Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2011, at 3:01 PM
Years and years ago, I read a sentence about a wealthy household's home-renovation project that was so perfect and amazing, I copied it down in two-inch letters on a length of register tape and stuck it to the wall. It was "François suggested making a virtue of the mill wheel."
The current edition of T magazine, the New York Times glossy supplement about fashion or design or other things rich people spend money on, may have surpassed it. The cover article is about a British family, the Mycocks—"owners of a successful I.T. company"—whose architectural-design challenge could be the most bleak and loathsome project in the history of shelter magazines.
The Mycocks did not try to use their money to retrofit an antique gristmill as a place to live, or to dangle a modernist country house over a river gorge, or to pull off some other impractical but inspiring feat of architecture. Their problem, which required a series of five architects to solve, was this: they had bought a 40-room Georgian manor house , and they wanted to occupy it as a family of six.
The challenge, that is, was pure consumption. Having bought far more house than they could conceivably use, the Mycocks wanted someone to draw them up a rationalization, a scheme that would allow them to act as if six and two-thirds rooms per person were not a senseless living arrangement—somehow, they wanted to banish the emptiness.
("If spaces aren't used, they die," their final architect said.)
Waste, pure and simple. But waste perpetrated by people desperate to pretend they are being practical and unpretentious. So T explains that the basement, where the household staff once worked, has multiple rooms with wooden laundry racks: "The Mycocks aren't big on things like dryers." God forbid some crass, electricity-burning machine should intrude on the plain honesty of their 40-room country lifestyle. Harold Skimpole, the scheming parasite of Dickens' Bleak House , constantly insisting on his childlike innocence and helplessness, couldn't have said it better.
The Mycocks "are not so much puritanical as they are particular," the article explains. In case there had been any confusion with the 23-acre estates of the Puritans. Also they converted some guest bedrooms—"endless guest bedrooms"—to bathrooms. Practicality! But that is not the masterstroke. The masterstroke is this:
At Crawford’s suggestion, they turned the ballroom into the kitchen and created a Lego room. If a room with a perfect view dedicated to Lego sounds ostentatious, it isn’t here; it’s used daily.
The Lego room, the entire room set aside for children to play with Legos, which is not at all the same room as the "dream playroom" elsewhere in the house—the Lego room is not ostentatious. Certainly not. It is in perfect harmony with the whole project.