Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vintage Smart

James Miller's Vintage Modern
In an era when furniture has become an increasingly disposable commodity and is cluttering the landfills, often forgotten is the notion that buying something made to last is as ecologically sustainable an idea as any - especially if it's a second hand item. At Vintage Modern in Philadelphia's buzzing Northern Liberties neighborhood that's precisely what you can find - and with exceptional style as well.

Exquisite clean looks..
Owner James Miller has a long trajectory of collecting and trading quality vintage home furnishings, starting with furnishing a home in Harrisburg in the '70's, to forages in the flea market business, to inevitably opening his own store at 2nd and Poplar - now in its fifth year of operation. He also spent time as a visual merchandiser in various retail stores, which is apparent by his keen eye for putting together compelling vignettes for his own store.

The shop hosts an impressive collection of 20th century relics, including a beautifully crafted Danish Modern dining room table, a fabulous burl-wood Art Deco style dresser, and a very elegant, mod-looking wall unit. Likewise, he has put together a fashionable assortment of lamps and fixtures to compliment the furniture. In addition, Vintage Modern also features artwork from local artists including Ron Johnson, James Oliver, and Rebecca McCloskey.

James Miller.
Mr. Miller describes his business as "luxury recycling," saying that much of what's being made today is ready to head for the dump within a few years, in contrast to the profusion of well-made furniture from yesteryear. "Who the heck wants to buy used Ikea?" he elaborated.

Ikea, like much of the furniture industry with its recent marketing battles to claim eco-friendly compliance, contends that most of its furniture is made from non-toxic recycled and or recyclable materials, implying that they proffer a truly eco-sustainable product as a result, despite the general consumer consensus that their merchandise has a life expectancy of only a few years.

While their claims of purity and recycle-ability may not be without merit, one thing to consider is that it takes a good amount of energy to fully recycle a product and make it into something that looks newly manufactured, especially when done in less regulated foreign places such as China or Eastern Europe and then shipped across the world to be stocked in warehouse sized energy inefficient stores. But what's really at issue here is that their merchant methodology seems to perpetuate a throw-away sensibility in our culture that sharply contradicts the ethos of conservation and sustainability concepts.

Danish modern dining table
High style contemporary setting.

Here in Philadelphia, communities linked via the web are at the cusp of challenging the predicated ways of the disposable lifestyle. Concepts of re-use and swap have gained considerable strength recently, as proven by groups such as Philly Freecycle. These groups offer alternatives to rampant consumerism and unreasonable consumption, and to some degree contrast with the realities of our prevalent mode of capitalism - all perplexing thoughts as we steer into the environmentally troublesome waters of future decades.

An Oasis of Beauty on Girard.

Fishtown's Plume Salon
Another business not far from Vintage Modern also features work from local artists - though this one seems an unlikely spot to be home to a gallery. Nonetheless, Plume, a sleek new hair salon opened by stylist Tina Antonelli in nearby Fishtown has done just that, and the results are impressive.

The shop opened up in October, and while their sole focus is the art of the coiffure, Ms Antonelli decided to use her extra wall space to promote works from local painters, artisans, jewelry and accessory makers - an act designed to support the arts, become interwoven with its community, and to liven up the decor of her salon.

Stylist at work.
All proceeds from sales of the items go to the artists. The concept seems to have succeeded nicely for the shop. Her business is thriving, despite the slow economic climate. And the idea makes a great statement for Fishtown, which is increasingly becoming the epicenter of Philadelphia's art community.

Ms Antonelli knows that, and she knows she good service she provides to the neighborhood. She doesn't flaunt her philanthropy - she simply contends that  she's happy to have their work as part of the salon's interior design. That way she's given the opportunity to "change the walls and keep things interesting for the clients," something evident at the time of this interview with Designer in Exile, as clients could be seen peering across the walls of the the various artful items while her staff performed their own artful craft - snip, snipping away at locks of hair.--D.A. DeMers.

Wall art for sale from local artists.

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