The magazine cover revealed one of the loveliest living rooms imaginable: Hand-painted silk covers the walls. Antique Louis Seize tables scattered about; a Picasso hangs on another wall. A Bavarian crystal chandelier sheds light on the ebony flooring. Guests may seat themselves on suede sofas, or read a rare book parked on a bookcase.
There’s just one problem: You’d never dare let a child loose in it. It’s a reminder that even when it comes to architecture and home design, worldview plays a role.
In her book, “The Making of Home,” Judith Flanders describes the work of a French-Swiss architect known as Le Corbusier, who made modern, open-plan architecture hugely influential in the 1920s and beyond.
But did ordinary people actually like the ideas of Le Corbusier and his colleagues?
The problem with high modernism, according to Flanders, has been its tendency to “focus its attention more on appearance than utility, both in architecture and in product design.” Seldom did modern architects concern themselves with the needs of daily life—staying warm, getting groceries into the house, cooking, eating, cleaning up after meals. Yes, they invented the concept of “form follows function,” but in practice, they ignored it.
“If a house looked sleek and streamlined, it was modern,” Flanders writes. “If a wall had no electrical sockets showing, it was modern, even if it left the residents nowhere to plug in a lamp. If a chair enhanced the design, it was good, even if it was too low, or too narrow.”
When it came to textiles and tableware, their designs “were not easier to use (like non-stick pans), nor easier to care for (such as linoleum flooring, which didn’t need intensive polishing). They just looked good,” Flanders notes. No wonder housewives didn’t like them.
Nor did architects care about what Flanders calls “the essence of homes:” that is, “how homeowners experience their domestic spaces.” In fact, some philosophers, such as Theodor Adorno, considered the very idea of home as the enemy of modernism. German philosopher Walter Benjamin considered domesticity itself as “physically and mentally cloying,” Flanders writes.
In his 1863 essay, “The Painter of Modern Life,” the critic Charles Baudelaire “described the perfect flaneur, or man about town, as one who lives ‘in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite . . . To be at the very centre of the world’ is his ideal. Such a man is “solitary . . . detached from both family and home.”
Modernism was eagerly embraced by urbanites who spent much of their time “in …the café, brasserie and restaurant,” notes Flanders. Many people live this way today, especially in big cities like New York and Tokyo. Some live in apartments that are designed and decorated as though children had never been invented.
But this is not the ideal for Christians, who embrace biblical teachings, not only about the importance of family life, but also of the value of permanent things. Home is—or should be—a place for companionship, for rearing children, and having friends and family over for meals, while the dog begs for scraps under the table. (At least, that’s what sometimes happens in my home.) It should be a cozy and comfortable place for putting our feet up, for reading, perhaps the Bible, and for praying together each evening.
The story of modern architecture is a reminder of how worldview influences every aspect of life. We should keep this in mind if we’re planning to decorate a new home in such a way that our own children will not be comfortable in it.
Instead, they should feel, as Dorothy did, that there’s no place like home.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: February 15, 2017