THERE ARE 50 DIFFERENT COLORS OF white, writes British architect John Pawson in his ecstatic celebration of emptiness, "minimum" (271 pages. Phaidon/Chronicle. $95), although the only way to see them is in a perfectly empty room. Pawson, whose glisteningly spare design for Calvin Klein's New York store infuses even a $140 shirt with the sacred, Zen-like aura of "wabi," or voluntary poverty, draws his inspiration from the great minimalist architect Mies van der Robe-not just what he said and wrote, but his exquisitely eloquent silences. Pawson's architecture-austere, but ridiculously expensive; simple, yet bizarrely impractical-raises design to a kind of monomania, which helps explain his appeal to the great lifestyle monomaniac of our era, Martha Stewart.
Get rid of your Depression glassware! Burn those throw pillows! Martha has seen the future, and it's furnished with slabs of white marble and black slate, planks of polished wood and walls so stark that a light-switch would stand out like a billboard in a cathedral. Her enlightenment began last year, when she bought an icon of modernism, the Gordon Bunshaft house in East Hampton, N.Y. "It was a great challenge to figure out what to do with this three-room, travertine shoebox," Stewart said. "I was told to call John Pawson; I met him and really, really liked what he does."
Pawson's white-linen-covered book displays his gift for finding minimalism all around him, in Japanese rock gardens and glass-walled American houses, in Yorkshire moors and an Italian farmhouse whose windowless facade constitutes "a wall reduced to its most essential quality: mass." Where minimalism doesn't already exist, he creates it with a sledgehammer-notably in the redbrick Victorian rowhouse in London he stripped and refinished to a level of purity that makes Stonehenge look voluptuous by comparison. He lives there now with one table, a plank of Douglas fir flanked by low wood benches; a limestone cube of a bathroom sink; a marble counter-top that is both minimalist and--at 10 feet long by four inches thick-astonishingly sumptuous. Virtually everything else is hidden in fantastically discreet drawers, cupboards and closets--not just clothes and dishes but the relentlessly accumulating impedimentia of everyday life, from bicycles to unopened mail. Pawson's house is a subject of great fascination in England. It is barely possible to imagine one man living like that, although the casually dressed, 47-year-old Pawson, who describes himself as "solidly middle-class," is not whom you would pick for the role. But it is almost inconceivable that he could inhabit it with a wife and two preteen sons.
Yet he does, through dint of a relentless paring of possessions and rigorous round-the-clock policing of all surfaces for clutter. "I think," he says, "it would help people if they'd stop for once and just look to their lives, and say about things: 'Do I need it?'" Many of us have felt exactly that way about Martha Stewart's life, so it's heartening to hear her describe Pawson's house as "extremely appealing... a statement of another way of living that very few of us have experienced, but all of us should experience." Especially if, like Martha, you have to experience it in only one of your five homes.