Interiors at the End of the World
Zoë & Sophie Wonfor
There are tiny houses in the back field. Maybe twelve of them. I don’t know why it always starts with these matching houses, but it does. Dreams needn’t be explained. Symmetrical, they are likely rectangular, the shape of a single wide trailer, a shipping container, but maybe smaller – a motel room, a westfalia, a station wagon, a walk in cooler, a space. The shape of a space. Unfolding, enclosing, more so unfolding. Like a many-sided box, unfurling. So that the strangeness of a different thought is all the starker, crisper, more clear, more easily cared for and brought into focus. The egg yolk is bright against the white, no matter what state it is in.
“To the semi-nomad of contemporary economic life the standardization of residential clothing, nutritional, and cultural requirements affords the vital quotient of mobility, economy, simplicity and ease. The degree of standardization is the index of our collective economy” (1)
I avoid calling these homes and just call them housing, because there is something deeply embedded in ‘home’ that describes ownership. What if the future did away with ownership? What if this housing economy was one of ownerlessness? To understand it as a sharing economy is a good start, but what is striking and obvious, is that, it will all be a part of an economy that has yet to be invented, one that will grow out of conversation, experiments, research and time. It will be messy, and will of course fail several times until its edges organically appear. There is great potential for happiness without the burden of ownership (2) what a tonic to think about ownerlessness.
Could this really be? Can ownership be evaded? Divided? The power associated with ownership diluted amongst so many, that it becomes bled of its nefarious nature, that it becomes evident as a flimsy delusion, and all that is left is how we live, communicate, reciprocate, teach, learn and lend skills to prosperity, until all that is left is the kinds of truths that are ineffable because they are what is immediately present, in how we stand and work and share space.
These living spaces become about use and not about property, they become as much about pleasure as they do about work, and above all, they tether beauty to usefulness.What else can we consider intuition, if not this?
“Through a culture of retreat [one can fully] participate in public life” (3)
They are discreet, they are dark, their black walls let them blend into everywhere. The wood siding has been charred in order to weatherproof the wood (following the Japanese method of Shou Sugi Ban). The roofs are slightly sloped as to accommodate the skylights over the bathtub, the kitchen sink, and the bed, but not too steep so that the creeping thyme and moss on the roof can still grow.
There is a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, a reading room, and a small screened in porch at the end pointed towards the back field, a view that goes into forever. Vastness within a defined space. Potential. Impetus to dreaming. Dreaming being so often bred from resistance. The bedroom furniture is all built in, the blankets are made from local wool, the bedsheets are woven from local flax, and there are big saggy canvas curtains that pool on the floor in front of the window. They are heavy enough to keep in the heat in winter, and keep it out in summer. Somewhere in the house there is a potbelly stove. There is an alcove above the bed for books, rocks, glasses, earplugs, a candle. The skylight in the bedroom makes it easier to not have a night light, we all get better at going to bed with the sun.
The kitchen comes with a hot plate, nesting wooden bowls, basic utensils, lumpy clay plates and bowls made over the years by guests and artists in residence with clay from a nearby pond. Then there are spices and dried herbs from the kitchen garden, an endless supply of eggs, lamb, farro and barley flour (since that’s what I will be growing, harvesting and milling by the time the future arrives). There is a built in drying rack that drips directly into the sink, and a soap holder built into the sink itself. Pleasure becomes doing the dishes with sun warmed water, that is plumbed in from one of the rain barrels outside. This type of work becomes anti-work.
Even though there is a hot plate, most everything is cooked over fire on the grill set up on the back patio, because everything tastes better this way. Sad wet recipes are transformed when cooked over a fire, you become a better planner, and learn a new kind of patience cooking like this. You get used to starting a fire every afternoon. The house is impregnated with the smell of wood smoke.
“The elemental building blocks of human society are ultimately domestic....revolution begins in private.” (4)
The bathroom is just that, a room, for a bath. The room is tiled with dark tiny tiles, floor, ceiling, walls and tub. The bathtub is small but deep, and is filled from the same rainwater collection tanks that feed the kitchen sink (I’ll be married to a master alternative plumber by this time, and the plumbing will be beautiful. The ever changing palette of oxidizing copper pipes and fittings will make you glad it’s all exposed). The tub is also equipped with an inline water reheater - which means that when the water starts to cool down, or if you leave it in for a bath tomorrow, you can reheat the same water. Again, and again, and again. There is a skylight above the tub too, so moonlit baths become the norm. Homemade soap fills the room with big steamy wafts of clary sage, and vetiver, and lavender.
While the bathtub is indeed beautiful, the best part of the bathroom is its composting toilet. This is the heart of everything I care about, because the future I want is not one that wastes drinking water on flushing waste away into an abyss. A five-gallon home depot bucket and sawdust from our woodshop is the entire system. The whole thing is so basic that it’s hard to believe it works, but it does. It’s housed in a built-in tiled bench with a bookshelf and a good view out a picture window into the woods.
The reading room, is filled with books that previous residents have read, dogeared, loved and left. These collections wax and wane, becoming strange organisms, that grow, and shrink, and change, and think. Every wall save for the floor to ceiling picture window, is a built in bookshelf (again here, big saggy canvas curtains). Books, special dead moths, strange seed pods, and indirect-light-loving houseplants coexist in the shelves, the room smells of woodsmoke and rose geranium. There is a chair that is mostly a couch, with a high back, and an abnormally deep seat cushion, which I suppose turns this chair-come-couch into a chaise longue. It is upholstered with old drop-cloths, speckled by time and sunlight, and becomes the resting place for all types of odd heavy wool blankets and quilts. The covers on the heavy down pillows on the chaise are needlework experiments, a palimpsest of someone figuring out straight lines and patterns.
"If we all had sex with the person we loved, instead of the person to whom we are bound by mortgages, the world would improve. By allowing economic relations to pollute…[personal relations], we make people miserable: marriage is a social machine designed to turn pleasure into property." (5)
The porch, is, obviously, screened in. No point in a porch unless it’s all screen. Screen like the lens through which you look, like the way you perceive, the way you encounter, interact, interface with. There are a few shelves on the back wall to keep candles and candle holders. Maybe an ashtray?
There are alcoves built in all around the house. There is a very good stereo. Also the more I think about these houses I realize that i don’t want hallways. I think they might be a waste of space. Compromising potential bookshelf space, bedroom space, kitchen space, living space. I want to have to walk through each room in order to get anywhere. Paying accidental attention to things you weren’t thinking about. This is everything, though, the accident of paying attention. How it draws you back towards yourself, where your limits begin, end and merge with where you are, how your space shares space with you. Accidental attention is what brings presence, which ultimately brings inspiration, the ideas and incidental innovations which make spaces into familiar spaces.
These houses become a part of the landscape. They belong to no-one, but rather become bound to place. They are shared and they are private, in the summer there are no doors and life intermigles with fireflies and the occasional lost swallow, dogs and people move in and out, and everything can be swept right out the back door.
There isn’t an end to any of this long thought, but maybe there is a moment to pause, and maybe that moment is here. These houses encourage living, and eating, and conversation. They are places to work, to sleep, to play, to think about a future, to stare at nature, to eat eggs. These are the houses at the end of the world.
(1) “The Unhomely Bed,” by Aristide Antonas, in Hannes Meyer Co-op Interieur (Wohnungsfrage). Haus der Kulturen der Welt: Berlin, 2015.
(2) “A Room Without Ownership” by Pier Vittorio Aureli, in Hannes Meyer Co-op Interieur (Wohnungsfrage). Haus der Kulturen der Welt: Berlin, 2016.
(3) “The Unhomely Bed,” by Aristide Antonas, in Hannes Meyer Co-op Interieur (Wohnungsfrage). Haus der Kulturen der Welt: Berlin, 2015.
(4) Sight and Insight in the California Desert, Kate Bolick for T Magazine, October 2017
(5) “What Can We Learn from Utopians of the Past?” by Adam Gopnik. July 30th 2018 issue of New Yorker Magazine.