Talk of the Town - High fidelity March 26 2003

One-bedroom apartment in Sagamore Hills

The rolling greenspace
and '60s ranch houses of the Sagamore Hills subdivision don't look as if they've changed much in 40 years. The yards are neat and manicured, few cars block the street, and birds chirp from the trees above.

Most hip intown dwellers blanch at the very idea of subdivision living, but not Brian Coffey, who was attracted to the history in this tucked-away area.

Coffey works as a historian for the National Park Service, and he assists in managing historic structures. But his real love is for post-war America; he even did his master's thesis on suburbanization. And now that many of these neighborhoods are 50 years old, he's interested in their preservation.

Coffey hedges when questioned about the details of his "mother-in-law" suite. Ambiguous rules for renting in the neighborhood force him to keep his living arrangements under wraps. But it's a small price to pay for below-market rent — and an ideal setting for his collection of '50s- and '60s-era household items.

Creative Loafing: I wasn't expecting all these things — the ashtrays, lamps, hi-fi consoles — and they all fit so perfectly in this space.

Coffey: I saw the paneling — the two to three types of wood paneling — and thought this would be a perfect place for my junk. I have all this stuff I don't need to use; much of it was in storage. Now I can display it in the way I like.

I guess it's pretty trendy to collect this kind of stuff now. Isn't that a tiki-type lamp? The kitsch of it all is great. And now with Far From Heaven and the whole '50s thing going ...

Yeah, my stuff is an amalgam of the '50s and '60s. I started collecting this stuff years ago. They coined the term "retro" shortly after I started collecting. I didn't want to be like that — part of that "group." I've always been attracted to the '50s, in that postmodern, tongue-in-cheek, ironic kinda way. Like this lamp — I got it back in '87. I just liked it because of the design. It has this boomerang thing going. I've just been attracted to post-war American culture in general. I'm a materialist, but not really a consumer. I enjoy things — technology, older things. Part of it is also my interest in music. I like strange, exotica music from the late '50s.

There seems to be radios and music equipment tucked away everywhere.

I have this Braun hi-fi and this Grundig hi-fi. Braun is famous for its design. I got this unit for $10; all it needed was a fuse. I went to the hardware store and replaced the fuse for 36 cents. It has the magic eye. Have you seen the magic eye? [He switches it on and a green light glows and thins as the tuner is moved].

But [my landlord] is sensitive to noise. When he goes out with the lawnmower, he wears ear protection. One day, when I was playing it, he came back and said he thought it was some kids driving by with one of those "boom cars." I guess that's the dilemma of renting.

But you stay here and you keep your collection.

What was it that someone once said about Americans? I think it was Frank Lloyd Wright. He would create these open spaces, the grand living rooms. And then he would come back, and they'd filled it up with their junk.