Whose taste is it anyway?

Today we all think we're experts on minimalist chic. But, asks Nick Foulkes, what's wrong with old fashioned clutter?

It was the sight of a young child being handed over the heads of a crazed, baying crowd of rioters that brought it home to me. Once upon a time Britons used to erupt into spontaneous violence over religious issues, viz the Gordon Riots; or the Corn Laws or the Poll Tax. During the social tinderbox that was the 1970s everything from race and industrial action to sport was a trigger to riot. Now in the 21st-century public order disintegrates over a few cut-price sofas and some flat-packed shelving: watching the stampeding hordes outside a new Ikea was a chilling example of the democratisation of "taste".

It was the sight of a young child being handed over the heads of a crazed, baying crowd of rioters that brought it home to me. Once upon a time Britons used to erupt into spontaneous violence over religious issues, viz the Gordon Riots; or the Corn Laws or the Poll Tax. During the social tinderbox that was the 1970s everything from race and industrial action to sport was a trigger to riot. Now in the 21st-century public order disintegrates over a few cut-price sofas and some flat-packed shelving: watching the stampeding hordes outside a new Ikea was a chilling example of the democratisation of "taste".

The oft quoted Latin tag de gustibus non est disputandum has always perplexed me with its almost Delphic ambivalence. The obvious face value meaning that there is no disagreeing about taste is completely untrue - one look at the participants' faces in such programmes as Changing Rooms shows that while some people adore what might have been perpetrated on their houses, others plainly do not. I think it was William Morris who argued that to be tasteful, an object must be made from a material and in a way that is suited to its purpose; which strikes me as a perfectly reasonable starting point.

The William Morris ideal of taste is very different from the bourgeois concept of "taste" as understood by Hyacinth Bucket-alikes in their pristine new-build executive homes in antiseptic culs-de-sac, or the Banana corduroy-wearing Sloane Ranger in his slightly grandiose 19th-century terraced house, with its endearing pretensions to poshness. That sort of taste is basically a morbid fear of being thought "common"; Samuel Butler was frighteningly accurate when he said, "People care more about being thought to have taste than about being thought either good, clever, or amiable."

The worrying thing is that everyone in Britain now seems to be an expert on taste - the most unlikely evidence of which came from Big Brother. I once heard one contestant fantasising about the sort of home he would like to inhabit. For a while he groped for an appropriate adjective, then somewhere in the recesses of his internal thesaurus he found what he was looking for: his dream dwelling would be minimalist. M-i-n-i-m-a-l-i-s-t: one word that is shorthand for stylishness, modernity and chic conformity. Sadly the conversation in the Big Brother house did not develop into a spirited debate about Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus - it probably drifted off into an idle discussion about group sex. "I like minimalism me. Have you ever... like... 'done it' with more than one person?"

At times it seems that we are all in touch with our inner minimalist and that ours is a nation of cool, white, Zen-like interiors with maybe an Eames lounger or some tubular steel furnishings by Le Corbusier. But there is a dispiriting uniformity about it all: pale wood floor, pale walls, flatscreen telly, one or two bits of important looking tribal art: no children's toys, no mess - in short, none of the signs that we are actually alive.

I am one of the few people I know who lives amid old-fashioned clutter: piles of books, Communist memorabilia including a Christmas tree decoration in the shape of an airship emblazoned with the letters CCCP, a stuffed crocodile, early 20th-century postcards, pictures of everyone from Somerset Maugham to Marcello Mastroianni, Edwardian ashtrays, a humidor or two, a lectern... and that's just the contents of one mantelpiece. Even the pictures on my walls are shamelessly figurative. I think the only concession to contemporary tastes is a nest of Perspex tables, off which we eat supper when watching television.

I know, I know, I should be doing my best to look minimalist: rioting outside the local Ikea; hanging out at Selfridge's, attending print fairs to buy artworks that are reproduced in their thousands, assembling objets from some pre-approved source of trouvailles, painting my newly extending kitchen a shade of off-white; agonising about lighting "solutions"; or ruthlessly pruning my possessions and my wardrobe as the "taste experts" advise.

Apparently Ann Maurice is the guru du jour, the Dr Atkins of home improvement. Described as an "acid-tongued Californian home staging guru", she descends upon householders who have been unable to sell their properties and whips the unsaleable monstrosities into modern - often minimalist - dream homes. If I met Ann Maurice I am sure I would like her, but what is alarming is the cult-like status she seems to inspire. As well as watching the TV show, you can sign up for a newsletter, buy the book and attend the seminar.

Yes, the seminar - only from the tone of some of the encomia posted on the official Ann Maurice website it seems that Ms Maurice is in the business of raising the dead, curing the sick and bringing peace and goodwill to all men.

The testimonials seem to imply that if only she could do a series of House Doctor on the West Bank; Palestinians and Israelis would forget their differences and unite in a life, sorry lifestyle, of 'taste' and refinement. "This has been a life-changing experience for me. After 30 years of teaching, I now know what I want to do and this course has given me the confidence to go forward. Thank you, Ann." "I absolutely loved the seminar and am boring people to death by talking about it and the ideas it has given me for selling my house."

Forget the Kabbalah - "taste" is today's most fashionable, not to mention least forgiving, religion.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing