We’re happy looking to future but our hearts lie in the past
IN the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, along with the accounts of human suffering and individual heroism, came stories of community spirit and cohesion and selfless neighbourliness showing that out of adversity really does come some good.
More surprisingly, we have become aware of just how many affected homes had been equipped with back-up generators. Unfortunately, many of them could not click into action in the areas afflicted with power cuts because they had generally been installed in basements that were completely flooded with water or, even worse, raw sewage. These generators had originally been installed to provide power for heating and light and in New York’s skyscrapers, operate the lifts. However, for many households, they could be used to charge up mobile phones, iPads, laptops and computers. These provided both communication links with the outside world and a source of information.
This appetite to absorb modern technology in this way is a perfect example of our willingness and need to embrace modernity. We can’t get enough of it and it seems that we can’t live without it. In streets and shops, on buses and trains as well as in the home, a mobile phone or tablet is rarely far from our finger tip control.
Oddly enough, at the same time, there is a powerful desire to look back and embrace the life styles of earlier generations. Just consider the popularity of Downton Abbey on television, attracting an audience of over nine million, or the numbers of visitors to our stately homes where we can see how people lived “downstairs” and “upstairs.” Don’t forget that National Trust membership now exceeds four million, many of whom make regular visits to country estates and some of our grandest houses attract huge visitor numbers: Chatsworth House 716,000 and Castle Howard with almost a quarter of a million, both dwarfed by Longleat with over 1.3 million visitors.
We look at these historic homes with romantic or nostalgic eyes but always with fascination and even adulation. Their influence on house building architecture has been enormous. Just think of all the neo-Georgian houses that have been built in the past 30 to 40 years or the mock Tudor house building in the 1930s with front facing “Tudorbethan” black and white timbers. Ponder how few modernist or International Style houses were constructed at the same time.
Our desire to succumb to modernity while looking back into history does not indicate any inconsistency. On the contrary, this helps gives us an understanding of our place in the present. We buy into the developments of tomorrow’s technology while respecting the past. Not surprisingly, then, our homes may be filled with the latest gadgetry but you will also find antiques, photographs and souvenirs from grandparents and reproductions of Impressionist paintings. The most expensive paintings bought in auctions were Portrait of Adele BlochBaner by Gustav Klimt, painted in 1907 and sold for $135m, and The Scream by Edvard Munch created at the end of the 19th century and sold for $120m. Clear signs that someone sees huge value in old masters. Quality and good design simply sit comfortably together anywhere. A medieval tapestry can look at home in a Georgian mansion or modern furniture can be stunning in an old farmhouse. So next time you hear someone looking at a fine example of contemporary design utter the cry “I can’t put that in my house!” have the reply ready, “Oh, yes you can!”
If you need a reminder of just how useful the old can still be, look no further than those wind up gramophones that belt out scratchy music without any electricity and with no need for a backup generator. Or a pen that will still write whatever the weather.
Robin and Patricia Silver are owners of The Home store at Salts Mill, Saltaire, www. thehomeonline.co.uk