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Hipsters Without Walls

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dwell magazine is the Architectural Digest for hipsters. It promotes minimalist living stripped of color and frou-frou.

In this ultramodern world, cries for help bounce off bare concrete walls. Plastic sculpted chairs stare from bare corners. Sharp ceiling angles threaten scalps. Knick-knacks must die, though a perfectly curated bowl may live, as long as it's in the red family to offset the "controlled palette" of gloomy grays and browns.

It's all very Martha Stewart -- when she was in jail.

In this land of edge, you don't hear Spanish shutters slam or heavy English drapes whoosh closed. Hipsters aren't much into window treatments or, it seems, privacy. An entire wall may be glass, letting those outside see the hip ones at dinner -- from their plaid Converse sneakers to their asymmetrical bangs. True, many of these windows overlook courtyards or acres of field. (While others might worry about strangers crouching in the bushes, these cats may think: So what?)

I like hipsters for their cool attitude. I like their nerdy black-rimmed glasses. These are people who read or at least look like they do. And I like Dwell, because many articles show the devotees thriving in modest urban spaces, reclaiming forgotten neighborhoods.

But it's hard to understand why they want to erase the past. I mean, don't hipsters have ancestors? Didn't anyone leave them a sofa made before 1972? Surely they inherited something with painted flowers -- say, a candlestick or platter. What happened to it? Perhaps the merry item was ruthlessly culled in an orgy of de-cluttering and put on eBay. The proceeds might have gone to buy its replacement, a black metal cylinder lamp with razor edges.

It is apparently unhip to have a staircase with risers. Risers are the boards the toe hits when a foot goes too far on the step. Minimalist steps seemingly float in air (and handrails are optional). I climb such stairs with great care, mindful of a friend whose leg slipped through. He snapped a quadriceps and spent two months in rehab. He was not a hipster, it is true.

A hilarious website, unhappyhipsters.com, makes fun of the phenomenon by putting clever captions under photos from Dwell. One photo shows a solitary man deep in thought -- multi levels of blank space yawning behind him -- and the words, "He quietly contemplated the disconnect between his social ineptitude and impeccable aesthetic."

Renouncing stuff is not necessarily an inexpensive proposition. Every item you do have must be impeccable. And of course, your empty spaces can go baronial. In fact, the bigger they are, the emptier they look, which in hipster eyes is a good thing.

So Dwell also gives proper attention to minimalist mansions in choice locations. Few views are more minimalist than the ocean. One picture has a young couple slouching on chairs in a cavernous lounge, facing an enormous blue expanse beyond a glass wall. (Wonder where they store the trust-fund documents.)

The magazine promotes energy efficiency, a virtue to be sure. But the cool-ionaire castles can't be cheap to heat, refrigerate and illuminate. I mean, how much energy are the LED bulbs going to save, when you're lighting 8,000 square feet?

Thumbing through the visions of minimalist living oddly reminds me of the exotic, bare-room poverty one sees in travel magazines. But the poor people manage to drench their hovels in color. (Bet they'd love to have those flowered candlesticks.)

The hipsters, meanwhile, surround themselves with black, white, gray and brown, forsaking all that is plush and comfy. So are they happy or not? Can't tell. From time to time, they do emit a smile -- an ironic smile, of course.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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