Wood Pallets and Shiplap: A Longing for the Familiar
One of the greatest moments in my young adult life was finally having a place of my own. Freshly graduated from undergrad with a new job lined up in a new state, I was ready to embark on a new adventure. And like all good adventurers, I would need a base of operations. At first, I lived with my dads side of the family to save money, but after that interim period.... It was time. Time for me to move out...and get an apartment. A place to call my own! For the first time in my life, I had complete control over the creation of my living space. Undergrad had been a nice preview of this, but even then most interior design decisions had to be discussed with roommates. Excited about this new prospect of unfettered creative expression, I remember pouring over some room plans of my apartment to be that I had found online, visualizing where what little furniture I had would go. But, being that I was a recent graduate, I was missing some key elements to the domestic experience. A bed. A couch. Pots and pans. The usual stuff. So naturally, my next destination was to go where all millenials and Gen-Z go to satisfy their interior design needs. IKEA.
A trip to IKEA is like some strange modern rite of passage. You enter through those sliding glass doors as an "almost-adult." And by the end, you exit the warehouse as a grown man laden with dozens of cardboard boxes, eyes alight with excitement at the prospect of building a brand new world. Your own personal world. Home. As you walk through the store, looking at mock-up after mock-up of various rooms of a home, you're constantly thinking, "Is this me? Will this make me feel like I'm at home?" And that's the essential question of interior design. "Will *this* make the room...make the home...feel like home?" And to be honest, to a neophyte apartment dweller, there were seldom few things there that looked unappealing. However, after some time of looking at fake living room after fake living room, and debating over if I should get a couch in steel grey or cloudy grey, AND after spending an untold amount of time on Pinterest hunting for inspiration, I noticed an interesting trend. Well, I had noticed two things in particular about interior home design. 1) Everyone LOVED old wooden pallets. Especially converting them into useful items and furniture. 2) Everyone wanted to cover their walls in wooden shiplap
What was up with that? Why the fascination with chic lumber? I couldn't explain it. And the most intriguing part of it all was that deep down, I, like everyone else apparently, thought that this was a good design. It felt right. It felt...homey. So why would we, the same people who "oooh" and "ahhh" over the streamlined and smooth futuristic furniture of a Swedish Home Store, also want to adorn our living spaces with old and rough pieces of wood? The answer is in the essential question. It makes us feel at home. When you return to the house that you grow up in, it feels like home. Probably more so than the naked and undecorated shell that you inherit from a landlord. And the only thing missing, besides the people, Is the stuff. And stuff is quite important. We spend everyday with it. We grow with it. We return to it. We make memories with it. And those same memories become attached to our piles of stuff. They infuse our various pieces of furniture and knick-knacks with a unique, almost living character that overcomes the objects inanimate nature. And if stuff remains in a family long enough, it becomes a physical representation of that families legacy, a testament to their personal story and journey. Which brings us back to new and shiny things. We all want them! We live in a culture of split-second attention spans, constantly moving from this thing to that thing. We want The New and we want our dwelling space to reflect this. But we had a huge problem. Despite our collective desire for The New, we all crave that homey feeling. We have an insatiable desire for the familiar, and new things just don't cut it. It takes time to grow furniture and knick-knacks into the realm of the familiar. And we don't want that. As a culture, we hate waiting.
So, we compromise. Rather than wait for items to become old with us, we surround ourselves with items that mimic this effect. Instead of hanging up old items that have become visually distressed over time we artificially distress them. Need a dresser? Go to IKEA, and repaint it to mimic scratches and knicks. Want to put up a guitar? Same thing; Buy new, and repaint to make it look old. It's a curious societal trend that has revealed our hand. Despite our collective obsession with The New, and our often single-minded focus on it, we have an unshakable draw to The Old and the Familiar. Because, like most things that are Old and Familiar, they can teach us things that The New never could. Is reusing wood pallets for home decor and artificially distressing items to make them look old a bad thing? Absolutely not! But it's essential that we understand *why* we as a society have chosen this as an acceptable aesthetic. That we acknowledge that this choice is a manifestation of our collective yearning for the familiar. Perhaps a choice brought about by such a rapid overabundance of New. And that we do not forsake the time and effort it takes to organically build memories and familiarity. The best things take time to grow. Embrace the process and enjoy the journey!