Something has been going on in this country during the last decade that I believe is changing how we relate to design. I titled this section "design is the new food" because this is a revolution that has already occurred in the food category, and it relates to how passionate, curious and knowledgeable we are becoming about design in a non-faddish way.
Why? Because we, as a country, have reached an age where we are less focused on blind expansion and are finally paying attention to the details and quality of what we eat and how we live. Or you could say that, as a nation, we've entered middle age.
Take food as an example.
When my father was my age, his idea of a good home cooked dinner was a steak on the grill, iceberg lettuce and a cocktail or beer (remember, Americans didn't drink much wine back in the 50s and it certainly wasn't cool, unless you were an artist, beatnik or poet). If my father were to be just coming up now, even not being a foodie, he'd be talking instead about a ribeye steak, arugula salad and he'd definitely be drinking wine, let's say a Burgundy or a Pinot Noir (because he'd know that this goes well with red meat). He'd have to, because the choices available to him are just not that simple anymore, and it's OK for guys to be into this stuff. Being knowledgeable about food is macho.
Cooking and food have changed.
As a result of the work of countless chefs, writers, and merchants since World War II like Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), Julia Child, and Chuck Williams (Williams-Sonoma) who brought to America a deeply European knowledge of good food and cooking, we have taken a good deal of our leisure time and paid attention to food and the cooking behind it (and broadened our influences).
The kitchen has replaced the living room as the center of the home with a wide variety of home appliances that not only cook really well, they are also status symbols. Restaurants, specialty food providers and wine makers have proliferated to feed, teach and serve our desire to eat well, eat diversely and know more about where our recipes and ingredients come from. McDonald's wants you to know they're healthy and young, hip tattoo covered urbanites treat running restaurants or starting breweries with the same intensity that their counterparts in the 60s "turned on, tuned in and dropped out."
And then there's television.
When you have entire channels devoted to food like Food Network and The Cooking Channel and celebrity chefs popping up everywhere like prairie dogs, you know something's happening. As the Chicago Tribune says:
"We may be living in the golden age of food television. Twenty years ago, you had to wait for Julia Child and a few others every week on PBS. Today, it's such a hot commodity that ABC is canceling soap operas and replacing them with a foodie version of "The View" hosted by chefs." (Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2011)
Bottom line, as a culture we undergone a massive education around cooking and food. We've "gourmetized." We want to eat a greater variety, shop smarter, cook better and talk about it.
But it's been quietly now happening with another aspect of the home: design, or what used to be called decorating.
For the very same reasons, we've begun to take a similar interest in who designs what we put in our homes, where it comes from, what it's made out of and how we can do it all ourselves.
The growing environmental consciousness has had a part in this, but so too has a desire to increase our style knowledge via design.
While design may not be quite as juicy as food, the easily identifiable beauty of a nice home that is both comfortable and intelligently put together is central to our lives and now something that we all want to focus on.
From the Eameses, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Edith Heath to Martha Stewart, James Dyson, Muji and Jonathan Adler — we look to designers now not just for the things they make, but for how to live.
Better design = better living.
It's a practical passion, but it's also aspirational as we try to create apartments and homes that express ourselves and work better for simple things like having guests for dinner, working at home or adding another child without moving.
Suddenly, everyone wants to be an interior designer and not just a cook.
And this is all a good thing, because it means that deep down we want to gain greater mastery over our lives.
As Socrates famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Little by little, we're examining the corners of our lives and really enjoying it.
So, who designed the chair you're sitting on, what style is it and what is it made out of?
If you don't know the answers to all three questions, I bet you will.
It's just a matter of time.