Monday, September 21, 2015

It had to happen

Oh, someone is being waggish, I thought, on seeing shelves of books, spines to the wall! But it seems not – shaming books has made the big time if only around here. First it was karate-chapping pillows into submission, now it's books being given time-out– we've been 'ere before, thought I. 

But no, for it seems in my rush to find fault I misunderstood the purpose behind what I saw. The writer of the magazine article explains that "The massive Donald Sultan painting commands attention in the family room, where bookshelves provide an architectural and decorative frame to the impactful piece." Though the books themselves are not mentioned, it is clear their role is nothing more than filler in a larger and admittedly beautiful scheme by a good decorator. In fact, they are nothing more than accessories – frankly, white boxes would have done the job just as well. As an aside, I wish people might see the symbolism in what they create for there is a subtext to be understood, be it intentionally written or not.

What one might consider "accessories" have personal significance. The clock. bought as a souvenir of our time in Amsterdam, and the candlesticks were resoluut afgeprijsd in a small shop in the Kerkstraat behind where we lived. The bottle, by Janet Darnell Leach, wife of Bernard has long been treasured

It is hard to say what personal significance a Yaruba crown has for a white northern European beyond the play of light when it seems to emerge from its background. I like it and, believe me, if it were merely a filler of space, I would not have got through the door. 

For me, even the term "accessories" in the context of interior decoration is laughably wrong even though we all use it – it grates in the way "disinterested" is used when "uninterested" would have been correct. Decorators talk about the final layer that pulls it all together or the jewelry of a room, decorette/bloggers take up the refrain and before we know it, there are whole industries geared to producing objets each lacking any charm beyond the glamour loaned by the designer/celebrity name attached to it. Without that borrowed glamour, resin or faux-shagreen is just plastic.

If one looks at synonyms for "accessories," perhaps the most positive is "adornments," with "embellishments" a close second with negativity already implicit. "Doodads" and "trimmings" take it downhill and at "bells and whistles" the bottom is reached. Nonetheless, "accessory" is accepted and you'd think we all know what we mean by it – but I'm not sure we do. Not being one to give in to my feelings of distaste, let me just say that if the equating of decoration with fashion is not as glib as it might seem, then the advice, allegedly given by Coco Chanel “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off" applies equally well to accessorizing a room. Mind you, taking something off, in today's fashion world, might mean … well, it hardly bears thinking about.  

The marble bowls were bought thirty years ago in de Bijenkorf, Amsterdam. The shallow, wider one meant for fruit, the other for bulbs, they have stayed the way they were packed to cross the Atlantic. They look better on the carpet which will return from the cleaner when Barny is full-grown and the room is re-done.

The Indian coverlet is, I hope, a temporary catch-all for dog, dog toys, dog hair, chewing-thingies, and anything that Barny seems to like to accessorize with - socks, shoes, coat hangers, and me.

On any given day our living room floor, now bare of its carpet, is strewn with Barny's things. I won't call them accessories (even though they are temporary) because they are necessary to his mental survival, the continued health of his new teeth and the delicacy of my toes. The latter, because he announces his desire to play by nibbling my toes and if I'm not quick enough off the sofa … you get the picture. The piece of antler apparently is kinder to teeth than rawhide yet to me it feels like stone and is often to be found in one of the Indian marble bowls we bought thirty-odd years ago in Amsterdam. The green velvet dinosaur is used (Barny marches it around in his mouth rhythmically hitting the floor with the squeaker) to announce we've spent too long at dinner and evening playtime should commence. Tennis balls, for my sanity and for the sake of the objects which are personal and, perhaps in more ways than one, valuable, are now inaccessible under cabinets – the image of a whippet flinging itself into the air to catch a ball but inches from candlesticks was not to be borne.

I see, dad, I get, I see, I want, I want, I want,  

It was William Morris who said "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" – a piece of advice much quoted in Blurbville and as little honored as that quoted earlier from Coco Chanel. The concept of beauty is too diffuse to contend with, and utility is but a matter of fad and poor manufacture (or built-in obsolescence, if you will) so, really, all one is left with is Morris's weasel word "believe." I would only add "believe to have some real meaning for you."

Beautiful, probably not, but significant, certainly, to us. They stood on the cake at the party our friends gave us after we got married.  

The red pot we bought impulsively. Inexpensive and perfectly placed, to my eye, lighting up an alcove – complementary color highlighted with gold, mirror and lucite, glowing most days in the full light of the rising sun.  I notice, as I look at the photograph, its lines echo those of the table beneath it, whilst the legs of the table mirror the legs of the Meiji bronze crab (my zodiac is Cancer) in the foreground, which in their turn referred to in the cabriole legs of the chair – the whole summarized by the exuberant 1940s rococo framed mural. But it would be altogether too designerish to point out that completely fortuitous juxtaposition, don't you think?  

This is about as near as I've come to creating a "tablescape." On the drinks table in the dining room, it was short-lived for once Barny took to investigating it all had to be put away. Lovely idea, tablescaping, if you have time, money and fatuity for it but it does rather beg the question of why you would do it. (I'm still working on that one with Macbeth's "…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" hovering over my shoulder).  The Royal Copenhagen leaping frog, "found" one day in a closet with a "Oh, I'd forgotten about this" is a delight  (the Celt has always loved frogs).

The best accessories for a room are temporary, should have a scent and likely do not come from a supermarket. Grow your own, or steal from a churchyard, if you have to. 

After ten years of compromise and a lot of use, the room is in need of rethinking, reupholstering, repainting, etc. It's tired and all three of us finally accept it. The significant objects will be included –  the bronze Thai pilgrim will probably stand on a plinth somewhere but the framed map (a copy) in the hall is likely to go.


  1. I do so subscribe to Chanel's comment. Since inheriting quite a number of "objets" from my parents last year, which do mean something to me, and are indeed quite beautiful, I have resisted the temptation to add them to our apartment here. I've tried the additions (one by one), and then dismissed them, with tiny exceptions. Like you, I prefer an edited look. Having said that, I have just returned with more things that were in storage in Scotland. One piece is on trial in the red bedroom; a silver coffee pot has just been added to the "silver vault" that is one section of a large kitchen cupboard, where I suspect it will remain. Too much stuff; another picture goes on sale at the end of October. Absolutely no more acquisitions. Ever. Probably.

    1. columnist, thank you and apologies for a late reply.

      "…Absolutely no more acquisitions. Ever. Probably." Until the next time, that is! Yes, exactly.

  2. Replies
    1. ArchitectDesign, thank you and apologies for a late reply.

      I hope to have it at least tidied by the time you see it in November! Looking forward to that.

  3. I too had believed, innocently, that the trend for reversed book spines had gone the way of the dodo bird, brought to its most extreme form when Restoration Hardware offered us cover-less old tomes bound up in twine. It was A Look, as they say. Yet so much easier, and cheaper really, to simply turn those distracting spines to the wall--and what does it matter if they be the complete oeuvre of Danielle Steele?

    As you point out, there is always a subtext to these stylish it or not.

    1. Toby Worthington, thank you and apologies for a late reply.

      Books used this way are nothing more than desecrator's spackle and it is one of the silliest manifestations of snottiness seen for a long time.

  4. Love the accessorizing by Barney. They do become part of the scheme of things. I seem to love it all, a terrible problem to have.

    1. onna baker, thank you and apologies for a late reply.

      Barny's sitter added more whilst we were in Maine but you are right, I too, love it.

  5. Thank you for the tour of your lovely home! Quite frankly Barny makes everything look better too. I also love frogs but mine isn't as elegant as yours- mine is from the pound shop but it made me smile so I enjoy it still.

    1. Coulda shoulda woulda, thank you, and apologies for a late reply.

      Barny's "dander" is adding a layer of patina never before imagined in our space but what can one do? – he's family as much as I am and apparently he succeeds me as the messiest one of the three of us. (Not my opinion).

  6. Lovely to see the House of Barny. He certainly is whipping you and the Celt into doing what needs to be done to up his comfort factor. When you are that beautiful, only beauty will suffice. And only the strong will survive!

    Regarding the introspection of spineless book lovers. Their vain, vapid stupidity is out there on display.

    1. home before dark, thank you, and apologies for a late reply.

      Barny has spent this morning attached to me – we arrived home yesterday afternoon – and is sleeping his big heart out next to me on the sofa. Who knew four days could be so stressful to him? Or to me, for that matter?

      How can it be that there is a generation for which book destruction even as decoration is not sacrilege? I fully agree with you.