The way of furniture is not my way

2019-12-09 @Lifestyle

Harold Skimpole, a perpetual middle aged child of Dickens’s Bleak House, has the following to say:

“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. I don’t care for it.

Furniture gets in the way. It burdens the ease of movement across empty space, the latter useful for pacing, pondering, meditation, exercise.

It collects dust. It deviates cognition. It encourages other hopelessly useless objects of similar property. It demands time and energy to acquire, transport and liquidate.

Most of all, I sense idiotic and superfluous quality in much of the furniture I encounter. Though my life is not without a share of idiocy.

Sometime in my early twenties I owned a polished bedroom set with cute cabinets and night tables. This attributed to no value, yet demanded considerable finances and time and energy to purchase and liquidate.

Into the early thirties (not that far back), I still practiced lunacy. I owned two leather sofas costing a fortune, relative of 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 expenditures, at least for one you cannot dead lift on your own, or one whose second-hand market value does not warrant the simple act of leaving it to rot in the back alley.

A couple of moves, some exhausting transport attempts, the buffoon objects drifted between basements and storage units. At one point they suffered victimization at the paws of mischievous felines sharing my residence. Then they continued to deteriorate.

Eventually I wrote them off the books (which I should have done the minute of purchase); selling the sofas directly out of whatever rotten basement they inhabited for a quarter of the purchase price. The moves then became substantially cheaper in every respect.

My doctrine:

I look to the East, by way of the traditional Japanese or Mediterranean schools. But these inherently reinforce what I already intuit. Each element of furniture should

  1. Respect a utilitarian function of some incremental return, acquisition and secondary effects considered.
  2. The material design should not transcend function.

Rarely do I find furniture respecting the above heuristic. Most seating contraptions inspire too much seating. This, in turn, gradually deforms the skeletal system and stimulates further non-conductive sedentary activities.

Likewise, most storage/foundational structures inspire further acquisition of like objects that don’t confer much benefit towards a meaningful existence, modestly put.

I henceforth appeal to mostly empty space.

Traditional Japanese layouts respect the design choice. I occupied several such lodgings in Japan, recalling mostly empty rooms of tatami, a ground-level table with a pillow for seating, a mattress stowed in a closet for nighttime use. Rarely had I felt a comparable harmony.

In varying countries I lodged at settings of severe bricolage: a table constructed of a cross-section of crudely carved wood, height-adjustment mechanics improvised (abandoned books for all I care), cute pillows for seating, much emptiness (save for the noninvasive arts and crafts).

An easily movable floor mattress is all one requires for sleep. If you manage to soundly asleep, I argue that it serves. And usually comforts.

Might you increasingly move around during a night of sleep? Sure, especially when unaccustomed. But what’s the infraction? It promotes blood flow. You’ll wake up, alternate sides and resume sleep, especially when not needlessly self-burdened.

Concerning sleep, completing your necessary REM cycles is of greatest importance. And once morning, 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 sense. Depending on seating preference, you’ll frequently switch position and inevitably stand for variety. And that’s splendid. You should not remain seated for too long.

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

Whatever the arrangement, I rather the seating and sleep surfaces promote at least some discomfort. I want the constant reminder to shift position.

Come time to 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 thus spend half the time standing at the kitchen bar: convenient, no adjustment but a slight keyboard elevation; the other half seated on two narrow cushions atop a solid floor. (The odd sofa and the few chairs I don’t generally use but for exercise props.)

Whatever the rationale obliging you to sit, I still prefer a few alternatives to comfortable chairs. An exercise ball is one. I spent years with one of these.

Alternatively, I recommend the cheapest and most uncomfortable chair, no armrests, no ergonomic state-of-the-art (or any) back support. A plastic chair or some primitive piece of wood with four legs suffices.

The setup will recruit your abdominals to sustain healthy posture. It will also incite you to more frequently rise.

Until we construct living, bio-chemical furniture capable of erratic motion on its own accord (unlike the repetitive, predictable pathos of the massage chairs), we must take active measures to keep the endoskeleton solid.

No industry or furniture manufacturer concerns with your physical or mental health, not long term anyway. Usually quiet the opposite yields far better profit margin. The burden lies entirely with you.

Western culture attaches too much status to elaborate furniture. Some furniture even I find stimulating from an artistic standpoint. But a Bauhaus museum exhibit quickly satisfies the curiosity.

Though 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?

If compelled to exhibit art within your home, need it not suffice to hang it on walls?

And if pallid emptiness is of concern, garnish a few corners and sills with a plant or two. Pleasant visual stimuli does not demand heavy spending.

Exploring the playgrounds we call cities, I occasionally stop at curious establishments for a quick coffee, writing and existence pondering. These too strive to be glamorous. Elegant furnishings, climate control, higher commodity prices: as if the factors necessarily fostered a superior experience.

I rather see a superficial one: corporate, spreadsheet-examining employees, overworked baristas, lack of cohesion, emphasis on the superfluous over the fundamental.

On the contrary, I prefer the glamourless: plain, cheap, wooden or plastic tabletops (ideally ground-level furnishings with pillows for seating); fans, ventilation over air conditioning; relaxed, engaging occupants.

Emphasize the essential: the beverage, the accommodation, the spaciousness. Owner-operated small businesses more frequently meet the criteria. Though that’s for a different topic.

My furniture philosophy aligns strongly with minimalist practices. Do more with less. Be satisfied with the few things of simple property. That over the appeal for an ever increasing quantity and elegance as means to combat the tedious and the unfulfilling.

Questions, comments? Connect.