Vintage + Handmade: A Match Made in Heaven

Some things just seem to be made for one another – peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and pretzels, macaroni and cheese. Those examples were all food, which isn’t the focus of this article, but who can say no to ketchup and french fries, milk and cereal, or bacon and eggs! Okay, enough food talk. Let’s focus on one of my favorite pairings of all: vintage and handmade.

“Vintage” is a word that isn’t always clearly defined. Sometimes it gets blended with “retro” to mean only psychedelic items from the 70’s. What it really refers to, though, are any items, such as clothing or furniture, that aren’t old enough to be antique (100 years or older), but were produced more than 20 years ago. To me it 
represents an amazing period of style and design. Many vintage items, particularly those produced in the 1930’s through 1960’s, are very well-made as particle board and plastic were not yet the go-to materials that they are today. Because of this, these well-loved and well-used items are often still in great condition. And those that aren’t can often be brought back to life with simple repairs or refurbishing. Or, maybe you’ll fall in love with the rusted metal and flaking paint of an old cabinet, and that handsome book with the dog-eared pages and tattered cover. Regardless of the condition you prefer, these items evoke a sense of nostalgia that takes us back to our mother’s (or grandmother’s) house, or our father’s (or grandfather’s) workshop.

Handmade items are once again a growing trend. More and more, people are spending their money on individually designed and crafted goods, rather than mass-produced, cookie-cutter products. I find it so fun to have art on my walls, t-shirts in my dresser, and jewelry around my neck that I know were made by small business owners who pour their heart and soul, and sometimes their unique senses of humor, into the items they sell. Some of these makers are preserving the once heavily practiced arts of knitting and sewing, soap and candle making, and glass and wood working. Others are pushing the boundaries of graphic and artistic design.

Photo by Erik Reader of PEN

So why are vintage and handmade such a good match? Both afford you the opportunity to fill your home and your life with truly unique items. In the case of vintage, many items are lost to time, making the ones you find (or have) more special; and in the case of handmade, these items are often one of a kind or made in small batches. Vintage and handmade items also come with a story. Vintage items are pre-loved, having lived at least one life before finding their way to you. Handmade items began life as disconnected supplies until an artisan lovingly assembled them into something new. You see, people are drawn to both by the love—the imperfections, the craftsmanship, the whimsy—and this is what people find comfortable and familiar about these items. And let’s just be honest, pairing vintage and handmade in your home just looks great together. I love blending old and new in clever and creative ways to create a diverse, yet cohesive look in my home. When I set out to decorate a room I think about how I can blend nostalgic and contemporary design to create an eclectic space. With little exception, you won’t find these items in big box stores. Instead, you’ll need to head out into your community, visiting local shops, boutiques, and galleries as you curate your own collection. Or hit the road, find a flea market, go to an artisan festival, peruse small towns and big cities to search out your special finds--in the end you’ll have great items and great memories you can enjoy for years to come.
This post also appeared as an article in the February 2016 issue of News & Views (Bloomington/Normal). 

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