Last weekend I stopped by Film Biz Recycling, a thrift store that sells props previously used on the sets of TV shows, movies, and plays. It’s a place I’ve been curious about for years, having heard of vintage treasures to be found amidst its workaday prop items. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and upon entering was somewhat jarred by the hodge-podge of items, arranged with no particular logic. A toy piano stood next to a stodgy-looking coffee table, which sat beneath a shelf of Cuban cigar boxes and a framed copy of the rules of the board game “The Game of Life”. Across from this tableau, on the other side of the aisle, were an egg swivel chair (like the one in Sleepless in Seattle), a wooden 1950s baby blue high chair, and slew of fake flowers.
A saleswoman greeted me. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Just looking,” I said, eyeing a nearby coffin. For Rent, said its tag.
“Well, there’s plenty to see!”
She wasn’t kidding. I love thrift stores, for all the usual reasons—the nostalgia, the irony, the bargains, the hunt—but mainly I love thrift stores because every item contains its own secret narrative. Once upon a time, that stained satin gown might have been the life of some Manhattan cocktail party—say, Truman Capote’s? And what about that skirt suit that looks like it’s never been worn? Maybe it was the traveling outfit of a jilted bride. She burned the wedding dress but kept the suit as a reminder to stay away from caddish men.
(As in fantasies of reincarnation, thrift store reveries tend to skew dramatic—why invent a boring past for your clothes?)
At Film Biz Recycling, the possibility for narrative invention is brought front and center, since you know that each item was actually used to tell a story. Examining a teacup decorated with French phrases, I wondered what it meant to signify about its imaginary owner. Good taste? Bad taste? Francophilia? Thrift? Without its surrounding faked kitchen, it was hard to get much of a signal beyond female, and maybe, middle class. And yet it had a specific, lived-in quality. I could see it could it could help to set a scene; how, even perched in a cupboard, it would lend a feeling of hominess.
Home. It’s a word associated with interiors, for the most part. Thinking about this column recently, I realized that I almost always associate “place” with “outside”. To correct this bias, I thought I’d share a few domestic links this month, starting with an essay by Adam Baer in Virginia Quarterly Review’s Hollywood Issue, about the architecture of John Lautner, whose glassed-walled modernist houses are often featured in movies. Most often cast as the homes of villians, Lautner’s Los Angeles houses are too sleek and expensive-looking to be the residence of anyone ordinary. And yet, Baer tells us, Lautner houses were built inexpensively, and from the inside, you feel peaceful, relaxed, and close to nature.
At the other end of the spectrum, The New York Times celebrates a delightfully maximalist aesthetic in an article about an architecture professor’s eccentric renovation of a double house in Buffalo, New York. The house, which was vacant and abandoned, is now a showcase and inspiration for its new owner’s many sculptures and artworks.
And what happens to the houses that aren’t snatched up by creative professors? At The Daily Kos, this blog post ponders the allure of abandoned houses, a beauty that is almost always tied to mystery. In a related post, Gizmodo features of slideshow of “staircases that lead nowhere.”
Finally, this excellent New Yorker profile of artist Laurie Simmons, (a.k.a. Lena Dunham’s mother), highlights her preoccupation with houses, and in particular, the artistic inspiration she’s found in a house she recently bought in Cornwall, Connecticut.
One last tidbit: if you’re looking to give your house or apartment that well-read look, The Paris Review Blog explains where to buy “books by the foot.”
Hannah Gersen is the Dispatches Editor for The Common.
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons