Tag Archives: Food for thought

WHAT IS DESIGN?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Recently a friend of mine rather astutely (or shrewdly) told me he thought the whole business of design and renovation said less about how a person lives and more about how they don’t. Specifically he was referring to me and my resistance to process a failed relationship and how it had manifested itself in my apartment.

I said it was a shrewd observation, right?

I once dated someone who was really into astrology. He believed that, although we are all unique in our own different ways, our behaviors are ultimately determined by our signs. He used his apartment as an example. That thing–WOOF!–was styled within an inch of its life. He was a Cancer–the crab of the zodiac–and like a crab, with its soft, delicate abdomen, he thought of his apartment as his shell, the contents of which were the salvaged bits he assembled to protect himself against outside harm.

Now, to me, that kind of logic is one cat-skeleton-under-your-sofa away from appearing on Hoarders: Buried Alive but it was the first time I began to think about design as symptomatic of something greater than just an affection for pretty fabrics and Eames chairs. [By the way, this was not the relationship in question but I thank you, OK Cupid, for your devilish sense of humor.]

I don’t disagree with my friend. In fact I think he’s actually right, even if what he said made me want to curl into a ball and listen to Bon Iver in the dark. Why else do we jump through all the hoops of making an interior hospitable if not for the perception of an inhospitable exterior? Is that too big of a leap to make? Maybe. Do I care? No. I’m feeling very introspective today, so lay back and enjoy this metaphorical Slip ‘N Slide with me. I think a lot of it has to do with control (or the illusion of having it), which I totally admit about myself. Designing my space, designing other people’s spaces: a lot of it is about gaining control and eliminating chaos and feeling like choosing to place a plant here or put a lamp there is a way of coping with the pressures and emotional stresses in life and oh God I’m venturing into teen cutting territory what is wrong with me I should stop before I admit I dumpster dive to feel alive…

[Isn’t it fantastic how I can start off talking about design and bring it around to wrist cutters? Don’t you find that just CHARMING about me? No? Yea, me neither.]

I’m still not sure what design really is but I don’t think it needs to be only one thing, nor does it need to say only one thing about me or how I feel about myself. It says a lot about who I am! I use design to insulate myself from harmful things but I also use it to satisfy aesthetics. And I’m OK with that.

Now enough with the heavy stuff. Here’s a picture of Finn dressed as a sassy devil:

Meow.

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THE ALCOVE

I’ve been batting around a few ideas on what to do with this sleeping alcove. Its shallow, oblong shape makes it a bit of a head scratcher. A space this size in a larger apartment could have endless possibilities but, in a studio as intimate as this, my options are cut by sixteenths. Whatever lives here will have to be multifunctional and make sense within the conversation of the rest of the house. Design speaks, right?

A wide, depthless space like this would be perfect for a desk, but like I said previously I don’t think it would get a whole lot of use. Also, throwing a desk back there feels like plugging a leaky boat with cork; functional but temporary. It would be nice if I could get a little more dimensionality in there somehow.

alcove0

I’d like to clearly define the purpose of the space by putting something unique in it. Earlier I thought about using a foyer table smack in the center—an impractical, tongue-in-cheek response to living in a studio—but since the rest of the house will be maximizing every square inch it wouldn’t fit within the concept. The fact that there’s no guest seating really bothers me. I have a low bench I’ll be using below the kitchen window and a stool just opposite that (more to come) but those aren’t comfortable hitching posts. The only other place to sit is my bed, and I don’t like the idea of using a place of relaxation and rest for utility. So I racked my brain and came up with:

eames

A classic

The Eames Lounge and Ottoman.

Surprisingly it will fit perfectly in the space and, paired with a nightstand I’ll be refurbishing and a chrome drafting light, will create a reading nook that also doubles as guest seating. Using a lounge here, along with more masculine metal fixtures, should help distance the space from the Mister Rogers vibe I was hoping to avoid by using a traditional armchair.

Now, there is a little controversy here. Because I’m designing on a budget there’s no way I could afford an original, which starts at $4,500, so I would need a replica. Coincidentally Dwell has a great article this month about the impact of designer knock-offs. Basically they say replicas are a huge blow to the balance of the design ecosystem and they’re right. I work in film production and we have torrent sites stealing our work and distributing it in lower resolutions. It feels like it shouldn’t be allowed to happen, but intellectual property law in the United States prohibits the trademark of functional items—where most modern design squarely falls. Certain elements can be protected but the government can’t safeguard a designer’s aesthetic.

The meat of the argument comes down to quality over quantity. Do you want to pay for a piece of shit that will last you 2 years or invest in the real thing and have it last for 20? It’s hard to say, if I’m being completely honest. I mean, I understand the intrinsic value in choosing to buy a dinning table from Pottery Barn and not from Target; a few hundred dollars more and you’ve got a piece of furniture that will last a few years longer than the other, saving you money. An Eames, however, has a gap thousands and thousands of dollars wide, and while the Pottery Barn/Target argument still stands I’ve had the good fortune within the past week to meet with two manufactures of replicas of surprisingly higher quality than the usual suspects, like Lexington Modern or Serenity Living (FYI buyer beware!), and for a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the price of an original. I know you get what you pay for and I accept that. I may be chucking an Eames in 5 years, but it’s 5 years with an Eames I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Which leaves only the moral/ethical dilemma of it all. The Socialist in me says “No way! Don’t buy!”, the Libertarian says “Who cares? Do what you want.” The Socialist, “A dollar in their pocket is a dollar out of ours,” the Libertarian, “Herman Miller has been producing the Lounge since the mid 50s. They’re not hurting!” Socialist, “You’re an asshole!” Libertarian “Eat me.” To be continued…

Interestingly they include a quote from a guy named Jason Miller. It’s not clear if he’s a designer or a manufacturer, which might be the problem:

‘“What are you going to do as a designer, sit back and complain they’re acting immorally?” he asks. “That’s not going to pay the bills or make you feel better. You need to get to a place where they can’t knock you off—reach a level of craftsmanship or take a design risk that a knockoff company wouldn’t take. If you can’t create that individuality or specialness, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.”’

I’m not sure I agree with him, but it’s food for thought.