Observation: “Authenticity is the New Luxury” – Dungan

Birmingham Home and Garden published a story this summer quoting Birmingham architect Jeff Dungan of Dungan-Nequette as saying “Authenticity is the new luxury,” and I find that to be a beautiful sentiment.  It’s apparent there is a demand for things that aren’t just mass produced but rather have a history, a soul.

However, it appears there are plenty of people who would just as soon order their ersatz “authentic” objects.

Just look at the reinvented Restoration Hardware and some of the items featured in its latest catalog (to be fair, these look positively artful in their catalog vignettes): 

An authentic rusticated cast-iron tractor seat paired with an ornate, blackened rococo claw-footed base – folks in Alabama have been trying to sell less sophisticated versions of tractor seat accessories for years. Apparently they bungled by painting them John-Deere green instead of leaving them “rusticated.”

Reproduction of a 100-year-old Hungarian sleigh, crafted of solid elm with a tea-stained burlap cushion.

What the…a Hungarian sleigh? I can’t believe there are people laboring to reproduce these.  No, wait, I can’t believe there are people who would pay $1995 for one. And as for the tea-stained burlap, that’s something your grandmother threw out upon the invention of permanent press cotton.

A reproduction of calipers used to measure the diameter of tree trunks in 1800 France – It’s hard enough keeping my broomsticks and mops stored upright. Besides, does your yard boast a single tree that you can’t get your arms around?

How about this description of a Pottery Barn chandelier inspired by a French weathervane: While traveling in France, our designer spotted a weathervane with letters indicating the French words nord, est, sud and ouest. Authentic to the original, the letter “N” is backward.

Can you imagine? If this were manufactured in Alabama, it would be lampooned, but a French metalsmith has a moment of confusion, and it’s charmante.

I know several people who have perfectly useless but beautiful things in their homes (me included), and they are distinctive because they’re authentic.  I understand seeing something that speaks to you  and buying it for the love of craftsmanship or shape.  But some of these catalog pieces aren’t even conversation starters: “How interesting, what are those?” “Oh, they’re 19th century reproduction French tree calipers.”

Don’t we have plenty of authenticity, and to spare, all around us in Alabama? Wood from aging barns,  river rocks, your grandma’s cast iron skillet. It’s not even a matter of price, although some items certainly are costly (white Alabama marble, longleaf pine wood). Check out the flea markets, the antique shops,  family photos. There are plenty of furnishings, accessories and gadgets that honor the past and offer authenticity and that elusive sense of soul and wonderment – in a good way. Treat yourself to the new luxury.

Note: You’ll love the observations of Catalog Living, a blog that satirizes the picture-perfect world of the catalog.

  • https://www.dungan-nequette.com/blog Jeff

    Thanks for the comment. I just stumbled onto your site and love this post. The comment I quoted was from Chris Hastings of hotshot fish club fame, just to give him credit! But of course the whole statement was to say how much we need authentic people and things in our lives…
    Keep up the good work!

  • Tina

    Jeff, I’m so happy to hear from you and will extend the quote credit to Chris Hastings as well.
    Speaking of Hastings and authenticity, funny story. I had never tried the lower Alabama classic, boiled peanuts, until a several years ago when we went to Hot and Hot for our anniversary. There at the bar were these mounds of boiled peanuts in little bowls. I tried them and LOVED them. My husband was amazed – “Do you mean you’ve passed those spray-painted “Boiled P-nut” road signs on the way to the beach for years and now that they’re in a fancy restaurant you are finally eating them?” So it just goes to show, sometimes you need a new perspective to introduce you to the authentic things all around you.

    Love the work you guys do at Dungan-Nequette and Tracery Interiors!

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