It rained non-stop last Saturday in London. This in itself is neither impressive nor surprising. It is not uncommon for it to rain in September, or for that matter in any month in this city. However, on that Saturday, Beatriz Colomina was hosting a bed-in at the Serpentine Pavilion, which, this year is designed by Frida Escobeda. Escobeda’s design is reminiscent of a wicker-basket and is made up of numerous charcoal-grey tiles. It is roofed by a swoop of a scaled-up profile of the tile where, the ceiling is clad by a reflective surface. The reflections on the ceiling, already distorted by its curvature, ripples along one of its edges pulsating like a poked blob of mercury salvaged from a broken thermometer, where it mirrors the shallow open-air pool. The falling rain would have been a spectacular and pervasive in the ambience of the pavilion, not least due to the reflections on the ceiling as it impacts and disturbs the surface of the pool, but also because the building is porous – in the design of its skin and in the materiality of the tiles. I have to confess, I personally did not visit Colomina’s installation, but I have been to the pavilion in the sweltering London summer, and was thankful for the air circulation and lower temperature within. Colomina’s installation is part of the Work Marathon hosted at the Serpentine where, she continues her scholarly fascination with the bed. The bed is rooted in her research on Playboy magazine. In the Playboy mansion, Colomina observes that Hugh Hefner’s bed accommodates everything one needs to both work and live. Images show numerous people surrounding his bed on a working day which, dissolves the boundary between private and public, and shatters the 19th century division of the home and the office. It challenges the intimacy associated with the bed and the bedroom. In later essays, she displays this to be far more commonplace nowadays with the advent of the internet, laptops and video conferencing. In the installation on the 22nd of September Colomina, invited guests to put on pyjamas over their fashionable attire and get into bed with her for a conversation. The strangeness of the setting – scholars in bed, in pyjamas is delivered nonchalantly as just another variation of a working space. The pavilion is littered with work tables amongst other furniture.
Colomina’s work on Hefner and the Playboy mansion was not only compelling because of her theoretical observations. It furthered the understanding of the relationship between a man and his home and, recognised his home as a set for seduction. The bachelor house is an accepted iteration of the domestic and is accompanied with numerous stereotypes encapsulated in Barney’s home in How I Met Your Mother. The pad is designed and enveloped in technology and is a showcase of success: it is a machine to ease seduction; it is a sex toy participating in the act; and importantly it is designed for a man. It is a sanctuary for the single man and it is aspirational to both men and women. Men want it, women, on the other hand, apparently want to domesticate it, and through it, the man. This is of course, a caricature. However, The Architectural Digest, in numerous issues, showcases various pads, and while they are not all designed as sex machines, they are usually associated with men with money. A bachelor is an accepted subject in the design world with specific needs and particular lifestyle enough to justify an iteration of a domestic space.
While the bachelor pad is single man’s castle, a survey on single women and their homes is limited. They are often shown to have homes that either, they share with another single woman as they wait for a man or, if they can afford to live alone, they decorate their homes in a tasteful, but stark, and non-personal manner which expresses the vacuum in their life. Moreover, it continuously reprimands them of their choice of a career over a home. Of course, the examples that I discuss above are extreme; there are numerous in-between depictions of a single woman and her relationship with her home, but it is more common to see a single woman as pitiful, and if she has an opulent home, it is more often projected as a curse. The female equivalent to the bachelor’s pad is the seductress’ den. Just saying the words suggests a predator-prey relationship, a feral incarnation that needs to be tamed. In reality, all women are portrayed as predatory in some way – cunningly angling for a ring.
Sex and the City, the HBO TV show, displays four single-woman homes, where each woman displays a different relationship with her home. In addition, in each of the apartments and especially, in the bed – its placement, its design, its ornamentation – one can view very different attitudes to their home and their lives. These apartments were designed for the ladies by Jeremy Conway as an extension of their character. The TV show is a relevant case study to understand the relationship of single-women with their homes, especially as it runs for numerous seasons across many years in the lives of its four protagonists.
Miranda and Charlotte – both successful women in the city, live in elaborate homes with rooms and doors between these rooms. Miranda’s flat in the Upper West side expresses her as a typical single-woman who has chosen her career over domestic bliss, and is silently tormented by this choice. She is seen either working at home on an expensive wooden desk or is seen on the couch absorbed in the television. In a series of episodes, she even replaces her social life with TIVO vicariously revelling in an onscreen love affair. Her bed is sheeted in neutral shades. It is framed in metal with a metal tubing headboard, and sided by mismatched side tables, each with a lamp. Miranda goes to bed to sleep and appears often wistful of the emptiness beside her. Charlotte, on the other hand, in her own apartment and the apartment that she won in her divorce settlement on Park Avenue is traditionally decorated. Her bedroom is wall papered and dotted with eclectic but classical pieces of furniture which, would not be out of place in the Architectural Digest. Charlotte’s personality is epitomised in her conservative but flawless taste. Her bed has a traditional beige silk upholstered bed-frame and is pushed against a recessed wall that frames and thrones it. Her bedroom is centred around a large white rug. Getting in bed with Charlotte, is meant to be a final destination. Both Charlotte and Miranda, interestingly, want a man to find a space within their lives, while being open, even craving a relationship, they want it on their terms and in respect to their achievements.
Carrie and Samantha on the other hand, live in studio apartments where, in both homes, the bed centres the flat but to different ends. Carrie’s flat, a small rent-control apartment is her office – she is often shown writing at her desk while her made bed dominates the background. As a writer, working from home, her bed is a natural extension of her workspace, and she is often seen in bed, reading and writing on her computer. She has but one side table. Her love for quirky ensemble and shoes dominate her style and takes up a lot of room in her tiny apartment. Carrie’s home is her refuge. She returns to its solitude, often as a way to escape her men and the bustling city. Carrie rarely brings home a man; it is more common for her to sleep over in his house. Lastly, TV’s consummate seductress, Samantha is a rarity. She is single, successful, hinted at being over forty and actively pursues men who she has no desire to keep – she regularly throws them back into the pool for someone else to catch. She lives in the trendy meatpacking district of New York and runs her own PR agency and it is not uncommon for Samantha to use her office for intimate acts, thereby, forcing a second scholarly glance towards the work table. Samantha is rarely seen at home – she is a girl out about the town and haunts chic restaurants and bars. If ever at home, Samantha is seen in lingerie and in bed and it is not surprising that her bed is covered in a bright red bedspread, reflected in a vertical stand-alone mirror. Passionate about sensual pleasures her bed is just beside her tasteful kitchenette, laminated in powder blue and fronted with high bar stools. Samantha’s flat is staged for pleasure: with candles, dimmed lamps, and diaphanous curtains. Samantha’s bed does not include side tables.
Conversations about women in the domestic space argue against the typecasting of roles for women in a household, urging a change in the way that the home organises the family thus, altering the relationship between different members of the household. However, the space of the single- woman and her relationship with her home is an overlooked discussion in architecture. It suggests that the single, independent woman who lives alone is not thought of as a singular subject to design for, whereas, the single man is. In addition, there is an inclination to view single women as predators and their homes as temporary, in-keeping with their in-between status. This is not to argue For or against relationship, or to romanticise a single woman, but rather, that single women have been neglected in domestic observations. The women in SATC describe a set of categories that women are slotted into, but these nuances are significant. Today, it is especially relevant to design and explore spaces that allow them to define their relationships and themselves on their own terms.
The image is from images on the internet documenting Colomina’s installation. It shows Mark Cousins in bed with Beatriz Colomina