new york times

Issue: November 7, 2009

Empty Nest Syndrome

There isn’t much demand for minimalist design at my house. My 7-year-old twins have never seen a white surface they didn’t think could use a little color. (Sol LeWitt, because he got to draw on walls, is already the boys’ favorite artist.) As for furniture, none of those spare, Modernist chairs, like Karim Rashid’s Oh or even Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig-Zag, will do. Their favorite place to sit is anywhere on Daddy, and that — they have explained just a bit too enthusiastically — is because Daddy is squishy all over.

For most children, colour and comfort are necessities, which may help explain why the great Modernist master — Le Corbusier — never had children. Where would he have hidden Crayola’s telescoping crayon tower and its 150 colours (16 with glitter)? For kids, less has never really seemed like an option.
But are children programmed to dislike Modernism’s hard edges and spartan palette? Not always. Stephanie Goto, the young Manhattan architect who designed Corton (a white-on-white restaurant), was a minimalist from an early age. At 8, she picked out all-white furniture from Conran’s for her bedroom. The film director and producer Eric Steel idolized his stepfather, the Modernist architect Charles Gwathmey, and says he was glad to
be immersed in his famously strict aesthetic. (Steel later named his dog Corbu.)


It’s apparently the same for Maria and Chiara Wüstemann, who recently moved from Zurich to Barcelona with their father, the architect Gus Wüstemann. Children’s toys back in Switzerland tended to be “handmade wooden sustainable stuff,” according to Wüstemann. In Spain, though, where plastic and bright colors are preferred, the girls have toys, he added, “that are aesthetically appalling.” He made most of the family’s new loft as white as a snowdrift. The upside for Maria, 9, and Chiara, 8, is that the place is big and empty enough for them to skate around in. “They seem to enjoy the freedom,” said Wüstemann, who believes the spare interior allows room for the girls’ imaginations to flourish.

Phoebe Greenwood (now an editor at The Times of London) agrees that growing up in a highly precise environment can actually be stimulating: “All thoughts seem absolutely lucid when you are in one of those spaces,” she wrote, “and the longer you stare at the white walls, the more worlds and ideas are revealed.”