December 21st, 2016
Today marks the solstice: the shortest, darkest day in what has felt like the longest, darkest year. There’s something comforting about a nadir, isn’t there? Our emotions are parabolic. We know that from rock bottom the path curves up again. (As J.K. Rowling once said of the days before Harry Potter, when she struggled with poverty and depression, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”) I usually find a joyful anticipation in the days before the solstice. No need to rage against the darkness anymore. Surrender for a few days. The world will lighten up on its own. Yet this year it feels like we have swung out of orbit. Aleppo. Germany. Turkey. The Syrian refugee crisis. Yemen. Neo-Nazism. And a thousand everyday tragedies bumped from the headlines by the ever-widening spiral of violence — violence in actions, thoughts, words. Careering off course, we find around us new and unfamiliar degrees of darkness. We keep waiting for the normal centers of gravity to pull us back in. We keep waiting for the flattening of the curve that suggests we have spun to the outer limit, and the world will bend towards peace, towards light. At the extremes, our sense of light is absolute. A sunny day is a sunny day is a sunny day. So is a moonless night. But most of the time, it’s relative. Have you ever sat engrossed in a book while the sun went down? Eventually someone walks into the room to find you in a dim corner squinting over shadowy pages. “You need some light,” they say, tsk-tsking as they flick on a switch and you recoil like a vampire. (This was a good portion of my childhood.) Rumors began circulating a few days ago that there was to be a lunar eclipse
November 14th, 2016
If you know me, or you read this blog regularly, then you will know that there is no color I dislike more than grey. It is gloomy, murky, heavy, wishy-washy, and depressing, all at the same time. For many years, I balanced my dislike of grey against its practicality. But over the past year, I have decided life is too short to live surrounded by things that bring you down. I’ve shed grey clothes and grey objects of all kinds in a Marie Kondo-like effort to get rid of the grey. A grey sofa is currently on its way out of the apartment, waiting for its vibrant green replacement to arrive. How strange, then, that I now find the world around me to be such a giant grey area. It feels like one big slippery slope and I don’t know where we are on it. With the election of a president who has brought racist and misogynistic rhetoric out of the dark corners, the shadows of hate speech and mutual distrust are everywhere, cast long and dusky over daily life. Shock, once sharp and bright, now feels so routine as to lose its force. Astonishment and outrage are giving way to dark humor and grey shrugs. The danger of grey is that it’s so easy to lose sight of when you are slipping between its various shades. Is this grey the same as yesterday? Or is it greyer? Should I worry yet? I can’t tell, it’s all one big fog. If you have not read Teju Cole’s piece in the NYT magazine this weekend, please do. In it, he talks about Eugène Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros,” about a town where people begin to turn into rhinos, and the denial, rationalization, and justification that ensues. Eventually everyone except the protagonist is
November 2nd, 2016
We think about anxiety as a mental thing, but it’s often just as much a physical thing. It took me a long time to understand this. I used to think that if I felt anxious, the cause must be something going on in my life, in my mental life. A conflict with a friend or a big review at work: those were reasons to be anxious. They made sense. But sometimes, I found myself feeling anxious for no good reason at all. I would feel butterflies in my stomach and start running through a list in my head, trying to figure out what I could possibly be nervous about. Some days it got so bad that my feet and hands would tingle. That’s when I learned that anxiety often comes from physical sources: too much caffeine, too little exercise, poor breathing habits. These things can cause a kind of agitation that feels to the brain like anxiety, so much so that your brain decides you must be anxious, and goes looking for things to worry about. There are lots of ways that our homes add to our anxiety — without us even realizing it. This was a big epiphany for me. But when I put this knowledge together with everything I’d learned about the way that our surroundings affects our emotions, I discovered that there are lots of ways that our homes add to our anxiety — without us even realizing it. This research-based list of tips has helped me create a space that eases, rather than adds to my anxiety, and I hope it will help you too. 1. Tighten up In my old apartment, I had a lot of IKEA furniture. No shame in that, but the thing about furniture that’s held together with bolts and screws instead of joinery and welding is that
October 28th, 2016
Doorways of Forgetfulness I’m sure you have had this experience: you’re sitting at your desk when you catch sight of something that needs attention, let’s say a plant that needs watering. So you walk to the kitchen, but when you get there, suddenly your mind is blank. You can’t remember what you were there to do. Then you walk back to your desk and see the plant, sigh, and head back to the kitchen. It’s almost too poetic to be a real scientific fact: doorways cause us to forget. But there is research to suggest this effect is real. By passing into a different physical space, we pass into a different mental space, leaving behind one chamber of memory and entering another. Technically, what researchers think is happening is that our brains preserve a certain amount of space for contextual memory, holding information likely to be relevant to us in that context. Passing through a doorway suggests that we’re entering a different context, triggering a purge of short-term memory, freeing us space to remember things that might be relevant in this new space. Hasn’t it always been tempting to think of the mind as a house, a place we can inhabit? High-minded hermits live in mountaintop huts. Thoreau built a porous cabin on the edge of nature to free his mind from convention. We cache our memories in the attic, boxes of old photos and letters secure in case we might need to call on them. The basement contains our doubts and fears, the closet our deepest secrets. Decluttering the house, as Marie Kondo tells us, clears an overburdened mind. That the terra incognita of our minds might have some parallel in the graspable, traversable universe is comforting. Walking through our thoughts, they feel less filmy, less able to just slip
October 21st, 2016
First, before diving in, a quick note to email subscribers… I know the email version of Wednesday’s post was pretty wonky for some of you. So sorry about that. We have figured out the problem and it shouldn’t happen again. Thanks for your patience and if you have any issues or feedback, please reach out! And now on to this week’s Object of Affection! Like a chic, shiny little mushroom, the Panthella lamp typifies designer Verner Panton’s curvy, playful aesthetic. Now, it’s being revived by manufacturer Louis Poulsen in eight bright colors. I love when a redesign honors the spirit of the original, and in this case, what Poulsen has done is quite neat. In 1971 when the lamp was first launched, Panton had wanted the lamp to be made of metal, but it was not technically possible at the time. Using present-day technology, Poulsen brought Panton’s original vision to life. The colors for the new version also come from Panton himself. Poulson pulled them from the last project Panton worked on before his death in 1998, an exhibit of his work called ‘Lyset og Farven’ (‘Light and Colour’) in Denmark that showcased his vast body of work in a suite of colorful rooms. It’s easy to look at Verner Panton’s work now and see just another nice piece of round, sixties-style design. But Panton was on the avant-garde of this movement, working with plastic, metal, and fiberglass to create organic forms as early as the 1950s, while most of his contemporaries were still in the thrall of modernism’s rigid geometries. Panton broke out of these boxes, quite literally, and created a joyful feeling of flow. Later, Panton moved from furniture into creating whole rooms. (A good place to see these is here, at the online Verner Panton museum.) Describing it as interior design doesn’t
September 13th, 2016
We were having dinner with our good friends Baxter and Lauren last night, and they mentioned that their daughter Margaux, age 4, has spontaneously started asking a new question at dinner. It seems like a cute, childlike question, but after answering it every night for a week, they noticed it had some surprising effects. The question Margaux asks is: What was the silliest part of your day? It's an endearing question, the perfect example of a child ...
October 19th, 2016
“Have you seen the slime thing?” We are on FaceTime, A. and I, him in New York and me in Paris. I wonder if this is a B-horror movie kind of thing or maybe an avant-garde art installation he’s talking about. But no, it’s just the latest Instagram phenomenon. “The slime thing” he’s referring to consists of videos, many made by teen girls in Thailand, of hands squishing blobs of colorful translucent slime, often with small colorful pellets ...
May 9th, 2016
When you stop to think about it, isn’t it amazing that schools often feature some of the worst architecture? We invest millions in building fancy skylit shopping malls, yet shuttle kids off to learn in grey-beige boxes under fluorescent lights. Fortunately, there are some brilliant models for schools popping up around the world, especially in the elementary school space. I’ve been collecting these examples for awhile. Seeing them together inspires me to think maybe there’s an ...
October 5th, 2016
While I was in Santa Fe earlier this week, I spent some time at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture researching Native American weaving, basketry, and ceramics patterns for the book. Pretty much every culture on Earth makes patterns—on walls, objects, or their own bodies—and one of the things I’ve been curious about is to what extent weavers and makers are aware of the structures that make patterns so universally appealing, and to what ...
October 1st, 2016
As much as I hate to admit it, I live by my To Do list. While the format changes from time to time — sometimes paper, sometimes apps — it’s a necessary evil in my life, and it's never empty. There is always more To Do. Then last Friday, as I was looking at all the items on my To Do list that I hadn’t managed to complete and thinking about when during the weekend I’d ...
October 14th, 2016
In August we visited Copenhagen and saw an incredible show of the Danish artist Poul Gernes at the Louisiana Museum. At that show I learned that Gernes designed an entire hospital in Denmark, called Herlev, that maintains its colorful interiors from the 1970s. I'd never seen such a colorful hospital! This video, sent to me by my friend Sofie, shows the incredible impact of color in the hospital experience. Gernes was originally commissioned to paint just ...