Melissa Hope Matlins

The New Design Ascetic
February 23, 2009, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, Sustainability

At their most relevant, design objects are a reflection of the moment that we live in. In leaner times, design downsizes accordingly, casting off the trappings of the baroque in favor of an austere, and even ascetic, sensibility.

The coveted objects of the past decade were born of excess and eschewed function in favor of frivolity. If I had to select one piece as a symbol of this heady time, I would single out the absurdly oversized chandelier.

The oversized chandelier is an entirely non-functional object. Unless you harbor a devious plan to incapacitate a ballroom’s worth of revelers in a very dramatic fashion, you probably don’t need one. A new asceticism, coupled with a renewed interest in ecology, is paring design back to its roots in function. The oversized chandelier has been usurped by the humble compact fluorescent bulb. The chandelier-lovers deride it, but it looks like progress to me, and its going to light the way toward a more purposeful future for design.


Must we repent, banish decoration and bathe in dumpsters? Probably no. (Although it does look roomy.) But as designers, we may want to take a hard look at the detritus around us and put our thinking caps on. I don’t want to see another bathtub carved from a single chunk of marble excised from the ground at the opposite end of the earth in a pricey apartment, pretty much ever again. There has to be a more intelligent way to make things.

Dumpster bathtub image via MAKE


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