Vintage Style for the Masses

So, we all know that Pottery Barn has made a name for itself by making popular styles more attainable to the masses. Yesterday, I found that I had received PB’s newest catalog. As I leafed through it, I was a bit flabbergasted. Pottery Barn has taken the leap from selling vintage and antique-inspired items to actually selling “found” items. I must admit that I am feeling about dubious about this. How many demijohn bottles could Pottery Barn have bought from this “collector” that they can tout them to the millions of people who receive their catalogs? They also have coffee sack pillows and dough molds like the ones my dear friend Carolina had at the Urban Market after carefully scouting them herself. Can the items in the PB catalog truly be vintage? I have had my doubts about certain items being advertised as “vintage” or “antique” online, in antique stores, and at markets and certainly have my doubts about these new PB items. By the way, PB’s “found” items are available through internet/catalog only and are selected for you. Isn’t half the fun of buying a vintage item picking out the one that feels just right?

Is this development good or bad? Is it a complete turnoff to know that items like these are now being sold by a commercial chain like Pottery Barn? Does knowing that so many people could wind up having the same item as you make it less desirable? After all, think about how many items or looks are found in publication after publication, blog after blog, yet people still love them. Is it a positive thing that these items are more easily accessible and more affordable? Take the demijohns for example, the antiques market is pretty much saturated with them, yet some people still charge and arm and a leg for them. When something is so readily available, doesn’t it become less valuable? I fully understand when an antique item comes with a high price tag because it is completely unique and it makes the buyer’s heart sing, but when you find the same things in booth after booth or store after store, prices must come down. Supply and demand, people! I must say that I don’t like the fact that independent antiques dealers now have to worry about contending with a retail titan like Pottery Barn, but I feel as though there might be some positive aspects to this newest development. At the very least, it might open up the average person’s eyes to a new way of accessorizing. However, now that PB is carrying items like these, does it mean they are completely over? What do you think will be the next hot vintage accessory?

Found Demijohn Bottles

Woven Demijohn Bottles
The dough molds are not on the website yet, but you can see one on the console table along with some demijohn bottles.
Pillar Candles Resting Inside of a Found Dough Mold
Vintage-Inspired Baskets
A Set of Hand-Carved Wooden Scoops
Vintage-Looking Cubbie Organizer

A Close-Up of the Cubbie Organizer


I couldn’t help but think of the Friends episode where Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe had opposing views of Pottery Barn and treated it like a huge moral dilemma. Where do you stand on the issue?

30 thoughts on “Vintage Style for the Masses

  1. I agree with you on some points, P. I think that when “vintage” items are sold in mass market stores like PB, it makes them a little less desirable. However, it does bring the price down a bit, and make it more accessible. I still find that REAL vintage finds are worth the dig, and usually have a story behind them. That’s the real treasure of having something vintage. Someone compliments it and you can say it’s one-of-a-kind, or at least not something that can be purchased at potterybarn.com.

  2. I just walked out of a Pottery Barn 20 minutes ago and thought they had done a pretty good job on faking the originals. I had no idea these items were being advertised as authentic. (Some of the items you mentioned–like the coffee bag pillows were in the store).

    It’s all a bit too country for my taste, but I am totally sending someone I know who is working on her mountain house (on a budget). I am sure she would have more fun finding these items at a flea market, but it is really hard to argue with the convenience of just swinging by the mall if you need something right NOW.

    Call me a hypocrite, because I do think Pottery Barn is the big bad wolf when they start knocking off the things that I just paid big money for. I think they do terrible things for the smaller scale designers, craftsmen and dealers who spend years developing a pattern or look only to have it copied and mass produced in China.

    I am happy however, that PB seems to be going back to their roots and laying off the Madeline Weinrib/Thomas Paul look for now.

  3. I think I might have to agree too. Pottery Barn-style is a nice design and feel, but it does seem that everyone has SOMETHING from PB. Now, with vintage “finds” being available from them as well, it would seem that the era of individual design might be on the way out the door…

    I just got my Restoration Hardware catalog the other day and they, too, are featuring “reclaimed” items. Guess it will make digging on our own at Goodwill and other second hand shops even more intriguing for those of us who don’t want the cookie cutter look.

  4. Fabulous post! I received my catalog yesterday too and will now have to check it out tonite and think about the interesting questions you pose. I personally enjoy ‘the hunt’ for vintage items myself.

  5. After the first few lines of your post, I immediately thought of that Friends episode, so no surprise that you thought of it too!

    It doesn’t bother me much if PB wants to sell fake, reclaimed antiques. I think it takes all the joy out of that moment when you see the perfect antique and all of it’s potential, reclaiming it just the way you want it! For those people who want to buy their ‘antiques’ from PB will have nothing more to say than, “Isn’t it great? It’s from Pottery Barn!” when asked about the piece… the rest of us will have a great story to tell and a real affection for our finds! Some people don’t need that, so why judge them, or PB?

  6. hahaha I love that episode! I think it’s ok to buy new pieces from places like PB and Ikea, even if everyone and their mother already has them. People have such diverse tastes that I’m sure each piece looks different from one home to the next. Now I really want to buy those Demijohn Bottles!

  7. I think that your home should reflect who you are, and having commercially sponsored “ethnic” or “rustic” pieces kind of cheapens that aesthetic.

    Just my opinion. If people want to pretend like they’re collectors of vintage glass, that’s fine too.

  8. great perspective, Jesse!

    and I don’t know how much more “affordable” these things are than originals, if you know where to find a deal. I got my legit dough trough at auction for 1/3 of what PB is charging!

  9. Are these things truly “found”? They can just say that, can’t they?

    It doesn’t bother me if people want to buy their “vintage” stuff at PB. I still love the thrill of the hunt in finding my true vintage and antique items. Then I also have the satisfaction of the memory tied to the object, as opposed to just saying “I got it at the mall”.

  10. I’ll admit I have a love/hate relationship with PB. I was completely charmed by their new catalog (their stylists and photogaphers are geniuses, no?), and happened into my local store just yesterday. As usual, the merchandise in person is a bit hit and miss but I’d say more hit than miss this time. I love the current colorways and the new accent pillows and those big vintagey baskets are pretty great. I think if you use a place like PB or Restoration Hardware as inspiration rather than one-stop shopping, you’ll get a good look that’s actually YOURS instead of THEIRS.

  11. I don’t know…the last time I went to Warrenton, there was a booth with A SLEW of “vintage” dough molds, rice scoops, etc – lots of oriental flair “accessories” by the boatload. There’s NO WAY they’re not mass-produced, somewhere.
    Unfortunately, when items become so popular (as anything reclaimed has), you have to expect Big Box stores to get in on it…
    I’ll have to make my own judgments regarding PB’s items when I receive the catalog – oh, about 10 years from now!

    Great, interesting post!

  12. Vintage and antique are losing their meaning just like the word “spa” has every nail salon is somehow now a spa! Vintage and antique are used loosely just to sell the item. One thing that gags me most is that I can almost predict what my customer’s house will look like when I go into “manufactured” communities. Part of the fun of REAL antiques is the find, the deal, and the story of where/how you came upon it.what I love about design and creativity is “thinking outside the box”. A fashion designer once said that when a trend hits Walmart, it is at the point that its overdone. Not that PB is Walmart but it is mass produced! In todays economy, we should focus on local businesses and small businesses anyways. That is my soap box for the day…..

  13. Being someone who loves antiques and antique malls, I do have to say it is a little disappointing to think that now we have to compete with Pottery Barn to find our antiques. I guess maybe it’s better for the environment if they truly are vintage rather than more mass-production, but I think this is a very interesting topic. I also agree with everyone else about the Friends episode!! Classic.

  14. I’m so glad you posted about this. I thought the exact same thing yesterday when I got my pottery barn catalog. The thing I keep comeing back to it that it is sad for people who buys these “antique” items because they are missing out on the whole point. The fun of vintage and antique items is that they usually have stories and meaning behind them. And like you said, there is a sort of satisfaction in discovering a treasure and claiming it for your own.

    There is no way these items can actually be vintage. Boo hoo pottery barn.

  15. I think the whole issue is quite interesting. It is also not a new issue. Ballard Designs has been reproducing antiques for a long time. Being an antique dealer and collector, I know that there are some people who love old things and the stories that go with them, and others just want a look – they really do not want to dig and search for a treasure that makes their heart sing – they just want to walk in a nice store like PB and buy it! So, I guess there is room for everyone? I don’t know the answer, but I do know we can’t change it.

  16. I guess you can’t blame them, but I’d always much rather buy from local architectural salvage shops because you really develop a relationship with the owners and they usually offer great prices, especially to loyal customers. Plus, you help stimulate your local economy that way and can even know about the product and it’s history. Thanks for sharing this!

  17. I know I am missing the point here, but I just cannot get past how depressing I found their most recent catalog to be. For a while I thought PB was getting cuter (when heaven forbid they used some COLOR instead of drab khaki on khaki on olive), but now it looks like they are back to their old boring ways. Blech.

    As for the “found” objects, my PB is full of them, so I highly doubt they are truly unique.

  18. I use PB for plants, fruit and candles mostly… until my husband had to have the photographers floor lamp!…I had to change my table lamp to blend in…in my home he’s my client…you see, if you fall in love with something… to me, get it…no matter where it’s from. I love my PB pears, he smiles each time he turns on that lamp…home is where the heart is, right… it’s that simple!

  19. Hahaha I just referenced that Friend’s episode too!! Only I replaced Pottery Barn with World Market.

    I don’t think its a crime to purchase a few items from them. (Just don’t do your whole home that way!!) I like an eclectic look- so that means mixing some mass produced, with some found-originals and some hand-me-downs. We don’t all have the time or means to scour every flea market to curate our homes. Decorating should be about what makes YOU happy.

    http://thirteenandsouth.blogspot.com/2009/07/i-swoon-for-cheap-ethnic-furniture-and.html

  20. Good points! Wisteria does the same . . . advertise one of a kinds to many. It does take away from the allure. I think Neiman offers estate finds, but it seems I recall that once they sell, they are no more. hmmmm. Kind of a bummer, but I guess they’re just looking at ways to stay in business. cheers, -susan

  21. i’m all for it!

    first, i think having mass market vehicle like the pottery barn catalog- which is as much a lifestyle magazine as a catalog- actually opens people’s eyes to new things in a way a decorating magazine can’t. PB is aimed at the broadest possible denominator, whereas elle decor is actually more a niche publication, so the more people exposed to a vintage look, albeit delivered in a safe and homogeneous way, will end up educating the PB readers to want that unique look, without them even being aware it is happening! and more people wanting a unique and different style, is good news for everyone connected to the home decor industry, even peripherally. diversity is a very good thing in this instance!

    plus, quite frankly, not every one wants to rummage around in thrifts stores and tag sales yet can’t afford decorators and high-end boutiques that do the rummaging for them, and weed the good stuff from the acres of bad. pottery barn filling that role gives jane and joe consumer the opportunity to test the waters within their budget. and, maybe, just maybe, when they’ve acquired the taste but realize pottery barn ain’t for them, they’ll come to *me* to truly tailor a vintage inspired interior to their needs, tastes and personality.

    so yay for pottery barn!

  22. Fascinating post – I had not seen their new catalogue but I noticed that Restoration Hardware is selling some very pricey furniture made from reclaimed wood. I am conflicted about these companies getting in on this look. It is like they are co-opting “found” and vintage and it does take some of the charm away. It is one thing to buy mass-produced vintage look, when you know it is a replica, but supposedly “found”. They will only be able to sell things that were made in very mass quantities…the big chains are dying to copy Etsy and Anthropologie to get on the homemade/recycled/reclaimed bandwagon. It never occured that they would actually do it – I thought it would just be knock-offs. For no reason other than gut feel, I don’t like it. But then again, if they are really re-using these things, it can’t be all bad, can it? Do we really need any more crap from China?!

    Must say, I do love that cubby!

    xo Terri

  23. I think you brought up some great points on this post! I have been antiquing with my family all of my life and nothing compares to the feeling of finding something really special at a flea market or a remote antique shop in your travels. That will never change; it will only challenge the dealers on authenticity. However, what I do like about Pottery Barn is that they are sheding light on what makes great design work to the average shopper-interesting shapes, unique finds, collections etc. and I think that is a good thing.

  24. I have found that once an item hits PB or Target it should be over for me. I don’t know why it is so upsetting to me to spend a boatload on a unique vintage piece just to find it later at a cheap reproduction price. I have been a PB fan for a long time for some things- they have great bedding and sheets that are affordable but their accessories are hit and miss. I prefer Anthropologie which offers real vintage mixed with their mass produced items.

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