We all like the patina of second-hand furniture, we all like when it has a bit of life in the colours or the materials. Objects that hint at their past are so much more interesting, but many contemporary products will never deliver such pleasure. Heavy testing requirements in the industry suck the life out of colours, which are designed to remain stable for decades.
Sadly, everywhere we look nowadays, nothing really ages. Every surface is flat, covered in a layer of gloss to stop it fading, scratching or coming into contact with human hands or life itself. Materials that should live and breathe are frozen under a coating of silicone, PVC or acrylic. Leather has its natural grain removed and a replica stamped in its place, to look more regular. It’s then coated, so no client will ever return it because it changed colour with touch or time, even though naturally tanned leather deepens over time in a beautiful way. Wood, a fibre that absorbs humidity as it breathes, should never stay still, yet today is more often than not just a slither of laminate atop a composite such as MDF. It’s then coated so much that it loses its tactile quality and may as well be fake. Even silk is coated with silicone, as it is considered too fragile after being stripped of most of its protein to get to its glossy core during processing.
In fact, high thread-count cotton bedding should improve the more you wash them.
Look for items crafted from solid wood rather than laminate. Finishing is everything: a wooden designer’s object has more time invested on its hand-finishing than its construction. Look for irregular grain in leather goods. Vegetable-tanned skins are best for upholstery, as they are more tactile and improve with use.
The good news is creative people who make modern designs that are often achieved through re-appropriation of used textile, metal, wood, leather and stone. Although the original pieces are often unrecognisable in his final work, the age and use is always left visible as he uncovers beauty in imperfection and life. Objects which are repaired, conserved and recreated so artfully are usually highly appreciated for their history and added value in restoration.Needless to say, objects made of real and precious raw materials, crafted and finished with skill, will last and age well.
The things we have in our homes must be “real”, must breathe and live with us. When they age beautifully, they change, carrying their past and worth with dignity, just like people.