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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Is Bowling; There Are Rules

It's a weird sort of a world we live in.

Wonderful, truly. There's a visual diversity and ebullience available all over the place. It's not universal, of course, but that's the nature of true diversity, isn't it? It's the people that say that the culture and its artifacts are monolithic, and bad, that have no idea what a robust society produces. Stuff you don't like, sometimes.

That's a house in Madison, Indiana. I do believe I wouldn't mind sitting on that porch for a good long while. The house it's attached to is really nothing more than a little ranch house. You could say it was sprawl, and ask that it be flattened, or never built in the first place. Conversely, you could put a plaque on it and get a commission together to decide what colors it should be allowed to be painted, if anyone is to be allowed to touch it at all. It's likely the same people would participate in both activities without noticing their left hand doesn't know what their right hand is doing. America's like that a lot.

It's really very difficult to lay on dense decoration like that and do it well. It seems like a jumble to many eyes, because we've lost the knack. People try, timidly, to go a little way down this route, and make a mess of it. It's only difficult because we don't know the rules of decoration anymore, because there's only been one rule exalted above all: No Decoration. It's mildly counterintuitive, but I assure you that there's nothing fussier than an absolute lack of decoration. Everything has to be flawless to pull it off, and nothing is, or stays that way very long.

We drive by the attempts to put decoration on dwellings now and I say to my wife: "Home Depot blew up," and she knows exactly what I'm thinking without any further comment. Decoration has to be layered on, all of it in keeping with what's already there and everything else you're adding simultaneously.

For the most part, no one would have this on their house because they couldn't picture expending even the effort it would take to maintain it, never mind the effort necessary to produce it in the first place. There is a great deal of contemporary American life and its institutions that answers that description, and that's not good.

Get some wonderful and keep it. Then you'll be qualified to make some, maybe.

6 comments:

Golden West said...

Turned posts, corbels, fretwork, bay windows, towers, cupolas, domes, crown moulding - I love fancy gingerbread trims, especially the Queen Anne style.

Thud said...

Sipp...considering the epic (by my standards) renovation I am going to embark on in the near future your post leaves me more worried than ever...faint hearts etc.

westsoundmodern said...

Your point is well taken regarding the inherent fussiness in some of the more extreme examples of modern design. It is not immediately apparent as it is a fussiness of the mind rather than of the eye.
A few years back I did an extensive restoration of a 1960's architecturally designed contemporary for clients that was well received and made the cover of a few magazines. It was absolutely beautiful to look at when finished and completely unlivable. When the client's two young children so much as laid a hand on the flat white sanded plaster interior walls they might as well have been clearing the Waterford crystal off the shelves with broom handles.
The poor kids had to live in that house like minimalist vases rather than rambunctious boys.
Fussy is as fussy does.

Anonymous said...

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Once you realize that the whole "functionalist / minimalist" school of architecture was invented by people who were basically nazis, then it all makes sense. It fits in nicely next to the posters done in "socialist realism".
As far as the porch is concerned, when you put a transom like that over your front door, you pretty much have to go for the rest.

PatHMV said...

Didn't they invent crown molding so the plasterers and carpenters and painters and such wouldn't have to work so hard to get the joint between the wall and the ceiling just perfectly so? And base boards, so that nobody would have to be fussy about the edge between the wall and the floor?

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Pat old friend- Not exactly. A crown moulding is generally what is called a cyma recta, which is a shape you'll find at the top of a greek/roman column. The baseboard mimics a plinth base on the same items. They are decorative first and foremost.

A lot of wooden moldings at the join of wall and ceiling used to be executed entirely in plaster, so the wood molding simplifies that quite a bit.

The moldings don't necessarily make the walls easier to finish, but many of them incorporate or cover what's call a "ground," which is a wood slat that plasterers could trowel up to, and use to gauge the thickness of their application. Plaster before sheetgoods used to have three applications to achieve a full thickness and a paintable or wall paperable surface, so the ground made it much easier to keep the wall from being wavy, especially near window and door openings and chair rails and so forth.

I used to help people with remodeling often, and they'd figure if they were applying crown, they didn't have to tape and finish the wall/ ceiling join at all. Bad idea, as it makes a fire and insect invasion scenario likely.