7 May 2015

Stylelessness is Lawlessness

Take the properties that make it to The Style Files: they have oodles of charm and character and are tastefully appointed. In fact, in my latest comment on their website in relation to the lovely guest house on the Greek island of Lesvos (pictured below), I simply summed it up as: "The period features have been retained and there is just the right amount of modernity added to the interior to create that fine balance between ancient and contemporary." Balance is key - and so is respect to the fabric and soul of the property.

As featured on The Style Files

The kerb appeal is a preview, an anticipation, an invitation of what awaits inside, in a kind of "as above so below" formula (the interior being a transposition of the exterior), and in the case of our Greek abode, there was no disappointment to be had. The quirkiness is there in terms of what gives the house its unpolished charm. The period feature details that confer the property both its ethnic (i.e. mediterranean at large, and more specifically 'Greekness') and rural origins: whitewashed walls, blue shutters, paved terrace, working fireplace, wooden floors and ceilings, etc. We imagine nooks and crannies, niches and other little tidbits of charm to discover for ourselves.

As featured on The Style Files
These old places are little gems of style and inspiration. That is because they have been compassionately and painstakingly restored, and carefully brought to the 21st century while retaining their old charm and character - thanks to their owner's common sense, good taste and vision, facilitated by a competent architect and/ or interior designer, and materialised by builders in the know and skilled craftsmen. This might end up being a costly endeavour, yet not necessarily so. I have seen some stunning restoration projects conducted on a tight budget, but on a limitless amount of passion, belief, research, patience, personal investment of time and effort, and caring.

Sadly I have also witnessed the exact opposite: the utter wrecking of style and character of an older property, either on a tight budget or on a generous amount of cash! I could not resist posting some photos that speak the horrid results better than words could. Here we go: -

Case Study - Apartment for sale in Bastia (Corsica): Judging from the kerb appeal, we anticipate the interior to be just as quaint and provincial and Italianate as the outside... Well, better prepare you for the shock!

Montmartre in the sun, looks poetic and promising! (pict source)
Oh joy, it's a nightmare! (pict source)
Ermm... A 2015 revisit of a 70s canary birdcage (pict source)
Bland and cheap and non-descript pop to mind like a squirt of mustard to a hotdog. I can only commiserate the tomettes that would have clad that floor, or the ornate walls, and maybe cornices and millwork that would have asserted the interior its bourgeois status. The current interior is as exciting as a cheap roadside motel. I just want to rip this canvas up and start again! Don't you?

I blame those fly-on-the-wall TV property programmes that strongly encourage homeowners to 'depersonalise' their interiors as a lifestyle must, or in a view to selling their property fast. By depersonalising, they mean remove (or at the very least reconfigure and blend in) any striking structural or period features from their abode, dumb down style so that it appeals to the widest array of people.

House in Doli (Mani, Greece), via My Paradissi

Secondly I blame those home improvement retail stores, as they channel mainstream products, associated to mainstream ideas and results, to a mainstream customer-base that along the years have levelled down their personal tastes to align with and match what the market offers. The convenience of those stores has taken natural curiosity away and made practicality the end-all and be-all. You end up with those mass-produced standardised fixtures repeated across towns... and countries, like a bad case of fleas. Convenience also means that there is a tendency for buying ready-made rather than make it yourself or have it made to spec and customised.

Finally I blame those cowboy builders, who take on property renovation work that goes way beyond their scope and skillset, just for the paycheck. They deliver a botched job that includes the intentional wreckage of period features - because they were incapable or unwilling to salvage them - and replacement with poor substitutes from the above-mentioned retail outlets. It's all about shoddiness and expediency and maxed out profit. Sadly I've had to deal with this sort of situation.

Exquisite! The Royal Makkum Collection from Country Floors

As a consequence of the above three factors, we get impoverishment in taste, and that leads to stylelessness. And stylenessness is the ripping up of style and the ripping off of our cultural and architectural legacy. Where we should be able to be the depositary of heritage and carry it into the future, preserved and enhanced, we witness swathes of heritage being disfigured and wrecked, and replaced by a mock-modernism of 'style' that is nothing less than styleless.

Further (visual) food for thought: How to Make an Attractive City by Swiss writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

08-Sept-2016 Update: Since 2006 the Carbuncle Cup has been awarding prizes to the UK's latest architectural horrors to date. For a crunchy taster, check out Carbuncle Cup 2015 and 2016 !

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