I have been given several strange decorative objects for Christmas, along with an explanation of how they are the latest in design. The explanation, obviously, has not put to bed my misgivings, but now that I have accepted the situation, I can allow myself to write these lines with the hope I might save anyone else from undergoing my ordeal, which includes confusing a bedside table with a kitchen stool, or severing various fingers on state-of-the-art handleless living room furniture. Let’s see.
Modern design encompasses everything that looks modern, but does not look like design. You know that a table has been designed under the canons of modern design when you see that it is modern, but there is no way to see that it is a table. The rules are very simple:
If it’s uncomfortable, it’s fine. If it looks like it’s broken, it’s expensive. And if it’s ambiguous, it’s a work of art. Thus, we fill our homes with chairs with spiked wire backing, with worn-out furniture that they suspiciously call stripped, and with shapeless objects that one naively uses to sit upon and watch TV, unsure if that’s what they are actually intended for.
Everything you need to know about today’s prodigious world of home design can be summed up in one sentence: modern décor is all about modern décor. And since its first priority is looking after number one, you, your loved ones, and your comfort inevitably take a back seat. That’s why a room like the living room, once warm and cozy, has now become a cross between the industrial refrigerator of a sausage factory and the reject pile in an antiques store.
If you want to open your home to this avant-garde hurricane, I recommend that you take precautions in order to avoid accidents, depression, and other damage. Remember, if you hire a decorator, he will most likely convince you to fill your house with junk that he would never put in his own home. If you decide to follow your own inspiration, you will end up ruined. And if you are of the craftier nature, and decide to copy designs from a magazine yourself, you may find yourself moving out of the apartment after the job is done, as you will undoubtedly discover that the imitation is even worse. Besides, no artist can live inside his own work without going crazy. That said, if you are trying to imitate those contemporary designs, it may be that you have already started to lose your mind.
Bear in mind that modern design has an indisputable virtue in times of crisis: anyone can do it. If you want to have a modern chair, just take one of the chairs you have at home and break its back. Ideally, the splinters should be visible. If what appeals to you is the idea of having a display cabinet, you can take the one that is lying glassless in the attic and place it, as is, in the dining room. And if what you want is a change of ambiance in your living room, it can be easily achieved by simply replacing those run-of-the-mill pictures with empty Coca-Cola bottles. A little pop, you know.
If you’ve decided to go completely crazy, you can add the finishing touch by nailing a zebra skin to the wall. If you don’t have zebra, just hang a mink coat. If you don’t have the budget for that, you can make do with some old jeans, and then sprinkle the whole room with chocolate syrup and confetti. It’s not the same, but there must be some advantage to indulging in the aesthetic whims of a century without rules, in which every idiocy finds its happy place.
There are some trends and materials to master. For example, frosted glass, a type of glass that does not meet any of the usual properties of glass. It is not fragile. It is not transparent. It is not particularly translucent. It gives no reflection even when clean. You can’t really tell if it is dirty. And it is not usually full of whiskey and coke.
Or the technique of stripping, which consists of carefully painting or varnishing a piece of furniture or an object and then immediately scratching it with someone else’s fingernails.
Stoneware, on the other hand, is widely used. It is made with figuline clay and quartz sand paste, which is normally used in flooring. Figuline clay does not exist and neither does quartz sand, so stoneware cannot be manufactured. The only way to get hold of it is to go directly to a stoneware store. Spoiler: they do not exist.
Finally, the water-based varnish, which is so fashionable, differs from the varnish we’ve used all our lives in that it disappears when you are cleaning the surface with an inappropriate product. If you don’t want to buy it, don’t try to make it at home. You may be sure of what your logic tells you, and be convinced that if you dissolve traditional varnish in a bucket of water, you will end up with this famous water-based varnish. However, all you will get is a bucket full of a poisonous liquid, which will leave your little poodle with a varnished stomach for life. And while yes, it is true that puppies love the varnish on your living room floor, they don’t like it so much when it’s inside them.
Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist, and author. He has written nine books on topics as diverse as politics, music, and smart appliances. His most recent book is Todo Iba Bien. He is a contributor to the Daily Beast, the Daily Caller, National Review, the American Conservative, The American Spectator, and Diario Las Américas in the United States, and is a columnist for several Spanish magazines and newspapers. He was also an adviser to the Ministry for Education, Culture, and Sports in Spain. Follow him on Twitter at @itxudiaz or visit his website: www.itxudiaz.com.
Translated by Joel Dalmau