The Old House
This series of articles is brought to you by the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum. We hope that these offerings will bring fresh perspectives on living our principles, invoking drala and enriching culture in our homes, centers and communities. If you have any suggestions or contributions, please feel free to contact Wendy Friedman, Director of the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum:
article by Guy Blume
In the 1960′s, when I was a child we lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Bartlesville was a small town that was the corporate headquarters of Phillips 66. It had a Frank Lloyd Wright high-rise and a limousine service that shuttled executives from the nearest airport 50 miles away. From my six-year-old perspective everyone lived in sprawling air-conditioned houses and everyone’s father worked for the same three corporations. We belonged to a country club where golf and swimming were the summer activities. Wednesday was boy’s day and the pre-teens would play nine rounds, eat lunch at the snack bar and spend the afternoon in the pool.
The shortest route to get to the club took us through the poorest part of town. The houses in the neighborhood were run down, ill kept and cheaply built. Lawns were overgrown or non-existent but there was one home that always caught my eye. It was a two-story clapboard house with front and back porches. The white paint that had once covered it had long ago weathered away. What distinguished it from the other buildings in the neighborhood was the meticulous arrangement of the house and yard. The yard was bare dirt swept clean of leaves. On the front porch sat a rocker and a chair. By the back door a washtub hung on a nail. Over the changing seasons the house never varied in its pristine arrangement. The yard remained swept and sometimes the washtub was on the nail on the wall and sometimes it was somewhere else being used. A woodpile would diminish and rise up again. My mother would comment on the neatness of the house as we drove by and remarked that she would like to see the inside. It was a poor house in a poor neighborhood yet we were all drawn to it.
How we arrange our world is important. It can attract forces of good will and benevolence or energies that drag us down into squalor. The awareness we bring to the array of our world, whatever our circumstances, can create brilliance and piercing insight. This weather beaten house on the wrong side of the tracks was magical to me. I wanted to walk through its rooms and sit on its porch.
Today a magazine editor might dub the old house ‘shabby chic’ or minimalist functionalism and indeed it would be. All the objects had a patina of age and everything was spare even to the rocker and the chair. The colors were gray or brown or whitewash, unlike our house across town, with its turquoise chairs and yellow curtains. The old house was a refreshing vision.
I try to bring something of that spaciousness and simplicity into my present home. I have a pair of ladder-back chairs from my grandfather’s house that he bought in the 1930′s from the Odd Fellows Hall that I always keep with me. He paid a quarter each for them. For years they sat on the breezeway of his East Texas house. Only the two are left. They were probably fifty years old when my grandfather bought them. They have never seen a lick of varnish and the wood has aged to a driftwood gray. The seat bottoms are rawhide that was stretched over the handmade frames a hundred years ago. They sit in my living room near the gilded medallion backed Louis XVI chairs and the linen velvet ottoman. Their simplicity is elegant and timeless and they always fit in.
It doesn’t take a great fortune to create a beautiful environment. It takes an awareness of the world around you. The old house taught me that spare simplicity could be the richest design of all.
Guy Blume has been a Shambhala Buddhist practitioner for 20 years. He is a meditation instructor, a kado practitioner and a member of the Machen Corps (See a recent article Guy wrote for the Los Angeles Shambhala Center blog about cooking for the Sakyong, Call Me Machen). He is also the Regional Supervisor for the Office of Culture & Decorum for California and Mexico. Guy is also a graduate of Parsons School of Design. In 2009 he formed his own interior design company were he incorporates the principals of the Five Buddha Families and Maitri Space awareness into his work. He has designed residences in Boulder, Colorado, Dallas, Texas and across Los Angeles. In addition Guy has designed high-end office spaces, several gardens, a retail dress shop, many furniture designs and the Los Angeles Shambhala Center (Making it Bloom). While working at another firm he was the design director of a team that designed the prototype for a series of boutique business hotels to be built across Europe.