"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
July 2, 2010

Monastery Or Temple

Having acclimatised to a Northern Hemisphere summer (it was a humid 31 degrees Celsius when we left Hong Kong), the bracing coastal winds here in Adelaide have taken some getting used to. We’ve had cool mornings, with the temperature sometimes not reaching double figures till late in the morning. Long bike rides are a good […]

Having acclimatised to a Northern Hemisphere summer (it was a humid 31 degrees Celsius when we left Hong Kong), the bracing coastal winds here in Adelaide have taken some getting used to. We’ve had cool mornings, with the temperature sometimes not reaching double figures till late in the morning.

Long bike rides are a good time to think and with such a wintery bite in the air, it’s best to have something substantial to ponder, lest one’s focus become too tightly fixed on numbing extremities and solid winter clothing left in storage back home.

So, I’ve been pondering how one approaches the question of decorating a home. My habit (or vice), when travelling is always to wonder what it would be like to live in a place, or maybe to buy a holiday home, or pied-à-terre. I figure it’s nice to dream and, to be blunt, buying a holiday home in Adelaide is a lot more affordable that, say, doing the same on Martha’s Vineyard.

At the risk of making a grotesque oversimplification, I figure there are at least two ways to approach decorating a home. To borrow some grandiose religious language, you can either build a temple or a monastery.

A monastic approach means the home becomes something of a retreat, or sanctuary, a haven from the outside world. Monastic homes, may be simple, plain, welcoming and often warm. They invite an inward journey and demand little of those that visit them. In a lot of ways the very clean, light, generic approach to contemporary design is often monastic in nature.

A temple, by contrast, is more of an expression of a single identity. It serves to reflect, outward, the personality and maybe the life of the people who live there. Temple homes will be more demanding, maybe even more aesthetically challenging, since they are not neutral, but take a position in contrast to the world.

I don’t necessarily feel that either is right or wrong. However, to have a coherent and consistent design, it makes sense to follow one or the other approach all the way through. Perhaps you can apply both approaches to different parts of a home, but my guess is that would require a very unconventional piece of architecture.

This idea crystallised while looking at Erik Spiekermann and Susanna Dulkinys home, featured in Dwell magazine. This home is a reflection of a number of powerful ideas (and clever solutions). Perhaps not the kind of space I would want to live in right now, but, I would like approach creating a living space with that level of boldness and conviction.

And, that sense of confidence is attractive to me because I find myself increasingly wondering how confident people are about the spaces they create for themselves. Having moved and relocated so much over the last twenty years I’ve been constantly setting up homes, across four continents. So the sense of compromise, of settling with things that do not work well seems foreign to me.

That is probably my way of concluding that when I next set up a home, it will be more of a temple than a monastery.

Responses
Toni 12 years ago

For me, rationalising the approach to home decoration would detract from the homeliness of the place. The houses in which I feel least comfortable are those that look like they belong in some kind of show book, and the ones I like best are a bit scruffy, a bit untidy and with slightly uncoordinated decor. In the past I’ve thought how nice it would be to live somewhere really carefully put together, but I have realised that runs counter to my character and lifestyle.

The house in the link was saved from sterility by messiness, but it’s still a very cold looking design. My instinct is that one would have to be very careful about tidiness for it not to resemble a complete tip, where a more conventional house would be much more mess-tolerant. So many ‘good ideas’ don’t really support family life, like the climbing harness to access the book case: after the initial fun wore off I could imagine the upper shelves just becoming a dumping ground for books no-one wanted to read.

    Fernando Gros 12 years ago

    Toni – I’ve lived in a range of homes, from the very “mess-tolerant” through to the kind that you see in high end magazines. In the end, my tolerance for clutter is pretty low, while my organisational instincts are not always great, so I struggle and find more solace in modern kinds of spaces. That said, sterile houses can be just as off-putting as really messy ones.

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