A Frame For Life

I'm as fond (nay, obsessed) with interior design as ever. Right now, I'm contemplating a mini kitchen renovation. I'll probably rent for the foreseeable future and, since I can't ever find a building to rival mine, I expect to be in my lovely, little place a while yet.

"Design can be a powerful force. I have never understood why interior design is so often underestimated, misunderstood, trivialised. It is too often dismissed as something superficial, without intrinsic value. An 'add on'. It's a mistake that it is considered a luxury to be applied if there is money left at the end, rather than an integral part of making and shaping new realities from the outset." - Ilse Crawford, A Frame For Life, p. 25


The New York Times recently developed this rent/buy infographic. It's quite illuminating. Apartments in my neighbourhood that rival the size of mine start at around $600k (there are smaller apartments for less and cheaper neighbourhoods, but given how happy I am here, I'm comparing apples with apples). According to the infographic, I could spend up to $1,934/month on rent and still be better off renting. I spend nowhere near this on rent. Pair this with Ben's old post about renting and I'm sold.


My building is also a lot more special than most Toronto condos. I recently sat at the Starbucks across the road and listened to an English woman loudly declare what a communist eyesore (lol!) my building is. But I love this old place; its curved deco wings and generous proportions. Sure, there are frustrations. And because it's a rental you inhibit many small things, deeming them beyond control. This deco grand dame is well past her best days in that regard and rental companies do no adopt the custodian attitude. But I like having a sense of a place that expands far beyond my tenure and this place has that.


Still, I think about little things I could do to my own place to make myself happier. I consider work that most people would think insane for a renter to take upon themselves. But I feel differently. I feel like it's my life I'm investing in, not somebody else's building. And I relish the process of making small improvements. Moreover, I feel that if another person enjoys this place after me, that's a good thing to pass along, not a reason to resent spending. I mean, this is how heritage works, right? We look after things for the short time they are ours but hope that's not the end of them and that they end up in hands as loving.


"We look at a project from physical and emotional perspectives, practical and poetic, individual and social before creating a design that engages us physically, emotionally, subliminally and sensorially, so as to make a place that enhances life and enables us to thrive. A place that people love. You can design the most incredible place and yet it requires people to make it a reality. Buildings and their interiors are made to be used. From the outset, the people who will live there, use it, operate it, adapt and adopt it are as much a part of our understanding of the context we are working with as the financial facts or the physical possibilities." ibid, p.28


I've been reading Ilse Crawford's beautiful book A Frame For Life recently. Confession: I don't normally pay that much attention to the text in decor books. Crawford's approach to interior design is very different from the more cosmetic approach of many designers (and indeed the fully superficial approach expressed in most style-over-substance, consume-consume-consume decor mags).

"I learnt design on the ground. I must have seen around five thousand different interior spaces over the years as an editor, and was struck by how few felt right, no matter how good they looked. In fact often, the better the photograph, the less engaging the reality. So I left magazines. I began researching for myself the idea of interior architecture and design that could enhance life..." ibid. p. 27

Crawford's approach applies just as much to those who rent as to those who own. It applies to those taking on long-term labours of love and those who move fast and frequently, living a life in flux. It applies to domestic and professional and public spaces too. Because, as she would say, no matter how long for or under what legal terms you occupy, the space you're occupying is a frame for your life.

All images via Studioilse.
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