So while I was sitting on the couch yesterday, sick as a dog, I noticed my partner's new Jonathan Adler design book. The cover features Jonathan perched awkwardly on a couch, surrounded by his whimsical pottery and the typical Hollywood Regency-inspired design motifs one sees repeated in design magazines these days. Juxtaposed with his his super-cool pottery designs, the cover comes across as forced, tacky, and aimed at selling the maximum number of copies to the maximum number of people. Had I not been sick and had the book not been within arm's length, I never would have cracked it open.
Strangely enough, it turned out to be one of the more entertaining and inspirational things I have read in a very long time.
Jonathan begins his tome by stating: "This book is about how design can change your life." In the proceeding pages, Adler lays out his design philosophies in the wittiest manner imaginable, often using text and color alone to outline his anti-formal aesthetic. An example of this is the section titled My Prescription For Maximalist Merriment. Striking out boldly against the confines and conformity of minimalism, Tip #5 reads:
"Get rid of all your boring, tiresome friends. Make friends with cabaret stars, exotic dancers, and down-on-their-luck royality instead."
The book, in this way, deconstructs design as conformist modality and reconstructs it, Star Trek transporter beam style, in a totally different, purely subjective form altogether. Adler rages, in his whimsical and wacky way, against the the urge to create cold spaces defined by exterior influences. He instead asks, nay begs, the designer-to-be to recharge one's inactive design batteries by channelling the phantasmagorical landscape of the child's mind. His recollection of a Mrs. Goldstein is a fine example of this:
"The Goldsteins were my next-door neighbors and best friends growing up in suburban New Jersey, and their house was the ne plus ultra of fabulous modern decorating. I have always been completely obsessed with Mrs. Goldstein's style. Often, when I am making something groovy, I think to myself: "How would this look chez Goldstein?" Allow me to describe chez Goldstein.
In the foyer was a giant Murano light fixture hanging over a pop-art painting of a gorilla. The kitchen walls were decoupaged (by Mrs. G herself) in New Yorker magazine covers. The den had a George Nelson sectional sofa upholstered in bright red, which was surrounded with African art, groovy C. Jere wall sculptures, and a Knoll coffee table supporting a giant sculpture of a hippopotamus. The living room was heaven. In one corner was a black lacquered piano with a ceramic leopard under it sitting on a white flokati rug. The coffee table was mirrored, the sofa-back table was covered in snakeskin, and on a shelf there was a ceramic piece of cake.
It was all put together with a sense of panache and confidence that I strive to equal to this day. Nothing was chosen to blend in -- everything took center stage. Basically, the lesson I learned from Mrs. Goldstein was to be graphic, bold, and confident, and to put things in your home that make you happy. As born-again Christians ask themselves when confronted with a dilemma, "What would Jesus do?" so I ask myself, "What would Mrs. Goldstein do?"
Sick as I was, the Adler book managed to get me off the couch. Soon I found myself moving large pieces of furniture in the den, rearranging sections of the house entirely. I sweated profusely and felt overwhelming nausea all the while, but possessed by the unstoppable spirit of Mrs. Goldstein I spent the late afternoon completely altering the look and feel of the den by reintroducing pictures and baubles that have long laid dormant in various closets and chests: a raised relief tile featuring a playful giraffe family, a blockprint which I call the Frowning Madonna (her frown caused by a mistake during the blockprint process), a chess set made of basalt that I bought in Iceland, a quizzical looking family of stone heads in the shape of mushrooms... I brought them all out into the light, reintroducing them unabashedly to society again.
Once the room redesign was complete, I immediately felt as if a burden had been lifted from shoulders. For ages I had been wanting to display these things but as the house interior has become more formal in appearance over time, one by one these items have been stashed away. Without knowing it, my sense of fun and humor were being tucked away into dark corners were they became increasingly difficult to recover and recapture. Well, no more. The genie is out of the bottle again and I simply can't wait for the weekend when I can spelunk through all the local thrift stores and second hand shops again.