The unrestrained consumerism of the 70s, 80s and 90s overloaded landfills and taught people to devalue material goods. The new generation impresses dinner guests with their materialism, good economic sense and respect for the environment and future generations. They appreciate well-made and rare items. They’re finding them in local antique shops and they’re hanging on to them. Sentimental attachment to mere things may be key to sustainability in ways that have not been fully appreciated. Epicureanism is the new green.
Digital Journal met with Jonathan Bee at Hunter Bee, an eclectic antique shop in Millerton, New York, where young collectors are encouraged to indulge their inordinate love for beautiful objects. They are interested in acquiring “keepers,” building upon the past and incorporating the present. According to Bee, young people don’t want to redecorate every few years or throw out the old and bring in the new. They aren’t as interested in name brands or being fashionable as their parents were. They want unique items that reflect their own personalities.
Hunter Bee is part of a new trend among antiques stores offering wedding registries to these special couples. Bee explains that most people getting married today have come of age with the Internet, which offers a myriad of niches for people to develop eccentric sensibilities and cultivate distinct personal taste. As Bee notes,
Anything goes for them. They could register at a big store where everything is prepackaged and generic, but they’d rather take that leap and go into a small town shop like this. Your home is your nest, so it really should be you. When you buy an antique, you’ve reclaimed something and it comes to life again, which is very organic and green, in a way.
Although the environmentally concerned all know and repeat the “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra, too few people take seriously the first two of these suggestions. People tend to separate their regular trash from their glass, plastic, aluminum and tin. Then they put their recycling bags out on the curb, hoping that at the other end of the waste stream it will all get turned into new products. But recycling trash alone cannot address the waste problem created by years of runaway consumerism and disposable culture. More focus is needed on reducing and reusing, keeping products out of the waste stream altogether by valuing the funky, the old-fashioned, the slightly worn and charming. Bee says,
I do see a trend. Young people want to be individual and quirky. These young hipsters are really trying to find their own thing, which is great. Maybe traditional “brown” furniture was their parents’ thing; or all mid-century modern; but the thing today is eclecticism. They want items that have a history, and they’re re-appropriating and mixing. I have a lot of clients who buy random plates and do “broken collections” [mismatched dishes] for their houses.
Antique shops like Hunter Bee are also part of the “buy local” movement which aims to keep consumer dollars in the community and recycle them. Millennials are worlds apart from previous generations that tossed out the good dishes and bought plastic sets from Ikea. Collecting antiques is a sustainable practice, and it is fun at the same time. To celebrate their wedding, Bee’s partner, Kent Hunter, and he gave themselves a white-gold leaf antler chandelier. “It’s decadent!” he explained, and “we love it.”
Follow Victoria N. Alexander so you don’t miss an article in her DiY political change series. Alexander is the author of Locus Amoenus, a post-9/11 political-satire novel set in the Millerton area.