Monday, July 30, 2018

Houses for the People Who Live in Them

I can't remember when I learned/realized that many Americans live in or want to live in houses with huge formal entertaining spaces they will almost never use. I pore over the house plans in the Sunday paper partly to see how absurd they are.

This recent article from Curbed by Kate Wagner, the creator of McMansion Hell, does a good job of explaining the research showing people hardly ever use those kinds of spaces, and what's behind the desire for them, nonetheless. It's more about display of prestige than using the space:

In true American irony, these giant “social” spaces (and McMansions in general) are birthed from a deeply antisocial sentiment: making others feel small. Considering that so often our guests are members of our own family adds another layer of darkness to the equation.
Yet the idea that we will use the spaces — that we "need" the spaces — is hard to overcome. I feel it myself when I see other peoples' houses, and even when I look at those danged floor plans on Sunday.
Designing our homes for the worst-case scenario—a hundred people are all at our house for a party and the party is also a tribunal where all of our guests publicly judge us—prioritizes guests who spend a very short amount of time in our houses over our own daily needs.
This is what I remind myself of: a house is for the people who live in it, and even for that, I have too much of it. Not to mention that I'm super likely to entertain a bunch of people.
...not all of us were built for entertaining in the first place, and perhaps we should examine ourselves and our social preferences before building massive spaces for people we most likely won’t ever see. We think our spaces will create the lives we want: If only we had a great room with an expansive deck, we could finally host big, sophisticated, straight-out-of-Mad Men parties. That built-in Tiki bar will definitely make us reconnect with all of our friends from college, and maybe if we had that massive kitchen, Aunt Jane and Dad would finally stop arguing about politics at Thanksgiving and peace would descend upon the entire world. These sentiments reflect two commonly held American cultural beliefs: that we can solve our problems (or at least feel better about them) by simply buying things, and that the best social lives are ones that involve hosting grand parties. But we can entertain where and how we want to. It can be as simple as inviting a few people over to hang out in the spaces we already have.
I do still feel a need to clean my house before visitors come. I guess I'll have to work to eliminate that compulsion next.

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