Well I- “apologize for the delay” as they say at airports, we have been much busier in the past half year than anytime in the last couple of years- It’s not a complaint. I don’t know who flipped the switch, but it’s a welcome change of seasons from the deep economic freeze we all have experienced. Maybe it’s spring economically, as well as the vernal equinox’s arrival. Maybe springtime’s arrival has me more in the mood for expression and being in touch with life’s emotions, whatever the reasons, I’m excited to be alive- and it sure beats the alternative.
From the Armani quote on the cover, I derive extreme hope that if clothes can increase certain positive feelings, surely so too our true outerwear- the rooms and houses we live in. In some recurring recent conversations, I have realized that a theme is nascent – maybe it is more of a realization, that I am interested in arriving at or creating, a certain feeling to a place or a space. When I say this, I am speaking to the goals of the design effort, and especially at the conceptual outset. In all the world it seems there is too much focus on data, on numbers- even as they are related to design, instead of what we really desire- which is- …a certain feeling of well being, or as the founding fathers said, “the pursuit of happiness“. I think it’s easier to understand numbers for many people. They add up and subtract and divide- the same way every time, you can really depend on those neat and tidy suckers! Like, how many square feet this project should be, or we want “x” bedrooms and baths and- what is the cost per square foot. Also, another almost equally red herring-esque notion is style, as in what style is this house or room. All of these thoughts are ways to describe a place- and have their logical reason for being, but if that’s ALL we use- then we get places that have little soul, and completely fail to touch ours.
I think maybe this way of thinking came from the real estate industry, because when you are plunking down hundreds of thousands- or even millions of dollars, how do you quantify what you are getting? And size matters, as they say in Texas. Now, if I am buying a warehouse that’s super important, but for the place I live or eat or work and have my being and we spend much of our lives, maybe there are other factors we need to design towards. Like how do I want to FEEL in this place? What does this place SAY about me to people who drive by, or come inside? Those are harder, but better- questions to wrestle with if we want to see, as a client recently asked me rhetorically- ”Can a house save us?“. Well, can one kill you? Possibly…I have been in some that felt downright oppressive. How much of our lives do we spend surrounded by a man-made environment, and how does it affect- either inspiring who we ARE- or causing us to live less well. Does the place you are in right now help you live or work better? Is there any natural light? A view? Of what? Are you inspired by your man made environment?
What has fascinated me for some time, is the idea of designing for a desired psychological effect. Great places do exact from us an emotion, a feeling, which we experience and remember. Houses are a great laboratory for exactly this kind of emotional engineering experiment. I like to start with the overall property as a whole and an idea or a desired direction for that. Where is north? Where does the sun rise and set, and therefore how does the light play through the spaces (both interior and exterior spaces)- and how can we leverage the light and time of day to support certain moods. Then you have this great opportunity with all these rooms like- kitchens (communal/sharing), keeping rooms (conversational/personal), great rooms (formal/impressive), nooks (cozy/bookish), bedrooms (retreat/ intimate) and bathrooms (refreshing/restorative). All of them have these potential energies that comes along with them. Some are made to be shared with others, and some are made to be alone. A weary mom once told me she wanted her master bath to be like a spa, where she could retreat for a little while. It struck me how important it seemed to her, and I asked why that was… I never forgot her response, “because that’s the only place in my house where I can be alone for a few minutes“. For her, that bathroom needed to be a sanctuary. Over the years I have had clients who took the same attitude for the entire house.
A house should have an emotional tone, and that is based on it’s owners, and also on it’s location. The people who use the home come with their own set of personalities. Some are formal and business like- others are whimsical and all points in between. Some people want houses that entertain, others are meant to be retreats from the rest of the world. Once these over-arching factors are intuited, contemplated and understood- an appropriate direction can be charted- or better yet, will emerge. What excites me is that design will be unique as the people who live there and the region or “terroir” that surrounds them.
The difficult thing is that there are no theorems or algebraic equations that can measure and predict all these factors and spit out an answer that makes us say WOW what an amazing place this is!.. Also, there are way too many human variables- and even those are tied to what Sir Herbert Read called “the infinite permutations of heredity“. This kind of design thinking is an intuitive process that is based on human spirit and creative searching. As they say, if it was easy- everybody would do it. But it’s not impossible either, there are many talented and sensitive designers out there doing it, creating meaningful and inspiring places all over the world. Christian Liaigre, John Saladino, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava- and those are just a few of the ones who are still alive, I wont even bother to mention the “shoulders of giants” past. I will likely pick back up on this theme in more depth as it bears much more thought and pursuit. Bo Bennett said,”music, is what feelings sound like”, I wonder if great architecture and interior design is- ”what feelings look like“…