Ornament is often considered frivolous and old-fashioned today yet beautifully decorated buildings seem to be the ones that provoke oohs and aahs.
Ornament: make (something) look more attractive by adding decorative items.
Long before Pinterest, I ripped out countless images from magazines and organized them into binders to refer to for future inspiration. I still have my binders and don’t know that I will ever part with them. Flipping through one over the weekend I found this except written by Alvin Holm for The Philadelphia Inquirer printed in the Catholic Digest of all places. I do not remember saving this page but rereading it, I understand why I did.
God Is in the Details
Ornament is an act of love – or at least a token of esteem. We embellish what we revere. We adorn that which we love. We do not decorate our heroes to make them pretty – we decorate them to pay them honor. Ornament is deep stuff, greatly misunderstood in recent years.
The reason we see so little ornament in the buildings of our modern culture is that we do not love them. Or perhaps we do not love them because they are unlovely, unadorned. Nor do we think it is nice to love them – that is, to have visceral, soulful relationship to them – because they are products of our intellect, rationally conceived, cost-effective, piously functional, sleek, sensible, and cool.
The simple geometric shapes of modern buildings are inhuman. They fail to resonate with the way nature organizes itself or with the way human beings see the world. When the moderns striped ornament away, much of the soul of the architecture was lost. And with it went the soul of our cities.
Ornament does many things for the article it graces . It may lighten or give weight, it may reveal or disguise, it may suggest usage or mystify. Ornament gives value and imparts meaning . These are all worthy roles, but it is important to remember the relationship between the maker, the artifact, and the ornament as a badge of affection. Ornament is good for the soul of the maker as well as for the soul of the viewer, to say nothing of the soul of the artifact itself.
Hildegard von Bingen, a twelfth-century nun, mystic, and artist, wrote in a poem about creativity:
Creation, of course, was fashioned to
To be showered, to be gifted with
love of the Creator.
The entire world has been embraced by this kiss.
This affectionate reciprocity is largely missing from our designed environment today. Ornament is that kiss of the maker that marks the artifact for its own sake and then for the sake of the user.
Architecture began as a ritual of celebration and must continue in that spirit if we are to enter the 21st century with honor and grace. This is a bonded truth that is today rising to the surface. A surface we may now embellish to our hearts’ content.
Below are some images that Mr. Holm might appreciate.
Casa V Interiors can add ornament to your new house plans or interior decor.