Are we replacing old items too often? Our culture has made it easier for companies to create disposable goods–or items designed to have a short life–that it’s hard to separate what we need, from what we want, from what will last. Then there are changing styles and trends. Can stuff be designed and built to be durable, beautiful and affordable enough to last generations?
This is where the term “heirloom design” comes in. This has been a huge challenge in the design world. Products should be well made, attractive and affordable. Period. We only have to look at electronic technology and the automotive industry to know that this challenge has not been met. How many computers, cell phones and cars have you had in the last 20 years?
Earlier this year, I attended the Greener Gadgets conference, where I first heard the term “heirloom design” discussed. Saul Griffith proposed the concept, which he describes as design that is intended to last for generations. He’s putting the challenge to the test. This World Changing article explains, “Griffith said he’s planning to give his soon-to-be-born son a Rolex and Mont Blanc pen … and then tell him that these would be the only watch and pen he could use for the next 100 years.”
Think he sounds a little out-of-touch by suggesting Rolex and Mont Blanc are green? “[Y]ou have to design things and experiences that will last a very long time that have been thoughtfully designed and are very beautiful,” defends Griffith in the World Changing article.
The article also makes an interesting note that World Wildlife Fund gave the world’s largest luxury companies terrible sustainability ratings. Griffith’s examples involve large initial investments of cash, and may limit heirloom-quality products to people who can afford it. Can we make beautiful heirloom products that are also affordable to everyone?
I decided to bring the issue home. I walked around my house to see if I had some items that where either passed down or acquired, that could pass as heirloom quality and that I could hand down to the kids. This was harder than I thought, so I asked my kids (24 and 20) what they considered heirlooms in our home. Here is our combined list:
– A 1960s chair and couch – While the chair I found is not quite as sturdy as the one I grew up with, it should last the test of time with some ongoing repairs. The low curved couch was dragged out of a friend’s pool house.
– The cast iron and All-Clad pots and pans – Some of the cast iron pots are already 100 years old.
– Waffle-maker – My husband’s grandmother used this in the 1800s. It is so sturdy that is should be cranking out waffles for my children’s grandkids.
– An Artwork collection handed down from my mom – Particularly, we all enjoy the Bjorn Wiinblad posters. They make my 80 year-old mom, me and my kids smile.
– Dishes my husband’s grandmother painted – They are beautiful and can’t be put in the dishwasher, so they’ve already lasted 100 years.
– The amazing tables and furniture made from fallen trees on our property that my husband crafted.
– Musical instruments — We have a piano, guitars, flute, clarinet, and drums.
We all have stuff and we all want a more sustainable future. As my little home-research discovered, our goods don’t have to be Rolex or Mont Blanc to qualify as heirloom, but they do have to be taken care of. And perhaps this might be a challenge to many of us who are accustomed to our throw-away culture.
What items do you consider heirloom-quality in your home?