Sunday, February 9, 2014

A House That Means Home

Portsmouth Street by Childe Hassam, 1917
It turns out that Americans who can afford them are getting tired of McMansions--the extra large houses with ultra-high ceilings that deliver 10,000 square feet to keep clean. One of the reasons that the large Victorian home went out of style in the 1910s and the 1920s was because the labor force for domestic labor had dried up. When offered other opportunities--even factory labor--many women will prefer a job that does involve caring for a far wealthier woman's home. A McMansion clearly cries out for domestic help, and as I drive by them, I often wonder to myself, "Who's clean all those bathrooms?"

However, now, according to the Wall Street Journal January 24, people are now seeking homes that look a lot more traditional, offer slimmer space, but have modern amenities such as open floor layouts, more bathrooms, family rooms, and so forth. To me the most startling aspect of the story was this:
One thing that draws his clients to the more rigorous authenticity of a New Old House, said Mr. Versaci, [an architect of modern "old" homes]  is a search for what he called the "psychic comforts of yesterday," a concept of the past that's happier and less disposable than life in 2014. "People have visceral memories of their grandmother's house," he said, "the slamming of the door, sitting on the porch watching cars drive by, sitting down to Sunday dinner when Sunday dinner was a big deal."
In contrast to the home of their grandparents, the McMansion seems sterile and when I peruse them in the Wall Street Journal's House of the Day slideshows, I always feel that such a home would be fine as a hotel, but I could never feel at home in one of them. The architecture seems more appropriate for an institution, not someone's private and personal space in which we live and to which we are privileged to be invited as guests. The McMansion is devoid of charm.

I think the desire for a house that reminds one of eating Sunday dinners with the extended family is a good trend, and perhaps the first sign--along with the increasing popularity of aprons--that perhaps we are turning the corner on the trend toward modern, edgy, single, and institutionalized life, and that the longing for family, for private space that has private meaning and links us to those beloved of the past, is beginning to stir itself again in our American hearts, which have been so bent against domesticity by Betty Friedan and her followers.

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