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In The Frame

You may remember seeing a film clip of a young man running across a road and violently pushing an elderly lady in the back and forcing her to the ground. At first you think she is being mugged but then the camera pans upwards and you see a grand piano falling from a crane. Far from attacking her, the young man is saving her life. Not only does this demonstrate that things are not always what they seem, this is also a clear example of how we want to see the bigger picture beyond the frame. It also gives us the opportunity to highlight specific details.

Much of life today is seen solely within a frame. Pictures, photos and mirrors are obvious examples and televisions, cinema and computer screens, tablets, and smart phones all show us the world within a clearly defined frame. There are now so many instrument panels, dashboards, video entry systems and, of course, cameras that we can barely escape from seeing the world unframed.

In fact, as you look around, our homes are full of frames. Each window has a frame, many subdivided by glazing bars giving us the choice of looking at a view broken up by vertical or horizontal lines or offering a more restricted but focused view of the world through a single pane of glass.

Here’s a little experiment that anyone can try. Look through a reasonably unfamiliar open doorway. The architrave is the frame that limits our view so much we cannot see all that is happening at either side. This creates a little air of mystery. Now move a little to one side and the view changes, sometimes with revealing consequences. Now go through the door and look back at where you were standing. Again your vision is partly obstructed by the door frame and you can only see a part of the room where you were recently standing but memory and imagination make you feel that you know more about the room than the eye can see.

Good architecture takes this into account and encourages our eyes to lead us into new spaces and a wider aspect. Window positions not only allow light to flood in but can focus attention on a particular view, perhaps a tree, a fountain or a far away horizon. Charles Rennie Mackintosh understood this very well and made simply looking through a doorway an exciting experience as you can see in his “House For An art Lover” in Glasgow. He brings to his doorways a little intrigue and the promise of a little surprise. Even outside in the garden, views are commonly and regularly framed by walls, fences, gates or even trees (just imagine looking straight down a tree lined boulevard). Understanding this will helps us to know how to position things around the home.

This is a good lesson for homes that are put up for sale and is a good reason to keep doors open when showing prospective buyers around. Indeed, some show homes often have the doors removed to ensure that everyone sees a framed view of each room.

Frames, you see, are really not so restrictive and concealing after all and, ironically, by helping us focus on the little things can help us see the “bigger picture.”