June 21, 2009

Things From Your Life


“Décor” and the conception of “interior design” have spread so widely, that very often people forget their instinct for the things they really want to keep around them.

Recently we found a great book written by architect Christopher Alexander which will probably fill the role of my decorating bible.

A Pattern Language is the second in a series of books by Christopher Alexander which describe an entirely new attitude (circa 1977) to architecture and planning.

In A Pattern Language, Alexander has a series of 253 mini-chapters or patterns, describing the macro to the micro. From topics as large as the distribution of towns to topics as small as the width of space between paving stones.

Every time I dip into this book I find myself agreeing totally with what Alexander has to offer. Austria’s Hundertwasser affects me in the same way. Alexander’s a bit dictatorial in his approach - it reminds me of when I was 7 or 8 – I used to create crazy lists and edicts. “All bathing suits should be green”, “All lipstick should be coral.” Anyway, I think Christopher Alexander’s thought about it a bit more than my childhood self.

Here’s some of the wisdom taken from the last chapter of his book, Things From Your Life. See if you agree or disagree.

“From the owner’s point of view, it is obvious that the things around you should be the things that mean the most to you, which have the power to play a part in the continuous process of self- transformation, which is your life. That much is clear.

But this function has been eroded, gradually, in modern times because people have begun to look outward, to others, and over their shoulders, at the people who are coming to visit them, and have replaced their natural and instinctive decorations with the things which they believe will please and impress their visitors. This is the motive behind all the interior design and décor in (women’s) magazines. All designers play on these anxieties by making total designs, telling people they have no right to move anything, paint the walls, or add a plant because they are not party to the mysteries of Good Design.

But the irony is, that the visitors that come into a room don’t want this nonsense any more than the people who live there. It is far more fascinating to come into a room which is the living expression of a person, or a group of people, so that you can see their lives, their histories, their inclinations, displayed in manifest form around the walls, in the furniture, on the shelves…the artificial scene-making of “modern décor” is totally bankrupt…

…Examples we know: A motel run by a Frenchman, mementos of the Resistance all around the lounge, the letter from Charles de Gaulle. An outdoor market on the highway, where the proprietor has mounted his collection of old bottles, all shapes and colours; some of them are down for cleaning; there is an especially beautiful one up at the counter by the cash register. An anarchist runs the hot-dog stand, he plasters the walls with literature, proclamations, manifestos against the State.

A hunting glove, a blind man’s cane, the collar of a favourite dog, a panel of pressed flowers from the time when we were children, oval pictures of grandma, a candlestick, the dust from a volcano carefully kept in a bottle…”

Christopher Alexander ends by saying,

“Do not be tricked into believing that modern décor must be slick or psychedelic, or “natural” or “modern art” or “plants” or anything else that current taste-makers claim. It is most beautiful when it comes straight from your life – the things you care for, the things that tell your story.”

If you stayed with me to the end, what do you feel about what Christopher Alexander has to say? I find something true every time I open this book, but I feel he’s preaching to the converted.

Alexander, Christopher, A Pattern Language: Towns-Buildings-Construction. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977.

17 comments:

Brian Miller said...

you know...there is some great wisdom there...you can veer so far away you wonder if it is even your home anymore...

Poetikat said...

This sounds like a book that Kevin would really like.

I love you and your "edicts". Ha ha.

Kat

giulia said...

I do agree & in fact my mother has this book. Someone gave it to her because they thought of her when they read it. My mother passed this down to me, I suppose (the attitude, not the book). I think being around so many painters, writers, etc. had a lot to do with it, as well.

People come into my apt. & sometimes I'll have an attack of 'oh God, it's so mish-mashy, not like their place...' You can imagine then, if you like Alexander's book, that everyone has said forever 'Oh, how do you get things to look like this & go together--even though they shouldn't' (something along those lines). How? Partly, it is bricolage in its most literal sense. You "make do" with what you have...that does not mean you never purchase something. Ugh. I make no sense. I'll try to collect myself & meditate on this passage as I swim laps. I shall return.

xo

Alaine said...

Thankyou CP, this has me decided. I was thinking of taking down all of my family photos here behind me, going back to 1898 and replacing them with modern prints. DMJ said, 'Why? I like them'. As Alexander says, 'the living expression of a person'; that's what my sitting room is, what I'm about, take it or leave it. They're staying!

willow said...

My mantra, too. I decorate my nest with things I must have about me, like Mary Kate Danaher. I have some friends whose homes look like furniture stores, sleek and impersonal. Ick.

T. Clear said...

A relative once walked into my living room, looked around, sniffed, and said, "well, you certainly have eclectic taste!"

Meant as a passive-aggressive insult, which, of course, I took as a compliment. Ha!

amourissima said...

this is so true, I find myself lost beyond belief in my modern times decorating style which is FULLY motivated by (and I quote) looking "outward, to others, and over their shoulders, at the people who are coming to visit them, and have replaced their natural and instinctive decorations with the things which they believe will please and impress their visitors."

I crave authenticity in my life and am inspired yet again by your post to search out more meaningful ways of being in my life.

Thank you for sharing!

Rouchswalwe said...

Hearty agreement from here. A person's reaction to the special things in my place is one of the best ways I know of how to gauge who will become a real friend.

willow said...

To answer your question, yes! I think Mr. Depp and I look a lot alike. And Brooks looks like us, too. I posted on it a few weeks back.

Here's the link:
http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/2009/08/summer-movies-depp-and-me.html

ds said...

Oh, I completely agree. We should always have about us "the things that tell our story." We need our stories, they make us whole.
Wonderful post, thank you.

Kerry said...

Love this. I have never understood why some people hire a "decorator." What? Don't they have their own treasures?

Julia said...

hazel dearie,
a lovely thought provoking post. how are you? how is the family?

Alistair said...

Interesting post C-Pup. I feel a bit sorry for someone who feels he has to comment about the space between paving stones though - he may have had to consider this as part of his job but to bring it to attention of his readers is a bit sad.
After reading it I wandered round our space and looked at the style, art on the walls, my antique maps and the amount of family memorabilia and like most of those commenting decided that its only right that it reflects us and our personalities. After all its us who spend most of the time there. Just as important is the atmosphere we ourselves create for visitors and we can do that best when we are truly comfortable in our space. Its got to be the whole package.......

Ima Wizer said...

I also think the things you have around you have been given to you by friends.....I've had a large collection of animals, ceramic, wooden, jeweled, plastic. Mostly frogs.....and now I think I really love frogs! Maybe friends knew this ahead of time......I dunno, but I sure love my frogs and love the one you have above, encased in glass! And, they bring good luck! Who knew?

sallymandy said...

I love this philosophy and appreciate you sharing it here. It's almost second nature for me to look with a critical eye at my home/clothing, etc., and ask what "they" would think about my asthetic or design choices. But the older I get, the less I live this way. To hell with what "they" want, and who are "they" anyway?

This is very wise advice from your book.

The Clever Pup said...

Candie, No that is not me on the ladder. It was wishful thinking. I'm going to go and edit my quip right now.

Polly Jones said...

I have to admit I succumb to fear of what others think before they come to our home. It is by no means normal looking, ha! However, it doesn't stop me from juxtaposing bright colors and thrift store craziness. It's just more important to surround ourselves with what we are passionate about.