Thursday, 26 January 2017


A skeuomorph is an article based on an earlier model made in a different material. The classic skeuomorph is the china spoon copied from a metal one – the china version has a fake rivet.

Imbrication (a pattern like hanging tiles) derives from Roman Dacian scale armour via the 15th century, says historian Jonathan Foyle.

Horn of plenty or cornucopia: in prehistory, people used animals’ horns like handbags or baskets.

Doric capitals (the curly ones) on columns follow the horns of rams' head capitals. (You can see some in Whiteley's in Queensway.)

Were deckled edges on writing paper derived from the uneven edges of torn parchment?

Scroll decoration: look at a real scroll.

Stone garden planters sometimes have a ring carved on the side – originally a real ring for carrying the object with two poles.

Instructions on party invites for “carriages at 12, black tie”.

We still talk about “horsepower”, and the Deux Chevaux was a popular car.

Fictive damask: it’s painted on the wall.

Some new office blocks are modelled on converted warehouses.

Cabriole legs on furniture descend from Egyptian tables and chairs which had legs modelled on animals’ limbs.

You can get a tattoo imitating cross stitch.
Battery tea lights and votive lights in churches imitate wax candles.

Plastic nit-combs: originally made of bone, the design is unchanged for 1000s of years.

CGI imitates hand-drawn animation, Thunderbirds puppets, stop-motion (Mr Fox).

The underscore key (and character) on a computer keyboard: it used to be for underlining.

Nobody has worn a waist-cinching corset since the 50s, but Disney princesses have 1880 waists.

Modernist houses were modelled on TB sanatoria (flat roofs, sun loungers, covered corridors, balconies, big windows).

Brooms and whisks were originally branches and twigs.

Dummy chimneys on new houses.

Earthenware dishes were based on wooden originals.

Curb chains worn as jewellery are modelled on part of a horse’s bridle.

Buildings are given watchtowers when there’s no need to look out for an enemy, a returning fleet, or misbehaving prisoners.

Lead bullets were fired by slings before guns.

Architects are building tower blocks inspired by Excel spreadsheets, points out Adam Nathaniel Furman.

Banqueting suites and venues for hire still provide gilt “rout chairs” from the early 1800s. Light and moveable, they were the plastic stacking chairs of their day. They go with white tablecloths, and give the whole place an air of formality, social awkwardness and deep gloom. You place them round the edge of the ballroom for wallflowers to sit on and wish they’d never been born.

Do Olympians pretend to bite silver and bronze medals as well as gold? (You bit sovereigns to make sure they weren’t counterfeit – gold is softer.)

The fashionable stopped wearing patches (artificial beauty spots) in the late 18th century, but that was no reason to close down the thriving patch box industry, and the makers carried on designing new models and selling to collectors.

Saw a plastic jamjar with a handle for sale in Sainsburys. (PM)

In the early 20th century, makers of classical marble, slate and onyx clock garnitures took a long hard look at their unsold stock and designed some Art Deco Cubist versions to use up their warehouse full of marble etc.

forelock-tugging: It’s constantly invoked as a sign of overdone deference, though nobody has actually tugged a forelock since about 1920. You clutched the brim of your hat (tipped your hat) as a vestigial version of raising your hat out of respect. If you weren’t wearing a hat, you tugged your forelock. Why did you raise your hat? Because you were supposed to remove your hat in the presence of a lady, or someone further up the social hierarchy. And raising the hat was a vestigial version of taking the hat right off and bowing low.

Notorious Bank junction '... too many people milling around in a space designed for horses and carts. ' (@susieclapham)

TV screens (squares with rounded corners) turned up all over 60s art. Sunglasses were much the same shape. Windows were modelled on aeroplane windows – with round corners to stop them cracking.

Piracy had ceased to pay, but a vocational tradition will last long after it has ceased to be economic, in a decadent form. (Richard Hughes)

Women go on making rather dull, simple pillow lace long after the fashion for trimming all clothes and underwear with lace has passed (and lace has been made by machine for 100 years). Yet lace never entirely disappears. it lingered in various forms into the 80s with a revival of lace collars and petticoats. There was a revival in the 90s and somebody wrote a brilliant article on the semiology of different coloured lace. White – you look like a doily. Black and red – tarty. Navy blue or brown – mother of the bride. Pale green? Turquoise? Lilac?

Medieval great halls were modelled on Bronze Age round houses which were modelled on yurts with seats round the edge and a brazier or hearth in the centre.

Maes Howe, Kevin’s Kitchen (ancient underground spaces with huge corbelled “spires”) copy caves. Cathedrals are the same thing above ground (apart from the crypt).

Seaside piers were originally for steamers picking up passengers – they could only sail in deep water. When the steamers went, towns went on building piers.

After the War, wire-grid stretchers were converted into fences for council estates in Deptford an East Dulwich. Subsequent council estate fences were modelled on the stretchers.

Early newspaper computer systems used the language of “desks” and “baskets” (what we called “metaphors” in those early computer days). We still talk about a computer’s “desktop”.

Writer and priest Ronald Knox noticed that in the 20s, women who had had their hair “shingled” (cut very short), still patted the backs of their heads as if to check their updo.

Ranch-style houses of the 50s copied genuine ranches – wooden cabins built around a chimney put together from whatever rocks you could find lying around.

Deeply buttoned leather sofas were copied from car interiors (It was as if a motor car had spawned. EM Forster), which in turn were copied from carriage interiors – padded to protect you from the lurching of the vehicle, and probably for warmth as well. And leather would be hardwearing and waterproof.

Gas lights were modelled on the lanterns hung at the doors/gateways of grand houses. Electric “carriage lamps” outside your 30s villa are a further evolution.

New houses are modelled on converted Victorian houses (a long thin “living area” with windows front and back, copying two small rooms “knocked through”).

In the Ice Age there was no distinction between dolls and idols (articulated figures have been found). There are wooden Egyptian figures in the British Museum with articulated arms. Egyptian (and early Greek) statues of gods follow articulated figures, with a slot in the hand to hold a rod or spear.

Digging at Silbury Hill revealed successive layers of chalk and turf. It was a model of the moon: you could clad it in chalk so that it would shine (especially by moonlight), and then make it go “dark” again by covering it in turf. And when the moat fills with water the hill is reflected, and the moon is full. It is this that it is, my theory.

Reverse skeuomorph: Zoroastrians use real flaming urns in their ceremonies.

More here.

Ionic capital

1 comment:

  1. I've just been reading various books set in sanatoria, and that detail about modernist style is creepy but convīncing!