Experts who are paid to think about the way we live have come to a new conclusion: There's something more important to us these days than clothes, restaurants, vacations and cars. The Right This and the Trendiest That are giving way to the return of a time-honored concept--Home.
For a variety of reasons--from fear of AIDS to a yuppie baby bonanza to the advent of the VCR--we're turning inward. We're redecorating and remodeling and adding on, and then we're staying home Saturday nights to enjoy all the work we've done.
Some experts call it a cocoon stage. Whatever the term, we're experiencing a period of at-home contentment that rivals anything "Leave It to Beaver" ever promised. And that means a large impact on design.
Why is Home so important these days?
The answer that you guys are getting older is only partly right. Our yearning for Home, Sweet Home is really less about just eating-in than about mental refuge. We work hard. There's never enough time. We strive to maintain friendships, be good parents and spouses, stay fit, and preserve a few minutes each day entirely for ourselves. No wonder after we get off the freeway and open the front door, we want to leave the rest of the world behind.
What makes a Home?
Like anything else, home styles evolve with the fashion of the day. The elegant Victorian home always featured a "fainting couch" for the ladies. Our grandmothers virtually lived on their screened-in front porches.
Today, we're more interested in having a fireplace to gather 'round--even if it's just a symbolic meeting place in a climate like ours. We want oversize, overstuffed furniture--big, comfortable sofas and chairs--where we can really laze. We buy king-size beds so the whole family can lie in front of the VCR. And for the same reason, we buy the largest television screens we can afford. We want cheery kitchens for family and friends so they'll keep us company while we cook gourmet meals (OK, let's be honest--while we reheat prepared food in the microwave). We want whirlpool bathtubs big enough to share.
But this is also Southern California, and heaven forbid we would stay home without style.
We'll sit on orange crates until we can afford an Italian sofa. Then we'll wait six months for delivery after we've paid. Our kitchens are filled with pots and pans, but they're not ordinary pots and pans. They're professionally approved restaurant ware.
Forget consulting consumer ratings on appliances anymore. We want to know whether they're available in designer colors.
But designer furniture is an entirely different story. Just as hearts once palpitated at the mention of Halston and Klein, names such as Starck and Saladino are making checkbooks flutter all over town.
In the same way that we educated ourselves about fashion, we're now learning about value and construction in the home.
Consequently, we're making better decisions. No matter if a particular designer's chair decorates the French president's private suite. If it's hard on the derriere, we say forget it.
One effect of turning inward has been to de-emphasize the Right This and the Hottest That. Finding our own personal style has become much more important than keeping up with the Joneses. Some of us take risks with avant-garde shapes and offbeat materials. Others prefer classic 18th-Century mahogany. Familiar, traditional styles are in vogue.
With steely accuracy and a dash of humor, fashion-designer-turned-furniture-designer Ralph Lauren tapped right into our yearning for comfort and timeless elegance by introducing a leather wing chair tooled just like a wing-tip shoe this spring.
The point: Easy-to-live-with styling counts for a lot in these turning-inward days.
High up in Laurel Canyon sits the home of a well-known, 40ish Los Angeles architect. Built 10 years ago at the beginning of architecture's high-tech phase, this famous and still beautiful house was constructed almost entirely of industrial materials. Surfaces are steel and glass, not wood and stucco.
When it was completed, the interior of the house was a similar expression of minimalist design.
In the past few years, however, something has changed. Soft velvet sofas have replaced geometric vinyl-covered cushions. Steel ceiling girders are tinted sky-blue. An antique capital has become a post-modern coffee table. A fireplace--the classic symbol of Home and Hearth--has been added on one wall.
If one of the most avant-garde, least home-like houses in the city can spin its own cocoon, then the experts must be right. We are seeking a retreat from the world.