Nostalgia in the Home
Do we express nostalgia in our homes?
Of late, perhaps in the early 2010s, we have experienced a surge of interest from clients and their requests to go “retro”–to transport them back to the 70s or 80s, yet keeping their home designs clean and contemporary. This is not limited to locals only–we see a renaissance of design from past eras, adopted into the international interior design scene.
In his book “Experiencing Architecture”, Steen Eiler Rasmussen debates that in architecture, architects are like theatrical producers who plan settings for how we live. However as the common man as an actor is quite ordinary, such plans must consider our natural way of acting. “That which may be quite right and natural in one cultural environment can easily be wrong in another, what is fitting and proper in one generation becomes ridiculous in the next when people have acquired new tastes and habits”, he writes. Surely this is still applicable in this time and age where the rise of the computer seems to have no recess in sight (his insights were published in 1959). We can see things changing: more smart home devices, automation and technology integrated within our sleek walls.
So what led our new generation of home owners craving for the past in the present? Stop this train, John Mayer muses. It could simply be a way for some of us to detach a part of ourselves from our busy and rapidly moving lives, and remind ourselves of the time when we were toddlers–helpless and coddled. Perhaps the biggest common trait we all possessed then was our honest curiosity. Every texture of every setting, every colour, every pattern, was potentially already embedded in our then malleable minds, and might be surfacing in our pool of subconscious now.
For the lucky lot of people who remember exactly what existed in their childhood homes can accurately pinpoint the materials and items to procure and express their nostalgia. Others may only have faint impressions tied to these strong emotions. How do we go about fulfilling our subconscious in the home? We have briefly identified 3 general ways that people most typically do so.
Collecting and placing vintage artifacts and replicas as part of one’s new home is kitschy and at its most superficial. But for many, it’s an obvious reminder of memories past. Some lucky folk would have old road signs, taxi tops, rotary dial telephones and the like. Others will seek out replicas or inspired items from various vendors who have popped up increasingly of late. Most of the time, they are rendered almost useless but live for the sole function of inspiring its owners of a simpler, better way of life.
On the other hand, genuine vintage furnishings are also highly sought after. Sourcing for the real gems can be similar to panning for gold. It can be as simple as old kopitiam tables, to an authentic piece by Jean Prouve. Alternatively, there are many quality manufacturers who earnestly continue to produce pieces that rely heavily on traditional and essential forms to create a timeless and enduring environment. Perhaps one key measure to a having a balance of nostalgia and progression, is to design one’s habitat with items that are not ageless, but items that age well.
Being in the line of interior design and decorating, we have the privilege and honour of refurbishing old spaces that are rich with history and heritage but have suffered the brunt and consequence of time. As an empty shell, most of these places look drab and dull for the precise reason of their significance.
Through our years of experience we have taken up the responsibility to esteem the cultural aspects of places as much as possible. We have seen remarkable structures worth retaining and refreshing in the house – curved balconies on Chay Yan Street, gentle arches that separate rooms from another, ventilation blocks made of solid concrete. Even stripping away plaster from an old wall can reveal an unlikely story of old, traditional bricks. This lent not just us, but the new owners with a deeper, more profound understanding of the silent structure that built our history in books and in flesh.
Perhaps embedded the deepest and the most complex way is to live the way our parents/childhood guardians have lived while we grew up in their midst. Much like how most people, men or women, end up taking on similar behavioral traits to their parents, upbringing has an indelible mark and influence on the way we live our lives now. Having a new home can be a daunting experience, and what better way to draw comfort and security from than our own personal history? We remember the ways our parents arranged things around the house. If they did any carpentry work. If they had talents at the pottery wheel and decorated corners with their clay pieces. Things and aspects that we thought were ugly then could very well be strangely coveted now. Things that were of abundance in the home then: books, music, art? Trophies, toys, or collectibles? Neat structured organisation or a chaotic mess? Organised chaos does exist. When following this method of instilling nostalgia in the home, we can find it the most subtle yet the most powerful.
As our country gets on with age and moults more of its old skin, it’s easy to feel sympathetic towards buildings that are next in the line for demolition. Deep down we know that no amount of petitioning or rallying against the reformation of our city’s landscape, with it inevitably some strands of our cultural roots. Putting aside politics and forces beyond our control, we can still recreate some semblance of their spirit in the interior design around us.
Having said all this, it’s perfectly normal that not one has the same sensitivity to nostalgia to another — design is absolutely not confined to one particular factor. However, especially being evergreen to the world of interior design and facing the reality of needing to furbish your home, thinking about such ideas and possibilities, could lend some merit to your design process.
After all, according to François Halard: “a house is like a mirror of yourself”. What better way to build your best home with introspection and faith in your experiences? It’s not just a home, it is a home you call yours.