Vintage-Inspired Gifts for the Homemaker

Vintage-inspired gifts for the homemaker on your list!

1. A Mini History Lesson:
Radical Dishtowels

ABOUT: “As a family, we’ve always been interested in the amazing stories of history’s radical thinkers and campaigners, and how much hope these stories can inspire relative to the politics of today. We didn’t have much business experience. But we realized that there must be other people with progressive values out there who wanted to give gifts that actually mean something, make you think, and give you hope. We all loved the idea that you might come across a design in someone’s kitchen, and that it would spark a conversation about an idea or philosophy. As a teacher, I imagined that children might see a design and ask, “Who was she?” Together we made the decision to start our very own Radical Tea Towel Company. We do all the designs ourselves, and get them manufactured in the UK with ethical partners.” Read the full story, here.

PRICE RANGE: $

SOCIAL IMPACT: Made ethically in the UK, the main impact is in the message on the towel. What a fun way to strike up a conversation about something important, even controversial.

WHAT WE LIKE: This is such a unique idea. I’ve seen some cool tea towels, but never anything like this. They cost a bit more than the average tea towel, but are still inexpensive enough I could justify buying it if I had a place to have it visibly hanging in my kitchen.

2. Placemats and Doormats Inspired by Vintage Tiles:
Hidraulik

Tusset Floor Mat.

ABOUT: “The first hydraulic tiles were produced in Barcelona in the mid nineteenth century.   The creativity and durability of these attractive yet functional handmade floors caught on quickly and their use spread across Europe and beyond.”

The brand is carried by Locus Vie, a distribution company for home decor products in North America.  They focus on small European design companies that are looking to make an entrance into the North American market, and you can find local retailers via their site.

PRICE RANGE: $$-$$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: The site says that they are “phthalate-free and recyclable, for an eco-friendly conscience”. While made in Spain, there are many local shops, usually small ones, that carry some of these designs.

WHAT WE LIKE: They have a vintage vibe but are super practical. They make great door mats or a runner for a high-traffic hallway, they are easy to clean and can cover up ugly rental flooring. They are a bit on the pricey side for the larger ones (I saved up and watched for sales for years before I finally got one), but a set of the placemats could make a lovely gift, and they work well inside or out!

3. Textiles Based on Traditional Indigenous Designs
Indigo Arrows

Copper and Black Moons Lumbar Pillow
This Copper and Black Moons Lumbar Pillow is currently sold out, but it’s my favourite and I had to share.

ABOUT: “For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples in Manitoba, including my Anishinaabe ancestors, created beautiful patterns to adorn their pottery collections and host of bone tools. Most of the surviving pieces are held by museums now, but I think the world needs more than exhibition- we need these patterns in our homes provoking thought; we need them bridging gaps; and, we need them inspiring our loved ones. The Indigo Arrows line picks up where my ancestors left off.

Destiny Seymour is an Anishinaabe interior designer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She graduated with her master’s degree in Interior Design from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. She worked at local architecture firm in Winnipeg for over 10 years as their interior designer before starting her own design business in 2016.

Destiny started designing artisan textiles for interiors that respectfully reflects local Manitoban Indigenous peoples and their history after struggling to find materials that she could incorporate into design projects. Her company, Indigo Arrows, now offers a range of table linens, pillows, and blankets that showcase patterns from local Indigenous pottery and bone tools that date from 400 to over 3000 years old. These patterns are picking up where her ancestors left off.

Destiny formed Woven Collaborative in 2018, an Indigenous led design studio with fellow designer Mamie Griffith. Their design practice takes a critical look at the representation of Indigenous cultures within spaces. Their design mission is to respectfully reflect local Indigenous cultures & identity within architectural forms, interior spaces, furniture, and textiles. Their design process acknowledges community engagement, inclusiveness, and collaboration when creating new works.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: These beautiful linens are handmade, individually hand-printed in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 100% linen using non-toxic ink. This Indigenous-run company is making something that is simultaneously modern and traditional: these designs look like something you’d find in a magazine today while many of them are actually thousands of years old. Destiny names them in her ancestral language, Anishinaabemowin, and the pieces have a little description of what the word means and its significance, so it’s a nice little learning moment as well.

WHAT WE LIKE: If I had seen these without the context I would have thought they were totally modern, but when I read the history I knew they were perfect for this post: vintage-inspired doesn’t have to mean “old looking”, and it doesn’t have to be a perfect reproduction of something either. It also made me realize that a lot of the modern “boho” things you see in chain stores have (whether intentionally or not) designs that were used historically in Indigenous art, and so why not support the maker who shares that history? Promote the use and creation of something that comes from generations of artisans rather than buy a knock-off mass produced in China? And honestly, while some fellow artists may not have the money for a $100 decorative pillow, I think we all know that given the work that goes into it, that’s a steal. A lot of these are less expensive than things you’d find at Crate & Barrel or West Elm, and you can shop guilt-free knowing you’re supporting the artist who made them, not some faceless corporation.

4. Retro Canadian Pillows:
Persnickety Designs

Each pillow features a bright, bold design on each side: it’s like 2 pillows in one!

ABOUT: Peggy McEwan is a Toronto-based artist with a background in classic animation. These pillows are what she calls “comfortable art”, and they come in a range of retro designs – Toronto landmarks, old movie stars, vintage maps – there’s something for everyone.

PRICE RANGE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: You’ll be supporting a local female artist!

WHAT WE LIKE: I’ve been eyeing several of these for years, but found they were usually a little out of my price range. However, that was when I came across them in stores – I just realized you can buy from her site at about half of what I’d always seen them for before, and I may have to redo all my cushions! I love pop art but you don’t find a lot of it locally made, so I’m happy to add these to my already massive pillow collection.

5. True Vintage Serving-ware
Ethel 20th Century Living

This mid century piece is a great way to hint, “invite me over more!”

ABOUT: “Ethel – 20th Century Living is a vintage furniture, lighting and accessories store in the East Danforth neighbourhood in Toronto.

After helping to establish “Retro Row” in Leslieville 20 years ago, Ethel was starting to show her age. After the store changed ownersip in October 2009, it conducted business in the original location for 3 more years, and in May 2012, Ethel moved to Corktown. In the fall of 2016, we decided to close our bricks and mortar location at 327 Queen St. East, and now, two years later, we have a new home at 1781 Danforth Ave.

Owner Shauntelle LeBlanc has re-established Ethel’s brand as a store for outstanding vintage modern furniture, lighting & accessories. The store’s focus is on affordable vintage because you should enjoy your furniture, feel free to put your feet up on it and certainly not feel like you’re living in a museum (or magazine spread…unless that’s your thing, and in that case, Ethel is cool with that too).

We’re a proud Canadian indie boutique, and along with classic American & Scandinavian design, you’ll also find Canadian Mid-century pieces here. Sure, we all love Eames, Nelson & Knoll, but have you heard of Russell Spanner, Lotte Lamps or Clairtone? 

Vintage is nearly always one of a kind so our merchandise is constantly changing. You might find a complete Brady Bunch kitchen in here, or maybe a film noir detective movie set, complete with tanker desks & typewriters. Ethel has a little bit everything, from gondola sofas and teak dining sets to oddball pieces like 80s Russian propaganda posters and vintage tiki mugs.

Along with 20th century furniture, lighting and accessories, we also carry new products by RetroVerte, Umlaut Brooklyn, and more.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: A local, female-run boutique selling vintage – sustainable in many ways.

WHAT WE LIKE: There are MANY vintage shops in the city (though sadly, not as many as there once were) and I have my favourites for various things. Ethel’s is where I go for mid century. You can rely on finding a lamp, vase, serving piece etc. from the 50s-60s there, likely in whatever colour you’re looking for. She often has a selection of small retro furniture as well, like card tables and chairs.

Have something you think should be on our list?
Let us know in the comments.

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Set Design Inspiration – Mid Century Modern

When dressing a period set it is important to have not only a good grasp of what was actually popular and available during the period, but also an idea of what most audiences will associate with it. “Mid Century Modern” is a huge decor trend right now, and so those looking to set a show in the 1950s or 60s are in luck – there are lots of vintage and new pieces available that fit the style, for a range of costs.

When trying to capture the essence of an era, I usually focus on a few key things:

  1. Silhouette: What sort of general styles and silhouettes were common, and where can we find those in both vintage and modern pieces?
  2. Colour: What colours were popular at the time? And in particular, what colour schemes would have been used then that are rarely used today?
  3. Accents: Are there any accent pieces (lamps, phones, statues, vases etc.) that are frequently associated with the decade?

I then research a bunch of photos and hit the thrift shops. While it is always fun to go to vintage and antique stores, I generally find that, for one, the costs there can be high and two, since those pieces are actually old they frequently look too worn to be used in a set that is meant to be of that time. Often times, the best solution is to go through thrift stores and see what more recent pieces can be recycled and reworked to fit the desired decade. But before I get to the little details, I start with the first thing the audience will spot: the colour.

The Mid Century Palette: 1950s and 1960s Colour Schemes

While many of the colours popular during the 50s and 60s are seen in homes today, the big difference is in how they weren’t afraid to mix lots of bold, contrasting colours, whereas we tend to tone them down with neutrals. Let your colours speak to the tone of your show; doing a drama? Why not try for a deep, forest green with red and golden accents? Have a cheerier, lighter mood in mind? Pastels were popular and can look stunning onstage. Don’t be afraid to play with unique colour combinations, and when in doubt, a quick google search will come up with some mid century colour palettes you can choose from. If you have the opportunity, one of the best ways to get a real retro look is to incorporate the bold carpet colours of the decade (though of course we don’t all have the resources to cover our stage floor).

 

The Mid Century Silhouette: 1950s and 60s Furniture

One of the most easily recognized features of the mid century furniture silhouette is the thin, tapered wooden legs. Often stained to look like teak, they sometimes had a metal cap at the bottom, and are relatively easy to replicate should you not be able to find an actual vintage piece. Eames-styled chairs, with thin wooden arms and legs and tailored, boxy cushions were also popular. I often find pieces from the 1980s that, from a distance, can work in a mid century set.

The Mid Century Vibe: 1950s and 60s Accent Pieces

The fun part of dressing a mid century set is hunting for little accent pieces that can really bring the whole thing together. Try to think of things that, not only have the right look for the decade, but that can be usable onstage. People in the 1950s and 60s smoked and drank more than most of us do today, so investing in a bar, some ashtrays and some retro glassware may be worth the while. A vintage lamp will instantly stand out as something not-of-this-decade and so can be a good choice as well. And of course, who doesn’t like to add a few vases or some kitschy ceramics? They are fun, often cheap, and help the overall vintage vibe of your set.

Bygone’s Mid Century Set: Dial m For Murder

In August of 2013, Bygone Theatre produced Frederick Knott’s “Dial M For Murder”, setting the show in 1956. While the set was simple, some vintage elements (along with some new, “vintage styled” elements) quickly conveyed a retro vibe.

DSC_0752In this shot you can see several key pieces:

1. The Bar – this vintage find cost us $100 and is currently in our living room. It was worth the splurge as it was a key piece in the show an a great spot for stage business.

2. The “Vintage” Couch – while this is actually our old living room couch (bought new at a futon store in downtown Toronto a few years before) the boxy, tailored style fit it in perfectly to our 50s living room. A couple bright accent pillows were added to bring it into our whole “martini” colour scheme

3. The “Vintage” Coffee Table – I suspect this table is actually from the 80s, because unlike a true mid century one from he 50s or 60s, it is made of particle board and plastic, not teak. I found it for $20 on kijiji and it is currently our living room table

4. The 1950s Lamp with Fibreglass Shade – another splurge at $100, but one I think was completely worth it. This lamp is so perfectly 50s, and that fibreglass shade stands out beautifully onstage. We used it a lot for practical lighting, so that was good as well. This too has made its way into our regular living room furniture.

When dressing a period set on the cheap, it is important to think about what the audience will really see. Yes, you can likely find a beautiful vintage Eames-styled chair, but at what cost? Our used couch had the right shape and colour, and worked great. Lots of 1980s furniture has the look of mid century modern from a distance, but is much cheaper as it is made of plastic or metal, rather than solid wood. Again, great onstage. If you keep your colour scheme retro and throw in a couple well-picked vintage knick knacks (we used quite a bit of Blue Mountain Pottery, cheap, and made it look like something Margot collected), you can avoid having to purchase too many things. Try to think of pieces that could be used in other shows, or other periods as well. Remember, just because something is set in the 1950s, doesn’t mean the character’s can’t have a few older “inherited” pieces as well. It’s all about balance. In this show, we paid particular attention to the costumes, which also allowed us to go a bit simpler on the set. In dressing a period show on the cheap, remember that, while you may put in the time researching exactly what is accurate for the year (I know I did!) most audiences won’t know the difference between something from 1950 and 1960. Play with what you can find and you’ll realize that a period set can be a lot of fun, and a lot simpler than it may initially appear.

E.