Flipping through A Pattern Language, I came upon a rather revelatory idea given the current state of tenancy, affordable housing, real estate investment and government intervention, “it is very clear that all those processes which encourage speculation in land for the sake of profit, are unhealthy and destructive, because they invite people to treat houses as commodities, to build things for ‘resale,’ and not in such a way as to fit their own needs.”
I remember once visiting an island where mansions lay empty and a whole community had sprung up to care for the houses, provide security, cleaning services and maintenance in the absence of their owners who rarely bothered to visit, leaving these monoliths empty, sometimes for years at a time. “That one’s got a telescope in the bedroom,” whispered a worker, more intimately acquainted with its contents and layout than perhaps even its owner. These massive houses are never rented out, rather they stand as investments – squandering energy and resources on nothing more than empty, hollow buildings.
Equally, there are a plethora of television show, websites, and channels dedicated to transforming properties for resale. They follow a rote formula – take down a few walls to open up the space, repaint, refurbish in a new and trendy style, let in more light , and generally make the place resemble the showroom of a big box store complete with standard fittings and trendy décor. Like millions of others, I adore these shows and could watch them again and again. Even I recognize, however, that the vision they create more often than not reflects that of the designer rather than the tastes of the owner. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and most owners seem incredibly happy with the results.
There is though, another order of building, and it is the home. What is a house and how does it differ from a home? An analogy here may be instructive. A well-known pastry chef respected for his attention to detail, meticulousness and pursuit of perfection, while critiquing French pastry declared, “I like those little mistakes and imperfections, they give it life.” A home, therefore, is full of imperfections, a house has very few.
Magazines, TV shows and social media often portray the perfect home curated by an interior designer, laid out according to agreed upon principles of order, flowers placed just so, bright, airy, photographed from the perfect angle at the optimal time of day, but what they lack is a lived-in quality, personality, pieces with their accompanying stories, heirlooms, eccentricities, collections, uniqueness, quirks, in sum, life. Or, more accurately, they often lack a definite reflection of the life of the owner, built up over time, and rather reflect the tastes imposed or selected by a designer.
A home fits the needs of its owners. It is not decorated to keep up with trends, to impress neighbours, to gain resale value, as an investment, or as a commodity. A home and garden (for the two are indispensable) is an elemental need and it reflects the life of its owners. CSL
This original editors letter article first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.