Let It Be

Many of the buildings at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s house, look at first glance like they are made of stone. Actually, they are made from wooden boards which have been beveled and then painted with a light-colored paint and covered in sand. The process – called ‘rustication’ – was popular in the mid-1700’s, when wood was cheap but stone was expensive.

Of course, a close inspection shows the results aren’t anything like stone. The walls are not cold to the touch, as stone typically is. And in places where the paint has cracked or flaked you can see the wooden board underneath. And if you push on the wall, it gives like bit, like wood will do but stone will not. If you know about the process of rustication, you’ll say to yourself immediately, “this is rusticated wood siding”, not “this is stone”.

(click image to enlarge)

Flash forward a couple of hundred years and now real wood siding is more expensive and more difficult to maintain than, say, plastic siding. So manufacturers are making plastic siding to look as best like wood as they can. They shape it to look like clapboards. They put in fake wood-grain patterns.

But of course, close-up the results aren’t anything like wood. When you knock on plastic siding with your fist, it makes a hollow clapping sound, rather than a sound like wood. The wood grain pattern looks more the ridges on a vinyl record than the actual pattern of real wood.

Stone can be beautiful and useful. The Arc de Triomphe is made of stone. So is Michelangelo’s David. So is the White House.

Wood can be beautiful and useful. Think of old hardwood floors, or the decking of a yacht, or a violin.

And, yes, even plastic can be beautiful and useful too – like a vinyl record album or this MacBook sticker. I’d much rather have this sticker made from vinyl than from wood or stone.

The thing to realize is: wood is best when it’s used as wood, not as a cheap substitute for stone. And plastic is best when it’s used as plastic, not as a cheap substitute for wood.

So if you’re working with stone, let it be stone. Build a monument or an edifice. Affix a bronze plaque to it. Illuminate it.

If you’re working with wood, let it be wood. Work with the grain. Use it in applications where it’s the best material for the job – like yachts and violins. Finish it to bring out its beauty.

And if you’re working in plastic, use it in applications where it’s the best – like making Ferrari bodies or airplanes. Awe people.

Don’t let anything in life be a cheap substitute for something else. Let it be what it is. Or just let it be.

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