2018/10/26: of all the types of antique furniture his auction house sells, the bureau had perhaps suffered the most dramatic falls in value. “Twenty years ago, mahogany examples would regularly sell for between £1,000 and £2,000,” he said. In September, Gorringe’s sold a George III inlaid mahogany bureau for £85 with fees, or about $110.
The humble bureau is emblematic of the way that lifestyle changes have transformed collecting culture. For three centuries or so, this piece of furniture was routinely used to write and store letters. But who needs that in an age of emails, text messages and FaceTime chats?
Arguably, it is not so much “taste” that determines the value of collectibles, but more the way that human beings actually live their lives. Economists have noted how the wealth of the middle class in developed countries has declined over the last 30 years. This has inevitably had an impact on the value of lower-range collectibles. So, too, has the way that members of the middle class use their homes.
In 2012, the Center on Everyday Lives of Families at the University of California, Los Angeles, published “Life at Home in the 21st Century,” a pioneering anthropological study of the domestic habits of 32 Californian families between 2001 and 2005.
A diagram from the 2012 U.C.L.A. anthropological study, “Life at Home in the 21st Century.” The red dots indicate the positions of family members every 10 minutes in a California home.CreditCotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, U.C.L.A.
Representing a range of professions and incomes, the families all contained two working parents and at least one child. Their movements and interactions were meticulously monitored for four years by teams of ethnographers.
The data revealed two major findings. First, these families lived with formidable amounts of domestic clutter. Second, they spent most of their waking and non-working hours in their kitchens, even though only one meal in six was eaten together. A diagram charting the movements of one family showed a tendency to congregate around the kitchen table, with another major concentration in the den. The living and dining rooms were little used.
“Everything transpires in kitchens. Activities are organized, schedules are coordinated, plans are made for the next day. Meals are cooked, kids are doing homework in kitchen spaces,” Anthony Graesch, one of the authors of the study, said in “A Cluttered Life: Middle Class Abundance,” a follow-up TV program made in 2013 by University of California Television. The kitchen is “the logistical center of everyday family life,” Mr. Graesch added.
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