The Missus takes me on a tour of the house, her two daughters in tow. The one-year-old rides on mommy’s hip, while the four-year-old follows closely behind. Both girls are dressed in “thrift-store treasures,” my favorite of which is the older girl’s yellow flutter-sleeved tunic embroidered with two rows of colorful birds. Smets has on a black-and-blue plaid dress, something one of the Mad Men ladies might wear. (Peggy or Betty, that is; Joan — never.) The blue matches her eyes, and with her bright blond hair styled in very current beachy waves, it makes for a hip mix of present-meets-past.
On the tour, Smets points out that “almost all the furniture is from Craigslist,” including the mid-century dresser she “got from some teenage kid” for $70, and the large, sleek dining table, which was free. The West Elm dining chairs and the drum lampshade over the table, though purchased new, keep to the theme.
“Anything that looks like it’s from a Mad Men set, I’m pretty into,” Smets says. And then, on a more practical note, “I hate clutter, so that’s why I like the whole mid-century aesthetic.”
Although the entire house is decorated with the era in mind, the master bedroom and the living room have the kind of clutter-free, functional blandness you might find in a present-day hotel room. But the kitchen and the children’s bedroom are museum-like still-lifes of rooms occupied by the happy housewives and housechildren of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The cheery attitude of these two rooms reads less Mad Men, more Leave It to Beaver.
The kitchen’s pale blue walls and aqua-colored counters contrast with white cabinets and a red Linoleum floor. A teapot on the stove, sugar and flour canister lids on the counter, and an old high chair provide bright yellow accents. Open shelving reveals dishes and old-fashioned glassware and a stack of bright yellow bowls, all in the same theme.
Sweet and cheery though it appears, I can imagine Betty Draper (or some other woman in a diaphanous pink slip) sipping gin out of one of the pretty cups — at 10:00 a.m.
When I mention Betty, Smets bristles a bit. Although she loves Mad Men, she doesn’t love that “they made the housewife crazy.”
After learning she was pregnant with her first child, Smets stopped working. For the seven years prior, she’d been a hair stylist. Yes, she misses her clients, but she’s happy for the opportunity to stay home and raise her children. One of the main differences between her and, say, Betty Draper, is that Smets sees being a housewife as God’s calling for her.
“On the show, they had no spiritual conviction. I’m where I want to be and where I think God wants me to be — in the home.”
Smets, proud of her treasure-hunting skills, calls her passion for vintage everything “part hobby, part trying to save money.”
The Formica counters cost $800 for eight feet; her husband did the installation. Rather than spend money on new cabinets, which she says would have consumed their entire $10,000 budget, Smets found a blog on how to change existing cabinets with paint and new handles from Ikea. Doing the project that way cost $150.
“I got a lot of ideas from the Smile and Wave blog.” She puts the baby down on the floor. The baby whines and raises her arms, and Smets picks her up again.
Later, I click on a link at Smile and Wave that says “Home Tour” and discover that this is indeed where Smets gets much of her inspiration. The details differ: where the Smile and Wave gal has an old blue typewriter and a collection of old globes in her living room, Smets has an old pink typewriter and a collection of old Thermoses in hers.
Following a series of links that lead to blogs across the country, I find a whole world of vintage-happy women sharing design ideas and craft projects. Many, like Smets, have created vignettes out of old-fashioned toys displayed on shelves. They’ve adorned the walls of their children’s rooms with vintage-print fabric banners. Many blogs include sections that provide details about the vintage dresses the bloggers wore and which vintage bags and shoes they used to accessorize.
Like these women, Smets has both made a hobby out of thrift-store shopping and created a blog. (Simple Here & Vintage There — even the name is similar to the “Vintage Here & Vintage There” section on the Smile and Wave blog.) In keeping with the spirit of the past, most of the photos on Smets’s blog are stylized with the tints of fading Polaroid prints.
One thing that might set Smets apart from other vintage-happy bloggers is that, as cute and trendy as the trappings of blog-chic home decor may be, she’s hoping to bring back more than just the aesthetics of a time gone by.
“That whole era was lost,” she says. “Being a homemaker has been looked down upon, and I’m trying to bring [it] back. Every night, we have dinner at 6:00.”
She puts the baby down again. This time, the girl wanders off to play with her sister.
“But we don’t want to be removed from culture and be an Amish family,” Smets explains. “My husband is into beer and the beer scene. And we love art and music.”
They danced for rent money
Forty miles north, in a large event room at the Ocean House in Carlsbad, Annelise Arevalo prepares for a show with Bourbon Dames Burlesque. The event benefits an organization that builds homes for severely injured veterans. Arevalo, co-owner of local burlesque troupe Hell on Heels, dons a red floor-length beaded gown and bright-red lipstick. Onstage, she goes by the name of Ginger N. Whiskey. Tonight, her Bettie Page look fits in nicely with the evening’s 1940s burlesque theme. Many of the dancers wear polka dots, lots of eyeliner, fishnets with seams up the back, and pin curls. One difference between Arevalo and the others, however, is that when she wakes up in the morning, she won’t go back to flip-flops and tight jeans.