The Interior Dimension

October 26, 2008

In searching for a direction to structure my blog, I decided to pick up a book that I used in one of my classes.  The Interior Dimension, by Joy Malnar and Frank Vodvarka, is a book on the theory of enclosed space.  I chose this book for a couple of reasons.  First, all we read in class was excerpts, and I have intended to finish “one of these days”.  Second, it was fairly difficult reading. It is packed full with information or “pithy” as my former music theory professor would say.  I will read a section or two and then respond.

The book starts by quoting an old french saying: Tel le logis, tel le maître, which translates “As is the house, so is the master”.  We all feel as if we have some level of control over the spaces in which we live.  We can change them around at will.  What we often overlook is how much control our spaces exert over us.  We are shaped, psychologically and emotionally, by the spaces we inhabit.  I didn’t understand this phenomon until I moved out of the house in which I grew up.  It felt almost as if I were leaving a family member behind.  

It is interesting to note how a building has two distinct natures.  From outside the physical structure of a building is an object in space, whereas inside the structure itself is seen as a background for other objects.  This distinction is important because each must be treated differently when designing.  A designer needs to marry the two halves into a unified whole.  A large building might be imposing on the outside, yet be filled with small, confining spaces.  This will create an uncomfortable shift in perception in the users of that building.

Finally, a question.  Do you agree with the statement, “As is the house, so is the master”?  Can you recall any experience of an interior space which felt off or out of place in any way?  Likewise, can you recall any interior which just felt right?



  1. I can see where the old French saying is trying to go with that, but on the other hand…what about the poor, poor person that lives in a 5’x5′ shack in a slum, but has a more expanded view of life than the master of a giant castle who may have a tiny world and life view due to…whatever reason? I, for example, am very much impacted by the space I’m in (if I’m in a grey space with dreary weather, I become dreary, in a sunny beautiful place, I get happy…), and that’s just how I’m made. You have some people that are in terrific living spaces who are horrible wastes of people, if I dare to say that, but then you have people who have the amazing gift to flourish and thrive no matter what hovel they’re in.

    So…I must disagree…

  2. I sort of agree with Rebekah, but… I agree that a person may not be able to control what size or location their home is, but they can control the interior space of that home. I can choose to keep my 5 x 5 shack in immaculate condition if I so desire. Likewise I can allow my mansion to become a pig-sty. My interior space reflects who I am on my interior space. I find that when my mind is in disarray, so is my home. When I’m feeling confident, my home reflects that as well. So, I feel that my house really does tell about me as a person. “As is the house, so is the master” I agree.

  3. I couldn’t have put it better myself! I think that both Amy and Rebekah are right. People are amazing, and can overcome amazing obstacles. We also have the ability to create our own obstacles. There are, however, ways that we can help one another succeed. The quality of space in which we spend our time does have an impact upon our ability to thrive, regardless of whether or not we have the strength to overcome it.

    All this to say, designers have the opportunity to join with other socially minded individuals and organizations and work to improve the quality of life and success of all.

    Here is a video clip that I found inspiring, which shows designers stepping to the plate and doing great work at the intersection of social injustice and the built environment.

    Cameron Sinclair at TedTalks 2006

  4. I am one whose moods are effected greatly by the walls that surround me, if I feel that my 5×5 space is messy or unorganized I become less then a wonderful husband. But I find I am effect even more by what’s inside those walls. I could have the cleanest most amazing 5×5 home in the world but if there was no love inside it would be gray no matter the colors.

  5. Great insights, all of you. Reading them I thought of Corrie ten Boom whose sister Betsy was a cheery person even though imprisoned within the walls of a lice-infested concentration camp. Corrie struggled with her feelings. I don’t know what all that has to do with the discussion. Maybe that personality makeup
    also figures into one’s reaction to the walls around them.

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