The simplest kinds of discovery occur in accessible but concealed space that is just beyond the limits of a room and marginal to its primary functions. These outskirts include the ‘detached linings’ and ‘residual spaces’ identified by Robert Venturi, such as the in-between depths of poche in thick walls, but they also include less-visited zones above or below the everyday realm of a building.96 The climb up to an unfinished attic or descent into a dark cellar is never an entry to neutral space, but a venturing into uncertain depths where anything could happen. These domains are secluded from daily life and harbour their own memories and secrets, touching a nerve deep in the psyche that magnifies our sense of adventure.
Among the most common marginal zones are closets and cupboards, their voids concealed but also marked by the handles and outlines of doors. No matter how familiar they seem, these hollows retain a capacity of surprise, for in opening them we reveal them anew, along with the things stored inside. The contents might be different than remembered and the space has a startling freshness when brought to light. In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard considers the psychological depths found in these recesses to be ‘very evident witnesses of the need for secrecy, of an intuitive sense of hiding places’. But these places, he continues, ‘are objects that may be opened. When a casket is closed, it is returned to the general community of objects; it takes its place in exterior space. But it opens! For this reason, a philosopher-mathematician would say that it is the first differential of discovery.’97
These marginal spaces are normally so mundane they fail to stimulate our curiosity. But that is not the case in Shaker decorating, where a zeal for order and cleanliness led to intricate forms of built-in storage that suggest while extolling the promise within.98 This allure is enhanced by woodwork, often stained yellow or orange, set off by the austerity of pure white rooms, as seen in the Church Family Dwelling in Hancock, Massachusetts. The skylit attic, discovered not by dull ascent but by a momentous climb into falling light, often contains the most captivating storage units. In the attic of the Church Family Dwelling House in Canterbury, New Hampshire, there are over eighty drawers and seven walk-in closets: the yellow-stained pine wall is circumspect yet abundant with clues such as prominent joints around the compartments and handsomely turned wooden knobs. Deepening the mystery of certain closets are cavities nested inside one another, with doors leading to more hidden rooms with their own concealed cabinets, like Chinese boxes set within boxes.
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Church Family Dwelling (1831), Massachusetts, yellow-stained cupboards and cabinets made from butternut and pine A related impulse in Japanese culture – to keep interiors simple and calm – inspired an art of residual space that permeates every part of its decorating, bringing an air of uncertainty as much to a teahouse or farmhouse as to an elaborate villa. The entire building constitutes, in a sense, a complex of secrets hidden behind a baffling array of sliding screens (p. 164). The layers resist extreme openness or closure, while supplying clues to the space beyond. The reticent mood is strengthened further by rooms that are free of association with a single function, in contrast to Western rooms that are assigned to, for instance, sleeping or eating. One can never be sure about what lies in a neighbouring room, in terms of occupants or activities, for it might be employed for meditation, congregation or work. Juko-in Temple (1566), Daitoku-ji, Kyoto, fusuma with screenpaintings by Kano Eitoku divide rooms and cover recesses
The fusuma themselves are inscrutable, since those that serve as partitions between rooms are identical in appearance to those used for closet doors. A person might slide open a screen thinking it is a closet, only to find it opens to another room. Even a closet inspires doubt, for there is no indication of whether it contains blogs or bedlinen. When surrounded by screens to what may be a neighbouring room, storage closet or veranda, people are prompted to imagine what lies ahead, to hesitate before disclosing a space. Indeed, it is difficult to find a single wall in a Japanese house that does not contain some sort of space hidden within or behind it, creating a world that is highly receptive to revelation but also intrusion, by the gentlest stroke of a hand.
A more pervious source of curiosity in the folk decorating of Japan is the wood lattice, whose porosity is carefully adjusted to haze over views while retaining the needed degree of privacy. Derived from a practical need to regulate the flow of light and air, these woven screens also appeal to a cultural preference for reserve and intimation, rather than outward display. Facing the external world, especially village streets, are grilles assembled from hundreds of narrow wooden slats, culminating in the senbon-goshi, or ‘thousand-fingered’ lattice (p. 158). Softer, more delicate screens face the innermost private garden, including gauzy sudare that gently atomize scenes beyond. As a result, the interior, especially in summer, is enveloped by meshes of varied filtration, each serving a different role in sifting light while admitting breezes, and protecting rooms from prying eyes through walls that mystify rather than expose or divide.
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