Rented Minimalism

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 3 Permalink 0

A place for the knitting

Aesthetic minimalism is a bit like anorexia: There is no satisfactory end point until everything vanishes. It is a style set upon its own extinction. That is why, as you are trying to strip everything to modern design essentials, all normal life-processes are working against you. 

As a friend of mine used to say, “You get the bathroom of your dreams finally and everything is just right – a sleek pure empty box of a space, hardly even looks like a bathroom at all but more like a Malevich constructivist painting – and then you wash your hands and Kablam! You’ve destroyed the whole effect. Drips everywhere, a rumpled towel, water spots – just ruined. Don’t even think of using the toilet!”

Still I persisted in the disease through my 20s and 30s. The last empty concrete-box highrise apartment in Miami I jealously and painstakingly guarded as just a single leather sofa facing the unoccluded glass wall of the sea. Anything more would ruin the mood, which was intended to be both vacant and contemplative. 

But I have another friend who was once a starlet of the 60s Mod set in England, and she shared with me from her long arc of experience in these things, “Ah yes, dear. That modern stuff is all well and good. We all do it while we are young, but one day you will wake up and wonder, ‘Where am I going to put my knitting?’ And after that it’s a slippery slide to Louis-Phillipe and brocade.”

As she is in most things, my friend was right in this. So soon on the heels of my most extreme minimalist moment, here in France I have settled with M. into fussy antiques and developed opinions on all sorts of frumpy details like cornices and chandaliers. These days we consider Louis-Phillipe to be brutalist modern, Empire to be masculine, and all our desks have drawers in them, for the knitting and all the rest. There is nary a hint of minimalism at le Camparol.

So the rental house in Mexico last winter was like revisiting an old friend. The bare bones and clean lines were as good for me as breathing the fresh beach air. I had not realized how far I have slid, and how much I sometimes miss that empty-clean control.

And what luck, we didn’t bring any knitting with us to the beach to have to worry about.

In the Spirit of Frida Kahlo


Kahlo’s historic Mexico City residence.

Mexico is on fire with new architecture. The modernist roots there run deeper than you might think. This particular brand new house was very obviously an homage to Frida Kahlo’s 1930s blue cube house in Mexico City, where she lived alongside Diego Rivera’s red and white cube (not with Diego, mind you, but with a gangplank extended).

I assure you that this rental house was more comfortable. Functionalism has become a lot more functional in the last 80 years. This place had excellent mattresses, ice machine, parking. Frida had none of that.

But like Frida’s Mexican house, just beyond the metal-framed doors and windows of Donald’s clean blue beach cube there were the beautiful complexities of the land and traditional culture rubbing right up against the brutalist concrete.

If anyone is ever looking for a place to slip away to a 2-bedroom beachfront box, Donald has the keys at a very reasonable price. Ask me for his rental info.