The Scandinavian crime writers seem to have a lock on noir. Their lock, however, isn’t so much about shady characters, it is about appalling weather. I just finished Henning Mankel’s, “The Fifth Woman”, and I think there was one sunny day in the month in which the book is set from mid-October to mid-November. Every day has rain, sometimes frozen, and the temperature is always bone chilling. Maybe that is why I like to read them in the summer time?

English literature in the 18th century can be said to have undergone as much a transformation during the Age of Enlightenment as the decorative arts. Even though literacy was limited, the taste for adventure among the public was vast. Books in the early 18th century, like “Robinson Crusoe” and “Tom Jones”, were books of adventure and derring-do that captured the imagination of readers. But by the end of the century, novelists like Fanny Burney and Jane Austen wrote about class and the position of the woman in society. The novel, as an art form, had clearly shifted.

Kurt Wallander, Mankel’s detective, is driven and yet whose self-doubt outstrips most of the other detectives of the genre. Harry Hole, Jo Nesbo’s errant detective, is driven by demons, doubt being one of them, but alcoholism and drug addiction also rank highly. Van Veeteren, Hakan Nesser’s ugly and irascible Detective Chief Inspector is just never wrong. Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck, is the most Sherlockian of the bunch, but is prone to colds. All of them talk about the weather and it is always depressing. Marlowe’s Los Angeles may have been the birth place for noir, but Scandinavia knows how to keep it well watered, dark and cold.

The English country house experience is always a fun one for me. I recently revisited Harewood, Blickling, Houghton and Holkham and enjoyed each of them tremendously. I have been visiting English country houses since the early 1970’s and I have always enjoyed the experience(s) and expect that next year I will revisit more. However, it could be better and I do have a few suggestions.

It isn’t that the houses don’t offer a lot, I just believe they could offer a great deal more because they retain such a vast quantity of information. My very first visit to Holkham, for example, happened roughly a year before I bought my first Paul Saunders chair. Saunders made a lot of the seat furniture at Holkham and is, despite his great woodcarving and elegant proportions, relatively unknown. That should not be the case.

When I visited Williamsburg, Virginia this year, I realized that Americans really do know how to get one involved in the experience of being in a colonial town. You can ignore all the people in period dress, or you can go along with it and listen to what they have to say. They are always interesting and full of information such as, for example, how the British flag looked before the inclusion of Ireland in 1801. The involvement and the knowledge heighten the experience.

My suggestion is intended to broaden the experience for casual visitors and focus the knowledge base for those people looking for knowledge. A great furniture house such as Houghton, for example, could have a booklet, an app, an audio or perhaps even a blog on the furniture. This also could be done for paintings, silver, porcelain, wood carving, etc. This would unleash the full potential of history that resides within the house. Think of all the MFA’s who would be happy to contribute to such a plan!

The function of a successful business would seem to be to create a great product for a  market that both recognized and needed it. That might be true for mouth wash and toothpaste, but it isn’t true for many luxury items. Luxury items, the types of things that people want but don’t need, require branding. Just watch any Oscars ceremony and listen to the names of the fashion designers that clothe the stars. This is their way of branding their product.

Thomas Chippendale understood how important it was for him to be known as a leading furniture designer. To that end, he created and published a book of designs, few of which he actually made, that ensured his place in history. It is amazing to think that Chippendale’s name is known by millions, few of whom would be able to identify either a drawing or a piece of furniture by the master. That his book was wildly successful, at least in that regard, is a testament to his foresight.

Why do we need brands? Stores that charge premiums for commodities appear to be  making higher profits. Isn’t it smarter to find a less expensive alternative? This is, of course, the question for the ages. Chippendale had rivals equally adept at producing great furniture. But, did they truly have what he had? The person that knew the answer to this question was Robert Adam, the Scottish architect. Yes, he used Chippendale, but he used other makers as well. He understood that quality is not necessarily the function of a brand.

There is a clarity that comes from understanding just what branding does to your sense of value. It certainly distorts it. But it also reminds us that we like things that are familiar, that we like to fit in with the way that others perceive the world. In many instances, it is as much the glue that binds us as family relationships or old school ties. But brands suffer the weight of remaining relevant, both to new generations and existing clients, and so are constantly in danger of being superseded. My appreciation for Chippendale only grows.