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Purchasing Great Design in a Global Economy

Scandinavian Design: Hans Wegner Chaise Lounge

Scandinavian Design: Hans Wegner Chaise Lounge, Auctioned for $59,250

Massachusetts had a tax-free holiday this month and I thought I would try to take advantage of it. Who doesn’t love an excuse to go shopping? But after only an hour of searching through retail chain stores, I started feeling bored and frustrated. The stores seemed to be carrying less merchandise than in the past, and the “look” had become homogenized. But the saddest thing of all to me was the overwhelming percentage of items that were made in China, even if the materials and designs were from elsewhere.

I have nothing against China, but I want the ability to buy a diversity of well-designed and well-constructed objects from a variety of countries. My husband and I make a conscious effort to buy good design from around the world. Not only does this support a global economy, it opens our eyes to fabulous art and design from different cultures.

Needless to say, I went home from my shopping trip empty-handed.

The next day, I came in to the Skinner auction gallery to work at an American Furniture & Decorative Arts sale. I was amazed to find the room packed with people spending their tax-free holiday shopping for antiques. I don’t blame them — all 950 lots in the auction were interesting, well-made, and unique decorative art objects and pieces of furniture, almost all made here in America.

Great Design Comes from Around the World

The experience at the auction inspired me to look around our warehouse for great design from around the world. I decided to start with our Asian Works of Art department. After all, China’s past is full of unique and beautiful objects quite different from the factory exports of today. A gorgeous jade carving caught my eye.

Europe was the next stop. The European Furniture & Decorative Arts department always has beautiful ceramics examples on their shelves, and I fell in love with this Vienna porcelain vase.

American Design: Rooster Weathervane

I love the metal work and detail on the claws of this American rooster weathervane by J. Howard

Chinese design: Jade carving

The depiction of nature on this piece drew me in. It's a carving of a mountain landscape on Jade.

Vienna Porcelain Vase and Cover

This 19th century Vienna Porcelain vase is as intriguing as any fine painting.

My own department, 20th Century Design, offers interesting objects designed all around the world. From Scandinavia, take a look at  the simple yet elegant Hans Wegner design at the beginning of this post.  From France, I picked this example of a vibrant cameo glass vase. The Tiffany Studios Table Lamp was designed in the United States, and this beautiful glass sculpture by Murano Licio Zanetti is from Italy.

French design: Cameo Glass Vase

French Design: Cameo Glass Vase

Italian Design: Murano Licio Zanetti glass sculpture

Italian Modern Design: Murano Licio Zanetti Sculpture, Donna Con Bambino

American design: Tiffany lamp

American Modern Design: Tiffany Lamp


My day of shopping and my warehouse tour taught me a lesson. Even though I went home on the tax free holiday empty-handed, I did not go home empty-minded.

We have the ability to take control of our purchasing power. I make sure to check labels and spend money on good design—past and present–from a variety of countries. If enough people get truly interested in purchasing good designs from around the world, we may be able to influence the future of retail in this country and beyond.

Has a purchase of an object from a different time or culture ever inspired you? How do you support the global economy?

One thought on “Purchasing Great Design in a Global Economy

  1. Ive had 2 purchases that inspired me both suprisingly works of art, the first when I was 13 was bought from a street artist in Leningrad as it was then, a beautiful picture of madonna and child done completely in coloured sands and copper, not a religious person but found it inspiring in its craftmanship, so much so I haggled the artist up as he was asking to little for such an amazing piece. The next is an aboriginal painting done by a member of a tribe from around Uluru again a beautiful oil painting using traditional symbols of the area. Neither was expensive and both were created by local artists struggling to make a living from their passion. I think supporting them is important too often we worry about buying by label or designer, Im all for supporting the little people, local businesses that keep tradition and quality at the heart of their work.

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