The way of furniture is not my way

Category: Lifestyle

Harold Skimpole, a perpetual child of middle age in Dickens’s novel Bleak House, has the following to say on furniture:

“Chairs and tables were wearisome objects; they were monotonous ideas, they had no variety of expression, they looked you out of countenance, and you looked them out of countenance. How pleasant, then, to be bound to no particular chairs and tables, but to sport like a butterfly among all the furniture on hire, and to flit from rosewood to mahogany, and from mahogany to walnut, and from this shape to that, as the humour took one!”

I too consider myself a perpetual child of an arbitrary adult age. Likewise, my look at furniture, provided I even extend one, is entirely of countenance. Rather, I don’t care for it.

Furniture seems to just get in my way. It burdens the ease of movement across empty space, the latter good for pacing, pondering, meditation, exercise.

It collects dust. It deviates cognitive energy from better use. It tends to house other hopelessly useless objects of similar property. It demands time and energy to acquire, liquidate or transport.

And most of all, I sense idiotic and superfluous quality in much of the furniture I encounter.

Now my life is not without a share of respectfully idiotic choices.

Sometime in my early 20’s I owned a polished bedroom set with a myriad of cute cabinets and night tables. This attributed to no value, yet demanded time to purchase, time to liquidate, and financial spending.

Into the early 30’s (not that far back), I still committed acts of lunacy. I owned two leather sofas for which I payed a fortune, relative insofar as the value I attach to such objects, which lies dangerously below zero.

In fact, I consider sofa purchases to be one of the most perverse sources of expenditure, at least for any ‘sofa’ you cannot dead lift on your own, or one whose second-hand market value does not warrant the simple act of leaving it to decompose in the back alley.

Acts of lunacy, as I stated. After a couple of moves and exhausting attempts to transport these buffoon objects, the sofas transitioned between basements and storage units, as I often lacked a permanent residence to house them.

At some point, they suffered victimization by the hands (paws) of a couple of mischievous felines sharing my space of living, then acquiring further wear and tear in successive transport.

Eventually, I wrote them off the books (which I should have done the minute of purchase), selling them directly out of whatever rotten basement they occupied for a quarter of the purchase price. The moves became substantially cheaper from then on … in all respect.

I’ll state my preferred conception of furniture.

I look to the East, by way of the traditional Japanese or Mediterranean schools of interior layout. But really these serve as mere examples of what I inherently feel. Each element of furniture should

  1. Respect a utilitarian function of significant marginal returns, acquisition and secondary effects considered, and
  2. The material design should not transcend that function.

Rarely do I find furniture to respect the given heuristic. Most seating contraptions inspire too much seating, which slowly destroys the skeletal system and stimulates further non-conductive sedentary activities (possibly due to restricted blood flow to the brain).

Pardon if my words flow a bit aggressively. Likewise, most other storage/foundational structures inspire further acquisition of objects that don’t confer much benefit towards a meaningful existence, modestly put.

I henceforth appeal to mostly empty space.

Traditional Japanese spaces respect the design choice. I occupied several such establishments in my time in Japan, recalling mostly empty rooms of blocks of tatami for flooring, some ground-level table with a pillow for seating, and a mattress hidden in a closet to extract at nighttime. Rarely had I felt so much harmony indoors.

In varying countries I occupied settings largely a product of bricolage. This may consist of a table constructed of a cross-section of roughly carved wood, improvised mechanics to sufficiently elevate the structure (be it books for all I care), and, again, cute pillows for seating, with much, much empty space (short of little non-invading artsy staples).

Any easily movable floor mattress is all one requires for sleep. If you can fall asleep there, I argue that it not only serves, but serves for quality sleep. Usually, however, the surface feels genuinely comfortable.

Will you tend to increasingly move around during a night of sleep on the floor? Absolutely, especially when unaccustomed.

But there’s nothing wrong with this. It promotes blood flow. You’ll wake up, switch sides, and fall back asleep, especially if you don’t burden yourself with needless stress.

Provided you complete your required REM cycles, this is of no consequence. And once it’s time to get up, you’ll waste less time lounging in bed.

With regard to floor seating, be it the bare floor, tatami, or pillows, the story repeats.

It’s not comfortable in the traditional mechanics. Depending on seating preference, you’ll frequently switch position and will inevitably stand for variety. This is great. You should not remain seated for too long.

I actually find the lotus position extremely comfortable and can remain in one not necessarily for hours, but for sufficiently long to perform serious work, back upright and unsupported. But this required training.

Whatever the arrangement, I prefer both the seating and sleep surfaces to have an element of discomfort. I want the constant reminder to switch positions or move around.

Concerning work, I preach standing, provided you don’t literally remain erect and drizzling with countenance like David, but shift body weight, pace around, keep mobile.

Working at my present residence, I remain standing half the time at the kitchen bar - convenient, no adjustment necessary but a slight keyboard elevation, and the other half seated on two narrow cushions on top of a solid floor. (There’s an odd sofa and a few chairs, but I use them less for the purpose and more for objects of exercise.)

Whatever the reasoning obliging you to sit, I still prefer a few alternatives to comfortable chairs. An exercise ball is one option. I spent years seated on one of these part time.

Alternatively, I recommend the cheapest and most uncomfortable chair, no armrests, no ergonomic state-of-the-art (or any) back support. It can be a plastic chair, or just some piece of wood with four legs attached.

First, it will oblige you to rely on your abdominals to maintain healthy posture. Second, it will incite you to more frequently get up.

Until we learn to construct furniture of bio-chemical compounds, such that your chair acquires life and moves around on it’s own accord, only we can take active measures to keep the endoskeleton in a solid condition.

As I state repeatedly, no industry or furniture manufacturer cares for your physical or mental health. Usually quiet the opposite yields far better profit margin. The burden lies entirely with you.

Western culture attaches too much status to elaborate furniture. Now, some furniture even I find stimulating from an art perspective. But a glance at a museum satisfies this curiosity.

However, I’ve always failed to comprehend the famous bedroom exhibits. Of what concern are the grandeur bedroom furnishings where the Georges, the Philips, the Luises or the Katherines passed their slumber?

A better question yet, what factors have most influenced the material trend in Western furniture design?

Insofar as the art perspective, if completely driven by at-home art exhibition, I question, does it not suffice to hang art on walls, where at least it doesn’t occupy floor space?

And if bland emptiness concerns you, spread some plants in a few corners or windows. Pleasant visual stimuli does not demand a lot of spending.

Exploring the playground we call cities, I stop at curious establishments for a quick session of coffee, writing, or pondering existence. They strive to be too glamorous. Elegant furnishings, climate control, higher prices, as if the factors correlated with a superior experience.

I don’t see a superior experience, but a superficial one. I see corporate employees examining spreadsheets. I see overworked baristas. I see non-cohesive atmosphere, weight on the superfluous over the key product.

On the contrary, I prefer the places without the extra glamour: plain, cheap, wooden or plastic tabletops (ideally ground-level furnishings with pillows for seating); fans, ventilation over air conditioning; relaxed, engaging occupants.

I prefer emphasis on the essential - the beverage, the plain accommodation, the lively space. Anything owner operated usually feels even more authentic, but I diverge from the main topic.

My furniture philosophy aligns strongly with minimalism. Do more with less. Sustain a heightened state of happiness with few simple things of simple property. It serves me far better than than the appeal to an ever increasing quantity and elegance as means to combat the ever unfulfilled palate.

Questions, comments? Connect.