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THEY CHOSE TO BE DIFFERENT: WHO IS ENDING "TASTE"
An affirming ode to subverting "what everyone else is doing"
TODAY (SO MUCH GOOD STUFF): taste lessons via René Descartes and Céline Dion; introducing “UNDERGOUND INTERIORS”; a snide list of 2023 interiors books with boring introductions; the slop-ification of books as our new favorite décor; a comparison of roof shacks across economic classes
When questioning the meaning of life, some look to God, or to Jung. We look to Norma Skurka.
She’s a writer, of course. A former journalist for the New Y*rk Times, and author of a couple of essential books. She was ORACLE, she was SAGE. Skurka in 1972:
“The intense pressures of the times beg for a new beginning,” – which f*cking resonates right now. And, what resonates for the sake of this newsletter: she was talking about DÉCOR (in part). “Rather than forecasting Armeggdon,” she saw ways in which décor might totally affirm our humanity, a thought which may seem very trivial to some but, of course FOR SCALE labors under a very particular philosophy (in part): EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS AT THIS POINT.
Today, we shall explore a wealth of outsider domestic spaces, mainly from SKURKA’s classic text “UNDERGROUND INTERIORS”, but also from another: AMY ARBUS’s “NO PLACE LIKE HOME”. The point:
“DÉCOR IS DEAD! LONG LIVE DÉCOR!”
i.e. The time for a new era is now.
We would also like to whine momentarily, before it gets buried:
NOT A SINGLE CONTEMPORARY INTERIORS BOOK TALKS LIKE SKURKA CAN TALK. The World is a horror show, and 2023 books have introductions that are COMPLETELY SELF-ABSORBED in the author’s own career. Skurka talks about the SOCIO-POLITICO-ECONOMIC-CULTURAL-ETC.-ETC. Not just like, “isn’t this brown so cute?”
We’ll name names (all from 2023 publications) of intros that just talk about how magical “I am" or ”S/he is”: COLIN KING. SHAE MCGEE. ALEXA HAMPTON. JOHN STEFANIDIS. Et cetera. Et cetera. Yes, these are monographs – but in FOR SCALE’s comprehensive media analysis, it IS VERY POSSIBLE to publish a monograph and not utter a sentence about your upbringing, instead choosing to SAY SOMETHING. 2023 EXAMPLE: KELLY WEARSTLER’S “SYNCHRONICITY”, the intro to which is very short and about the concept of synchronicity, though still stops short of any kind of compelling reflection on the state of things.
Skurka takes on SOCIETY. No platitudes. More of Skurka, please. For décor’s sake.
PART 1: ON STATUS AND TASTE (via RENÉ DESCARTES, CÉLINE DION, AND OTHERS)
In “UNDERGROUND”, SKURKA quotes DESCARTES (“I THINK, THEREFORE I AM”), making that about interiors, which is a stretch but we’re willing to go along with it:
“it claims that we do not need castles, palaces, mansions, or the neuroticism and alienation that come from a misguided sense of why we are here. Slavish aggrandisement of our homes is outmoded and fools only the dull and misguided.”
FOR SCALE TRANSLATION: how can you live and enjoy STUFF and ALSO not be “materialistic”? Home is everything, and yet little is needed for ‘home’ to be. Et cetera, et cetera.
And, yet, there is a cultural drive that forces us to get bound up in DÉCOR PRIDE, i.e. aggressive décor-ating for external audiences. To understand that, we must discuss CAPITAL, in particular: CULTURAL CAPITAL.
CARL WILSON, music journalist, wrote a foundational book-length essay on taste, focused on none other than one of history’s TOP THREE CANADIANS, Céline Dion. He approached the subject as such: “HOW THE F*CK CAN PEOPLE LIKE CÉLINE DION?” (Because he thought her to be trash) “LET ME FIGURE IT OUT.” Et cetera, et cetera. This was his so-called “journey to the end of taste”.
TWO IMPORTANT SENTENCES FROM CARL:
“Artistic taste is most competitive among people whose main asset is cultural capital” i.e. it’s a décor arms race out there
On being unable to appreciate CÉLINE, at first: “It’s a fault endemic, I think, to us antireligionists who have turned for transcendent experience to art, and so we react to what our reflexes tell us is bad art as if it were a kind of blasphemy” i.e. we totally fabricate a hierarchy of taste to feel purpose
And one from SKURKA, quoting another of the Top 3 Canadians, Marshall McLuhan (a quote that adds a layer of nuance to the CARL WILSON TASTE UNIVERSE):
“Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative.”
And then FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT:
“Good taste is basically a matter of ignorance, seldom, unless by accident, on good terms with the knowledge of the poetic principles” (where “poetic” basically means “creative” in today’s parlance")
CRUCIALLY, we believe, there is no hierarchy of taste within Skurka’s UNDERGROUND INTERIORS – hence why it is worthy of your attention. The value Skurka places on these interiors is totally in the fact these few have managed to subvert the mainstream humdrum of décor. In doing that, they attempt to end taste.
PART 2: HIGHLIGHTS AND LESSONS FROM “UNDERGROUND”
There are two categories of home we’ll explore here, CHAOS and ORDER. Both are perfectly legitimate, one where the exceptionalism of the décor appears to emerge from the AMPLIFICATION of stuff, and one where it appears to emerge from the FOCUS-IFICATION of stuff. (Not MINIMALISM necessarily, because they can be very STUFF-FILLED but there seem to be clear parameters of what stuff is permitted.)
We also want to show that SUBVERSION doesn’t mean “WACKY”, tho there is plenty of wacky in “UNDERGROUND”. That would be an obvious thing to present, and dull to dissect.
2.1 STUFF AMPLIFICATION
To make the point, let us take a look at the home of someone universally understood to be extremely anal and you’d expect not to necessarily want chaotic amplifcation: KARL L*GERFELD.
Lounging in the bathroom? Snoozing in the gym? These are rooms as PARODY. Without contravening “LIVABILITY”, they do contravene establishment approaches to décor.
It also kind of sex-ifies décor in some daring ways: to bathe with an audience? to exercise for someone lounging in bed? DARING. And it does this without leather and slings.
2.1 STUFF FOCUS-IFICATION
Focus is not NO MESS! Focus is not STRICT MINIMALISM! Again, “focus” as we mean it here is instead about SPECIFICITY, and where stuff is permitted to go off script. Oddly, consumerism has made ‘off-script’ an anti-establishment posture, as even interior des*gners that operate under the premise of “carefully crafted interiors” will, in fact, still try and make everything into a PERFECTED VIGNETTE. Vignette is toxic.
May we demonstrate specificity and limitation that both include one incredible NEW-FAVORITE MODE OF DÉCOR?: THE SLOP-IFICATION OF BOOKS.
SLOP-IFICATION OF BOOKS (PART 1)
The Milanese apartment of arch*tect MARIO SCHEINCHENBAUER. Tight, monotonous, highly limited. In short - “SPECIFIC” AS F*CK. And yet, book storage is in tattered cardboard boxes. Tatter is in focus.
SLOP-IFICATION OF BOOKS (PART 2)
We’re still in Italy, we’re still at home with an arch*tect - but now it’s Turin, and GIANCARLO NOCENTINI.
We exist currently in an era where books are often arranged by color (acceptable; we can understand the recall of cover color might even surpass that of title) or reversed so as to show PAGES ONLY vs. SPINES (totally and utterly deplorable). And, yet, these books lean and pile in all sorts of ways that unbutton this RIGID décor, where furniture appears concrete. That rigidity is not in focus. Sloping sloppiness is in focus.
PART 3: HIGHLIGHTS AND LESSONS FROM “NO PLACE LIKE HOME” (1986)
A phenomenal book by AMY ARBUS (daughter of DIANE), opens with the exquisite sentence “This is a book of Americans at home,” and ends the teeny short intro with, “Everybody needs one.” (A home, that is.) (N.B. She doesn’t f*cking talk about herself and her process.)
Where there is a consistency between SKURKA and ARBUS in terms of a balance of Wacky and Non-Wacky outsider interiors, Arbus also - without really talking about it - tackles ECONOMIC CLASS. There are some truly sh*t, crumby apartments that are shack-adjacent and then there are some swish homes by some mega-swishy architects.
This is a crucial and RARE AS ALL HELL message, that extremely compelling interiors aren’t always the domain of the rich. (Kudos to NEST and APARTMENTO, inter alia, for knowing this, too.) To exemplify, here is:
A COMPARISON OF ROOF SHACKS (PART 1)
You might know this, it is a little rooftop writing office for screenwriter BILL NORTON, modeled after a lifeguard tower by arch*tect FRANK GEHRY (another CANADIAN! Though not Top 3). This is, of course, in VENICE, CALIFORNIA. Very MARINA ABRAMOVIC, but instead of “The HOUSE WITH THE OCEAN VIEW” (2002) it is literally the house with the ocean view. It is very ‘my excess on display’ in a way that does in fact offer voyeuristic pleasure to the general public.
Frustratingly, BILL actually finds he’s too distracted in that office.
It is as such, inside:
A COMPARISON OF ROOF SHACKS (PART 2)
This is ANNE JEPSEN, and she lives (lived?) in a ‘studio’ (a.k.a. shack) on the roof of a Lower East Side tenement building. It does not have: heat, electricity, telephone, running water.
YET, the incredible ANNE embraces these décor parameters and produces a kind of “squatter’s craft room” aesthetic that - honestly - she refers to with only love. (Recall that BILL, the rich one, was “too distracted!” Woe is life!)
In both cases, however, we can see the execution of ROOFTOP LIFE FANTASIES with radically different budgets. The abnormality of the spaces does seem to allow for a sense of PERSONAL DOMAIN. And, we all deserve a slice of personal domain.
The main lesson for today is: some very “nice” interiors are in fact Lemming Interiors, devoid of actual taste, and also “taste” is absurd, and also “taste” is all we have, but also the best of us do what we can to totally destroy “taste”. We hope you can imagine a world where everyone has a home, and kinda gets to feel like they’ve made some autonomous, personal domain-ish décor choices, and taste isn’t a factor.
Until next time.
Love and good luck,