Take a look at your clothes! The T-shirt, the sweater, even the underwear have funny patterns: from movie characters and cute animals to amusing inscriptions and geometrical shapes. Do these patterns change the quality of your clothes? Do they affect the material’s softness or warmth?


NO! Yet, you like them better than the simple version. Why? Just because you like the decorated piece of cloth more than the simple one. And this is the ORNAMENT: an apparently unnecessary pattern that embellishes an object.

You are surrounded by ornaments at school: on your pencil-box, erasers, pencils, notebooks, and backpack; in your room on the curtains, bed linen, and lamps. At celebrations the grown-ups decorate the dinner table with all sorts of ornaments. It seems that there is no place left unadorned. There isn’t, indeed.

Archaeologists (who dig the earth to find ruined cities and other bits and pieces) found traces of ornaments on 15 000 years old tools. Even more, they found drawings on the walls of caves dwelt by people. And they look pretty modern. You can try, too: moving animals and stick men. When you draw them, think that once upon a time in Northern Spain, in a place named today Altamira, in a cave, a child like you may have drawn a stick man to embellish the home or to call for good luck at hunting. Ornaments have many purposes.

Anthropologists (who live for a while with remote communities to explore their habits) realized that people decorate their homes, clothes and tools even if they live in poor or rich societies, in the city or countryside, in educated or less-educated groups. Ornaments seem to be necessary to our life in less obvious ways. The only entirely unadorned space I can think of is the hospital room I’ve been once living in for a week, and the room of my grad student dormitory when I stepped in it for the first time. Cold spaces.

When you build something next time, figure out some simple decoration. It can be a colorful pattern, a model, or a drawing like the ones above.