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Living Modern: Embrace Time, Return to the Mountain

by Susi, 29 January 2010

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The recent mass mania for rigorous modernism has tended to vivisect what is most human in our homes, workplaces and public spaces. When the seminal modernist, Le Corbusier (above) declared, “a house is a machine for living in,” the operative word was living. The intention was to shape structures, spaces, and their contents intelligently, to support human life, human dreams, and human necessities – – and always with a weather eye to nature, its rhythms and its imperatives.

Of course, human life is messy by nature. So it does call for some ordering, some rigor, some alignment, some structuring. But not to excess, lest living itself suffer. And so, after the onslaught of sterile steel and plastic and glass in CAD-begotten forms, one yearns this year for design that is more living than dead, that supports living in ways that are intrinsically human and natural.

I mean, how smart is it to force ourselves to live in depersonalised environments, like prisoners of war or alien abductees? We are not stick figures or avatars, after all. So where do we go from here?

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One place to go is Bleu Nature (above, and below). Consider their declaration that “Bleu Nature inhabits a space where time is material, where the evolution of objects and forms is the concept, and where erosion is a quality. Here, the natural erosion of a fragment of wood is a source of inspiration.”

We’ve been working up ideas for a large outdoor space at our Bali home. We’ve been working and overworking ideas for renovating our antiquated ski chalet in the Italian Alps. Bleu Nature’s collections resonate in both environments, in ways that are elemental and right.

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Being natural doesn’t have to mean being chaotic. Being human doesn’t have to mean being dirty. On the other hand, creating more natural, human environments doesn’t have to mean revisiting the squalor and sentimentality of a hippie yurt commune, stuffed with broken dream-catchers and mildewed moccasins.

The manifestation of pure modernism is not fascist furniture, but natural, honest furniture (with a touch of whimsy of course, as we humans would still be living in unadorned caves and heaps of peat, were it not for our whimsy). Modernism as it was conceived was not cruel or inhuman. It was about being smart, rather than sloppy, or sentimental or decadent. It was intended to be rigorous in the way that nature is rigorous. It addressed the fact that there are tendencies and even imperatives which it is wiser to work with, rather than against – – particularly if one aspires to create a good “machine for living in”.

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Humans were not meant to live in operating theaters or morgues or microchip manufacturing plants. Or in sci-fi concept-pods of contorted computer-generated techno-weirdness. We are not sterile, we are not rigid, we are not rectilinear, we are not computer-generated. We are utterly, organically human. We want to feel well, we want to be comfortable, yet want to enjoy a certain order and rigor.

Then sometimes it rains . . .

Isn’t it inherently better to welcome weather and its artistic effects, than to spend one’s energies struggling to preserve audaciously inappropriate pristine patio furniture? In order to fulfill the desire for order and control, why not simply design beautiful yet rigorous patio furniture suited to the situation out there on the patio (where time and weather are implicitly welcome, since they cannot be refused)?

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And isn’t it inherently better to firmly grasp the hand of time and welcome its contributions, than frantically push the pause button on everything around us, and on our souls in the process? I kind of think so. And I think Frank LeFebvre of Bleu Nature does, too.

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Just look at what he did at the Mystique in San Torini (above and below, now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection). Bravo. It’s alive.

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Or is it? Are we too “modern” for authentic living? Perhaps Adorno was right in the opening salvo of Minima Moralia, when he declared, “Life does not live.”

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Perhaps. Perhaps not.

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