I acquired good taste over the weekend. And it didn't cost me an arm and a leg. It cost $1.49 plus tax, and it was on sale at a bookstore in Alexandria.
Most people want to reflect good taste in their clothing, furnishings accessories and collectibles. Some of us have the courage of our convictions; others must turn to the experts for the courage of their convictions. Sometimes we need help to fend off the trend-setters, or to resist the blandishments of advertisements. Print and broadcast media bombard us with fads and fashions. It takes character and support to avoid being hit by shot and shell.
For the big spenders and those with money to support their habit, it isn't much of a problem. An article in The Wall Street Journal limned a devil-may-care attitude among the monied and their pursuit of pleasures. Tucked down in the story, though, was the observation that average consumers feel "sobombarded by advertising that they find it hard to keep buying what they probably don't need."
Like many who are concerned about inflation, I appreciate helpful advice. And this is what seemed to be offered in the 211-page book by Elaine Cannel that I spotted on the bookstore bargain table that Saturday morning. For fighting inflation, the book seemed a good start, even cheaper than most paperbacks, having been remaindered down to $1.49 from $9.95.
As a former consultant to Tiffany's and George Jensen, Ms. Cannel seems to have an insider's awareness of the mood of the times: ". . . the confusion in the taste establishment is just one part of the confusion in the rest of the social order," she notes briskly. And she lets you know her goal: "It is the aim of this book to lead you through the market-place of taste and show you how to judge good taste in all areas of household decorations."
There are no elaborate color illustrations or slick paper to bedazzle the eye and divert the attention. Just solid information for moderately intelligent people.
The title, granted, does seem overlong: "Good Taste -- How to Have It, How to Buy It . . . when shopping for everything from furniture, flooring, fabric, appliances, lamps and lights, to jewelry, silver, paintings, prints, sculpture, china, and glassware." But inside, the author delivers:
On Furniture: Possibly the biggest investment in taste and money. Buying quality is often an "act of faith." Look at the best quality furniture available regardless of what you plan to spend. This will give you a measure for comparison when you eventually buy.
One China and Glass: Fineness of china depends mostly on mixture of the paste, firing temperature, and skill and artistry exercised during manufacture. (She provides fundamental questios to ask when buying fine china.) On glassware, she says, in theory, "Crystal is a term denoting a special kind of glass that contains lead, in addition to the basic elements of sand and potash." In the U.S., however, crystal "has come to mean almost any kind of glass for table and decorative use. If you're buying crystal, make sure it's lead crystal."
On Floors and Their Coverings: The advantages and disadvantages of almost everthing from animal hides to area rugs, to Oriental rugs and vinyls and other resilient floor coverings are described. If you have parquet floors, it's "in perfectly good taste to let them be seen."
On paintings, Prints and Sculptures: Buy them to please yourself. Beware of buying art as an investment. If you insist on "investing," take this advice from a former museum curator: "If you're in the stock market, you get a good broker. In the painting market, get a good dealer."
Besides the practical points, there are insights into the "taste business," and how you can use them to develop -- or at least have confidence in -- your own. She's addressing consumers who have (perhaps painfully) built up a resistance to ads and the "latest thing."
I, for one, don't mind moving with the times, but I do mind being manipulated. For years I read the papers and magazines for the ads first, the news second -- for the bargains I just knew I needed. Eventually, I would up with an attic just full of things I couldn't do without. And eventually, the attic had to go. I moved into an apartment. d
The lure of the ads and catalogues is not easy to resist. We are enticed by elegance and decoration, but do we really need one more -- possibly junky --thing?
Whatever, it is obvious that many of us cannot live by bread alone. As Ms. Cannel writes, in Manhattan there are now more art galleries than bakeries.
But maybe, just maybe, we can learn to distinguish between a fleeting junk-food gorge in buying for our homes and savor the satiety of good taste.