By Regina Connell.
People often ask me what the new luxury is when it comes to the home. I get the sense that what they’re looking for is a pat answer, and a look: perhaps something involving exposed beams, industrial touches, reclaimed wood, flea market finds, etc. You know, that look.
But then that would be about buying other peoples’ labels and looks again, which is not what alternative luxury is about. However, forced to come up with something more useful, I’d say that it’s about these things: ease, what’s essential, soul, sensuality, intimacy, and subversion. AltLuxe, like many good things, is a little complicated.
No. 1 EASE. More than anything else, the AltLuxe home is about ease. It’s about not trying too hard to look like anything you’re not. You know the home that’s too overthought: you know it by sight and feel. It’s definitely not pleasure-inducing (unless stressing over perfection gives you pleasure. I am not one of those people.) It accommodates life. It accommodates pleasures large and small. It accommodates highly individual tastes and collections. It always evolves. It is perfectly imperfect.
So some of my favorite interiors books (which are really books about life) are about the ease and beauty of imperfection: A Good House is Never Done by John Wheatman, The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman, and Undecorate by Christine Lemieux.
Let ease and imperfection reign. Breathe.
No. 2 SOUL. According to Paul Bloom in his book, How Pleasure Works, we human animals are essentialists. That is, we get pleasure from things and experiences based not just on what they look like and how they perform, but the essence that we attribute to them.
Evolutionary psychologists have found that we are more likely to think that objects associated with people have essences. And research shows that we’re more likely to get pleasure from objects when we know how long things take to make (pretty much anything by hand). That’s why we’re so attracted to artisan-made products, how we attribute something special to them. Maybe it’s the soul, the hand of the maker. Maybe it’s the story of how long it took, maybe it’s the role it plays in our culture and economy (hand-made vs. machine-made).
Artisanal is soulful. Objects with history (probably originally made by hand) are soulful. Objects with a story are soulful. But the point of soulful is not to turn it into some crusade. The purpose is joy and pleasure. Too much soulfulness and you have contrived. And then it isn’t pleasure, it’s convention.
No. 3 ESSENTIAL is just that. Very William Morris, but have only what’s useful, which, in this case could be everything from functionally useful to useful to the eye. For me, the essential is about time. The right amount of stuff – high quality stuff – in your home means that you have more time … for pleasure, for contemplation, for life. And you’re not running around acquiring, acquiring, acquiring.
That being said, essential is not ascetic or minimal. I recently read an article about a couple with two kids who’d created this minimalist haven in upstate New York. It was very much about having a lifestyle about as little as possible (even for the kids). I found it achingly claustrophobic in its austerity. Living this simply might feel easier, because you aren’t running around managing the tyranny of “stuff”. But here, it felt that the people in the house were almost afraid of stuff. And so we’re back to the tyranny of stuff. The house ran them: they didn’t run the house. Makes no sense.
No. 4 SENSUALITY. Of course the AltLuxe home has to appeal to the senses in a deep way. Visual, of course. But for me, luxury is about texture.
It’s through texture that we know something is luxurious. Our first instinct, after we see something, is to reach out and touch it. It’s by touch that we know that there’s quality.The eye can be tricked but it’s far, far harder to trick the hand. We know what good cashmere feels like, what a tightly woven fabric feels like, how beautifully the parts of a table come together.
No. 5 INTIMACY. It’s about coming close, the hidden, knowing, and the pleasures of discovery. Too much interior design seems to be about the show and the spectacle. What you end up getting is a series of hotel lobbies.
It’s this sense of uncovering small mysteries that draws me to things like roll top desks, intimate wall nooks for a vase or a shrine. Doors that slide to show part but not everything… storage that can be arranged in a variety of ways to reveal different parts of an ever-rotating collection. The tansu or old typesetters chest with its myriad little drawers. A hidden nook set up for an afternoon read. A private pass through. A secret garden. It’s a Japanese ethos, but it can be play out in an endless variety of ways. That’s why I’m a little obsessed with this secretary desk (available in multiple woods), by Sarah Marriage.
What secrets lie within? Come hither, touch and learn.
No. 6 SUBVERSION. You were all probably going along merrily and zen-like till you hit this word. But there is always a profound pleasure in upsetting the status quo, in expressing yourself, in not being polite. It feels good. It’s what rages within each one of us day in and day out. It may be when we are most ourselves. And yet how we express that can vary, from the subtle to the slightly scary.
I, for example, find this drinks cabinet – the aptly-named Rockstar by Buster and Punch – charmingly subversive. Can’t quite put my finger on why but I do. Maybe it’s the way the drinks are out in the open but accessed from the top, the way the legs are designed, or maybe it’s just the name, but this has the kind of bad boy attitude that works for me and would make me smile, every time I see it.
The AltLuxe home, defined. And forever evolving.