An interior is much more than four walls and a floor. On Sunday 24 November, Frame attended Het Nieuwe Instituut’s 9th annual Benno Premsela Lecture at Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue. After years of pin-pointing the latest design innovations, the cultural authority recently returned to prompting fundamental vocations like interior design. American novelist and literary editor of the now defunct Nest Magazine, Matthew Stadler was invited to speak about the discipline’s socio-political implications.

Stadler opened his speech – Interior Decorating in War Time – by describing how interiors originate as blank slates. ‘Outside is chaos, the tilting and tossing of the rest of creation. But inside is order, stability, safety,’ the novelist expressed. ‘The interior is built to suit human needs.’

He then defined the difference between interiors, rooms and domesticity – terms that are often conflated. In doing so, Stadler made clear that interiors are subjective and not limited to physical space. ‘Subjectivity is our value to others,’ he repeatedly emphasized. Tangible and abstract refuge is a human right. the environments we arrange, curate, edit and ultimately compose, reflect our identities.

Within interiors, there are windows that facilitate the transition between the private and public. ‘We crossed a series of thresholds on our way in, as if we were passing into rooms within rooms within rooms... political boundaries,’ Stadler explained by describing the immediate setting. While tracing the Portuguese Synagogue’s long history, the novelist alluded to the time-specificity of such interiors. ‘Walls must carry ideas to be strong. They are load-bearing walls.’

In the past, our homes featured windows and paintings. Over time, these outlets were replaced by computers. ‘How did these screens enter our interiors,’ Stadler questioned. ‘They were smuggled in, as windows.’ The novelist argued that the digital realm encroaches on our physical world. ‘Digital relationships have become spatial ones.’ He warns that screens – opening up an endless amount of interiors – are also cameras. These two-way mirrors provide powerful institutions with access to personal details.

Stadler closed his speech by defending the individuality of our interiors. He called for agency rather than privacy in the fight against surveillance. We need to stay vigilant and equip our screens with curtains. He concluded by asking: ‘What can we do as the designers of interiors in war time?’

Photos Matthijs Immink