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Material Life Expectancy

There is an interesting change that started during the last century: life expectancy went up but the quality of products and materials has gone down. Why is that, you ask? Easy. Industrialization.


It has recently become trendy to buy hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind items, but it wasn't always a choice. For thousands of years, things were made by hand, skills passed down from parent to child or master to apprentice. Being a tradesman meant you were an invaluable part of the community and could provide for your family.

There was also a difference in spending. Things were made to last because people often couldn't afford to buy new if it broke. Tinkers and blacksmiths and woodworkers would repair broken pieces for you at a fraction of the cost for something new.


We've all learned about the industrial revolution in school, about how amazing it was to use a machine to loom fabrics that had once been made in a slower process and how sewing machines changed everything. People who were unlearned, who hadn't had the opportunity to apprentice under a master craftsman were suddenly given more options for work. This changed the face of the world forever.

What isn't talked about is the change in quality. Machine-made products were used primarily by the poor at first. The wealthy considered those products lower-quality, and rightly so. There is a level of care and attention to detail in hand-crafted objects that can't often be found on an assembly line. It took a long time for manufacturing to shift to machinery, and we lost a lot because of it.

Then vs. Now

I remember learning to sew when I was younger. If we didn't like the clothes available in the shops, we would make our own. I can tell you with certainty that the quality of the fabric is nowhere near as good now as it was when I was 18 or even 30. But, we also don't expect clothes to last as long. Fixing things that have broken is often more expensive than just buying a new one. Everything changes and shifts. We have to shift with it.

What does this have to do with Design?

While clothing has almost completely shifted over to a fast-fashion format, design still has holdouts. One company has artisans that hand-craft all of their copper sinks. Another has employees that create the gorgeous carvings on their mirror frames. Another hand stretches the ropes for their sofas. Not all companies do, though. Generally, the more that is hand crafted, the better quality the product, the longer it will last. But, that also makes it more expensive because it takes more time to make. And that you will be getting something specific for you.

When I present products to you, I will often arrange them in "good", "better", and "best". I'll even talk about how many years you can expect it to last before you need a new one. A lot of that has to do with the quality of the materials. Because of my schooling and years of experience, I can assist you in when good products are fine and better might be the right choice. This helps you decide what is best for your home but also your pocketbook.

So, when choosing your next purchase, consider, how long do you want it to last and what are you willing to spend to make it happen? Lets always allow for a Best to slide in if we can but keep the decisions open about the good and better for your project.

I look forward to our collaboration on your next design.

Want to read more about what makes something "good", "better", or "best"? Check out this blog post!

Want to find out more about furnishings and trends? Check out the latest edition of Inspiring Design!


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