I‘M A SUCKER for books and essays that mull over the meaning of home. There was Joan Kron’s 1983 Home-Psych: The Social Psychology of Home and Decoration, which explores the intersection of home, status, and personality, and The Geography of Home, Akiko Busch’s 1999 musings on how emerging technology and modern notions of privacy, comfort, and formality have changed our homes and how we live in them.
<- My kind of cozy
‘Home’ is a minefield for psychologists. Another book that made a big impression on me was House as a Mirror of Self by Clare Cooper Marcus, published in 1995. She posits that your relationship with your physical surroundings is on a par with your relationships with people, that your house “nurtures your soul,” and is closely linked with self-image. That book corroborated a feeling I’ve had for decades, that finding or creating the right place to live, a place you are happy to spend time in, that welcomes you with love when you open the front door, is of cosmic importance.
Of the food/clothing/shelter triumverate, shelter has always been most important to me by far; food a distant second; and clothing way down the list (though last night I saw the documentary about Bill Cunningham, the New York Times street fashion photographer, and am once again inspired to try and dress more creatively).
The latest to hit the shelves is Mary Gordon’s Home: What it Means and Why It Matters, which I read recently, I admit, in Barnes & Noble, over a soy latte (it’s a slim volume). It did touch me. I related to her feeling of displacement and discomfort when she was forced to live in a white box apartment in a condo complex for a few months while teaching in California, and how “going home” always means her apartment on the Upper West Side of New York, even though she rents there but owns a country place in New England.
I have a friend who, similarly, has a modest apartment in Manhattan where she feels most at home, though she also owns a 4BR house in East Hampton where she’s spent a lot of time and money over the years. She says the Hamptons house is not “cozy,” invoking the word I feel home must, above all else, be about. “Cozy” is it for me: the ultimate goal, the crucial quality, of any place I live. Perhaps that’s why, even though I wrote a well-known book about modern design, I’m not really a modernist at heart, but something more eclectic — something that allows for soft surfaces, warmth, ornament, and color: Oriental rugs and a really comfortable sofa and happy tag sale accidents and very old things.
After reading Mary Gordon’s book, I realized that I do home well. I’ve moved three times in the past five years, and I’ve become famous among my friends for making a new place look, after a month, like I’ve lived there forever. I would never put my dogs above a place to live, like Mary Gordon did (that’s why she ended up in the soulless condo complex). I don’t have dogs, but that’s besides the point. There’s very little I would put above a psychologically comfortable place to live.
I told my friend with the big Hamptons house that I can help her cozy up her living room. The vast expanses of glass need to be covered at night (black reflective windows in the country… shiver). She must never, ever use the overhead recessed lights. Table lamps only. She needs to bring in a rug, for sure, and arrange the two sofas so they’re in an L, instead of facing each other across the room. Yet she resisted, for reasons of her own, making me glad I didn’t go into interior design as a profession. To each his or her own home and sense of cozy.