New Geography: Home Sweet Home
The recent challenges from the coronavirus force us to shelter at home and think of our home in whole new ways. Traditionally, when a buyer looks for a house to purchase, they are usually thinking about practical and financial criteria, like the square footage cost of the investment, how much house can they afford, are there large enough rooms for grand entertaining, and does the home have the latest and most stylish counter tops and appliances. The style of the house and whether the right public school is nearby is usually a major priority.
When one is under a virtual self house arrest, one thinks about their home in a whole new way. Does our home make us happy? Usually, when someone buys a home they are thinking about amenities that will make them happy, not if the home itself will make them happy.
When buyers house shop, the fundamental aspects of a home that will make them happy are seldom discussed. Sure, the buyer thinks about their likes and dislikes, but a home that would generate holistic happiness and a home they will love living in is not in the forefront of buyers’ minds. A buyer is more apt to discuss the rooms they would like to have in a home rather than the fundamental quality of a home that would make them happy if they were to be living, working, and spending 24 hours a day in the home for an extended period of time.
Home for Specific Needs or Daily Needs?
Homes are chosen for specific needs, but not daily needs. Often I see homeowners who live as if they are guests in their own homes. After being away, the housekeeper prepares the home for the homeowner’s return. However, the home is not inhabited as the ultimate destination for the homeowner, but a residence to accommodate their intermittent needs. It is almost as if they have scheduled time in the home. Space is set aside for the occasional family dinner together. Even larger spaces have been set aside for the once or twice a year for grand entertaining.
A kitchen has been designed with two or three of every appliance—refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers with ample space dedicated for catering and staff to prepare or serve a large party or event that is hosted in the home. Luxurious closets are as large as early Craftsman bungalows. A home might have room for every family member to entertain friends in separate parts of the home. Often backyards are filled with elaborate hardscaping of stone terraces, fountains, kitchens, verandas, pools, gazebos, patios and outdoor kitchens.
Equation Changes When Forced to Spend 24 Hours Every Day in Home
How does equation change when people are forced to live and work and spend all their time in the home? When across the city and country people are self-quarantined, the housekeeper no longer prepares the home every day for the homeowner’s return because the homeowner is not leaving the home, and the housekeeper is not coming anyway. No one’s entertaining in the massive great rooms because entertaining has been eliminated. Clothes that hang on the closet racks look like they are slowly aging and going out of style, without being worn, because there is no place to go.
Changing Impact of Neighboring Home
Surrounding expensive homes can make a home look like a solid and desirable investment. Now these imposing homes can start to close in on a home and a family. These three-story homes that replace tall trees now only seem to block the sun and blue sky that are so desperately desired when someone is housebound. In the backyard where one now longs for nature, to just dig in the garden or watch something grow, one is forced to look at cold hard surfaces that are not animated by cavorting and happy guests in normal times.
And what is the point of living within walking distance to the closest public school if your children are not even allowed to go to school? With expanded options like magnet schools, charter schools, homeschooling and online learning, the geographic location of the home is less important.
A Home Creates Joy or Distress
When people are required to stay at home it becomes very obvious if one’s home creates joy or distress. A home that might have seemed perfect when used for a sequence of events, might now seem disjointed when trying to integrate a family’s everyday life. Just trudging great distances across seldom used empty rooms looking for a family member might become annoying. Having to take out a feather duster and personally try to keep the home in tiptop shape without staff might become dreary. It’s always a joy to work in a home office or study which is the prettiest space in the home with the most gorgeous natural light. However, many homes offices are relegated to unappealing, “leftover” space, and aren’t magnets for productivity.
When Home Bound - Good Design Triumphs Over Style
Being housebound in the right house feels like vacation. In homes that make one happy, design triumphs over style. As I said in my TEDx talk), “Style comes and goes, but good design lasts forever.” A room well-designed that relates to the site and the house is an enjoyable space regardless of its use. A dining room with windows looking over a garden is as desirable a space for dinner as it is for children doing their homework, or a parent creating architectural plans or spreadsheets for their profession. Open spaces that still have the intimacy of individual rooms that allow sight lines into several rooms and the ability to see sunlight in three or four different directions offers a serenity that does not come from empty, cavernous spaces.
Homes Will Never Be Thought About in the Same Way
Eventually, life will return to more familiar patterns, but homeowners will never think about their homes in the same way. Some people will love their homes more than ever after this crisis. Others will wonder why in the world they chose amenities with only transient and occasional benefits over a home with the characteristics that would make them happy living in the home every day.
Many People Love Their Home
I have helped people find homes they have lived in for 20 or 30 years, that they enjoyed living in before, during and after they had children living at home. I have seen other homeowners (not my clients) churn homes every few years, not because of geographic changes or material changes in their life, but just trying to find a home they would enjoy living in more.
When people, as they do now, have more time to reflect and plan for the future, this is a good time to reflect on what you love about your home and how it makes you happy living and working and sharing it with your family every day.
Photo Credit: Douglas Newby, the author.
Douglas Newby is a real estate broker who gave the TEDx talk Homes That Make Us Happy. He initiated the largest rezoning in Dallas—2,000 properties primarily in use as multi-family to single-family zoning, creating an environment for successful revitalization. In 1979, he created the nation’s first Restoration House of the Year Award, and at the end of the 20th century for the Dallas Chapter of AIA organized a city-wide survey of architect-designed homes. His website is ArchitecturallySignificantHomes.com. Blog is DallasArchitectureBlog.com.