In college, my Intro to Design professor brought a unique view to our studies. A licensed social worker in a past life, she travelled the globe before attending design school and settling into life as a successful interior designer.
Nearly 15 years ago, she recounted the recurring theme she came across during her travels to our freshman class and she shared emotions from her experience that still touch me to this day.
She talked of being a social worker touring Africa and visiting mothers living in mud huts. She told us that these women tore out photos from old magazines and affixed them to the walls of their huts. When asked why they chose the images, the answer was consistent: They wanted a beautiful home.
Those women created their own vision boards, long before Pinterest was born.
The memory of her lecture is strong and was triggered a few days ago, when a designer I adore personally, and admire for her design skills and business savvy, posted an update to her friends about a fun socially responsible, potentially lucrative, project she worked on. She has a signature hashtag and she used it in the update.
I was shocked when another very successful designer piped up and said it wasn’t true:
Everyone doesn’t deserve great design.
This particular designer has the world on a string. She’s talented and lovely…as long as you stay on her good side, but is quite mean if she sets her sights on you. Her business is booming with high-end clients and a bevy of licensed products. She has always been kind to me, so things overheard were overlooked, until now.
This time, the comment stepped over the line and I called her out by saying I agreed with the poster, everyone does deserve great design, but I should’ve stood up, called her out by name and shared my dissension in the same public forum she chose to share hers.
I feel guilty for not doing so. Maybe this post is my penance.
As I deconstruct and plan out our new house, gratitude is the predominate emotion…well, today it’s running a close second to frustration because I’m fresh out of fresh ideas…and the reminder that great design is beneficial to everyone’s health and well-being is clear.
Encamped in an apartment while we renovate our wreck, I rail against the design decisions made in this place. Let’s use an electrical example:
In our small, dark, and lovely two bedroom rental unit, a visitor needs a flashlight and a field guide just to use the windowless guest bathroom. As you enter the long, dark hallway, the laundry “room” is to the left. Designed for 1970’s size appliances were fitted with bi-fold louvered doors that now reside in the maintenance office below our apartment, labeled with the unit number and L or R. The light switch for the laundry hole is on the right, four feet inside the hallway, and the light switch for the vanity is a good two to three feet beyond it.
Without an escort, it’s likely my guest peed on the floor looking for the toilet because we still aren’t there yet. Upon final approach to the WC, the first available switch is to a fan, which is all well and good if you break wind first.
That accounts for about eight feet of darkness before you ever see The Porcelain God and it’s called Bad Design. And it’s only one of the many poorly planned things I could point out in this newly remodeled and otherwise pleasant yet off gassing apartment home.
Good Design means SOMEONE thought about all the circumstances that arise in day-to-day living and Great Design means that someone thought about how people will use the space 20, 30, 50 years from now.
It doesn’t matter how beautifully your space is decorated. If it doesn’t function properly it isn’t well designed.
As we deconstruct each room, as I pour over every detail of the plans for the new house, reminders about accessibility and aging in place appear again and again. None of it is about how the space is going to look, yet. Lighting, electrical, way-finding, furniture placement, ingress and egress–these are the things that keep me up at night.
Some of my house guests will be babies and some will be elderly, while I’m somewhere in-between. How do I make it work for everyone?
By putting great design before great decor, but if it’s done right, you can have both.
That said, I am profoundly grateful for this poorly planned apartment and it’s ill placed light switches. But for grace or chance, we could be encamped in a mud hut on the other side of the world, so I’m not complaining. As our occupancy date for the new house keeps shifting, an overwhelming sense of longing to beautify the apartment is tempered by the reminder it’s only temporary, and holes in the walls equal dollars.
It’s not a mud hut and it’s not a palace but the walls are in need of some visual relief. Maybe I’ll clip some images and tape them to the walls.
The desire to live in beauty and comfort and safety is innate, no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you live. It’s a big, bad world out there and home is our refuge, our peace, our shelter…unless it isn’t.
I’m grateful to have a home, even if it’s poorly designed or, in the case of the cottage, not designed at all.
Everyone deserves great design and you can tell them I said so.
Take your design snobbery and stick it up your…oh, right. It’s already there.