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In Place:
Leonard Koren and the Art of Arranging Things

By Leigh Patterson
Photographed by Hanna Tveite

How do we display our belongings? What do arrangements of objects say about the arranger? What makes one arrangement more attractive or interesting than another? Broad questions such as these are a specialty of Leonard Koren, who supplies nuanced answers in thought-provoking books such as Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement, published in 2003 by Stone Bridge Press. Revisiting the illustrated treatise, and recreating its original paintings by Natalie Du Pasquier in photographic form, is an opportunity to logically dissect an intuitive act while considering the subtleties of stuff.

Koren commissioned Natalie Du Pasquier to create “illustrations of arrangements of objects” for Arranging Things and provided a “brief rhetorical analysis” of each one. Here, seven of those paintings are recreated with actual objects and photographed by Hanna Tveite. Pictured: Nordstjerne Large Glass Jar with Black Soapstone Lid, HAY Clip Clip with Handle and Elastic Ball, Iris Hantverk Handmade Nail Brush, Il Bussetto iPhone Cover, Redecker Natural Horn Small Toothed Comb

“This started out as an attempt to understand what made the arrangements I saw so extraordinary,” writes Koren in Arranging Things. Referencing a unique, particularly appealing assemblage of ceramics, rocks, and found organic materials on display at a Japanese gallery in San Francisco, he notes, “[I] wondered what it was that gave them their imaginative vitality.”

A provenance: Koren’s work embodies a very specific—if hard to define—lexicon. An artist by birth and an architect by training, he is a writer, philosopher, and design scholar whose books have made him an authority on topics ranging from tea ceremonies and sand gardens to concrete and the word “aesthetics.” In the 1970s, he founded the cult magazine Wet, dedicated to the art of “gourmet bathing.” In the ‘90s, his book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers introduced the Japanese aesthetic sensibility to Western readers, an idea he revisited in last year’s Further Thoughts. At once self-aware and earnest, his work hints at a world of meaning waiting to be discovered.

According to art director and writer Véronique Vienne, the intent of the book’s illustrations “was to emphasize the thingness of the objects while undermining their original function.” Pictured: Antique Mirror Container
“There is an almost emphatic sense of reason and rationality to the object arrangement,” notes Koren of the meeting of two glasses, a wooden block, and a flower pot. The pictorial intensity is enough to sustain interest, he concludes, until “you run up against the conceptual dead-end” of the plain, non-descript nature of the objects themselves. Pictured: Serax Beaker Drinking Glass, Collected by The Line 5.3 oz Glass
Most arrangements are little noticed, yet some stop you in your tracks. A ‘successful’ arrangement, that is, an effective arrangement, is one that powerfully engages your attention and sustains your interest. Leonard Koren

For Koren, object placement is a communicational act: its own “language-like” form of aesthetic expression. In Arranging Things, he proposes a “rhetoric of arranging” comprised of eight principles:
1. Hierarchy: Establishing variations in height, shape, and depth as they relate to their surroundings. The more conspicuous the object, the more important it is in the arrangement’s context.
2. Alignment: Orientation of objects relative to each other, such as perpendicular and parallel lines, symmetry, and stacking.
3. Sensorality: Qualities that appeal to the senses, including, color, texture, pattern, and tactility.
4. Metaphor: Abstract connotations connecting the objects to a place or mood. For example, “When a smooth rock, a shell, a bottle of sunscreen, and a large towel sitting on a beige surface cease to be merely four objects on the floor but instead are transformed into a symbol for the seashore.”
5. Mystification: A wild card, be it purposeful or absentmindedness that pairs unexpected objects. “When aspects of an arrangement don’t make sense, but seem like they should.”
6. Narrative: What story the combination of objects communicates, whether linear, abstract, or just the description of a scene.
7. Coherence: How physicality and story come together, forming a unified idea, shape, or palette.
8. Resonance: Personal meaning, unique significance; how the objects together “reverberate the mind.”

In considering an arrangement similar to this one illustrated in Arranging Things from the perspective of its resonance, Koren notes that “The stark, contrasting sensuality and the subtle suggestion of anthropomorphism provide ample impetus for pondering the ‘why’ of the pairing—at least for a few moments.” Pictured: Azmaya Silver Spoon
“You can’t possibly note all the rhetorical information embedded in a particular arrangement; it is virtually limitless,” writes Koren. “But you can try. The more variety, subtlety, and complexity you unearth, the better.” Pictured: Il Bussetto Pen Cover, Sigmar Italic Pepper Mill by Michael Anastassiades (in wooden presentation box), Antique Mirror Container 9

It might be most helpful, Koren says, to go through the principles in order to dissect the objects around you. Or move back and forth out of order, searching to unearth variety, subtlety, and complexity. “Making and seeing are intimately connected, so the more you can ‘see,’ the more you can ‘make,’” he explains.

Admittedly, the topic of objectively analyzing objects and their “thingness” is quite niche. “At times it may seem that this entire analytical process merely fosters imaginative excess,” Koren writes. However, the principles he introduces start a conversation that is especially relevant at a time when it is normal to share a glimpse into one’s personal life, and where object arrangement and a candid still life can carry an odd sort of public commodity. It’s a reason to look a little closer at our daily choices and surroundings, to try and make sense of things. To describe the way you see the world. Or as Koren puts it, to help “foster a greater appreciation of the reality of reality.”

“This is a puzzle that seems to correlate with some intriguingly inscrutable progressive aspect of object connoisseurship,” notes Koren in analyzing the narrative potential of illustrated rows of cups and cards. Pictured: Neo-Utility Gold Playing Cards, Skultuna Small Bowl in white and black

In Place: Leonard Koren and the Art of Arranging Things

In Place:
Leonard Koren and the Art of Arranging Things

By Leigh Patterson
Photographed by Hanna Tveite

How do we display our belongings? What do arrangements of objects say about the arranger? What makes one arrangement more attractive or interesting than another? Broad questions such as these are a specialty of Leonard Koren, who supplies nuanced answers in thought-provoking books such as Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement, published in 2003 by Stone Bridge Press. Revisiting the illustrated treatise, and recreating its original paintings by Natalie Du Pasquier in photographic form, is an opportunity to logically dissect an intuitive act while considering the subtleties of stuff.

Koren commissioned Natalie Du Pasquier to create “illustrations of arrangements of objects” for Arranging Things and provided a “brief rhetorical analysis” of each one. Here, seven of those paintings are recreated with actual objects and photographed by Hanna Tveite. Pictured: Nordstjerne Large Glass Jar with Black Soapstone Lid, HAY Clip Clip with Handle and Elastic Ball, Iris Hantverk Handmade Nail Brush, Il Bussetto iPhone Cover, Redecker Natural Horn Small Toothed Comb

“This started out as an attempt to understand what made the arrangements I saw so extraordinary,” writes Koren in Arranging Things. Referencing a unique, particularly appealing assemblage of ceramics, rocks, and found organic materials on display at a Japanese gallery in San Francisco, he notes, “[I] wondered what it was that gave them their imaginative vitality.”

A provenance: Koren’s work embodies a very specific—if hard to define—lexicon. An artist by birth and an architect by training, he is a writer, philosopher, and design scholar whose books have made him an authority on topics ranging from tea ceremonies and sand gardens to concrete and the word “aesthetics.” In the 1970s, he founded the cult magazine Wet, dedicated to the art of “gourmet bathing.” In the ‘90s, his book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers introduced the Japanese aesthetic sensibility to Western readers, an idea he revisited in last year’s Further Thoughts. At once self-aware and earnest, his work hints at a world of meaning waiting to be discovered.

According to art director and writer Véronique Vienne, the intent of the book’s illustrations “was to emphasize the thingness of the objects while undermining their original function.” Pictured: Antique Mirror Container
“There is an almost emphatic sense of reason and rationality to the object arrangement,” notes Koren of the meeting of two glasses, a wooden block, and a flower pot. The pictorial intensity is enough to sustain interest, he concludes, until “you run up against the conceptual dead-end” of the plain, non-descript nature of the objects themselves. Pictured: Serax Beaker Drinking Glass, Collected by The Line 5.3 oz Glass
Most arrangements are little noticed, yet some stop you in your tracks. A ‘successful’ arrangement, that is, an effective arrangement, is one that powerfully engages your attention and sustains your interest. Leonard Koren

For Koren, object placement is a communicational act: its own “language-like” form of aesthetic expression. In Arranging Things, he proposes a “rhetoric of arranging” comprised of eight principles:
1. Hierarchy: Establishing variations in height, shape, and depth as they relate to their surroundings. The more conspicuous the object, the more important it is in the arrangement’s context.
2. Alignment: Orientation of objects relative to each other, such as perpendicular and parallel lines, symmetry, and stacking.
3. Sensorality: Qualities that appeal to the senses, including, color, texture, pattern, and tactility.
4. Metaphor: Abstract connotations connecting the objects to a place or mood. For example, “When a smooth rock, a shell, a bottle of sunscreen, and a large towel sitting on a beige surface cease to be merely four objects on the floor but instead are transformed into a symbol for the seashore.”
5. Mystification: A wild card, be it purposeful or absentmindedness that pairs unexpected objects. “When aspects of an arrangement don’t make sense, but seem like they should.”
6. Narrative: What story the combination of objects communicates, whether linear, abstract, or just the description of a scene.
7. Coherence: How physicality and story come together, forming a unified idea, shape, or palette.
8. Resonance: Personal meaning, unique significance; how the objects together “reverberate the mind.”

In considering an arrangement similar to this one illustrated in Arranging Things from the perspective of its resonance, Koren notes that “The stark, contrasting sensuality and the subtle suggestion of anthropomorphism provide ample impetus for pondering the ‘why’ of the pairing—at least for a few moments.” Pictured: Azmaya Silver Spoon
“You can’t possibly note all the rhetorical information embedded in a particular arrangement; it is virtually limitless,” writes Koren. “But you can try. The more variety, subtlety, and complexity you unearth, the better.” Pictured: Il Bussetto Pen Cover, Sigmar Italic Pepper Mill by Michael Anastassiades (in wooden presentation box), Antique Mirror Container 9

It might be most helpful, Koren says, to go through the principles in order to dissect the objects around you. Or move back and forth out of order, searching to unearth variety, subtlety, and complexity. “Making and seeing are intimately connected, so the more you can ‘see,’ the more you can ‘make,’” he explains.

Admittedly, the topic of objectively analyzing objects and their “thingness” is quite niche. “At times it may seem that this entire analytical process merely fosters imaginative excess,” Koren writes. However, the principles he introduces start a conversation that is especially relevant at a time when it is normal to share a glimpse into one’s personal life, and where object arrangement and a candid still life can carry an odd sort of public commodity. It’s a reason to look a little closer at our daily choices and surroundings, to try and make sense of things. To describe the way you see the world. Or as Koren puts it, to help “foster a greater appreciation of the reality of reality.”

“This is a puzzle that seems to correlate with some intriguingly inscrutable progressive aspect of object connoisseurship,” notes Koren in analyzing the narrative potential of illustrated rows of cups and cards. Pictured: Neo-Utility Gold Playing Cards, Skultuna Small Bowl in white and black