THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY
Garden Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Anthony Poon)
Many have heard the instructional 1960’s acronym from the U.S. Navy: K-I-S-S.
It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. These days, this pithy recommendation is delivered from anyone in the role of doling out advice, from architecture professors to life coaches, from advertisers to attorneys, from editors to campaign managers.
But life gets complicated, and keeping things simple is not so easy. So what do we do?
A traditional wedding gown possesses an abundance of trim, lace, shoulder pads, embroidery, tones and textures. Not just a statement of the period fashion, all this creative noise and fuss was required, because it is actually difficult to keep the dress simple. What I call the gown’s ‘wedding cake décor’ was sometimes intentionally applied to camouflage the limits of craft. A clever game of misdirection enshrouded careless seams, poor stitching, low quality fabric, and even laziness.
Consider the modern day minimal bridal gowns by Vera Wang and Jil Sander. Without all the fussiness to detract, the simple designs must make an explicit statement of quality. Each stitch of tread, cut and drape, profile movement, and shimmer of silk must astound. It is no easy task to keep the dresses minimal and fashionable, as well as express the exquisite notion of bespoke craft. It is easier to simply camouflage shortcomings with crap.
In architecture, the application of trim crosses over from the wedding gown. The use of architectural crown moldings, door casings, base board, wainscot, window trim, and so on, offer visual interest, detail and scale—and even a phenomenological connection to the human body.
But such design trim and wedding cake decor were also used to hide the flaws of construction. Where a smooth white plaster wall could not perfectly meet a polished stone floor, perhaps due to lack of skill or the limitations of the tools back then, a floor base was installed as a transition—to basically hide gaps.
We all want to keep things simple, but to achieve this higher level of mindfulness, one has to work hard at making it look easy. At Poon Design, we call upon the analogy of a duck, where though it glides so gracefully across the lake, it is beneath the water’s surface that little feet paddle furiously.
Don’t underestimate the rigors required to achieve simplicity, whether a wedding gown, a work of architecture or the appearance of a duck leisurely floating in a figure eight.
Minimalist architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, gave us one of the most impactful phrases in design and in life: “Less is more.” Alongside this three-word philosophy, he paved the way for what is commonly called “clean lines.” Whether in a modern house, a Tesla or an Ikea dining table, we often comment on how “clean” the lines are.
For my own work, Mies’s iconic Farnsworth House and other such projects of sculptural clarity inspired Poon Design’s and developer Andrew Adler’s 14 boldly austere yet luxurious estates in Palm Springs. Our compositions posit lucidity and precision. Autonomy and self-referentiality comprise the unapologetic purging of the conventional beliefs for adornment.
Steve Job’s exploration into a philosophy of ascetic beauty is legendary, to the degree of severity. As researched today at Apple, the minimalist one button on the iPhone is being studied to be deleted, so as to achieve an even higher level of simplicity and artistry. Stupid.