A house is not a home
You know the story. The wealthy family lives in the fabulous mansion on the top of the hill, with all the bells and whistles. The poor family lives in a three-room cottage in the valley with barely enough to survive. But the house on the hill is filled with anger and resentment, the members living separate lives with little interaction. They create and defend their “personal space” and look forward to the others leaving so they can enjoy the house alone or with their friends. The cottage, though, is filled with love; each family member anxious to spend time with the others in cozy, communal spaces. The house is filled with laughter and warmth, and it is the place to return to when the rest of the world is uncomfortable.
We are comfortable referring to the environment of the cottage as a “home”, but would seldom use that term for the mansion environment.
This article is not really about that.
While those literary images are classic and make an important point, we know that a “home” environment depends more on the values of the family than physical space, and that, as designers, our role in determining the quality of social interaction is limited. One of my professors put it this way: “By planting a night-blooming jasmine outside the window that lets the breeze in and placing the bed in its path, I can enhance the bed-time experience, but I can’t control who gets into that bed.” We can only determine so much by design.
What this article is about is the improvement of the enjoyment of the house, so that hopefully that contributes to the families’ creation of homes.
The key to the enjoyment of the house environment is the extent to which that environment reflects the personality of the occupants. Some years ago, there was a TV show called “Monk”. Monk was an obsessive detective for whom literally nothing could be out of place. His apartment, of course, reflected this, with clean, monotone furnishings, which were meticulously arranged and storage hidden behind doors. Even his storage was properly arranged and catalogued! At the other extreme, the characters in Redd Foxx’s “Sanford and Son” series were happiest when surrounded with “found objects”. Imagine Sanford trying to live in Monk’s apartment.
This idea of “space personality” is an important aspect of the architect’s job. It is not usually part of what the client brings in, but must be extracted during interviews, questionnaires and reading between the lines. This is a skill most architects acquire over time. It is their job to determine what kinds of spaces are appropriate to match the requirement for a house with “three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a carport and — oh! — a nice porch”. The interviews must address habits and hobbies, likes and dislikes, obsessions and pet peeves if the final solution is to reflect personality. In some instances, this may result in changes to the original requirements, so clients must engage in the exercise as well.
For example, someone who hates yardwork, can’t stand bugs and would prefer not to have people working in their yard should probably think again about that gazebo they would like to have at the other end of the garden, which would require keeping weeds and bushes down and would attract both flying and crawling bugs. One who is passionate about swimming might reduce the size of the main house to afford a pool in which they could do laps. For one person, exercising in the bedroom might work well, but for someone who believes exercise is a factor in preventing an inherited family ailment, a gym may be more appropriate.
The house should fit its occupants like a suit fits a man or a dress fits a woman. His long arms and big belly must be accommodated. Her large breasts and tiny waist must be measured, and the dress must respond.
Whatever the details of your family’s personality are, your house should respond. It may not guarantee that your house is a home, but it would contribute positively to the familial experience. And that, as they say, is halfway home.
• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.