“I have often wondered what it is an old building can do to you when you happen to know a little about things that went on long ago in that building.” – Carl Sandburg.
We have a book we keep on our coffee table. It’s a book on Midcentury home design I gave my wife as a Christmas present a few years ago. She had been coveting this book for a decade before we got together but never got it.
It is beautifully done as coffee table books go. It has the kind of size and heft to make it feel serious enough to be front-and-center. Not exported to a bookshelf in some obscure corner of the house, noticeable only by its spine. It is fresh with hundreds of photographs of sophisticated, thoughtful living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and backyards. The photos are so well done they give you a sense of being in the very rooms depicted.
This book has come to represent much more than its magazine-quality photos and smart text. It’s become one of the few material things I can unabashedly claim to covet. Sometimes we covet and hold onto over time when other things we let go. As my wife and I stroll across the pages for the umpteenth time on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee together in a cliched picture of suburban living ourselves, we see way more than cute houses belonging to someone else. Inside this book, we see the lives of others co-mingled with our own. Some sort of weird design connection with the owners. It is as if we are there, at their dining tables, in the process, discussing the renovations with them. We see couples wrangling with crucial design decisions with their architects and building partners. We see them agonizing over niggling details, driven to get things just as they want. We imagine they carry images of their completed renovations–the pictures that may have wound up in this book.
In these amazing homes, my wife and I see possibility.
This coffee table book is really about all the “what ifs” in our lives. All the things that could be. We refill our coffees again and the rooms dance in our imaginations. We measure our spaces with new, ever more discerning eyes, evaluate our furniture and envision our own design and build process. We talk about our ideas and how different elements might fit together.
What I also realize is this book represents hope. Hope that one day soon we can be engaged in the sublime process of taking the existing and making it better, more livable, more entertaining and interesting. Buried among the dozen or so houses depicted here, we imagine blueprinting our own design, then shoveling the dirt, hammering walls, painting and then, moving in. It is enormously satisfying for my wife and I taking projects from concept to completion, from pictures in our minds to setting our heads down on pillows in our newly completed bedroom. A bedroom fit for an expensive Midcentury coffee table design book.
The title of this essay was borrowed from a song of the same name by one of my favorite bands, This Will Destroy You. You can learn more about the band on their Facebook page: This Will Destroy You