I read an article recently about an interior designer in New York touting clarity as a key element in a design. Strip away the clutter, simplify, and create a sanctuary. This quest for clarity strikes a chord with many and has been repeated and re-interpreted many times in our past. Left to our own devises our world can get cluttered and chaotic, till finally it’s time to sort out, edit, and pare back. Those thoughts have been re-echoed it seems countless times as new design movements attempt to define themselves. There’s always this effort to get back to purity or nature or some sort of simplicity we once knew and has somehow been buried in a world of clutter. That’s my view as to why Shaker furniture has had such an lasting hold on so many. It’s stripped down and uncluttered till just the bare form and function are left. Even 18th century American furniture which may appear busy to modern eyes, is quite constrained and stripped down compared to the work coming out of London or Paris. Without getting too philosophical about why “simple” usually has more staying power than ”bling”, or why more is not always better when it comes to furniture, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts.
The more elements contained in a design, the more difficult it is to achieve a unity. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we revere a Corinthian capital. So much going on and yet it all works. Thinking more along the lines of furniture design though, a piece of furniture is part of a larger interior space. Ideally we are striving for a unity with that interior space as well as the piece itself. The more complex, the harder it is to achieve.
Oddly enough although I’m going on about clarity and simplicity, it provides some unique opportunities to introduce carving, inlay, or ornament. A well thought out and restrained carving can have a much more powerful and delightful effect if it’s set off by a plain surface. A lone inlay of a hummingbird or maple leaf is much bolder if floating in a sky by itself than competing with a busy background.
I ask myself. Can I see the form clearly? Do all the parts have a function (even if that function is to emphasize the form)? Do you have similar questions you pose when editing and searching for the right notes?
George R. Walker