• John Diamond-Nigh

8 tips for spaciousness in smaller spaces:

-high ceilings

-few walls

-lots of natural light

-easy circulation

-technology sensible, inconspicuous–as in ‘leprechaun, please play Mozart, softly’

-one diagonal (wall) if possible

-high degree of flexibility

-the only door you really need in a house is to the bathroom

Statement right off the top: I like things small and nimble, both for ethical and artistic reasons. We are caught in this curious moment when narcissism wants everything bigger, more ostentatious, while the strains of crowdedness, pollution and social disparities urge a reconsideration of ‘bigness.”

I recall my wife saying years ago that the prime aim of her youth was to become a “thoroughly modern woman.” Not rich, not famous, not the chatelaine on 5th Ave her mom expected her to be, but modern. She would go to college, travel to France, get her Ph. D, marry who she wanted to marry. Fly around in a red sports car. Live in a tiny condo in downtown Portland. Alas, that feels like a slightly retrograde aspiration now with its optimism, its faith in modernity, its echoes of Virginia Woolf. Or maybe not: when I think of our most modern-minded students, where are they now? A journalist shuttling between Nairobi and Beijing; a photographer in Mongolia, a designer in Paris. New York, in fact, is a little too local. Home is a pied-à-terre. A flying foot on the earth.

Virginia Woolf and that famous room of her own–it’s still a defining envelope of anyone’s autonomy. Not a palace, just a room. Think of the shimmering images of women painted by Vermeer going about their humble or exotic tasks in intimate domestic settings. Or Chenonceau, that jewel-box ladies’ castle in the Loire. Its birdhouse library is one of my favorite spaces on earth. Or think of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, two kids, quartered in a small apartment in the Chelsea Hotel. Continue: think of Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keefe, Yayoi Kusama; modern women, modest spaces. Is there something inherently modern in their artful hand-wrought rooms and have women, particularly writers and artists, forged a refreshing new paradigm here.

Let’s go a step further and get rid of the big/small split. What if we really rethink the spaces that we inhabit in the context of technology, of the fluidity and plurality of life right now, combined with the rising exhaustion of old status indices (who really wants to live like Mitch McConnell?), what would we find? Would the most humane and exciting spaces we make for ourselves just be small? Would excessive space look as archaic as a showboating old Cadillac?

I love that term–a foot on the earth. From time to time, Lynne and I stay at the Paramount Hotel in New York, designed by the French designer Phillip Stark. If we took a tape measure to our room, we’d likely be alarmed at how minute it actually is. So what? Like a tiny chapel adorned by Giotto in the early Renaissance, it’s intimate, dynamic, and reinvents, like Giotto did a long, long time ago, old notions about what actually constitutes exhilarating space.

As cities fill up with more and more people wanting a foot in the urban heat, our abodes will have to get more concise. So much old space was spatial obesity; it was space drinking too many cokes in a day. Alas, such spaces will go on, I’m not saying they won’t, like the pieties of narcissism and extravagance, until it hits us that the old habits of greatness and grandeur are getting just too boring.

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