Interiors, the third skin

“…those odd agglomerations of stone and brick, each with its excrescences, ornaments, and characteristic furnishings, its specific and immutable forms, its intense, heavy atmosphere, with which his life was intertwined as intimately as his soul with his body. Such places exert tremendous power; their effects on our lives are subtle and pervasive…”
(Lytton Strachey – A History of Private Life)

Designing that third skin: the task of the interior designer.

Interiors, the third skin: The skin + the clothes + the interior box. The architecture that we touch, the one that touches us. That which is feminine, the texture, the dreamlike, the experiential. That which is tactile that comes into direct contact with the body: the third skin. What do we touch after our clothes? The inner space, that other skin, the texture. How do we live? What vocation do the spaces have? What use? How to enhance the architectural space in space of use. Places that invite living rather than places that reject life. The rigid completeness of the equipped space annuls life.

The incompleteness of the design of the interior space celebrates mutation and life. Where to stand as an interior designer? Where do I stand as interior designer? In the existential problem of inhabiting. The essential problem of habitat. To design interiors for others is to collaborate in the possibility of a vital habitat, mutating, changing, in movement. The scope of designing has a limit; we lay out a vanishing point that the user always completes. The work is always completed by the user. The lived in space. The living space.

One case: Walls of books. Lived books versus lifeless books (still…). Walls of books. Books from the Victoria and Albert Museum versus the shelves at Yenny bookstore. Walls of books that were grabbed, read, underlined, touched, put back on the shelf, grabbed again, with notes inside, a card, a photograph, a newspaper clipping between its pages, put back on the shelf. Life. Vital and mutating space. Living interior space.

Another case: Texture. A certain texture is either inviting for a specific use or not. It affects human behavior. It offers possibilities of use or takes them away. For example, the floor of the Tate Modern London, the carefully studied rugosity of the American oak is an invitation to lie on the floor, to draw, to observe from the floor, to work sitting on the floor… The imperfect texture is an invitation for use, it even allows for the possibility of some filth. It permits life—vital, imperfect, dirty perhaps, untidy, disorganized, diverse, unstable, mutating.

And another: Beauty and Filth. Tanizaki touches on the topic masterfully in his In Praise of Shadows, “…We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light, that whether in a stone or an artifact bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. Of course this ‘sheen of antiquity’ of which we hear so much is in fact the glow of grime. (…) If indeed ‘elegance is frigid’ it can as well be described as ‘filthy’. There is no denying, at any rate, that among the elements of the elegance in which we take such delight is a measure of the unclean, the unsanitary. Filth, the Orientals carefully preserve it as it is to transform it into an ingredient of that which is beautiful” .

What then is the task of the interior designer? To suggest that third skin. What mood it will have. What degree of intimacy it will generate. What character it will have. What emotions it will trigger. To define what vocation the spaces have. Define it in just one word, just one image. Essential. And thus, delimit the project decisions to a circumscribed framework. What is pertinent or not. Pertinent or not to that vocation. Pertinent or not to that essence.

Paula Herrero – October 2010.