An early morning in late summer. Light from a cloudy sky falls evenly into the small room from the window on the left, under a partly closed roller blind. No particular object inside is highlighted, each is democratically equal. The floor is made of narrow, carefully fitted wooden boards. There’s no carpet, no rug. Opposite is a wall, painted white. It’s empty – it has no picture rail and no hanging pictures, only a skirting board with a plain fascia.
A simple wooden table stretches out its two solid sides from the wall. Its top is veneered but it looks thick and solid. On it, the largest object is a computer, placed just right of centre. The shape of its rectangular black screen, rounded corners at the top and a matt silver metallic panel underneath, echoes the shapes of the wall and the table. The keyboard, lightly canted forward, is tucked underneath the monitor.
Next to the computer is what at first sight seems to be a lampshade but is really a roll of thick white paper, a poster. To its left sits a square set of nine wooden boxes, each opened by inserting a finger into a small hole at the top. Most of the cabinet is obscured by an unframed picture, painted on board. Its image is of the resident cat, its limbs sprawled out and its face wearing its usual permanently startled look. (The cat itself is absent. It may be spread out in the next room, on the rug whose colours match almost exactly those of its grey and white fur.)
In front of the boxes is a laptop, closed, and a small carrying case, and, next to the wall, an Anglepoise lamp, set at 45 degrees to the line of the table. Its tense springs are held in silent equilibrium and its arms are anchored by the heavy flat cone of its circular base. The crooked line of its black electric lead counters the regularity of its white metal arms. The hood shielding the bulb, like the top of a wine bottle, narrows towards its top, and the light upon it modulates tonally from cream to grey.
There’s one other piece of furniture, immediately to the right of the table: a small tower of six metal drawers or trays mounted on four miniature plastic castors. Each tray has a central silver-grey handle, circular in profile and rectangular in shape, and a holder to receive a label (though no labels have been inserted). On the roof of the tower a terracotta pot, sitting on a white saucer, contains a small plant. It seems a primitive plant. From the top third of a single gnarled trunk radiate long green stalks, between two and three inches long. They go up, down and in all directions, and look artificial, like the leads in a junction box. At the end of each stalk is a single egg-shape leaf, green with an off-centre white spot on the obverse of the stalk’s connecting point.
Finally, there are objects placed on the wooden floor under the table. Two black loudspeakers bookend a collection of old records. LPs, maybe around eighty of them, lie on the left and on the right are singles. The LPs are mainly upright, but the singles lean out from the vertical at varying angles, like concertina bellows. In front of the singles and the right-hand speaker sits a miniature gabled house made of cardboard. Its roof has red overlapping ’tiles’. In its gable end is a round hole, so the cat can enter the house and hide there. But, as I said, the cat is not here.
The owners of these objects, it won’t surprise you to hear, are not only cat owners. They’re well educated in design. They share the values it’s inherited from its modernist roots – economy of expression, the avoidance of elaboration, precise juxtaposition. (The only object on the table that looks out of place is an electric iron, an ersatz seventies model that sits uneasily with its neighbour objects: probably it was abandoned here hastily just before its owner left.)
Modesty of possession and careful design maybe reflect a broader scrupulousness on the part of those who live here – about how to live in the best way in 2016. One way of responding to the age we inhabit – a time of grotesque inequality, worship of wealth and licensed inhumanity – is to fight against it, politically and publicly, with the support of like-minded people, and to aim for a better world. But another, not inconsistent response is to live your private life in a way that simply refuses to comply with the demands of our current, extreme model of capitalism. If its demand is for us to consume and to continue consuming, in order to resume economic growth for the benefit of our rulers, it’s a radical act to refuse to consume, beyond a few chosen, needed objects. Almost as radical is the insistence that those objects are things of beauty, arranged together to give pleasure, out of reach of those seeking to manipulate us and make us conform.