Thursday, April 15, 2010

Discovering and Defining My Decor Style

Who doesn't wince when Howard Roark tells the dean of the architecture school that the Parthenon is "rotten?" But it's thrilling, too, because then you can't stop reading.  You have to know why.  Insubordination, when justified intelligently - whether I agree with it or not - has always inspired me. I love Kerouac best for his ode to eccentricity - articulated so simply, so beautifully - that one must pause and revel in the sheer wonder of his words.

And in decor, I constantly find myself inspired by the Hollywood Regency style.  Roark would not approve because he does not believe in emulating past styles, but I find myself constantly drawn to it for a reason that is very Howard Roark indeed:  it embraces personal joy.  I am not taking any magazine page or book illustrating the style and copying it to a tee - but I love that it champions riots of color streaked with insubordination.  A throne instead of a chair.  A chandelier lamp.  A mirror splashed unevenly with silver paint (by me) just because I thought it might look cool.  Experimentation. Ridiculous proportions. A pink wall. Why not? 

Yes, Roark would indeed choke with disgust at the foyer above for the amalgamation of styles, and I'm not looking to re-create that, either. But I kinda dig its spirit. 

Behold the birth of Back to A decor style: 

Only bring items into your home which delight you, and let each one have a story.  When I am done, every piece piece of furniture - each accessory, even - will have a tale.   And if you haven't read the scene in The Fountainhead between Roark and his dean, grab a cup of coffee and allow me to share.  It's about architecture, but not at all. It’s me at fifteen, reading a book that would change my life. 

Howard Roark Gets Expelled:
My favorite scene in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead

"But I don't understand. Why do you want me to think that this is great architecture?" He pointed to the picture of the Parthenon.

"That," said the Dean, "is the Parthenon."

"So it is."

"I haven't the time to waste on silly questions."

"All right, then." Roark got up, he took a long ruler from the desk, he walked to the picture. "Shall I tell you what's rotten about it?"

"It's the Parthenon!" said the Dean.

"Yes, God damn it, the Parthenon!"

The ruler struck the glass over the picture.

"Look," said Roark. "The famous flutings on the famous columns — what are they there for? To hide the joints in wood — when columns were made of wood, only these aren't, they're marble. The triglyphs, what are they? Wood. Wooden beams, the way they had to be laid when people began to build wooden shacks. Your Greeks took marble and they made copies of their wooden structures out of it, because others had done it that way. Then your masters of the Renaissance came along and made copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Why?"

The Dean sat watching him curiously. Something puzzled him, not in the words, but in Roark's manner of saying them.

"Rules?" said Roark. "Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it's made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn't borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn't borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway to express it."

"But all the proper forms of expression have been discovered long ago."

"Expression — of what? The Parthenon did not serve the same purpose as its wooden ancestor. An airline terminal does not serve the same purpose as the Parthenon. Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important — what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right — so long as it's not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic — and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don't know. I've never known it. I'd like to understand."

"For heaven's sake," said the Dean. "Sit down....That's better....Would you mind very much putting that ruler down?...Thank you....Now listen to me. No one has ever denied the importance of modern technique to an architect. We must learn to adapt the beauty of the past to the needs of the present. The voice of the past is the voice of the people. Nothing has ever been invented by one man in architecture. The proper creative process is a slow, gradual, anonymous, collective one, in which each man collaborates with all the others and subordinates himself to the standards of the majority."

"But you see," said Roark quietly, "I have, let's say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I've chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I'm only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards — and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one."

"You know," the dean said, "You would sound much more convincing if you spoke as if you cared whether I agreed with you or not."

"That's true," said Roark. "I don't care whether you agree with me or not." He said it so simply that it did not sound offensive, it sounded like the statement of a fact which he noticed, puzzled, for the first time.

"You don't care what others think — which might be understandable. But you don't care even to make them think as you do?"


"But that's...that's monstrous."

"Is it? Probably. I couldn't say."

"I'm glad of this interview," said the Dean, suddenly, too loudly. "It has relieved my conscience. I believe, as others stated at the meeting, that the profession of architecture is not for you. I have tried to help you. Now I agree with the Board. You are a man not to be encouraged. You are dangerous."

"To whom?" asked Roark.

To everyone stuck at Z, I suppose. 


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