The Girl With a Pearl Earring author draws inspiration from the minimalist architect Mies van de Rohe.
By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.
Some writers have a mantra that leads them in their work, a guiding star to follow when they're lost deep in the woods. For bestselling historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, this mantra isn't from another writer—it's just three words attributed to minimalist architect and designer, Mies van der Rohe.
The application of "less is more," a phrase Mies did not invent but made famous, can be seen in many of the architect's signature works, such as the Brno chair, a streamlined cantilever chair that uses a single c-shaped piece of steel as both armrest and weight support. Since then, the aphorism has been absorbed by many established disciplines and the emerging fields of our new century: You can see its influence in clean website design, the buttonless simplicity of tablets and iPhones, and the stripped-down ethos of lo-fi rock.
When writing her novels—including her 1999 bestseller, Girl With a Pearl Earring, and her latest, The Last Runaway—Chevalier follows van der Rohe's motto as she goes through drafts with a black pen, cutting what she calls the "flab." In the manuscript pages she gave me (one of which is below), you can see this magic at work.