A stage. Framed lavishly, positively dripping in gem-toned swathes, but what takes place between and behind is not a Broadway show, nor a Grecian scene of hedonism from a painting in the National Gallery. No, these curtains haven’t been fashioned from Flaming June, An Angel in Green, or Princess Sophie of Bavaria, and beyond them one wouldn’t discover a paradisical vista dripping in molten gold, a cold, stone niche, or a dusky star-studded sky. Instead, it’s by an atmosphere of tepidity— lit by light comparable only to the gait of a lame animal; without hesitation, you’d take that lukewarm hue, and put it out of its misery.
The space is musty, damp, and dry simultaneously, and the stage seems barren without the presence of a frosted-tipped DJ, flanked by shuddering traffic lights that seem to reiterate the jewel-toned curtains, coiled and wringed now when they should be hanging in the interest of concealment. Red, orange, green, red, orange, green, like jewels set in a knuckle duster- ruby, amber, jade, ruby, amber, jade. Regardless of whether the colours are cast by the fixture or the flurrying of fists, they dance around the room accompanied by a cacophony of decades of music, with perhaps more elegance than those attending the disco; they don’t improve with generation or age.
The colours land in plastic cups or mismatched mugs, where they turn into fruit jelly- strawberry, orange, lime, strawberry, orange, lime- or herbal tea, finally pulled from a dusty box or other relegated tin- echinacea, chamomile, mint, echinacea, chamomile, mint. The comfortingly cloying refreshments, (that, it seems now, served any purpose but to refresh) originate from a rectangular hatch ajar; magnolia curdles with cream on a stained stove, while the stainless-steel countertop sides, rescued from a dying restaurant, live out their days rusting in a haze of cold meat and white bread. Biscuit tins, once objects at the pinnacle of desire for their contents, are relegated to dented vessels filled with plastic cutlery and forced haphazardly closed. Tea towels comfort the cupboards and drawers, wringed out, folded neatly, balled up; self-portraits of the disposition of whomever last used them. Their subject matter varies greatly: gospel teachings, sporting rules, literary phrases, recipes, souvenirs from home and abroad. A wealth of knowledge stuffed into the gaps between the cabinets, blotting up some long dried-up leak.
Back in the fading atrium, the carpeted stage remains uninhabited, yet many remember the whisper of carpet burn to the back of the legs, and the drop from its once lofty heights is still further than one would expect. A world away from the cover of the stage, which seemed to be upholstered with the fur of some unfortunate pack of mismatched dogs- an Irish Wolfhound and an accompanying bouquet of terriers- the patina of the floor is a tangible relief. Planar, rich, and glimmering, it seeps out, meeting flush with the walls. Its existence is so satisfying that you consider whether it might continue to cover and smother the ground for a mile radius beyond.
The windows and doors are punched like the holes in a doily into the pallid walls, and the altogether miraculous floor in comparison is so highly polished that their uprights extend down indefinitely, almost, into the waxed infinity. Starry Night over the Rhône doesn’t hold a candle to the scene. The floor isn’t without depth in the decorative sense, either. Inlaid chevron, basket weave, herringbone parquet; it has to be one of those, surely. But, like aquatic scales, they seem to shift and change with every step.
If this truly is the heart of the community, the doors that lead away are like one-way ventricles, and the side rooms inescapable chambers. You can only hope you don’t turn some serpentine corner and find the minotaur gazing back. Further into the recesses, guided by ribbons of flickering yellowing strip lights, half-height graveyards of stackable chairs loom in dingey box rooms. The satisfying nature of their design, the shkkkk-click noise of their consummation, viscerally appreciated, before being swiftly forgotten.
The above passage is a study in liminality. From the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”, liminality denotes a feeling of disorientation, discomfort, and ambiguity. Recently the term has been cropping up all over the internet, usually in the form of semi-viral photo threads and articles containing pictures of yellowish tinged images of airports, supermarkets, or generic, windowless backrooms, usually at night, entitled “How Do You Feel Looking At These Images?” or similar. Stumbling across a few of these, my answer was usually “uncomfortable”- but in a morbidly curious capacity. I wanted to explore this idea of liminal space by deconstructing the composite parts of a familiar archetype of interior, that I believe a large proportion of the global community share in collective nostalgia.
Regardless of generation, class, or ethnicity, somewhere on the spectrum from daily or weekly to once in a lifetime, you will have found yourself in a place like the one described above. Maybe a community centre, a village hall, or other pavilion used by a religious building or school or an independent party for celebrations, exercise classes, and any other function. Regardless, one constant remains: the archetypical commonality of the community hall aesthetic. I doubt Louis Henry Sullivan was referring to these spaces when he coined the architectural paradigm ‘form follows function’, yet their base, mundane insipidity encompasses the model perfectly: the interior aesthetic suffers for the functionality required to be so versatile.
The above is also an exercise in highly saturated pictorial writing and romanticisation. Often while writing and reading back, I became disorientated by the vocabulary due to its ceaseless flickering from describing the space, to describing something which describes the space. I realised this tumultuousness encapsulated the idea of liminality completely. The imagery used to describe the space contrasts with the space in actuality; dramatic scenes like the knuckle duster analogy and the likening of the drapery to fine paintings and artists is not how you would necessarily first think of such a run of the mill building, which is why the contrast between them is so stark. This contrast is the subject of the two accompanying photographic composites, which reference the imagery found in the passage.
Words: Alice Laycock, Storehouse Content team, @laycockinteriors
*Disclaimer: I do not claim to be the originator of any of the found images used in the two accompanying composites. All images and copyrights belong to the original owner.*