January 26, 2012

But it's *my* house!

If you lived in an historically or architecturally significant house, would you feel obligated to have your decor match the architecture? Suppose you fell in love with -- and could afford -- an actual Greene and Greene house, but you find all that quartersawn oak furniture to be hard and uncomfortable? Do you move in with your comfy Crate and Barrel sofa, or do you move on and decide Arts and Crafts is not for you?

I’ve been thinking about this since last night when I read this post about an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright house that just came on the market. The article included some photos, ostensibly from the listing, of the interior of the home (which is currently owned by the provost of Brandeis University and his wife). The comments, though, were not related to the house itself, its history or its architecture. The comments were all dishing the homeowners furniture. One commenter said: “... but the furniture - it really distracts from the photos - surprising how people who live in true masterpieces can have so little taste when it comes to furniture.”

Now, my gut reaction to that was -- but it’s their home, not a museum! I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong to think that......

Do you have to drink all the kool-aid, or can you just take a sip and wash it down with something different? I say love, honor and respect the architecture, but live your life comfortably. But that’s just me.

I live not far from the Usonia enclave in Pleasantville, NY. This is an area that was settled by Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentice David Henken and a group of his friends. Back in the early 1940’s Henken spent some time at Taliesin studying and working with Wright; when he returned to New York, he and his friends got the idea that if they pooled their resources they could create a sort of Utopian village where they could all live together in these awesome houses that were almost one with the land. And so they did. They purchased 100 acres; Wright himself designed the site plan and several of the homes. The others were designed by Henken and others of Wright’s followers. One of these houses is currently on the market.

Years ago, when one of the Henken-designed houses was for sale, my dad and I went to see it -- just for the fun of it. It was very cool, and kind of like walking into a piece of history. But I also thought, well, what if I wanted to bring in my own furniture? And suppose I got just a little tired of the wood panelling on the walls -- would I ever have the nerve to paint it, or remove it? I still don’t know. I think I could find a way to bring in my own furniture, but I’m not sure I could ever change anything structural. That being said, there is something very pure and enticing about living in a home that comes with all its own appropriate, and often built-in, furniture. I mean, imagine you never have to buy a new sofa, and when you die your family takes your artwork off the walls, gives your clothes to Goodwill and moves on. No one has to inherit Aunt Rose’s ugly antique settee. Now, there’s something to that.

But honestly, it’s not something for me. Frank Lloyd Wright was a hater of “stuff”. I am a collector of “stuff”. And I need to know I can change my stuff, periodically. 

Now, back to the original question.....I guess it’s a matter of taste. Do you want to live in a museum? Definitely right for some people, and good for them for preserving the past. But I think most of us want to live in the present, to respect the past while incorporating our modern day lifestyle into our surroundings. Because design itself is never static....it changes, it responds to its present and its past, it lives. And so should we.

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