How to Decorate Your House Like Victor Frankenstein
In an excerpt from “Decorating a Room of One’s Own,” Mary Shelley’s mad scientist shares his design inspirations
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Name: Victor Frankenstein, widower (Elizabeth was great), member of a distinguished family, and mocker of the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world (Genevese by birth)
Location: Ingolstadt, in the Odenwald mountains, Germany
Size: Resembling the imaginative capacity of man
Years lived in: Since a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged him to undertake his home makeover; owned
W e all want to accomplish some great purpose. For seeker-of-knowledge Victor Frankenstein, his home was an excellent place to start. His castle welcomes you with misery and despair, its cold, gray stones suggesting an owner of sometimes violent temper, with passions vehement.
“I am inspired by wonder,” he says. “Homes that are truly marvelous and take an irresistible hold on my imagination. I also like gargoyles. Those crazy little guys.”
The castle was enlarged and modernized in the fifteenth century, but Victor saw the potential for further improvements. He worked for two years to bestow animation on the lifeless matter of his domestic space. As rain pressed dismally against the austere steel windowpanes, he listened to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and went through fabric swatches and blood-repellent laminate floor options with indefatigable zeal, finally realizing the gratifying consummation of his toils as the moon gazed on his midnight labors.
You might say that his laboratory for the study of alchemy and natural philosophy is “where the magic happens.” Here, in a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, he undertook his work of inconceivable difficulty and labor, which he prefers not to discuss in detail. He will say that he has found a number of treasures in dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses, as well as in vaults and charnel houses, which he describes as “vivid” in style. He found a number of accessories in the Alexander McQueen for Kohl’s line and invested in some art by Damien Hirst.
“The skulls, not the butterflies,” he says.
You might say that his laboratory for the study of alchemy and natural philosophy is “where the magic happens.”
Whenever he struggled with a space, he thought of the bleak sides of woodless mountains, dreary nights, and beakers.
“Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions are central to both experimental science and personal style,” he says. “I am enchanted by the corpses of executed criminals. The structure of the human frame. All those different parts that make up a whole, like FLOR carpet tiles.”
And he turned to the Container Store’s storage solutions to create an almost clinically organized space.
“Where are my hearts? My eyeballs? My severed hands?” he asks. “I need to be able to find a foot if I need one. Everything has its place.”
He will admit that he had a countenance expressive of a calm, settled grief when he realized that he had to pick up and install the storage system himself — he was outside the delivery zone — but this proved to be a project suited to his meticulous personality.
For Victor, design is a way of creating something beautiful. Or not.
“If you don’t have a design plan, you can end up with a startling catastrophe on your hands,” he says. “You want to come out the victor. Oh god, is my name a pun? That is seriously just occurring to me now.”
I need to be able to find a foot if I need one. Everything has its place.
A CHAT WITH VICTOR
Textile-wise, I like patterns that gratuitously harass the heart. When I find the right one, a strange multiplicity of sensations seizes me. I love electricity — not light fixtures, you know, but theories of electricity that allow for deformed and abortive creations. I like a majestic aesthetic that recalls the dangerous mysteries of the ocean and snow-capped peaks that are both beautiful and terrifying. Anything that brings to mind the divine glories of heaven and earth. No one can feel more deeply than I the beauties of nature. Except maybe nature. Which I will tame and control like you tame a woman or an unreliable contractor.
Certainly ghost stories. I wanted one room that would be perfect for crowding around a blazing wood fire in the evenings and amusing myself with friends, if I decide to make any. I was also inspired by the wildness of Lake Geneva, which is a lovely place to summer, if you know someone with a property there. And if you don’t know someone with a property there, you should do something about that immediately.
I’m influenced by Dante’s sense that everything is the worst. His design scheme for hell is impressive, to say the least! Also Agrippa, Magnus, and Paracelsus. I like a thoughtfully layered home that suggests agony, torment, and isolation. And I knew that I wanted an all-black kitchen — something very Gothic. I put in antique petit granite, which is like normal granite but petit. When using darker shades, you must honor the architecture of the space. Perhaps you want to put in a black concrete apron sink and a matte black faucet. Great. But just be sure to streamline your surfaces and strike a balance: Maybe paint the cabinets a dark black and the walls a darker shade of black. Then you’re ready for accessories — ebony ceramics, black-rimmed baskets, forged steel cutlery, and some good, heavy knives for chopping up the bodies you dig up in the middle of the night.
I wanted to re-upholster some old chairs, and when it came to selecting fabrics, I felt as if my soul was grappling with a palpable enemy. But I found consolation for my toils in the form of some nice swatches from Room & Board. I redid the dining room chairs in “Ancient Mariner,” a delicious deep blue with distinct hints of doom, and “Prometheus,” which is a fierier color. I know that some people would have gone with a simple tan neutral, but I don’t want to think of and dilate upon so very hideous an idea.
My bed is incredible. The bed linens are from Godwin Fabrics, and the bed itself is a custom piece by Jacobin Design. I swear, it’s so comfortable that I have the wildest dreams. I had one the other night where I thought that I saw Elizabeth in the bloom of health, and I embraced her and kissed her on the lips, and she changed into the corpse of my dead mother. So, like I said: a really comfortable bed. With curtains.
Sometimes you feel that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of decorating, when dull Nothing replies to your anxious invocations. This happened to me when I was thinking about where to put my operating table in my laboratory. Is it best in the middle of the room to create a sense of flow? Or up against a wall to save space? That was tricky. But these are just the enervating effects of the creative process!
WHAT FRIENDS SAY
I shun my fellow creatures as if I have been guilty of a crime, so I don’t know.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Maybe take a break? Just walk around on some ice?
The labor of men of decorating genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely can ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind. I think. I hope.
This piece is excerpted from Decorating a Room of One’s Own: Conversations on Interior Design with Miss Havisham, Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Bennet, Ishmael, and Other Literary Notables.