• John Diamond-Nigh

A quart of talk paint

House theory #2. Houses like good conversation. Hardly are the words out of my mouth than part of me insists that, no, space is best in solitude. Mere silence. Think 3 in the morning, cup of tea, ghostly light, monastic tranquility–what could be better?

Walls absorb good talk the way whisky and an oak barrel swap flavors. A musician friend tells me that banjos get better just absorbing their own music. Think of a living room as a large cello that matures with sound, with laughter, with music, it absorbs conversation and through some sort of paint-and-drywall alchemy, transmutes it into a more and more complex, mysterious and dynamic atmosphere. It is almost a haunting, if one can use that word in a wholly positive way.

Sounds metaphysical, but I really believe that. Interiors I have designed are created on this principle–great conversation should happen here, and if it does, it’s a sign that the dynamics of the space are good. By the same token, good conversation will make the space better.

In short, a great space rattles and intrigues people; it fosters conversation. We discovered, when we moved into our home, that our New York sofa was too large. A gregarious couple of prospective buyers arrived, sat on the sofa and still were sitting there three hours later. Out-of-staters that we still were, it was a deep leap into the traditional Appalachian mind, with stories worthy of Bocaccio, utterly uproarious, and by the time they left the walls had been ‘sanctified’ Appalachian as effectively as if a Pisgah druid had sprinkled holy water over them. I’ve been in several 19th century Merchant/Ivory salons in Paris. If you listen carefully you still can hear the heretical talk of Baudelaire and Delacroix, like some hidden layer of sonic wallpaper.

In our own home, Lynne and I welcome friends and have hosted numerous groups. The option of making an easy comfortable circle of chairs has worked best for us. Rectangular settings always leave some folks in a corner. (When designing the house I drew a big circle on the floor plan and adapted things to that.) Coffee flows and conversation grows richer, livelier, lovelier. Of course it’s a bunch of congenial human brains at play, but it’s also those brains in the context of an uncluttered, talk-hallowed, flower-colored space. I always suppose that the house is thinking too, prompting thoughts, laughing more than any of us. A residue of mirth is still on the walls next morning.

So much of our communion now is online. Just like this blog, or our Instagram accounts. Both have their place. But there is a charisma between two people standing or sitting in conversable proximity, within the porous arms of a great space that, until all of us are mere holograms, will occupy the avant-garde of design for a very long time.

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