Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Anthropomorphic Loves

The Inhabited Silence of Houses

Every once and again when I'm alone at home and all is quiet, I slip off into a sort of 
pulsating atmosphere, where the Things around me beg for attention in a different way.

It's a bit like Disney's Beauty and the Beast,
without the singing and dancing and without the shiny faces.

The furniture seems to motion to me with its extreme stillness. It moans and whispers. Floors creak, armoires adjust themselves with little pops, a drawer opens with a baritone grate. There's a humming in the air.
 My cleaning lady tells me that she says "Bonjour, Maison!" when no one is in. So maybe I'm not alone in feeling a presence --- or maybe crackpots have a way of  finding one another. (A different cleaning lady identified more with another fairy tale. She saw herself as Snow White,  a beneficent presence who worked her magic by cleaning and putting everything right in the house. A lovely image. Unfortunately, her zeal was such that she scrubbed the paint right off the doors with very abrasive lessive St. Marc.)

Don't get me wrong, I don't talk to my furniture, I listen to it.  I do think we can communue with it in  moments of silence for our mutual benefit.

Calvet chair

Furnishings don't have to have a particular shape to make their presence felt at quiet moments, but some do exaggerate the point with their design, vying for attention among the more common lot.

How would you feel about sharing your home with this chair? You couldn't be lonely. You can tell me that you don't like Gaudi, but really, how could you dislike this little guy? Why, he's just stretching out his arms for affection!

Gaudi said, "Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator."  Could that be the secret?

There are furnishings that incorporate the gimmicks of human form as with this Ultra-meuble by Kurt Seligmann or the chair in this Castaing bathroom.
I don't think they have as much personality as pieces whose animate quality is more abstract -- though they are a kick !
Then some furniture is scary at night. My son was afraid of an enormous Ile-de-France armoire that loomed in his bedroom when he was a toddler. It may not have helped that we referred to it as le monstre because of its size, but I don't think we used that term in front of him. I used to have moments of fright when alone in the house for an hour or two as a child. I was sure the antiques my parents collected released their spirits when my parents closed the door.

R.W. Symonds and R. Luytens

It may just be me, but some furniture has more expressiveness than others suggesting a face, a pose, a movement. Does anyone else see a be-whiskered face here? I'm sure this chest of drawers contains many unspoken secrets. These smooth rectilinear surfaces prove that a living quality doesn't have to come out of organically inspired forms...

plaster lamp
Giacometti for Jean Michel Frank

but it often does.
Writhing forms and idiosyncrasies  aside, any furniture can speak to us. The most important thing is probably the vibration of one thing set off by another.
And quiet.


  1. I knew the Castaing image immediately !! I have a large file on her and love her work.
    I also we should listen...I listen to the walls...they tell me what to paint!

  2. I don't remember furniture scaring me, (unless it creaked when it adjusted to changing humidity), but I do remember a painting that hung above the chimneypiece of my grandmother's drawing room that scared me so much as a youngster that I would never go into that room alone. I saw the picture recently, and the face of the person depicted still has a very sinister look. I took it to an auction house to see what it might fetch, but sadly not enough to make it worthwhile, so it languishes in storage!

  3. A delightful reverie. I think your child of the South comes humming through on this one, le style. We live with quite a few pass me downs and at 60 and 62, we are now orphans and have been for many years. I listen to my furniture, but I also talk to them. The wing chairs of one set of grandparents here, and another set of the other grandparents there. The wing chairs of my husband's parents with their 1940s modern lines there. They stand like chess pieces in my living room representing over 130 years of life. The comfort me. As to scary stuff. We have a secretary made from panels from the Reims cathedral (after WWI bombing). The gothic motif and I must say heaving on spears and death, is the reason we got this piece and not my husband's younger brother who says he still has nightmares about it!

  4. Theresa - like Michelangelo who freed forms from marble, you are in tune with your medium!

    Columnist - Not a relative, I hope? Where is Mr Wilde when you need him? We had a portrait with steely eyes that we loved to shine a flashlight up at from the darkness of slumber parties; I remember more giddy goosebumps than real fear.

    HbD I'll probably get to talking too. Give me a little more time!
    I've never moved any inherited pieces over -they are with a brother and sister. Chess pieces - that is just the right image of stillness and awaiting! As for your gothic motif, well - one man's nightmare is another woman's dream... or something like that!

  5. Ah, if your home has so much atmosphere all the better- why not talk to it a little? My parent's home where I grew up still holds that sort of place for me.

  6. I can't say I've ever felt that way about furniture notwithstanding that my bed and my sofa might just be my very best friends! But I do feel that way about HOUSES. Not so much their insides, but their outsides. Their windows like eyes and their roofs like bonnets, their porches like aprons...... oh now you've really got me started!

    I do enjoy your thoughtful posts about these sorts of things!

  7. yes, don't we all? at least everyone that visits here, a prerequisite my darling! Aunt Bettie's cupboard- a grand old lady, a bit overweight but completely polished from years in a fine old Maryland townhouse. She presides. I love this post. pgt

  8. Yes, an occasional table my mother-in-law had speaks to me words of wisdom every time I walk by and my Mother's crystal cabinet has many stories to tell. I love that Gaudi chair!

  9. I know exactly what you mean. My bed is a large carved four-poster with a canopy top and paneled back. I feel like it shelters me every night, like an old friend.

  10. A fellow "crackpot" after my own heart.

    I love the idea of stillness in rooms and have often wished, when being introduced for the first time, that I might spend some quality and quiet time alone there so we can get to know each other. If the room is the soul of the home, then surely, the furniture is there to do its bidding, which is why one discordant note, or one ghastly tribal mask, can throw the whole blessed thing out of whack.

    I think furniture, like people, conveys feelings, attitudes and personalities ... but then, I've already declared my peculiarities such as they are.

    A wonderfully thoughtful post le style.