Chandelier in recent outdoor kitchen, by Aline Johnson.
It’s tough being stuff in 2016. IKEA have come clean: in countries like ours there is just too much. We should mend and recycle rather than buy more stuff willy-nilly, and IKEA plan to help. For followers of Marie Kondo, clothes, miscellany and even mementoes and documents are viewed in a radical way. Instead of deciding what to discard, consider what to keep based on whether or not it ‘sparks joy’. There’s a real buzz around her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising.
Lightweight, portable storage ‘drawers’ in a recent utility room; DIY tools, light bulbs, sowing gear and a whole lot more can be moved around the house.
How does a furniture designer respond to this minimizing mood? There’s a seasonal post Christmas element, a dry-January desire for purity, order and less. I welcome Kondo’s emotional relationship with stuff, her conversations with, and blessing of, objects based on Shinto animism. The decision to shed something is softened with messages of gratitude towards it and hope for a new appreciative owner. This last turns guilt into virtue.
The spark-joy test is a severe one but let’s do it. Let’s make sure the furniture we use is beautiful and make us feel good. I’ve always promoted that as an ideal. Crucially though there is another dimension of design that is the opposite of stuff anyway. Kitchen design looks at how a whole space works. It is the manipulation of space, the thinking that avoids mistakes. The result might be new French doors for access to a garden or a window with a view above the washing-up bowl, designs that complement furniture and appliances without taking up any space at all.
I wonder how workable Kondo’s recipe for a perfect home environment really is. How do we know when buying whether things will spark joy sustainably? No one sets out to waste money on mediocre objects that end up as clutter. It is very difficult to gauge while purchasing whether something guarantees long-term satisfaction. Antiques have a bit of a head start as their value has been proven by not ending up in landfill (yet).
It is possible though to put together a lastingly feel-good kitchen, mainly through the use of furniture. Curves and flexibility are both pleasurable things. A Spine Island in the middle of a kitchen lets people cook, work on laptops, perch and chat together. Narrow and long, with raised height elements, it accommodates more people and allows slide-able chopping blocks with edge guides for channeling prepared food that bring satisfying smoothness to routine tasks. It also fits well into narrow rooms.
Spine Island, 4 metres long allows cooking, prepping and ‘laptoping’ mixed up together with pivoting tables and stools at the far end
Lighting has the capacity to boost mood dramatically. We can now embed a SAD treatment into a piece of furniture. The Light Dresser emits a healing spectrum of light from its surfaces, spreading wellbeing at the same time as displaying jars, fresh produce in bowls and much loved family paraphernalia.
Another kind of joy comes from contact with handmade things. Pottery, artisanal tiles, a glass chandelier, a pierced stainless steel drum made into a spice cupboard – all these can lift our mood and become friends.