Recently, at a reception at Buckingham Palace for the design industry, I got my first look at its gaudy interiors. I discovered the staterooms to be a circuit of gigantic mirrored and crystal-filled corridors. There were 600 guests, but I still managed to meet the Queen. The encounter made me think of the attitude many people have to architecture - that it is there to be useful.
As we stood beneath one of the dripping and slightly grubby chandeliers, I asked how she found the palace to live in. "Very practical," she replied, which made me think of how often you hear that comment about ordinary houses. Evidently she thinks hers is practical too. And why not? It's got lots of doors and it's very convenient for giving big parties. You can field people like sheep and make sure waiters can slip invisibly into the flow of guests.
Last weekend, in a junkshop somewhere in the Italian countryside, the conflict between practicality and taste came up in a more everyday form. I scanned the piles of furniture, plates, trinkets and paintings, looking for a bargain. Had all this stuff been rejected by local folk to delight or offend my eye? Among the credenzas and oversized wardrobes, I spotted a simpering Christ and a head of Julius Caesar which for a second I thought about buying. Particularly impressive was a gross ceramic clock featuring a horse and carriage in front of Big Ben, a full metre across. Imagine having that in your living room.
Perhaps these people have cleared out their dross to move on and live in practical buildings, like bungalows. Unlike the splendid bungalows in India though, the ones here are mostly hideous. And if you can't stand the idea of getting old in one of those you could go for a serviced apartment in somewhere like Chelsea Harbour, or the Monte Vetro building. But neither strike me as particularly good taste or particularly practical. So you might as well go and live in Dubai.
The Dubai experience has plenty to offer. They're not just building one artificial "Palm" archipelago but three. As you gaze out from the real estate office towards the string of islands, the breathtaking scale of this enterprise starts to tug at you. The villas will be built all along the 17km-long fronds and you can already see lots of palms swaying seductively along the sandbanks out at sea. The developers are hopeful that everything will be sold before it's even built.
You can choose between a number of well illustrated style options for your new home: Santa Fe, Grand Foyer Greek, Garden Gallery Arabic. Or you could go for one of the more expensive "signature villas" like Central Pool Contemporary, Grand Staircase Contemporary or Grand Majlis Arabic. All include a fully furnished interior. Just don't be surprised if you visit the neighbours, get muddled for a moment, and think you're in your own house.