The Furniture 15-Puzzle

I love rearranging furniture. I moved frequently in my childhood and youth, and even then I still found myself rearranging my room, or swapping rooms in order to effect a change. And I’m sure it’s not just me. No, rearranging the furniture is a deeply ingrained human activity, at least in those societies which use furniture.
Athenian red-figure pelike, found in Gela, 5th c BC, slave boy, AshmoleanM, AN 1972.268, 142536When we moved in to this house, some eight months ago (I have just about recovered from the tea trauma, thank you), we carefully figured out what appeared to be the perfect living-room furniture arrangement – nay, more than that, the only workable arrangement. There were so many variables to take into account – electricity, heating, lines of sight, lines of movement, space for storage access etc etc.
I resigned myself to never moving the furniture again – in that room, at least, which is where the largest part of our furniture resides. But as time went on, I grew increasingly frustrated with the blinding sunlight bouncing off my desk, and decided that changes could and would be made.

The prospect of moving the furniture is very invigorating – to me at least. On the other hand, the execution can also prove tiring, which is why I made a scale map of the room and its furniture and decided on the layout by proxy first. (Because a little slip of paper weighs considerably less than a large desk, a shelf full of books, or a steel-based armchair.)
There was another constraint to bear in mind, however: I don’t like sitting with my back to the door. I can do it if I have to, but I tend to stay wary, which doesn’t work particularly well for getting into ‘flow’. Side on is fine, even three-quarters I can deal with, but having my back straight on to the entrance makes me uneasy. This may seem silly to you, but tell it to Wild Bill Hickok.

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Excellent defensive construction, but difficult to move around in.

I went through many many frustrating iterations before deciding – rather selfishly – that since the main reason for the rearrangement was to have my desk in a better location, I should decide that first and work everything else around it. Given the size of the desk, it would have to be facing a wall, or it would ‘eat’ too much of the room.

Wall #1 has a fireplace in it – no go. Wall #2 is where the desk was to begin with, and while I could slide it along so it wasn’t entirely under the window, the sun problem would still be in play for at least part of the day – the part when I do most of my writing. Wall #3 is directly between the front door and the door to the rest of the house – good for keeping an eye on things but who gets anything done in a corridor? Wall #4 it would have to be, but there was a problem: Wall #4 faces the front door, so anyone facing the wall would have their back to the door. Twitch, twitch.
Barack Obama moving couch in the Oval Office
I tried to re-deal the paper slips to come out as anything but a dead man’s hand. It wasn’t working. Eventually I left the graph paper and tried out some reality. I went around the room, scrunching down to chair height and staring glassily at the walls. The Caped Gooseberry either didn’t notice or tactfully decided to say nothing.

At last, I found a spot I felt comfortable, half-way down Wall #4, where the front door was not right behind me, and the sun would not interfere. Bonus: it was near a source of electricity.

Once that was in place, the rest of the room wasn’t too hard to arrange. I even managed to place the Caped Gooseberry’s desk between me and the ‘corridor’ – thus giving my subconscious another reason to relax.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

After that, of course, there was nothing to do but spend the next three hours or so shoving furniture around. (I like shoving around things that are bigger than me.) Happily the two heaviest bookshelves and the steel-based armchair didn’t need to move for this new plan.

I admit that it would have been more sensible to wait a day or two to begin, rather than start moving things around an hour before bedtime, but when I get the furniture-moving bit between my teeth there is no stopping me. As Nicole Holofcener said, “If a woman gets insomnia, you never know where you’re going to find her furniture the next morning. It’s primal.” I would add that while insomnia can be a cause of furniture moving, it can work the other way, too. Too busy moving furniture: sleep will have to wait.

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Must… move… furniture…

Well worth the loss of sleep, too. The new arrangement is much easier to get around in and a much more relaxing space to be in. I can sit at my desk without being blinded by the sun, and my notes don’t fade so fast if I leave them out. So why, I found myself asking, didn’t we find this layout the first time? Probably because of the one defect this plan has: in order to watch something off the computer on the TV, you now have to run a cord from one corner of the room to the opposite corner. First world problems. Doesn’t bother me.

As another added bonus, I am now feeling the urge to purge rising again. Opening up the space has made it all too clear just how much stuff there is in this room (and let us be frank, this isn’t the only room). Bring on the katharsis!

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Where Are You Looking?

At a screen, yes, but where are you looking? Look up. What do you see?

Though I would be the last person to suggest that a human is no more than their body, I do believe that our bodies influence us, perhaps more than we are aware, and in ways we are not aware of.

The environment we choose or create for ourselves is expressive, symbolic – perhaps subconsciously, and perhaps in a code understood only by ourselves, but symbolic just the same.

Dreaming - Nicolaes Maes

I’ve spent the last ten months looking out the window. Not the whole time, obviously, but a lot of the time I spent at my desk this year was spent staring out the window, thinking, dreaming, or just watching in case the postie came past.

Why? Because that’s where I put my desk when it arrived: under the one window in the study, looking out onto the road. But why? Because that’s where it fit without having to move anything around, without having to disrupt the way things were. It was the path of least resistance. As was gazing out the window.

Then this last week, with all the Christmas preparation in full swing (including making old-fashioned steamed puddings), the furniture-moving bug bit. I got the urge to move the desk.
It’s not a small desk (4 1/2′ wide, 2 1/2′ deep & high) and being made of rimu it’s not terribly light, either. Especially when stuffed with stationery. And then there’s the six-foot-tall bookcase full of books and papers (not rimu, but still heavy), and the remarkably heavy easy chair – both of which would have to cross the floor to make room for the desk.

I did it anyway. It was a kind of compulsion. Sometimes you just gotta move furniture.

My desk now faces the wall. To the left of me: books. To the right of me: books. In front of me: pen, paper, corkboard. Work.
It has been a good year, a relaxing year in many ways, but the time for staring out the window has passed. It’s time to get serious (though never, I trust, joyless). This is a place for work.

Paul Barthel Interieur mit Dame am Schreibtisch

What’s in front of you? Where are you looking? What are you secretly saying to yourself?