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Monday, January 16, 2006

Comfort

Hi all.

This time of year always weighs heavily on me. The sun sets ten minutes after it rises, or so it seems. The cold gets in my bones and makes me yearn for a fire. The concrete shop floor seems to draw the life right out of me, right through the soles of my feet. The snow's never pretty here; it's either a nuisance or a calamity.

Winter always brings on these blues, it seems. No boat. No garden.

I'm depressed. I recall reading that Churchill got depressed from time to time; he called it his "Black Dog." He'd dash off to the south of France and paint. I go to Googleimages, and type in "comfort."

Google is a mill, and a mine, and a sewer, and a depot, and a library; today it cured my Black Dog.

There was a lot of odd juxtapositions under "comfort." Sports bras, recumbent bicycles, lots of ceramic angels and hotel rooms, disturbing reminders of women kidnapped for the Japanese Army during WW II, and then an old friend appeared, though he does not know me:


I went to Architecture School in the seventies. And it was Le Corbusier, the great Swiss architect/socialist, morning, noon and night. I never quite saw the attraction, and my discomfiture with brutalism made me persona non-grata with my teachers. I was just too damn square.

Well, I was right and they were wrong. So there. When you see horrible housing projects and barren, lifeless open spaces ringed by concrete bunkers masquerading as monumental buildings, you'll see the fruits of the education they were dishing out to such as me when Carter was president. I fled.

I went my own way, and brewed an awful stew of mindless tradition mixed with insane iconoclasm. Thank the stars that I never had any money to indulge my architectural fantasies back then; I was limited to painting my apartments tastelessly and arranging the flotsam amd jetsam I owned over and over again.

But I worked and I paid attention, and saw how a lot of different households -- rich and poor, staid and bohemian -- inhabited their houses. And while I worked on constructing other people's homes based on still other people's plans, I stole with my eyes and edited the foolishness in my head into something approaching a mindset for house design.

And after all that, I discovered Christopher Alexander. He wrote a series of books along with some other lovely people, and I've read many of them; but autodidacts like me don't go for fiction or philosophy much, and I really didn't need much more than A Pattern Language, his kind of architectural cookbook.

As it turns out, this was available when I was in school, but it wasn't weird and anti-human enough for the curriculum back then I guess. Now Mr Alexander was a man for the sixties, no doubt, and the book reeks of patchouli, no question, but it doesn't suffer for it much, and I read it with a kind of wonder, thinking: why on god's earth did I have to do the mental gymnastics I've done to find out all this stuff on my own, when it was written down for me all along? The man knows comfort.

Comfort is not the thermostat. It is not a bankbook. It is not magic fingers on your recliner. Comfort is a state of mind affected mightily by your surroundings, and dependent on myriad subtle things that you only seem to notice when they're missing, like good manners. And it's the only thing in this world you should strive for in the design of your home, and the hardest thing to get. It's the driving force behind my furniture, one little link in the comfort chain, the one you can get right even after you've gotten everything else wrong, or had it gotten wrong for you at great expense.

Look at the picture. 9 out of 10 houses built today spent more on their light fixtures than that whole room cost. What did it buy them? I want to sit at the table, and eat bread from that oven, and smell the flowers outside the window, and feel the air wafting in, caught by the casements and fanned on your face, and feel the gentle scrape of the simple chair on the tumbled stone floor, while I consider the pattern of the sunlight tiptoeing across it, and reaching for something -- with everything needed close at hand -- but not cluttered.

Was that a hummingbird at the sugar bowl?

(more comfort tomorrow)


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