Perhaps it is just the time of year, but the old twocultures problem is showing up again. Two images are enough to give it away. One, in a property supplement, shows the corner of a pale blue room with a stuffed armchair, an alcove with shelves displaying a row of Spode serving plates, an open door showing a glimpse of bare floorboards, an old stand up radiator, and an antique clock on the wall.The other comes from an in-flight magazine. It is dominated by a glistening kryptonite kitchen worktop with a flat screen monitor on it. In the foreground, matching saucepans simmer away, and in the background a window is masked by thin venetian blinds. Overhead hangs a light fitting that must have been made from the headlight and windscreen of a sports utility vehicle. Framed by all this kit, holding a Madonna-style cordless microphone in both hands, is a woman who looks terrified.
Yes, she is in a voice-controlled kitchen that responds to her voice. Yes, this is part of a bid for that timeless architectural booby prize the 'House of the Future', this time at Expo 2000 in Hanover.
As for the first picture image, that comes from a different value system altogether. That is the subject of a 'Win a luxury flat' competition in London.
The difference between these two visions of perfection - 'luxury' versus the 'future' - has been commented on before. Indeed nobody has ever done it better than Le Corbusier, whose satires on overstuffed cushions and speeches in praise of big bathrooms are still being pillaged by manufacturers to this day. But by the same token it is always worth giving it another spin because the contrast never seems to go away and its basic ingredients never change.
The 'House of the Future' is invariably stuffed with new technology - the Hanover project even has a circular 'work capsule' that doubles as a private preview theatre for watching wide screen TV, and a bed that tells you how often you turned over in the night - while, equally invariably, the luxury flat is a riot of muted tones, antique furniture, gold frames and a 30 tonne bateau-lit copied from an original that belonged to Napoleon.
The virtues of these two types of decor de la vie are so different, so uncombinable that they might have come from different planets - as in a sense they have. The pictures of the 'luxury flat' (which is in Clerkenwell), make it look like Nigel Mansell's house in Florida, into which I was smuggled once for a laugh. There the world champion had all the reproduction antique furniture you could ever want, the framed paintings, themirrors, Napoleon's bed - nothing was left out.
The only difference was the subject matter of the framed pictures; Mansell preferred heavy acrylics depicting dramatic moments in his racing career, the anonymous decorator of the 'luxury flat' goes for pre-turnaround Laura Ashley all the way.
Neither is perfect.Technology alone is not enough because it is a parallel present, not a future.
Of what possible use is it to know how many times you turn over in the night? Do you really want to have to place an order for your own meals in your own kitchen, as in a restaurant?
As for the pleasures of luxury, they are inseparable from guilt because luxury is merely a code word for cost. Under the hammer, a copy of Napoleon's bed will always command a higher price than a 'work capsule', perhaps because, at a pinch, you can always use it as a 'work capsule', whereas kipping down among the phones and faxes, or in an interactive kitchen for that matter, would scarcely qualify as a luxury experience.