Here in the living room of the future, the chairs have lightning-bolt silhouettes and look like something a wizard might use for a throne. A Twilight Zone-ish fugue wafts from the sound system, pyramid sculptures are arrayed on the floor, and an illuminated cylinder revolves on the coffee table, emitting some kind of smoky light. Why, it's the lava lamp of the next millennium! Anybody staring long enough might have to repress an urge to chant oooooMMMMmmmmm.
It's a brave new world of decorating out there, what with everyone jacking into the matrix and going online and clicking through their CAD programs (that's Computer Assisted Design, neophytes). While the sub-astral may be preoccupied with finding the right sofa for their terrestrial habitats, others are forging ahead to create the cyber quarters for the New Age.
This living room of the future, which can be seen at the Villanova University Art Gallery until April 7, is the work of Shawn Christopher Paris, an artist, musician and former designer of clothing for such rock stars as Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. Paris set out to imagine an entirely new kind of furniture, what he calls "the antiques of the 23d century." Such an enterprise can't help but raise the big decorating questions, such as where will we sit in the next generation, when we've exhausted the resources of this earthly paradise and moved on to the next campsite - outer space.
"We're all interested in the future," explained Paris, as he showed off the "sculptural living environment" of his "Galactic Visions" exhibit. ''We all grow up with dreams of going into space."
So, if and when we finally get there, Paris began to wonder, how will we decorate it? Will we want to invent new forms to go with our machine-driven life-support pods? Or will we crave the same comfortable old chair we've always known? Will we want plastics or natural fibers? "Personally," said Paris, expressing a clear preference, "I'm tied into technology."
Paris was always an avid consumer of science fiction - Star Trek fan, collector of meteorites and crystals, spiritual seeker. But, he conceded, the initial inspiration for his living room of the future came from concerns more mundane: an empty house in Hollywood, Fla., and a shortage of cash.
Rather than continue living without furniture, Paris said, his wife, Janine, a professional storyteller, agreed to let him use two rooms as a ''laboratory." He went to work, carving furniture from high-density foam and building accessories with aluminum alloys and acid-resistant vinyl hose. ''Other artists go through junkyards - I like to look in industrial catalogues" for the materials of the future, Paris said.
Within a short time, the kind of impossible objects that once had furnished only his imagination began to take on three-dimensional form. Paris filled his living and dining rooms with geometric sculptures, spinning pyramids and lamps, pulsing lights, and Little-Shop-of-Horrors plants, including several that look like enormous plastic centipedes with mimosalike flowers that he suspended from the ceiling. He gave his creations names like "Starchild," ''New Growth," "Krystal Life" and "Icarus."
But the focal point was the living room. What may look like a standard conversation pit to the earthbound, he rechristened a Meditation Nest. It is dominated by four jagged gray chairs that look as if they were hewn from blocks of stone. In fact, they weigh less than 20 pounds apiece. Working with high-density foam, Paris developed a technique for hardening the material to make it last just about forever, then he painted the chairs his trademark gray. Far softer than wood furniture, they make surprisingly comfortable seats.
Visitors to Paris' house always told him they felt transported to another world, and urged him to exhibit his creation. So he did. He packed up his living and dining rooms several years ago and sent them on the road. The rooms have traveled around the country and are destined for Europe by 2000. Once again, his Florida home is furnitureless. His friends have lent him their excess terrestrial furniture in the hope he will "galacticize" it.
Paris' traveling rooms convey a singular and fully stocked vision of how the future might look. Paris has even designed a set of dishes to go with his future dining room. Also a shade of gray, the plates' scooped-out, organic shapes resemble giant clamshells. Knives, forks and spoons squiggle alongside like alien sea creatures.
Yet for all its otherworldly quality, the future Paris imagines is one that seems comfortably familiar, like a place we experienced in the past, even if it's only a past episode of Star Trek.
Foam furniture, even when high-density, can't help looking lightweight close-up, like the props on a movie set. In imagining the future, it's virtually impossible not to think of spaces created for films about space.
From Fritz Lang's art deco machines in Metropolis to the baroque white room on the other side of 2001's monolith, our ideas of future furniture are firmly fixed in the past.
Like these, Paris' future glitters with the rainbow-colored shimmer of holographic mylar. His wall-hanging titled Door to Another World is a geometric-patterned door that opens to reveal a gray expanse punctuated by the occasional twinkle of mylar.
Paris makes no apologies for preferring plastics over natural fibers. ''Foams do get a bad rap," he admitted. "But they do last forever." And so does the future.
But even the decorator of the age beyond the New Age doesn't expect to get to use his furniture in the environment for which it was intended. "I'm not sure I'll ever have the opportunity to live in space. Maybe my children will," Paris said. His voice was wistful for a moment, and then he added: ''If they need someone to decorate the first space station, I'm available."
IF YOU GO
* "Galactic Visions" is at the Villanova University Art Gallery in the Connelly Center through April 7. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is free. Information: 610-519-4612.