How Fiction Can Inspire Wonderful Rooms
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How Fiction Can Inspire Wonderful Rooms

Novelist Sloane Crosley on how she goes deep into her imagination to conjure fictional interiors.

By SLOANE CROSLEY
Thu, Jun 2, 2022 11:43amGrey Clock 4 min

DURING MY SENIOR year of college, I took a literature class called The English Country House, which focused on dumbwaiters and dining rooms from Woolf to Waugh. The class is responsible for my fluency in oh, say, wainscoting. At the risk of belabouring the point? I went to a liberal arts school. But what appears to be a rarefied entry point into the literary landscape is actually a portal into the Great Hall of any novel. Once you start paying special attention to where novels are set—not just their country or cultural moment but the minutiae of where our heroines and heroes lay their heads—their narratives open up in new ways. After the characters have gone, you can still stroll from room to room, an unpaid housesitter grazing her fingers along the wallpaper.

So many of the canonical examples of fictional interior design really do come from the British, who like to inhabit etiquette minefields stuffed with generational trauma, class issues and chintz (“Bleak House,” “Howard’s End,” “Wuthering Heights,” “The Portrait of a Lady,” “The Remains of the Day”…Jane Austen takes the prize for Pemberley alone). Contemporary British authors are also unavoidably good on the subject (I’d gladly entrust Rachel Cusk, Alan Hollinghurst or Zadie Smith with my blueprints).

But there is no shortage of memorable interiors scattered across all literature. Both as a reader and as a writer, I have always gravitated toward fabricated design (by which I mean not just imaginative design but the actual, literal fabric of it; see also the Jenny B. Goode tapestry pillow that Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” clutches as he nurses a cocktail). I find such details, which purposefully but slyly speak to the time in which the characters live, move a story along as much as they pin it in place.

In the Glasses’ apartment in “Franny and Zooey,” “not only were the furnishings old, intrinsically unlovely, and clotted with memory and sentiment, but the room itself in past years had served as the arena for countless hockey and football (tackle as well as ‘touch’) games, and there was scarcely a leg on any piece of furniture that wasn’t badly nicked or marred.” This is no mere décor. It is, to employ a cliché, another character. The first image that pops into mind when I think of that particular book is of Franny, staring up at the ceiling. I can see the apartment as she sees it, fill in the gaps. Just like when I think of “The Great Gatsby,” I am struck less by Gatsby’s infamous green light than by the first sight of Jordan lounging on a sofa, curtains billowing behind her, “extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little.” I know that divan. I can run my fingers over the upholstery. I can also tidy the bookish disarray of “Giovanni’s Room,” ascend the crumbling steps of Manil Suri’s apartment block in “The Death of Vishnu” and feel the deep, deep anti-Craftsman sentiment of Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

As someone who spent her childhood sleeping in an 8-by-8 bedroom of a small house and whose current furniture is flush to the walls of her apartment as if being held at gunpoint, I come by this fetish honestly. I have now lived in New York City for over 20 years, and I still think the height of luxury is the exposed back of a sofa. Once you can afford a 360-degree view of your own furniture, you get to worry about aesthetics. Writing fiction gives a person such as myself the opportunity to imagine my way into whatever space I like with whatever budget I like. In short? It gives me the chance to really go to town.

My first novel, “The Clasp,” begins in a mansion in Miami and ends in a 16th-century French château. But for my new novel, “Cult Classic,” I did a full gut renovation, turning a derelict synagogue on the Lower East Side into a sleek cultlike club. The design details are not explicitly named, but I know that those are lighting designer Lindsey Adelman’s chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, Danish designer Jens Risom’s chairs and Scalamandré wallpaper in the bathroom. And because the synagogue is less a manifestation of my personal design dreams as it is satire, the tray of bottled water in the conference room is that of a “branding studio” where I once took a meeting. The drinking straws are striped. Very Instagrammable. And there’s a room with nothing in it, save for an amethyst geode, an image I swiped from a self-serious spa that I went to once.

But is this what I want people to take away from my novel? Danish side tables? Not really. What I hope a reader remembers is how the design unfolded alongside the plot. So much is kept secret from our heroine, her access to information and her access to space are intertwined. I wanted to create a feeling akin to the one I felt as a child, reading Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: “Five children and nine grown-ups pushed their way in—and oh, what an amazing sight it was that now met their eyes! They were looking down upon a lovely valley. There were green meadows on either side of the valley, and along the bottom of it there flowed a great brown river. What is more, there was a tremendous waterfall halfway along the river…” I, sir, am no Roald Dahl. But there is, in fact, a fountain in the lobby of my fictional club.

With few exceptions, writers must force themselves to reign in their descriptive tendencies, lest they wind up with five static pages about a claw-foot bathtub. The trick, especially when it comes to interiors, is in peppering signifiers without listing them. Too few? I don’t know where I am. Too many? Well, if I wanted to read a catalogue, I would read a catalogue. In the end, the visual impact of a space is not up to me but to readers. Readers who will set about correcting or replacing my images with versions of their own, with details of their own. Or, in the words of Maggie Smith’s famous poem, “Good Bones”:

“Any decent realtor,/ walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/ about good bones: This place could be beautiful,/ right? You could make this place beautiful.”

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: Jun 01, 2022



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The two Australian states where it’s a buyers’ market

Property values have experienced strong growth around the country, but there are two highly desirable areas where oversupply is putting downward pressure on sales

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 2 min

While property values are rising strongly in most markets across Australia, it’s a vastly different story in Victoria and Tasmania, new data from CoreLogic shows. Over the 12 months to May 31, the median house price lifted just 1.8 percent in Melbourne and fell 0.6 percent in regional Victoria. The median dipped 0.1 percent in Hobart and ticked 0.4 percent higher in regional Tasmania. This is in stark contrast to Perth, where values are up 22 percent, and regional Western Australia, up 14.8 percent; as well as Brisbane, up 16.3 percent, and regional Queensland, up 11.8 percent.

CoreLogic Head of Research, Eliza Owen says an oversupply of homes for sale has weakened prices in Victoria and Tasmania, creating buyers’ markets.

On the supply side, there has been more of a build-up in new listings than usual across Victoria, even where home value performance has been relatively soft,” Ms Owen said. Victoria has also had more dwellings completed than any other state and territory in the past 10 years, keeping a lid on price growth. The additional choice in stock means vendors have to bring down their price expectations, and that brings values down.”

Melbourne dwelling values are now four percent below their record high and Hobart dwelling values are 11.5 percent below their record high. Both records were set more than two years ago in March 2022. The oversupply has also affected how long it takes to sell a property. The median days on market is currently 36 in Melbourne and 45 in Hobart compared to a combined capitals median of 27. It takes 55 days to sell in regional Victoria and 64 days in regional Tasmania compared to a combined regional median of 42 days.

Changes in population patterns have also contributed to higher numbers of homes for sale in recent years. Since COVID began in early 2020, thousands of families have left Melbourne because working from home meant they could buy a bigger property in more affordable areas. While many relocated to regional Victoria, a significant proportion left the state altogether, with South-East Queensland a favoured destination. Meantime, Tasmania’s surge in interstate migration during FY21 was short-lived. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the island state has recorded a net loss of residents to other states and territories every quarter since June 2022.

Record overseas migration has more than offset interstate migration losses, thereby keeping Victoria’s and Tasmania’s populations growing. However, the impact of migrants on housing is largely seen in the rental market, so this segment of population gain has done little to support values. Growth in weekly rents has been far stronger than growth in home values over the past year, with rents up 9 percent in Melbourne and 4.8 percent in regional Victoria, and up 1 percent in Hobart and 2.7 percent in regional Tasmania.

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