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'Bland chic' is always in good taste

Sunday, May 07, 2000

I've heard of barnstorming and barn-raising, but what's all this barn-bashing? Who decided to judge what we should or shouldn't like about Pottery Barn?

Currently, there seems to be a campaign against the successful home furnishings store. What does that say about those of us who just happen to like what some pundits have referred to as the Barn's "taupe authority?"

I tuned in to the criticism because I happen to like most things that are taupe or beige or mushroom or off-white. ... You get the idea.

The fear now is that as the masses converge on PB's 116 stores and dog-ear the monthly catalogs on pages featuring taupe and an equal amount of leather and Tibetan rugs, good taste becomes known as no taste at all.

That's what they're saying. I'm not sure who "they" are, but House & Garden magazine claims we are witnessing bland uniformity, with the Barn leading the pack, followed closely by bland purveyors Crate & Barrel and Ikea. Add Pier 1, too.

Are we who like this stuff drones without any taste?

What would they have us do, furnish our homes as Architectural Digest clones, where a single porch chair costs more than your house?

The magazine features millionaire penthouses and villas that use an overkill of velvet, gilded portraits, English spaniels and dining-room tables long enough to accommodate the entire board of a corporation.

A recent Newsweek article titled "Sofas and Sensibility" tells us H&G sees the "bland" stores as places with safe and hip stuff for the home, just as Banana Republic is the place you go to buy safe, hip clothes for work (and now housewares, too).

Hmmm. And what's wrong with that, I wonder?

I admit I don't think a home furnished with everything from a Pottery Barn or any single store makes for a very personal environment. But I do think a dozen of us could purchase the same chair or sofa, the same wall hangings and the same comforter covers and then make them entirely our own by the addition of personal items.

On those occasions when I have had an opportunity to visit a New Yorker's Park Avenue apartment, an artist's loft, a summer place on Long Island, there were always a few trendy items the owners had picked up on.

Certain furnishings, such as those obligatory round tables with thick glass tops over a moire skirt, were in every apartment I visited. On top were collections of pillboxes or photographs or paperweights.

These days, everybody is using a huge ottoman as a coffee table, books piled high on one end, perhaps a single potted orchid on the other.

We often copy others' ideas. Why not Pottery Barn's?

Having many years behind me since I bought my first stuffed chair for $99 at Horne's (I still have it), and having inherited such things as my parents' dining-room set and other smaller furnishings, I haven't been in the market for major pieces of furniture for some time.

I still enjoy looking. I'm one of the customers, perhaps not terribly sophisticated, who reacts favorably to Pottery Barn.

Pier 1 is the same kind of store, where I can get ideas for uplifting a wicker chair with a bright cushion or see a glass bowl that can display my seashells.

I don't mind if somebody else likes the same things. Great minds, you know.

My early days in the working world found me at the Studio Shop, first Downtown and later on South Highland Avenue, where Diana Caplan reigned supreme with her inventory of primarily Scandinavian furniture and home accessories. She was innovative.

How I loved that store, and many things I purchased there still nestle with items I mentioned previously.

I saw the "Friends" episode in which two of the characters bought an apothecary table at Pottery Barn, each thinking they had an antique, then hiding their foolishness.

It was funny.

Later, Lisa Kudrow's "Friends" character, always a bit ditzy, walks by a Pottery Barn window and sums it up by declaring, "This stuff is everything that is wrong with the world."

I am going to allow a ditz to tell me what's wrong with the world? I don't think so.

I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I was born with a tendency to like taupe. Today it has a name. It's called "bland chic."

I'm trendy. Who knew?



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