In 1349, Giovanni Boccacio wrote The Decameron about 10 young people who escape from the Black Plague to an idyllic villa in the hills above Florence. Our homes, albeit far from the Fiesole hills, have always been a retreat from the world, a place to create a parallel universe from imagination (or more likely, Instagram), but has the lockdown compelled us to view our interiors in a more thoughtful, meaningful way?
Like petulant children banished to their rooms, we sulk about rearranging our belongings and eventually get lost in the process of being homebodies. We now have time to consider how comfortable that sofa really is to lie down on, the best arrangement of chairs to hold a conversation or the best spot to catch the morning sun. These are much more meaningful reflections on interior design than "I must have that cane peacock chair". At last, we are focused on living in our spaces, not just looking at them.
This week as I lay on the sofa, frustrated by the cushion arrangement and awkwardly arranging my legs so they caught the last sliver of sun, I was struck by how time slowing down has gifted us a heightened experience of our tactile surroundings: the cool smoothness of the linen sofa, the itchiness of the mohair throw (I'm done with mohair). It's that hyper awareness one can only get from drugs or a phenomenal meditation session (I've experienced neither).
As an interior designer, whenever I embark on a new project, I ask the client to prepare a brief: what they want from the home, how they entertain, what interiors have inspired them, even how many shoes they own (wardrobes are important!).
This week, a new client's brief read: " Coronavirus has forced us to reconsider how we live, and we want to live simply. We realise you specialise in high-end residences so hope that you can make this work". It was the most refreshing and appealing thing I'd heard and I relish the challenge.
Of course, interior design will always be more than comfort and escape. It is as much an extension of ego, a show of how we want to live, a sign of the times, as fashion. When we stop looking at beautifully curated Insta-apartments in New York and start trawling our favourite home stores for vintage mugs, yes it is a return to simplicity but that simplicity itself is a curation. There's something ironic about scrolling through our phones looking at images of simple handmade objects, I suspect we will always live with this aesthetic irony.
And so, as the pandemic spreads in the world outside, we seek comfort in tending our houseplants, fluffing the linen cushions, literally re-arranging the deckchairs, as life as we know it sinks into the unknown. And what beautiful, faded teak deckchairs they are. Savour it.