Room and Book , 1932. Image from https://pallantbookshop.com/product/room-and-book-by-paul-nash/

                                                                                                              Room and Book, 1932. Image from https://pallantbookshop.com/product/room-and-book-by-paul-nash/

 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so goes the well-worn saying.

By launching a new blog, BOOK AND ROOM, I plan to upset this apple-cart, investigating the intellectual intonations of a particular visual world, that of interior design, resituating interior design in the realm of the mind as well as the senses.  

In the world of interior design and its purveyors, the image is queen. No quantity of credentials, promotion or description will convince a potential client to hire a designer if a photograph of their work does not lure one towards possession, with visions of beauty and comfort, conviviality and, sometimes, even, glamour.

Yet, in the century before photography--and in the century of its ascendancy--writers of fiction were creating worlds we can, to this day, see and touch, through description in words. As Flannery O’Connor put it, fiction is an “incarnational art”, one in which the telling detail, the created or recreated atmosphere is supreme. (She mentions a pair of dusty slippers described by Flaubert in Madame Bovary.) The famous escape one may take into the world of a novel is precisely the novelist’s offering of concrete detail as well as drama. Plot keeps us moving through a text; description makes us linger, savoring a character’s clothing, city or house much as Proust savored his madeleine, its taste so redolent of lost times, remembered places.

For three decades, adding words to art, aka art criticism, has been my bread and butter. Nowadays there has been a happy addition to my work, the creation of text for interior designers’ websites. I love my work, for I love both rooms and books, and the language I am privileged to have inherited from the latter. And, there is a liberating loss of ego in composing descriptions for a project not my own, the painstaking work with which a designer foments atmosphere, beauty and meaning from what are, after all, mere tables and chairs within four walls.

I love books and rooms passionately and equally, and have spent a lifetime trying to tease out the links, apparently esoteric, between my twin obsessions. This odd life’s work has involved combating the prejudices and limitations of both kinds of practitioner: followers of the Word have no taste; decorators have vision, but no brains.

As a law student at Columbia in the early 1980s, I spent forbidden hours at the University’s Avery art library, examining issues of The World of Interiors as minutely as I might have cross-examined a witness in Moot Court. I would not have survived law school without its endless stories--the human dramas, the damning, amusing items of evidence, the smoking guns--embodied in cases; and the lavish, smokin’ images contained in The World of Interiors.

With pleasure, I now introduce BOOK AND ROOM, a blog devoted to revealing the mysterious links between literature and interior design. Sometimes a gifted designer’s room evokes a particular passage in the vast lexicon of world literature. Conversely, a fictional habitation, palpably rendered, may prod us to think of a certain designer, his or her art parallel to a writer’s particular citadel composed, not of tables and chairs, but of words.

Without words, a designer could not convey to clients, architects, craftsmen and vendors what she envisions; without rooms, the novelist’s art would be a sere shell of plot, theme and moral: in short, a treatise rather than a landscape--a place--for the reader, of pleasure and escape.

A last word: about a mentor I never met, namely, the painter and writer Paul Nash, whose 1932 treatise, Room and Book, inspires the title of this blog. In Room and Book, Nash explored architecture, furnishing and the design of books and book illustration, including typography, stencilling and wood engraving, speaking of all these arts as a unity, each with its place in the universe of Art.

As a title in the dot com universe, ROOM AND BOOK already exists, so I reversed it--BOOK AND ROOM--and lo! it was available. That BOOK comes first pleases me, for it is this arguably more opaque world of literary aspiration that I humbly submit as my own gift to the other world I love, the universe of Rooms.  

Lisa Zeiger


BOOK AND ROOM

Editor: Lisa Zeiger


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