Monday, February 15, 2010

House Thinking

I just finished reading a really great book called House Thinking: A Room-by-room Look at How We Live by Winifred Gallagher. It's a book I casually picked up at the library, never thinking it would hit me the way it did. Certainly not thinking it would be a book that would inspire me to blog about it. But it turned out to be so fascinating that I read it from cover to cover, dog-earring certain pages to come back to (sorry, local library). It changed my way of thinking about my home. The best way to describe it in a sentence is: an interesting combination of the anthropology of and evolution of the common home, and research findings of environmental psychology, explaining how our homes shape who we are.


This book goes beyond simple home decorating.  It talks about the history, for example, of the dining room and how when homes first had dining rooms, it was a very formal place where the family's very finest articles were displayed prominently to assert their wealth and influence to their guests. But since then, very few new homes have a formal dining room, having instead evolved into the "great room," a wide, multi-use room for dining, spending time together, watching TV, reading, and an open wall to the kitchen, so whoever is cooking can be included in the fray. I love how the author talks about the benefits and pitfalls of this great room set up. Sure it's nice to have a place where the whole family can do their individual activities near each other. But is this quality time? And how can one family member read or study, if another is watching a movie or playing video games? In a lot of ways, the great room defeats its own purpose. 

The book breaks the home down by room: the bathroom, the bedroom, the child's room, the basement, etc. One of the sections that I enjoyed the most talked about the neighborhood, and how suburban sprawl and poor developmental planning has essentially destroyed the sense of community our ancestors enjoyed with their neighbors. One reason for the decline is that we are forced to drive everywhere because there aren't little corner shops or cafes in a lot of suburbs, and we just drive our cars straight into our garages and never even see our neighbors.

This book made me think of my home and community, not to mention how I live within them, in a whole new way.

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