Meditation: On Homeyness

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What makes a home homey? Kids may be the great divide, but I've seen houses that hold multiple children and still manage to feel sterile, and studios occupied by single workaholic Wall Streeters that seem expansive and full of life. Is it true that "glamour is the enemy of homeyness," or are both possible?

Having finally found the doohickey that connects the camera to the computer, this weekend I uploaded a big stream of photos from several different summer visits to friends' homes. As I watched the photos go by, I started seeing some commonalities among homes that were quite different in terms of style, location, and demographics. At the same time, with E. away, my own usually joyous home started to feel wan and dissonant. A casual visitor may not have noticed anything really different--a couple more dishes in the sink, a cleared desk in the studio--but the vibe was shot.

So what are the "best practices" that will make people feel at home in your home? Here's my list--what's on yours?

  • Designed for the people who live there. Homes have integrity when they describe, on a bell curve, the people who live there--a bit of where they've come from, a lot of who they are today, and some what they aspire to. If your home only describes who your parents were, or who you want to be when you get the next raise or when you get it together, your guests will feel the disconnect, even if they can't pinpoint the problem.
  • Flow. Does your home have a sense of fluidity, or does one room feel cut off from the rest? Do you have a pathway from public space to private space? There's a reason that, back in the day, houses were designed with front doors and side doors, parlors in the front and kitchen and bedrooms in the back. Your guests need an entry space, a decompression chamber--even if it's just a console table and a coat cook--in which to adjust from outside to inside, and you need the space to decide who gets invited in to linger at your kitchen table and who gets shown the door.
  • Just clean enough. My dear Aunt Marie's taste runs a little to Country Cottage--probably not most AT readers' cup of latte--but she has a placard hanging in her kitchen whose sentiment, if not style, we can relate to: "Clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy." There's a balance between well-cared-for and hermetically sealed.
  • Connected to the world outside. Comfortable houses always seem to have a little bit of the outside in them, whether it's a profusion of houseplants or just a hand-picked river stone.
  • In flux. Rooms should have room to grow. Beware of perfection--your guests may feel like they're visiting the taxidermist's.

Photo: Lisa and Michelle's, Portland, ME