Fruit Bowl Manifesto

Generally, in magazines concerned with the design of homes, fruit bowls 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 fruit bowl 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.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.

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 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. If a photograph in this magazine includes a fruit bowl, it's there because the homeowners eat fruit.

Our philosophy of fruit bowls 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 an historical movement from the first half of the 20th century, left over 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, 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 the 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 essay "Ornament and Crime." He was one crabby Modernist. Take 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 any number 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

P.S. We prefer our gingerbread decorated.


Originally published in Dwell #1, October 2000