November 20, 2012


The new ruralism: how the pastoral idyll is taking over our cities: Meadows nestling beside tower blocks, children cavorting in rustic playgrounds, not to mention all those farmers' markets - these days, our cities can't seem to get enough of the countryside (Paula Cocozza, 11/18/12, The Guardian)

Children's play is only the start of it. Everywhere you look, the countryside has crept into cities and towns - the way we shop, eat, read, dress, decorate our homes, spend our time. Street food is sold out of revamped agricultural trucks, or from village-delivery style bicycles. City-dwellers are booking into a growing number of courses on rural life; urban bees and chickens are commonplace (though do keep up: ducks are where it's at now). And when Rebekah Brooks wanted to get the prime minister's attention? "Let's discuss over country supper soon."

In Liverpool, according to Grant Luscombe, founder of environmental education charity Landlife, wildflower meadows have been sown across the city from a derelict site next to Anfield football stadium to an estate of tower blocks in nearby Kirkby, where schoolchildren bring their easels. "It's like Monet," he says.

It might seem a leap from the meadows of Liverpool - you could take a train to Euston in central London and be met by another wildflower meadow outside the station - to the beautiful artificial bird nests and dandelions that earlier this year decorated the famous windows of London department store Liberty, but there is something of the same impulse behind them all. We can't get enough nature in our lives.

It is a trend whose tendrils are wrapping around the walls of our homes with flora and fauna-themed wallpaper, rustic furniture and apparently endless bird ornaments, so you can celebrate the pastoral while stuck in front of the box - that's the box that's overrun with nature programming, of course. Or perhaps with your feet up and a copy of Robert McFarlane's bestselling The Old Ways, a paean to the delights of rambling.

Every other month Elle Decoration proclaims "the wonders of wood". Used apple crates are hailed as a stylish storage solution. The humble milking stool is exalted as a furniture shape of prototypical purity by hip designers such as Another Country, its proportions seeming to convey some sort of Platonic ideal. "A stool boiled down to a minimum", is how the man behind Another Country, Paul de Zwart, puts it, as if the chisel has scraped away the layers to release an essential simpleness lurking within. It is a beautiful stool, and a clever one. Appearing at once simple by nature and simple by design, it begs appreciation of all the complex calculations that have produced it, and promises to take its owner one step nearer to an uncomplicated life.

As De Zwart well knows, his stool demonstrates the most fashionable way to join a leg to a seat - with "a loose tongue", a traditional rustic device. If you don't know what that looks like, check your chairs. Where the top of the leg pokes through the seat, you will see a little wooden strip dissecting the circular top of the leg, like the line through a pill. (If your chair legs don't poke through the seat, there's no helping you.)

Not surprisingly, the most exalted woods in current design are not the exotics but humble pine and oak.

Posted by at November 20, 2012 7:51 PM

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