Constance Perkins House, by Richard Neutra. Pic from Frank Lloyd Gallery.
Quick question before you start: Which famous novelist was killed by over-vigorous interior decorators.
Architect Richard Neutra has your answer: it was French naturalist writer Emile Zola.
Zola, said Neutra, “courageously advocated a consistent interrelation of all things, adherence to nature, indifference to conventions, and realistic logic.” In everything that is, but his boudoir. “When he came to build his own house in Meudon or furnish his apartment in the Rue de Boulogne, he certainly did not act like a champion of progress. His self-chosen physical environment was quite at variance with the spirit of his radical pronouncements.” And he died of it.
Neutra himself championed in architecture what he called naturalism – by which he meant “a return to nature by way of modern science.” Neutra biographer Sylvia Lavin says:
Neutra believed that the design choices made by your architect could kill you or thrill you, arguing for example that bad decor had done nothing less than murder Emile Zola. Neutra identified with Zola because he considered the writer a forefather of his own interest in [what he called] biorealism. But Neutra believed Zola had died from sleeping in an over-accessorised and hermetically sealed bedroom. ‘His doctrine of naturalism was one thing; his apartment was another. He lived and died at the hands of the vigorous interior decorators of his age.’
Emile Zola · Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas, 146 1/2 × 144 cm