Walmart or Dubai?
Does it feel like we are living in the Twilight Zone these days? Things couldn't be any stranger. I picked up a trade magazine and read about the world's tallest building - Burj Khalifa in Dubai - that stands close to a mile in height at 828 m. Named after the United Arab Emirates president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan the building is home to the world's first Armani Hotel, designed by Giorgio Armani. Oh, I get it! This is definitely what the world needs now: 160 guest rooms and suites on the 38th and 39th floors along with 144 luxury Armani residences, and 37 office floors. The same day I picked up another magazine in my doctor's waiting room and read about affordable bedding from Walmart and was struck by the irony of these two images in my mind! The ad says Save money. Live better and hints that I can experience luxury at Walmart prices. I don't think that Walmart would do well in Dubai.
I have always worked in a profession that sells dreams to people. Illusion is a big part of the world of interior design where we blend knowledge with magic and talent with practical skills. Of course I have grown used to very expensive products and to folks who can easily afford a luxury lifestyle. The disconnect for me occurs when one steps out of the rare environment of the wealthy and onto the main street of America. To a certain extent I have become jaded about costs over many years of dealing with high end clients, but if ever there was a quick remedy to forgetting about basics it has been the recent economic slide.
So now the former middle class is looking at Walmart with less disdain. In some parts of our country Walmart is the only place to shop, but I live in Southern California where we have always had a huge variety of regional shopping centers, small chic boutiques and neighborhood shopping areas. Choice abounds out here and admittedly I have never shopped at Walmart. But as we watch all the cool little shops close and the charming restaurants quit and the sales tax shrivel up for the State of California due to radically declining sales of all sorts you've got to wonder: What exactly is going to happen in the future to the resources we have grown used to?
My guess is that there are a lot of Americans trying to get used to the idea that their future is not going to be what they imagined. Therefore it is also logical to assume that the products we buy - everything from sheets and towels to underwear and sports clothes - will have to cost less or no one will be able to afford them. I have long been a kind of thrill shopper at discount stores like T.J. Maxx or Marshall's where I challenge myself to find the best quality item for the least amount of money. I shamelessly only look at the sale rack in these stores! Last week I bought a gorgeous gray sweater that had been tagged by the manufacturer at $160 and I bought it for $23. What started out for me as a kind of hobby game has become standard practice. The fact that I don't walk into Nordstrom's any longer is bad for that major retailer and great for my pocket book.
But I don't want cheaply made items that don't look like quality. I want quality for less.That's the hitch and that is exactly what Better Homes and Gardens is selling in their Walmart ads for The Better Homes and Gardens Collection. My suspicion is that a lot of folks feel the same way about household goods, clothes, cars, and furnishings. The fantasy of Dubai's opulence and the lifestyle of the "rich and famous' that has been served up for generations to the American TV watching public now has to square with Walmart, Penny's, and Home Depot prices. The truth is that the twain doesn't meet. We need to get real in this country and realize that living within one's means is an honorable thing to do. In many ways a lot of the American population has been pretending - flirting with the ideal of riches and fame - that they are entitled to live a luxury lifestyle. No one is entitled to anything except the right to work for the things we need.
A more realistic and mature view of life might be the unexpected result of our economic difficulties. Wouldn't that be refreshing? As we return to a "smaller" lifestyle perhaps we can look at the tallest building in the world and recognize it for what it is: Fantasy.