Monday, October 29, 2007


I grew up under a regime of modernism. Mies, Wright, the Glass House: that was architecture. Our kitchen table was Saarinen (white laminate--it's in my basement, waiting till we renovate the kitchen) and the chairs were Thonet (black with padded seat--in the attic) (I look at the prices on those today and gasp). My dad built our bookcases and beds--boxes with mattresses on them, I have never slept on a box spring--and painted them in red and blue lacquer. Marimekko was the house fabric (we got one of these nightgowns every Hanukkah--me, my sister, and my mother) (again, the prices!).

Antiques were for people we didn't know. Rich people. People in the country. I couldn't imagine why people wanted antiques, or what they did with them (how ironic that modernism is now vintage).

I shouldn't say regime, because that sounds like oppression, which it wasn't for me (perhaps for my mother, who embraced ethnic folklorica after the divorce, but I was gone by that point). Modernism is another part of my childhood which inhabits me, or perhaps, I should say, which I inhabit. Sometimes my modernism is indistinguishable from minimalism: I have slept on a mattress on the floor in more homes than I'm willing to admit. I suppose you could also call it cheap, which is, of course, its own irony. I built my first bed--a box with a mattress. These days I sleep for the first time on a bed with a headboard, but it's just a slanted piece of wood above a platform.

Our kitchen table is butcher block, our dining room table is Danish, we are too lazy to build our own bookshelves, especially because we need so many, but we buy plain shelves from the unfinished wood store and stain them oak. M and E have the red and blue lacquered shelves, and E's dresser is a plain square, lacquered green. Our dishes are plain, as is our cutlery, though we do have a nice collection of funky martini glasses (but isn't that just the decorative side of modernism?).

Though I was something of a hippie when I was young, and had my share of vintage (when vintage was the 40s), for a long time now my clothes have had the simplest of lines and vary as far as solids, stripes, and flowers, though at least I am no longer monochromatic in black. I can manage pleats, but shirrs and flounces make me cringe (on me--I love them on other people, and I try them on, but I just can't do it).

I do, in theory, love rambling Victorian houses, my grandmother's china with the gilt rims and violets, and billowy canopy beds. But those loves remain theoretical, except at seder.

Lately, though, my friends have been pushing me into new aesthetic realms. I need a bag--my current bags are a vertical rectangular turquoise leather tote, big enough for a folder, but not a laptop, and a horizontal rectangular orange canvas tote, big enough for the kitchen sink, but finally too dilapidated for anything but the beach. A is going to make me a bag. She has come up with this and these, and I am in ecstasy. I need a website, and Local K insists on designing it. I envisioned white space and monochromes, but she has come up with colors and textures and off-centeredness, and I love it.

My guess is, these new loves could be assimilated into a broad conception of modernism, crossed with retro, which of course modernism now is. But I think my point is not about aesthetics after all, but about the value of trusting other people's judgements, especially when your own are so consistently limited.

This is, perhaps, the most elitist post in the history of this blog.


jackie said...

You and I are fashion opposites-- I live in a Victorian, love china and billowy canopies and bright prints and textures. I don't necessarily wear them, and I don't go overboard in my decor (a word I feel weird using in reference to myself), but I do enjoy that aesthetic and would never choose much modern stuff for my own house.

I have a butcher-block dining room table (IKEA!) but love colors and textures and old nooks and crannies.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite post in a long time.