I wanted to get a couch last year. Or perhaps the desire for a new couch began earlier, years earlier, but only presented itself as a decision last year. The couch that I am replacing belonged to my grandparents. Like much of their wardrobe, it is bright red, or was bright red, now faded to bright pink. It rides low and stretches long, big enough for someone to sleep outstretched with a medium sized dog at their feet. My apartment is dark. The pine board walls and ceiling cured overtime into a rich caffeinated brown and the carpet is a deep, jungle-night green. The couch sits in my living room alarmingly bright, almost confrontational. I really love this couch, as have the generations of mice that called it home. At some point the soft linen upholstery shifted from supple to sickly and began shedding on the carpet like clown dander. I ignored this for years as the armrests went bald and the cushions became exposed. If the light is right when one sits on it, you can see a disturbing plumb of dust shoot up around them.
I don’t have a favorite color and if I did it wouldn’t be a red. I don’t see how any artist could have a favorite color; it seems as unprofessional as a surgeon having a favorite organ. On the other hand it seems impossible not to favor colors, which has little to do with conscious preference. Favoring a color is like putting more weight on the steady foot when the other is injured. You may not like the healthy foot any more than the injured but it helps you along better. So the color of this couch was not something I would have chosen upon purchase but inherited out of practicality. However, over time I’ve developed such a fondness for it that I’ve trained myself to like the color. I have such respect for it that many subsequent furnishings in the apartment have been selected to scream red at similar decibels.
The search for a red couch replacement has not been easy. The landscape of taste has changed a great deal since my grandparents’ couch was made. I’ve found the selection of red fabrics far too agreeable and tempered, where I need a red with violence. The closer I’ve gotten, the farther the color seems to be from the ideal. It either doesn’t glow enough, or radiates too cheaply. It’s fraught with controversy whether I’m being too fickle and resistant to change, or the torchbearer for an endangered color, holding strong against the winds of fashion.
There is a family of birds in Oceania known collectively as Bowerbirds who are renowned for their courtship enterprises that, along with elaborate dances and calls, include the construction of intricate bowers. Theses structures, often made of moss, twigs or grass, are wonders in and of themselves, but it is their purpose as staging grounds for a male Bowerbird to display his aesthetic good taste is truly remarkable. In or around the bower, these dogged fellows curate an assortment of found objects of very specific color and intrigue. Some species go for white artifacts studded with some choice green bits, others gather blue objects—so rare in nature. Some like the Vogelkop Bowerbird experiment with different colors and configurations, creating compositions that juxtapose a glut of one color next to a spare highlight of another. There is even evidence of certain Bowerbirds actually propagating plants nearby their creations to have easy access to the source of their prized color.
To the Bowerbird, color is neither about fashion or whim. In fact it is about demonstrating his self worth to the extent that the perpetuity of his genes are on the line. He is not starting from scratch, but continuing a tradition passed on by ancestors whose aesthetic prowess made it possible for his conception. He is also responsible for shifting his game as the environment shifts around him. For instance a pretty blue bottle cap shouldn’t be dismissed because there weren’t any in existence during the life of his great great-grandaddy Bowerbird, nor should a piece of chewing gum be selected just for novelty sake.
In the debate of fate over free will, I tend to feel torn between the two, where interior design is concerned. On the one hand I should be able to choose whatever aesthetic I like best for my quarters. On the other hand the environment in which I was raised has defined my aesthetic a good deal, and must influence my choice. At times it seems like colors choose us, rather than we choosing them.
There are colors through which our identity is defined and objects through which we exalt color. The colors of our house, our clothes, our couches, our bowers— they are the flags we wave to signify our individuality or our allegiance.