Karrie Jacobs


The Fruitbowl Manifesto

(Originally published in the premier issue of Dwell Magazine, October 2000)
You know what this is, right? It’s a bowl of fruit. Maybe you’ve got one this pretty, this perfect, sitting on your kitchen counter. Or maybe not.

Generally, in magazines concerned with the design of homes, fruitbowls abound. High-priced photo stylists spend hours arranging them. You see them in photographs of kitchens and living rooms. Often there’s a bowl of unblemished green apples on the bathroom vanity or a bowl of pomegranates in the bedroom. The fruitbowl is sometimes accompanied by a vase of tulips, glistening with spray-on dew, and precious little else. No quart of milk. No crumpled bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies with only half of one cookie left at the bottom. No dish of Meow Mix on the floor. In short, no signs of life.

At dwell, we’re staging a minor revolution. We think that it’s possible to live in a house or apartment by a bold modern architect, to own furniture and products that are exceptionally well designed, and still be a regular human being. We think that good design is an integral part of real life. And that real life is the thing that has been conspicuous by its absence in most design and architecture magazines.

We understand the impulse, the desire to show rooms that are insanely perfect. There is something compelling about an empty room or a house in which no one has lived. Something virginal. It would be an awesome responsibility to be the first one through that door.

Perfection is intimidating. You have to be on your best behavior to live with it.

By contrast, we want to demonstrate that a modern house is a comfortable one. That today’s best architects are able to fashion environments that are at once of the moment and welcoming. And the only way we know to demonstrate that a home is truly livable is to show it as it is lived in. In other words, if a photograph in this magazine includes a fruitbowl, it’s there because the homeowners eat fruit.

Our philosophy about fruitbowls is directly related to our feelings about modern design.

Here at dwell, we think of ourselves as Modernists, but we are the nice Modernists. One of the things we like best about Modernism – the nice Modernism — is its flexibility. Rather than being a historical movement from the first half of the 20th Century, leftover and reheated, we think of Modernism as a frame of mind. To us the M word connotes an honesty and curiosity about methods and materials, a belief that mass production and beauty are not mutually exclusive categories, and a certain optimism not just about the future, but about the present.

Maybe that’s the most important thing. We think that we live in fabulously interesting times. And that no fantasy we could create about how people could live, given unlimited funds and impeccable taste, is as interesting as how people really do live (within a budget and with the occasional aesthetic lapse).

While a lot of magazines show homes as pure space, so isolated from the particulars of geography or daily life, that they might as well be constructed on a Hollywood sound stage, we think that those connections to society, place and human experience –call it context — are exactly what make good architecture great. Those connections are also what makes architecture interesting to people who aren’t architects.

One more thing: Be grateful that we are not more like Adolf Loos, the Viennese architect who wrote the seminal 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime.” He was one crabby Modernist. Loos, for instance, wrote the following: “When I want to eat a piece of gingerbread, I choose a piece that is plain, not a piece shaped like a heart, or a baby, or a cavalryman, covered over and over with decoration.”

Were we Loos-ish, we would denounce the styled bowl of fruit as an anachronism, an example of old-fashioned handicraft that has contaminated untold numbers of otherwise pure Modernist environments. We would argue that the only truly Modern arrangement of fruit is one made by machine, a symbol of mass production: the canned fruit cocktail. We would slip cans of Del Monte (in heavy syrup) into every photo.

We would. But we’re too nice.

— Karrie Jacobs, editor-in-chief*
P.S. We prefer our gingerbread decorated.