How Furniture Shapes Us

What is your favorite seat in the house?

Mine is a cozy wingback that I found on Craigslist last year. It is perfect for reading, napping, and tea-drinking.

reading chair girl

I am fascinated by the idea that while we shape our individual homes, the furniture of the times shape us in ways we may not think about. I’ve read Home and House-Thinking–both very good–and they’ve made me think about room layout and nesting in an entirely different way. And so here we are, with chairs from a different time, shaping people in a way we would probably refuse to stomach.

It came up again when I was in the Chinese garden the other day and saw the ornate, square, rigid wooden chairs that were exhibited there. They looked beyond uncomfortable. Wikipedia tells me that chairs were mostly used for ceremony and status until around the 16th century.

Here are a few interesting types that are no longer common, but perhaps should be.

gossip chair

This is a rare three-seater gossip chair, perhaps 18th century. Has anyone seen one of these in person?? I could totally imagine the side whispers and meaningful glances that could go undetected in the parlor room…

caquetoire-gossip chair

This is a “caquetoire” from the French word Caqueter, meaning to chat as well. It didn’t facilitate the gossip unless you posed a bunch of these chairs together to face each other. No, the designation came from the triangular design: a narrow point at the back, and two wide points at the front, meant to accommodate those bothersome hooped petticoats known as farthingales. You know, the reason women had to turn sideways to get through doorways in the 16th and 17th centuries.

tete a tete

This one is a rich example from the 19th century, called a tete-a-tete, or a head-to-head. One can imagine “putting their heads together” come to life in this setting.

What could you imagine saying or thinking, or doing in this, that you might not in your normal chair?

They go by various names in different times and locations, but these are all forms that I no longer see in modern furniture choices (by and large). Why not?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on why. Lack of face-to-face interactions? Too much time in front of the computer? The fall from grace of the formal living room? The need to have everyone focus on the television?

What do you think?

And wouldn’t it be neat to have one of these and buck the trend??

Read or Unread… Which is Better?

I have one main bookcase in my apartment. (And of course, plans for many more) As I was looking at it the other day, I wondered how much of its contents I’d read. There are widely varying beliefs held about the right way to curate a library, from the ubiquitous articles on which books you HAVE to read, to the answer which Anatole France gave to a philistine who admired his library and asked a standard question:

“And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?”

“Not one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sevres china every day?”

I’ve only read a couple books on books, but I do find it fascinating.

My own main bookcase shows me at about a 40/60 split: I’ve read about 40% of the books, 60% stand ready for the call to battle.

Well, bibliophiles, where do you stand? What do you think is the ideal split?


Quote source

Inspiration from a Certain Place

Over the past summer, I’ve attended a number of author readings, and learned that the question almost every author gets asked is: Where do you get your ideas?

If you’ve been following my adventures since Taste Life Twice, no doubt you’ve learned that certain places (ahem, Scotland!) inspire me.

But when people ask me why I fell in love with Scotland, it usually boils down to two parts landscape, one part accents, two parts history, and three parts folk tradition/ culture. So really, you can pull apart the romance of such a place into these separate enchantments.

Today, I am thinking about getting inspiration, from a place alone. For example, take this picture:

outer hebrides bog

What do you expect to happen here? How about multiple choice:

a) Someone finds their lost wedding ring

b) Two tennis players fall in love

c) A guy gets injured, stranded, and has to amputate his own leg to survive

I bet you chose c) as the most likely, right? Hehe.

Just like when we look at art, we bring all our own experiences to the places we visit, but for some places, there are common assumptions we all make. And the middle of a blanket bog, where the wind blows, does not seem a friendly, welcoming place.

(By the way, this is a bog in the middle of the Isle of Lewis, one of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, and an area in which no one has ever lived, says the author of this article, on account of the peat and holes and water–oh, my! More pictures of bog beauty can be found in this brochure)

Perhaps it is a place where a poor wretch has to escape to and live off of after some terrible misfortune- there, a new plot! But doesn’t that happen to everyone, that sudden flash of a story after a moment’s contemplation of a scene?


This is fun; let’s do another one:

sunshine in new forest


a) A 1940s war nurse finds sanctuary from her work on weekly outings here

b) A CEO wanders around, yelling into her phone, “Can you hear me now?!”

c) A man considers whether to sell his family’s ancient forest in order to keep his business afloat

That one’s harder. I still like a) though, perhaps because I am unduly influenced by this series. And this is not to say that the other stories couldn’t happen in this place, it just seems highly unlikely. We all lean toward seeing a certain type of creature in a certain type of place, am I right? And when something unexpected happens, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but it’s neat to recognize that it is a break from tradition.

(This is a photo of the New Forest in Hampshire, UK)


Okay, final place:

new york city brownstone spring

a) A musical involving a hipster and her dog

b) A scientist discovers a dastardly new strain of polio

c) A secret gambling society starts to throw swinger parties with disastrous consequences

That one was almost too easy! a) all the way!

(I believe this photo is somewhere in New York City)


So what did we learn from this mini quiz?

a) Authors get asked a lot about where their inspiration comes from

b) Inspiration can come from certain types of places, such as a bog (just look at this fun outing!)

c) While we all have different associations because of our life experiences, some reactions can be widely shared, such as if a place is creepy, inviting, romantic, ghostly, etc. It’s interesting to see how this plays out in a whole culture’s outlook. (See this article that looks at Irish bogs + culture, for a good example)

Agree/ disagree with the above points? Argue below.