There’s nothing quite like a room that’s all yours. Four walls or more, a window and a door, canvas-white and waiting to be etched. The things you place within it, from a matted rug to a tattered leather armchair, exist together in comfortable stasis – one that can easily be assembled or reassembled, before being disassembled once again. Never the same but always familiar, expanding in bursts and resting for pauses, but continually growing nonetheless. If you’re anything like me—a sort of 21st Century house-to-house nomad, oscillating between settling, unsettling and resettling—this might resonate with you.
The act of moving serves as a good way of condensing the scope of what you own. You accumulate more than you realise during a six or twelve month stay. A Tapiovaara chair that was sat at the side of the road for scrap, scooped up and lovingly sanded; cardboard tubes, bicycle wheels, postcards and prints. Oh, and books. Books, which more than anything else remind me of a moment in time, or of a specific place. Happy finds in hidden bookshops, travel guides and phrase books; the “I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you” interlaced with the mass online purchase.
Ownership, as Walter Benjamin said, is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Even Bruce Chatwin—a true nomad—accepted that he’d eventually need a place to hang his hat. His London rooms were crafted and minimally furnished by a young John Pawson, who fulfilled his brief to a tee – but little could abate Chatwin’s appetite for a Regency couch which, in a single gesture, became the centrepiece of his sparse Belgravia apartment.
Sometimes provenance is irrelevant and it’s the thing alone which holds meaning. Worn fabric on the seat of a chair or smudged pencil marks on a table top reveal traces of use, just as the objects of the room delineate outlines of inhabitation. Amid the lived-in mess, there’s a joy in carefully composing items on a shelf. Arranging books by size, colour or author, for instance, is at odds with the complex arena of ordered disorder that each lived-in room inevitably becomes.
Perhaps the sequence of spaces that we inhabit define us less than what we actually migrate between them. Although where and how we choose to dwell inevitably shapes the way we live, it’s the curated collection of objects and furnishings that we take with us. They furrow a place inside our inner-nest, reminding us that living in a state of flux is no bad thing.