How Instagram became a destination for kitschy cookware
It was a set of Vandor salt and pepper shakers that convinced me that Tchachke, a New York-based vintage store on Instagram, was worth following. One shaker was a pale pink convertible from the 1950s; The other piece was snug in the driver’s seat: a preening cat wearing a bright red dress, tiara, cateye sunglasses (naturally), a gold collar, and fur around her shoulders. In the IG story of Tchachke, where I met the feline motorist, the scenery rose and fell against a blue background with pink clouds. The words “Dreaming about the next drop” floated in the same color scheme below.
The shakers were unlike anything I had seen on Instagram, where brands like Le Creuset and Great Jones fight for customers with painstakingly differentiated cooking basics in solid colors. The post has proven to be my gateway to the bizarre, acid-tinged world of vintage tableware and kitchenware dealers, whose posts offer deals on wacky kitchen items to local customers and customers alike. good vibes to spectators. When I got to another set of Cow with a Fancy Carmen Miranda-esque Fruit Hat, I was hooked.
Instagram accounts like Museum of Tacky, Soleil Monét, Space Sisters Vintage, Dream.wares, and IO Object live in a confusing but appealing space between pop-up DM shops to buy and your aunt’s hutch filled with porcelain figurines. All eras and brands are a fair game, from the delicate Depression glass by Jeannette Glass Company and Enesco cups to the Pier 1 condiment spinners and paper vases by Tapio Wirkkala. However, certain themes permeate sellers and decades. Among the food-shaped items, cupcakes, ice cream, burgers, strawberries, and watermelon seem to be popular. Animal figures tend towards cows, cats, and poodles, while Betty Boop, Elvis, and Garfield populate the pop culture segment. Some objects are purely decorative, but most are obliquely utilitarian: teapots, piggy banks, bookends, napkin holders, “keepers” for storing baked goods or fresh produce, and lots of salt and pepper shakers.
All of the items promise to add a touch of personality to any space, a small rebellion against the stark essentials collections of kitchen utensil brands with bland names that rock social media spots like a bedroom. echo design. “We’ve all seen the neutral, minimalist decor with the fan palm sitting in a beige donut vase atop a white console table, all of which are lovely items, but they don’t show off the owner’s personality,” explains Anh “Adeline” Tran, half of the duo behind LA’s Object Superette (originally Qrated Qties). “The colorful ice-cream bowls, on the other hand …”
Tran has always enjoyed rummaging through thrift stores, but a pandemic lockdown has shifted his hunt online. After seeing a number of savings accounts popping up on Instagram, she finally decided to launch her own business in December 2020, recruiting her girlfriend Ellen Bae to co-manage the account and join the hunt for retro decor.
At retailers like eBay, vintage cookware, like the old-fashioned collectible Pyrex, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Big-ticket items pop up in these social media stores (though it’s hard to imagine dropping a big one on Instagram), but the vast majority of the ads are affordable – most of the Object Superette kitchen pieces range from 12 $ to $ 30, with more expensive items and sets stretching up to $ 50 – making it easier to purchase a hot dog or watermelon slice towel rack on a lark or as wacky gift.
“Some things are just plain silly, but dumb things are the funniest,” says Chelsey Burger, the mind behind Tchachke. A service industry veteran in New York City, she’s seen plenty of drunken patrons stealing silly specialty drinks from bars, and her own home is filled with fancy items, like a jeweled Apple TV remote. During the pandemic, she began to think about the comfort that nostalgic pieces brought her (and she was running out of space in her home), so she launched her boutique to channel that energy and unload some of her collection. Its offerings oscillate between function and pleasure, including a Chuckie Finster vase, a lamp with Hot Wheels encased in Lucite, and a pitcher so ornate it wouldn’t be out of place at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. “Some people call these items unnecessary, but others create complete cabinets for them in their home.”
Burger finds merchandise at everyday thrift stores and estate sales. Like any trendy vintage store, it organizes its selection, making the vintage hunt less difficult for its customers. It also takes full advantage of Instagram as a platform, adding new digital backgrounds to bring nostalgic relics to life and ironically incorporating the language of fashion-drop culture to give the account a playful and youthful attitude. A cat driving a convertible might make you laugh briefly in a cluttered box at a garage sale before moving on, but the way Burger organizes it in Tchachke’s thread – photographed from weird angles, dancing or floating in space, juxtaposed with clashes of power colors and patterns – might push you to buy. “I just played and made some tangents on my own. I send stuff to my friends and ask them if it looks good, and sometimes they don’t agree, and sometimes I post it anyway, ”she says.
By choosing social media over an e-commerce platform like eBay, Tran, Bae, and Burger have to manually handle all logistics, coordinate sales through DM, and arrange delivery. But there are also obvious advantages. Tran says she and Bae have more direct interaction with their clients, more control over their funds, and a greater sense of community. While not all Instagram users who stumble upon Object Superette are here to shop, Tran would like to think that the account does bring some color to their feeds anyway.
Burger also used her account to reconnect with her community after losing her job in March 2020. She often delivers items personally, “like an old-fashioned milkman,” she says. In a welcome change from the isolation of the pandemic, she adds, “It makes New York City feel like a nice little town.”
As ridiculous as they may seem, these items can be useful. They serve drinks, display flowers and store fruit. They’ve been proven to be durable enough to last for decades, making them an eco-friendly alternative for anyone who’s tired of disposable and mass-produced sets. But the real value of vintage items on these accounts is not really in their usefulness. They are a quick litmus test for soul mates; you can idle chat with a stranger about the Always Pan, but you know you’ve made a friend when you find someone enjoying the same Mary Ann Baker teapot with a weightlifting cat. And even if your taste is totally at odds with everyone you know, if you’re the only one who sees the value of a trinket, that pleasure never seems out of place. Take Kamenstein’s Enamel Cow-Shaped Kettle: A wavy plastic tail right next to a fire hazard and a metal bell that actually rings are the kinds of things that can add just a few cents to the cost. production but make the article so much more endearing. Kitsch is designed to be loved, even by one person.
Over the past 18 months, home cooking has become a place of dread for some, a sanctuary for others and a daily reality for most. Vintage dealers remind us that the kitchen is also a place to have fun. None of these items could ever be called essentials, but they make great pieces for anyone who might be feeling a little brighter in the kitchen. And if you think you don’t have room on your counter for a ceramic ice cream sculpture or cow-themed napkin holder, just follow on Instagram. The coin that makes you change your mind may just be floating in your feed, because the next drop is always around the corner.