The Furniture

Louise Aleksiejew

  • U+1F453-019




  • w.n.

    Black print, 6,4 × 5 cm

  • Annuaire de l’Essonne, p.341


Somebody sketches out Sims furniture. It is somebody’s profession – they get up mornings – to sketch out virtual furniture, which will fill the virtual houses upon the grid pattern of the virtual ground and serve virtual characters in their virtual daily lives. The EconoCool refrigerator, the Bidet Brothers’ Co-zee toilets, the Kidscupboard baby bed. On the authorized downloadable platforms of EA Games, fans expand this official catalogue with an assortment of chairs, tables, desks and beds of their own creation – the workmanship of the pieces is perfect and the 3D sharp and slick, although their modernity jars with the crazy identity of the first games.

Somebody sketched out my furniture. The black bookcases (the wide one, the sleek one), the folding stepladder, the compact desk, the filing cabinets screwed to the non-woven wall covering on the walls, the bed from which I am writing, the customized wooden nightstand in turquoise gloss paint (the can said lagoon), the laundry basket, the wardrobe with its wobbly swinging doors… Right down to the cheval glass hanging on the wardrobe, the curtain tiebacks connected by steel cables, and each of the mismatched frames punctuating the space – all of it has been designed. The handle on my window, the knob on my radiator even, somebody sketched them out.

My shelving unit is called Billy, my future chairs Kathia. But I don’t know the names of the first people to draw their outlines on a piece of paper. I know nothing about the affection, indifference, or disgust they felt for those designs, which became a set of specifications for a production line, then an assembly line, then my furniture.

I’d like to design furniture. I have a piece in mind that would start at the doorway into my room, run right up to the ceiling, incorporate a nightstand and the empty space needed to hold a lamp, continue above my bed, angle around to change walls, and stop at the end of the L. In the end it amounts to the hypothesis of a solidarity among all the pieces of furniture already in place, but by filling in the gaps the new piece would increase its storage capacity considerably. I’d no longer have to turn books round to slip into the bookcases’ slots; you could read all of the title at one go without having to turn your head to one side.

It’s also the idea seen in “the entertainment unit with incorporated mail cubby,” designed in 1996 by Joey Tribbiani in the Friends episode title The One with Frank Jr. Not rushing things, drawing on his willingness to lend a hand, and trying the patience of his roommate, Joey builds a piece of furniture that proves too large for the space of the living room where it is supposed to go, blocking easy access to the two other rooms. It stays put for a whole season until Joey shuts himself inside to demonstrate that it is big enough to hold him (which leads to the rest of the apartment furniture being burgled). A year later, during the traditional Thanksgiving episode, it’s Chandler’s turn to shut himself up in a crate to make amends because of a fling he had with Joey’s girlfriend. Joey’s supposed homemade piece of furniture was clearly purchased in a big-box store; the rows of little holes for adjusting the height of the shelves tell viewers as much. On the other hand, the crew must have salvaged the crate from among the stuff used to store or transport props. I like the idea that at some point they had to get out a tape measure to make sure that the bodies of Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry would fit into the two pieces of furniture. I can imagine the actors undercutting the fear of the coffin with a few well-chosen wisecracks. Height, depth, width, the assistant gestures, like in scuba diving, It fits.

I sketched out my design of a piece of furniture. It doesn’t fit. The desk, built in 2016 with the help of the expert cabinetmaker Xavier Leprettre, had an integrated bookshelf. I intended to use it in the apartment that I was going to find near Paris, but I had attached all the shelves with wood glue. The thing couldn’t be taken apart and didn’t fit in my car. I gave the desk away. A few months later, in the apartment that I had eventually found near Paris, I built a door without drawing up a design, to be able to limit access to my room, which was set up in the living room, in keeping with the normal practice in flatshares. The things goes too far in. I stuff several millimeters with bubble wrap. I scotch it in place. It stays together. A groove of blue foam allows me to slide the door without scratching the floor.

What fits and is neither too tight nor too loose but perfectly adapted to its environment are the curtains by Vanessa Dziuba. I discovered them at her place because they exist nowhere else save at her place. They are blue and green, made from broad strips of fabric that have been joined. She probably created them on site, i.e., thought up on the stairs, sketched out in the office, measured, stitched and cut on the floor, sewn on the dining room table. Their dimensions match the windows of her art studio-dwelling, that is, high and functional. They sport the colors of her work, the blue and green she uses in her paintings.

For nearly a year, my mother stored her jewelry (earrings and necklaces) on an orange, blue, and green dressing table. The three colors of that piece of furniture matched three free-standing units that fit into one another like a large wooden puzzle. Three columns which, a few months earlier, had served as the pedestals of three pieces of ceramic, orange, blue, and green, which were on display in a group show at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen. Driven by both the need to rationalize her space and a search for an appropriate piece of furniture for her accessories, my mother had moved the plinths to my parents’ room to give them a new mission – furnishing them with a new lease on life. I stayed out of her way, amused by the nerve she was showing in the circumstances (she hadn’t let me know beforehand), its irony (I wanted these objects to go beyond their role in displaying art and belong fully to sculpture), and quite happy that her recycling guaranteed me free storage (thanks, Mom).

The very etymology of meubles (furniture) calls out us to move them around. Hence the shifts and changes that are common (the bed, like a shelving unit, takes everything that doesn’t fit along the walls), novel (the desk becomes, for a few cuts of a jigsaw, a workbench), and pragmatic (the stepladder classifies, step by step, pairs of shoes). The chair is combinatorial, i.e., workout support, stepladder, chest of drawers for clothes. Other pieces of furniture have only a provisional existence. Laura Porter rolls a glass disk over to two metal plates folded at right angles and constructs a coffee table; bricks and planks are propped against the wall to create a precarious, though infinite, set of shelves.

This instability sparks fantasy. I cherish the happy memory of teenage weekends spent reorganizing the space of my room, moving my furniture around until I had found the right combination, reconciling daylight, traffic flow, and the balance of masses. Just as I was falling asleep in the reoriented bed, I would discover a point of view on a room I knew so well which was new to me, and for several days afterwards, until habit settled in, it was like sleeping in a found photograph.

Even younger, while on vacation for a week at my grandparents, sleeping in that room they called the little office, where my mother before me had slept, made me forget the layout of my own room in the family home. Every mental projection was useless. The temporary room had replaced in my mind the plans for the one that awaited me at my parents’ house. This amnesia filled me with excitement just like the note forgotten in a trouser pocket or the approaching hour of afternoon snack time. That is, I would soon reconnect with my belongings. I soon made a game out that joyful anticipation, looking to mentally recreate the map of my room, and I would stop myself as soon as the outline of a piece of furniture began to loom up too precisely.

Of these experiences of accommodation that age has placed beyond my grasp I have kept only a certain habit, that of lending the return from vacation a sacred status. For uprootedness today has lost its enchanting effects; in the rooms that I rent in Vienne when I’m traveling for business, sleep falls on me heavily like an axe. The dreams that then take me away are filled with such a penetrating sense of confused wandering that I need to wake up in two phases to be rid of them. The first consists in opening my eyes and the second in recognizing around me the wrought-iron mirror, the empty wardrobe and the tourist bureau document strangely framed like a family photo. So many signs reminding me that I am not at home, but in an apartment in Poitiers at thirty-six euros per night that is rather poorly sound-proofed so that I can hear the snoring of my neighbor on the other side of the wall.

The pieces of furniture around me are not the furniture of others, furniture that has been lived in, but rather a décor selected by a host in a catalogue, from a double page titled urban daydream or casual romantic. Everything is gray, light-colored wood or powder-coated metal, of mediocre workmanship that looks good in photographs. The sheets are dotted with rhinestones. In another apartment where I regularly put up, it is clearly the color that determined the furnishings. The table, plastic tray, cups, flatware handles, mismatched knickknacks, towels, and place mats are all sea green. Yet behind this aquatic designation lies a whole palette of nuances, and as many hitches and horrors, for my landlady has purchased the pieces of furniture and the objects adorning them at different times and in different stores while working from her memory of the color.

I get a letter. Or rather that character to whom I’ve given my physical appearance and the first name of Gaïa, the pseudonym I attribute to my videogame avatars, gets a letter. It’s the Happy Home Academy, who congratulate me on my good taste and award me a goodie in the shape of its logo, HHA. Animal Crossing furniture collections are also determined by their style, themes, and colors (somebody sketched out these pieces of furniture). By collecting the complete line of ornaments and arranging them according to the revised principles of feng shui you can earn points. Points lead to lots, even trophies, which can be displayed among the dozen of pieces of furniture in blue wood, rattan, or shaped like apples. To avoid disturbing the room’s coherence, people don’t though.

All you have to do is press the Y button in the latest version of the game if you want to put away the furnishings in their pockets. They are clearly large enough to fit an exercise machine and a shower stall without stretching the garment holding them. You get a similar feature in Sims 4 thanks to an inventory in which you can store playable objects and props. Objects brought together by the website TV Tropes, including other fantastic devices, called Bags of Holding, like Mary Poppins and Hermione Granger bags, a Doraemon pocket, or Mask pants, ground in popular culture a fantasy of unlimited storage. I am surprised sometimes to find myself longing for that superpower. Moving house would be a cinch, one trip, sparing both the backs and arms of friends and the fragile edges of the furniture; weekly tidying up wouldn’t have any blind spots, those dirty hard-to-reach corners where balls of dust, hair and dead skin gather; and quarantined bedbugs would pop their tiny clogs after a year, deprived of bodies to bother.

On the now-naked walls, the sun would sketch out the furniture.


Louise Aleksiejew (2020)

Invitation made on the occasion of the season Esthetics of Use, Uses of Esthetics, first movement, artifice