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Excesses point to a recession

Clashing prints, mint green velvet, and teal earns are all features of David Harbour and Lily Allen’s multi-million dollar New York property. The crowded ‘maximalism’ is a reflection of a recession, the same way the song “We’re in the money” in movie musical “Gold Diggers of 1933” was a product of the early Depression.

As New Zealand economists flip-flop between saying we’re already in a recession, entering a recession, or avoiding one, extreme displays of wealth are back in fashion.

Much akin to having a sitting room that is seldom sat in, having excess is a way of signalling that you’re doing okay, and in fact, your pockets aren’t empty.

This lavish behaviour is in no way new, there will always be extreme displays of wealth, but it’d argue that economic uncertainty makes it far more obvious.

Harbour and Allen’s home was featured in Architectural Digest, it’s a far cry from Harbour’s previous “bachelor pad”, which seemed to resonate more closely with common folk who had realistic design dreams.

Busy patterns – which take far more effort to create than blank textiles – have always been featured in the homes of the rich, the famous, and the royal.

Some of the rooms in Harbour and Allen’s home reminded me, vaguely, of the arts and crafts design period.

According to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the arts and crafts movement emerged during the late Victorian period in England, the most industrialized country in the world at that time.

“Anxieties about industrial life fuelled a positive revaluation of handcraftsmanship and precapitalist forms of culture and society.

“Arts and crafts designers sought to improve standards of decorative design, believed to have been debased by mechanization, and to create environments in which beautiful and fine workmanship governed.”

The Arts and crafts movement did not promote a particular style, but it did advocate reform as part of its philosophy and instigated a critique of industrial labour; as modern machines replaced workers.

Arts and crafts proponents called for an end to the division of labour and advanced the designer as a craftsman.

One of the figureheads of the arts and crafts movement was the beloved William Morris, an early-socialist designer who believed that industrialisation alienated labour and created a dehumanising distance between the designer and manufacturer.

However, many textiles used by the elite, are no longer hand-crafted.

William Morris remains a famous name for many, as his prints hang in trendy Stockholm apartments.

In a way, current economic stress and political conflict match the industrial era of Great Brittain. Jobs are still being automated, there’s still a great divide between the rich and the poor, and craftmanship is all too often overlooked in favour of cheap copies.

Design is as much a political statement as a vote. How you present yourself, and your space, speaks volumes.

Minimalism, although still running rife, seems to be out in favour of busy maximalism. Only the wealthy can afford to partake in true maximalism, but minimalism is a style that most can indulge in.

So, in times of change, maybe we should take a page out of Morris’ textile book by valuing producers and shifting away from mass, bad-quality, production.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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