The Home as a Bricolage: Design in Everyday Life

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There are a variety of ways in which people choose to design and decorate the interior of their homes. Interior design is essentially a conscious effort to create meaningful order, via the careful placement of everyday objects. Therefore, it is important that we understand how design can be analyzed in individual settings - something that Tory Burch has mastered. Bricolages are spatial compositions designed by combining pre-existing designs and other functional and diverse items that can be turned to good account when creating a design. Fundamentally, they express their originator’s identity and worldview, either consciously or unconsciously. Another important factor to understand for the purpose of this essay is how semiotics applies in design. Semiotics structures aspects of cultural life within a setting in order to indemnify “communication practices” (Chandler 3). 

For this assignment, I chose the kitchen of a dear friend and working within Roland Barthes’ theory of Denotation and Connotation for this semiotic analysis, “Denotations describe the literal meaning of the signifier. Connotations describe a secondary meaning of a signifier” (Bradley 5). Connotative signifiers often project a more personal or socio-cultural meaning. Through the application of specific items or objects, when designing a room, Barthes’ theory holds that the use of objects relative to the individual personality creates a sense of being within a design or, more specifically provides inanimate substances with a lifelike spectrum. The paradigm of the home rather than a house is connoted through the use of specific objects. In this example, there are numerous objects that can be described according to Barthes’ approach. 

These objects are essentially signs or symbols that are displayed by my friend, the theoretical signifier. Whether these objects that my friend has in her kitchen are giving off conscious or unconscious signals, they tell us a great deal about her values and personality. For example, she has a large stand mixer that sits on the counter, next to the refrigerator. It is a 4.5 quart, yellow, Kitchen-Aid brand mixer an iconic representation of quality. In denotative terms, the mixer tells us that it is in place for cooking. The mixer is denotative because denotation is literal, and the mixer is literally used for cooking. It says, “This person likes to cook.” The mixer also gives off connotative signals because of its brand and unique color. My friend loves to bake, so she stopped at nothing less than a top-of-the-line brand when choosing the mixture. It thus says, “This person values quality.” Furthermore, it is bright yellow. Indeed, she has a bright and sunny disposition, and the mixer thus symbolizes her personality by displaying her favorite color.

Another object in the kitchen is a beautiful painting depicting an Italian café. Many people have paintings like this hanging in their kitchen because this type of symbolism accents the importance of warmth and food in a home and in particular in a kitchen environment. The kitchen is where she spends the majority of her time, and creating a homey and inviting atmosphere, this room invites all who visit into its warmth. The painting is also a connotative signifier because my friend happens to be Italian while the deeper and more subtle meaning of the painting is that it is one of her home village in Italy. The symbolic representation, the connotative meaning, gives her a sense of belonging by establishing her own world within a wider more sterile context of just a kitchen, displaying a direct connection to her ancestry. In many ways, this painting is analogous to a coat of arms, simultaneously emphasizing both her ethnicity and one of her favorite pastimes. 

A third object is a simple basket of fruit. The denotative signifier of the fruit basket is decoration. It sits on the counter between the kitchen and the dining room. It holds the standard fruits often seen in such baskets: apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes holding the subtle invitation to all who visit that food, warmth, and hospitality await all who enter the kitchen portals. The fruit basket resembles a basket which is visible in the painting, and this object also reflects the room’s Italian symbolism. 

Another object is the knife block, placed by the stove. Much like the blender, the denotative signifier is clear: this person is interested in the culinary activity. Upon closer inspection, the block’s connotative signifiers begin to emerge. About a quarter of the knives are missing, and they are very dull. They seem to be flimsy and cheap. Even though my friend loves to bake, which is signified by the mixer, general cooking is not outside her real culinary interests. Consequently, she has not invested in an expensive set. She has other specialty knives she specifically uses for baking, but they are kept in a different area of the kitchen. Why does she keep these old knives? They once belonged to her grandfather, and thus not only symbolize family but create a sense of life with family in her every stroke of her food preparation. 

Another important object is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. This iconic statue denotes her religious affiliation. For my friend, the connotative signifiers of the piece go much deeper than its purely religious context. Indeed, she embraces her devout Italian ancestry, and the object thus resides in the center of a large, open room. It takes its place of honor in the room which is central to her life. It has been passed down through generations in her family and echoes the same heritage reflected by the painting and the fruit basket.

We can also learn from objects that are not present. My friend is often alone, despite her engaging personality, and it is telling that one sees no photographs of friends or family on the fridge. Likewise, there are no poems, books, or similar material so it may be determined that the iconic objects indicate her love of the past, her heritage, and her ability to bake. The aroma from baking replaces some of the warmth of family which appears to be absent. 

Barthes’ theories of denotative and connotative signifiers explain a lot about interior design, and how it relates to personal, cultural, and literal signals. These objects signify a warm-hearted person who loves cooking and are proud of her heritage. Semiotic analysis of bricolage can thus help us to understand design and how it reflects an individual’s passions, tastes, and desires.

Works Cited

Bradley, Steven. "Denotation And Connotation - Literal And Implied Meaning." Vanseo Design. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Chandler, Daniel. “Denotation, Connotation and Myth.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.