great” objects, furniture, and art whenever and wherever we find them…whether we have a client’s needs in mind or not. As it goes, this having to “get it while the getting is good” notion has put most of us into having untold “treasures” piled up in warehouses, storage bins, back rooms, and peeking out from every corner of our lives. This acquired stuff now requires a roof over it’s heads to preserve their precious value and beauty until the perfect scenario presents itself, to position the extraordinary object in the spot we believe it was born to have been placed.
Over the years, all this dreaming, hunting, purchasing, and scheming adds up to one hell of a monthly rental fee. All totaled, over these many years, the storage of my booty has added up to many, many, thousands of dollars…all to preserve these great finds, these inspired and coveted trophies to be the “perfect thing” for some, so far “unfulfilled,” design notion. Some of these items are things we’ve collected for our own use and delight in our personal residences. Therefore they take on an additional meaning because they can conjure up memories of the moments and details that make up our personal histories. At least that is the added value and reasoning I have placed on my many collectables. I think of them as my story, my personal value, my lifetime of memories.
Like many designers, and even non-professional collectors, I have moved from one passion to another…nautical themed goodies from ship dioramas and models, to seafaring etchings and paintings, and love affairs with lighthouses and nautical light fixtures. I’ve had a life-long romance with all things Native American, from pottery to weavings, to buckskin clothing and beadwork, to paintings, photos, and lithographs depicting American Indian life. Then there is an infinite breadth of categories and subjects, including, American primitive furnishings and naive portraiture, Chinese Export porcelain, mid-century furnishings and lighting, hooked and oriental rugs, Navajo jewelry and Hopi Kachina dolls, and French and American modernist paintings and graphics, and endless accessories to fill three homes, a couple of apartments, several warehouses and/or additional storage spaces over these past 40 years. All have added up to a staggering cost to my wallet and to my aching back from lifting, moving, and displaying this horde of precious plunder…from Wisconsin to New York, from New York to San Francisco, then back to New York, before heading back West once more to Los Angeles, with added excursions of stuff to New Mexico’s Santa Fe and Taos just for fun. All in all, my history of an addict’s love of collecting has brought with it untold costs in rent, time, gasoline, shipping, back aches, and worry.
So what does it all mean…that what began as a moment of inspiration and often a bargain, has, over the years (of transporting, storing, and protecting), damn near broken my piggy bank? What once was a thrilling and most happy purchase (has turned into a thread in the fabric of my life), these items waiting longingly to be used in the perfect spot in the most artistic and inspired way. Whether in a design project or in one of my own, dreamed of, living spaces (that have yet to materialize), they wait to be rediscovered and used. Wait a minute! Am I a hoarder? Has it come to this?
Do these possessions have a hold on me that have me tied up in emotional knots, preventing me from parting with this concoction of memories or my unfinished dreams for this stuff? Where is the tipping point on the scale from “needed acquisitions” to do excellent designing on the one hand, versus the gut level desire to own every collectable that fits every imagined scheme…which then gets added to the heap of hoped for design resolutions, when seen by some casual passerby, adds up to no more than a hoarders bloated warehouse of stuff. Is this accumulation of “treasures” leading to business and life decisions based on one’s pile of indispensable acquisitions, instead of those carefree, once held dreams of hitting the road to see the whole world, while carrying all your material possessions in the pack on your still strong back? I’m sure that what some might value as “only more stuff”, is for a designer, the indispensable raw material that allows artistic dreams to become realized. But an essential building block of good design is the ability to edit…to know the value of taking away, as well as to add.
Do you perhaps need to Spring Clean your life and your possessions? I don’t know about you, but I have some serious “editing” to do.
Tom Callaway is an interior designer and architect, living in Brentwood.