the luxury of an empty room

I have two recurring dreams - one is about plane crashes.  I’m never on the plane, I’m always on the ground, watching it fall out of the sky, powerless.  

In the other dream, I discover whatever apartment I’m living in at the time has an empty unused room (or sometimes a whole abandoned wing) that I’d failed to notice until that moment.  This isn’t a creepy discovery, it’s always a happy dream.  Like Ward and Rossiter in JG Ballard’s Bilennium, I too marvel at the features of my newfound space, the sunlight dappled hardwood floors and the chalky white walls, the built in cabinets, the tall bay windows, and the occasional skylight or  decommissioned fireplace. 

My mind reels at the possibilities for all this space - a place to work, a place to entertain guests, a place to lounge and read. Finally, these will all be separate places instead of one small cluttered room.

These dreams started in my twenties, likely a reaction to living in a series of small, cheap, dingy apartments around Philadelphia, made smaller by an irrational sentimentality that kept me from tossing even the most banal of inanimate objects.  Have you seen the old Ikea commercial where the Swedish man mocks you for feeling sad for a discarded lamp?  I cry for that lamp.  Damn the Swede, I mourn that lamp.

My neurons go woozy in a similar way when I see photos of the spartan domains of the wealthy, my favorite being Rick Owens' Paris home :


To achieve this level of minimalism I need to either start making buy-your-own-former-French-Socialist-Party-headquarters-and-knock-down-the-walls money so I can spread my stuff across multiple floors, or do an extreme purge of at least 85% of my belongings.  I'm not sure which would be a bigger challenge. 

Another favorite of mine is Halston's NYC townhouse, designed by architect Paul Rudolph:

With all of these immaculately photographed spaces, I do wonder: have their owners truly curated a life where superfluous objects are simply not welcome, or are they expertly hidden?  Did Halston keep a pile of cardboard?  How about a cookie tin full of safety pins and dirty pennies, or a plastic bag full of more plastic bags?  What if those sleek black stairs conceal a crawlspace full of empty yogurt containers, old magazines, junk mail, dried out markers, shoeboxes full of birthday cards, broken rice cookers, and ratty flip flops?

As I get older I'm becoming more acutely aware of the need for empty space and the mental clarity it brings.  These days my work space is no longer in my bedroom, but it is in the room next door.  Putting more space between those two realms in the future would be a good thing.

For now, I've managed to clean out half a shelf in one of the cabinets and leave it empty, just so I can say to myself, "See, I have much more space than I need."  However, the fantasy of crawling through the linen closet and finding a second apartment's worth of rooms on the other side of the wall persists, in dreams and in waking life.

Kristen Phillips