I didn’t know who Donald Knorr was until a few days ago. The modernist architect was a native of Chicago and studied at Cranbrook, where he earned the respect of mentor Eero Saarinen. At Saarinen’s urging, Knorr entered a chair into a design competition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It took first place. Today, a single one can sell at auction for thousands of dollars. This is the chair my daughter was ready to start jumping on when I caught her in the act.
My two year-old and I have been housesitting for vacationing friends while our kitchen is in the middle of a gut renovation. Our friends’ home is the embodiment of their exquisite taste: each room is a showcase for objects and furniture of important design. They also have two children ages three and five and, over the years I’ve seen these little humans behave with reverence for the things around them. I consider it a parenting triumph that toddlers can live in harmony with high design.
This does not match up with my own domestic experience. Our living room has become a Parkour course for toddlers. I’ve come to terms with a two year-old using our mid-century sectional sofa as a trampoline. I don’t allow her to put her shoes on the furniture, but that is the only gleam of civilization in a climate of savagery. She broke both of the leather arms on our Milo Baughman lounge chair by using them as a swing; we replaced the arms and carried on. The truth is that people with kids shouldn’t have anything too nice. If they do, they soon will not. Our home is perfectly lovely but most of the furniture was bought with durability in mind. Our dining table is entirely covered in Formica, by design.
I have generally enjoyed the physicality, energy and creativity of watching my daughter play at home. But while we’re housesitting, the terrible failings of our parenting are brought into relief. I have spent the weekend following her around, chiding her to behave well, and prescribing timeouts when she inevitably climbs on something—something expensive. We’ve tried to confine her to the basement but she has too much curiosity to be kept down. She wants to roll around on all the Moroccan rugs, pluck the melodious rods off the Bertoia sculpture, and see what it feels like to kneel on the arm of an Eames lounge chair. I look at this little, unruly gymnast and seriously question my ability to parent.
To shift the focus, I’ll blame this soul-crushing winter. Nearly six months in, we’re all bouncing off the walls of our modestly sized apartment. With weeks of mind-numbing cold, the kid can go several days without seeing the outside. We chose a location with easy access to public transit but lately, I want to go everywhere in the car. We’ve got one of the city’s best neighborhood grocery stores a few blocks away, but the sidewalks of our walkable neighborhood are covered in ice. We brag about our lake access but now we’re hit with winter winds that bite our faces and drive us indoors.
I believe in sustainable urbanism but this weather is testing my resolve. I scoff at suggestions that we’ll eventually have to move to a house because we’re going to need “more space.” I want to live in harmony with the city again. I want to let my kid outside so she can jump off curbs, hang from monkey bars and climb up trees. I want for my furniture, and my friends’ furniture, to survive the winter intact. (Krisann Rehbein)