Thoughts on Material

Jeffrey Dungan

After the last journal entry on light I thought that it would be appropriate to discuss a little  about what feels to me to be almost the architectural equivalent of lights perfect partner- materials and what I call materiality…  I think that these days what we all desire is things that are real- or what my friend chef Chris Hastings  told me fifteen years ago “authenticity is the new luxury”.  I don’t think it’s any less in demand today- and in a world where there is a knockoff or a synthetic or ever cheaper version of things as simple as stone and wood- I think we could do with some celebration of what is real.

I love natural materials- articulated in a simple way and displayed in the light.  Materials give us texture, color and depth. They can be slick and sleek and sophisticated- deep and rich and luxurious.  Be they heavy and ancient or light and airy, expensive or not at all pricey and be just as powerful.  The materials we use convey so much about what we value and what we want to say in the form of a home or a room.  Entire styles of architecture revolve around certain materials. Imagine a Gothic building without stone- or a Tudor house sans brick.  Spanish and Italian architecture is stucco and we have Carpenter Gothic always in wood by definition- and that’s just architectural inspiration.  When we move to interiors it becomes even deeper, more velvety more tactile.

Interiors are where we live and come into much more intimate contact with the rooms and our palette of materials exponentially increase. In order to create the right right mood or feeling the right choices and selections have to be made by thoughtful design.  In our work we get to design both and it has and continues to be a fascination of mine to see the use of materials at both extremes. The west facing (think sun) exterior wall and the headboard wall in a master bedroom- couldn’t be two more different surfaces imaginable- and yet it’s the materiality of each that defines their use and success.

I have found in general that materials on exterior are more heavy lifters and need as such to be robust and textured while inside more sensitivity is required to use materials that we get to encounter much more closely.  It’s marble- of all kinds of colors and movement in its “veins” and texture from polished to honed and leathered- all coming from deep in the earth, (and then across an ocean or two on a huge boat), speaking Italian and Spanish.  Floors of hardwoods in all kinds of neutral colors from smooth to circle sawn and hand scraped with an adz.  Don’t even start with reclaimed materials and the stories they tell.  Dredged up from the bottom of rivers and swamps, not having seen the light of day for perhaps a century or two- and we see it in the grain, feel it in our stocking feet.  It’s all what Louis Kahn called “spent light” -they impress us and excite us, and in the hands of thoughtful designers and artisans delight and move us and enrich our lives.