Ob-Jessions: Exposing Patina


By: Philip Wood

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Most of the time we experience buildings and their interiors, not physically but visually, through photography. Images are how we consume architecture, although it could be said that architecture is intended to consume us. 

The medium of photography, though, is a beguiling one. As we flick through pages of magazines and books, taking in the latest highly polished offerings, we get to see only a brief and almost artificial moment in the history of a building, often yearning to preserve its condition, seeing wear as an erosion of perfection. What if we were to expose rather than expunge the buildup of a surface’s patina? To not bury each year’s passing in another layer of paint, but to highlight the graceful aging and make that in itself a thing of beauty?

A close up shot of the perforated copper panels from the de Young Museum’s façade.

Such a notion is poetically expressed in the work of conceptual artist David Ireland. On the corner of On the corner of 20th and Capp Streets, stands the former home, and soon to be museum, of Ireland. The exterior of this highly decorative 1886 Victorian built in the Italianate style is in stark contrast to what I found inside its doors when I had the opportunity to visit the space.

The interior crackled saffron yellow walls stand naked against un-trimmed doorframes and exposed floorboards. As you walk between the rooms, now vacant of belongings, the rich glow of each surface’s patina becomes mesmerizing, and you feel awash in color, drawn into the depths of the walls that seem to have captured the house’s history and made them into a character in their own right.

The aged interiors of David Ireland’s house in SF.

After removing baseboards and moldings and sanding back walls to shed them of paint and paper, Ireland then sealed all the surfaces with a high-gloss polyurethane that seemed to set the house’s history in amber.

Ireland’s work is an exercise in honoring material integrity, a quest to uncover the various histories of a property, capturing and celebrating the process of time as it has shown itself through the construction materials of the home.

The patinated wainscoting and living space at David Ireland’s interior on Capp St.

As a furniture maker, I spend a lot of time considering this. When building something, I think of how each element of the piece will look within the whole, not only selecting timber for straightness of grain or particular figure, but also how it will wear over time, as handles are gripped, edges get rubbed, and sunlight and the elements do their work. This buildup of wear over the years, this patina, can become the character of the piece itself. Some things look better with age, as I try to convince myself these days. Others do not.

We live in an age of “instant,” where the act of time is overlooked and undervalued. A picture may be worth a thousand words yet it speaks only of a single moment. Life is made up of thousands of moments, and it’s worth reflecting this through the places we live by using materials that will most beautifully capture and express the life they, and we, have lived. The house, which at present is under both construction and conservation, is slated to reopen its doors in January 2015.



Philip Wood is a practicing cultural critic, creative director, designer and furniture maker based in San Francisco. Each issue, he shares an untold story of objects, why it makes sense to take a closer look at them and how they can have resonance for what surrounds us in our personal spaces. 

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