Anne Diamond: Shining example of why homes are our castles
PUBLISHED: 09:52 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:52 25 July 2017
‘Design porn’ closets, pristine paintwork and gleaming kitchens: we love it, but what does it say about us, Anne wonders
Aren’t we weird that nowadays we only feel house proud if our home DOESN’T look as though it is lived in? It’s a freakish ideal that we are all buying into – courtesy of glamour magazines and ‘ideal homes’ type TV programmes. Wow! It’s a three day weekend, I enthuse! It’s either a bank holiday or a special event that means I’ve got more than the usual two days – and what do I think? Not relaxing. Not going away for a break. Straightaway – I’m imagining how I can clear up the house to look like what I imagine it SHOULD look like. Pristine. Hoovered. Nothing cluttering up the kitchen worktops. Everything ordered in the family bathroom. Cushions precisely placed. (I have a friend who has so many cushions on every sofa that you have no idea where you are meant to sit.) Oven and hob so gleaming they’ve never cooked anything real. What’s this all about? I’ve interviewed many people who’ve created whole new businesses out of “de-cluttering” and “home organising” for other people.
Now there’s a whole new bunch of so called experts who are advising the builders that we need much, much more closet space – because we have become a nation of acquisitors – shoppers who buy stuff we don’t need and frankly could never use. But we apparently do feel the need to open a wardrobe door and see racks of perfectly aligned shoes, colour co-ordinated outfits and designer handbags. It makes us feel so good – it’s an affirmation that we’ve made it! According to the architects, we house buyers are prepared to sacrifice space in the living room for a walk-in closet. I guess that’s similar to what we did 20 years ago when separate dining rooms disappeared and en-suite bathrooms became a must-have for the most modest family.
But it’s a kind of design porn, isn’t it? A symptom of values gone quite mad. One customer of one-such wardrobe designer claimed that they had fulfilled her dreams when she saw “all my shoes perfectly arranged. My heels never looked so happy.” I suppose the happiest shoes are those that are never worn, unscuffed and unsullied by real life.
When I was a kid, kitchens were just functional rooms where, if you were lucky, you had an eye-level grill to make cheese on toast and a small fridge in the corner to keep the milk cool but kept the whole house awake with its loud humming. The most important factor was the breakfast table – around which you worried about your homework and your older sister’s hair got plaited as she spooned her cornflakes. My mum never bothered for a second if our kitchen wasn’t as modern as next door’s. It just wasn’t a thing. Now it’s such a Thing, it almost dominates our lives.
Our houses are indeed our castles. We Brits are famous for it. We love to home-make. It’s an instinct. We love our living spaces to look nice and to spell “home”. Thirty five years ago, when I bought my very first flat in London, I thought I’d absolutely hit the big time when I found I could afford a three piece suite from Habitat. I am insanely proud to say that, all these years later, I still have one of the sofas. Over the years I have rejected the pressure to take it to the tip. Instead I have painstakingly, and at least five times, stripped it down to the basics, restored, rejuvenated and recovered it. From beige hessian in the 80s to green velvet in the 90s to cream chintz in the 00s to neutral linen now. It’s a matter of principle. I simply refuse to throw it away. But when I do go to the local tip, I see so many totally worthwhile sofas and chairs that have been binned because nowadays it is cheaper and easier to buy new.
Never have I felt so friends-of-the-earthish. Is it a sign of the times, or of my increasing age? I don’t think so. I have found that today’s young people increasingly talk of happiness as almost as important as wealth. (I say almost… Yes not quite…. but almost) We all need to rethink. Meanwhile, learn to recycle your sofa. There are loads of instructional videos online! You’ll relax better, I promise.
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