Instant expert

February 25, 2005

Domestic Encounters: 1400 to the Present. Royal College of Art, London. March 14 (£15, students £5)

What's it about?: How the domestic interior has been "experienced, occupied and perceived" in the past 600 years, interpreted through disciplines including social history, design, fine art, anthropology and photography. It's a postgraduate research day under the auspices of the Arts and Humanities Research Board Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen risk: Mercifully low. This is more mull-over than makeover.

But you said domestic interiors? Yes, but we're not heading into Changing Rooms territory. It's about what these rooms mean, how our lives are projected into these spaces and how rooms are an expression of our social relationships, not about spray-painting a piece of MDF with a silhouette of Elvis.

Table talk: "Isn't it remarkable how passionate people can feel about how they furnish their homes? That new Ikea in north London caused a riot when it opened. Mind you, it's very tempting when you see the prices. We only went to get a picture frame and we got a shoe rack and a little desk for the children, two chairs, a spare bed and a rug. Did I mention the armchair and the sofa?"

Sample material: The research day is going to hear examples of different concepts of "home", including "Working Parents in the Domestic Sphere: The Emancipatory Potential of Home-based Telework" and homes away from home, such as the "West Indian Front Room in the African Diaspora".

Intellectual furniture: Use the word "linnenkast" in a casual, unaffected way. It's bound to impress and there's a paper on its impact on the 17th-century Dutch republic. No, not Linda Barker, that's something else entirely. What, you don't know what it is? I'm sure Carol Smillie wouldn't be slow to tell us.

How neat are designers? Very neat. They can even make a style point with a sentence. There's a history and architecture paper called "The (Un)Homely House". It's all in the brackets, as cool as a (cu)cumber. It's a little design feature made from letters.

History channel: Trust the historians to sauce things up a little. There's a history paper called "Bed-hopping Bessie? Order and the Domestic Interior in Late Sixteenth-Century Edinburgh". Since they've become TV stars it's all sex and question marks. And there's stuff about ambassadors' houses in 16th-century Italy, which sounds much more sumptuous than brushed chrome and acres of blonde wood.

Table talk II: "Universities are full of thoughtful, interesting, creative people. But why are so many university rooms so boring? They're like 1960s council offices. I was watching House Doctor the other day and they completely transformed this study. All it took was a tin of Dulux, a cactus and a handful of twigs."

Homes of the rich and famous: Well, if you must have a celebrity, there's a look inside Sarah Bernhardt's sculpture studio, in a paper shamelessly titled "Home is Where the Art Is". I can hear the rustle of Laurence's lacy shirts.

I think, therefore Ikea: One big unanswered question. Where do they get the names for all that flat-pack stuff? Who thought that Billy was a good name for a bookcase?

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