Home Systems: Beauty and Utility

Sharon March 10th, 2009

This week’s AIP class will focus on home systems - heating, cooling, cooking, hygeine, cleaning, water etc…  I’ve written about most of these systems in the last class.  So today I wanted to start with something that doesn’t usually get classed as an essential home system, but, IMHO, might be if you are planning on staying in place - beauty.

I realize that this may sound nuts to some people, who are trying simply to get to the basics in place - the idea that I might suggest you make it aesthetically pleasing, when you are just trying to get the landlord to agree to a compost pile might seem a little nuts.

And yet, think about how you react to beautiful spaces - the deep release of breath that beauty brings to most of us.  Think about how much of what we’re doing involves going home and staying there - shouldn’t we also enjoy it?  Moreover, I think that beauty is one of the ways we have of selling the “simple life” (a term I loathe, but ok) - that is, many of our aesthetic visions for our homes are based upon functional ideas of beauty - the Shaker or country aesthetic, for example.  They mimic lives of great functionality that are beautiful precisely because they are functional - only the design elements are empty - because they do not contain the basic utility that underlied the real Shaker’s aesthetics, or the real country kitchen.

The problem with beauty is that we’ve been told for a long, long time that aesthetics are the product of our “personal style” which involves the project of putting together mass produced commercial objects in such a way as to articulate our personal, tiny variation on the range of mass produced aesthetics available to us.  That is, we can be “country” or we can be “modern” or “shaker” or “retro” but one way or another, we have a limited range of options, ones carefully dictated to us by tv, books, design magazines.  And again, these have nothing to do with our actual lives as they are lived. 

Now despite being an innate slob, I’m not at all immune to this - I find the pretty pictures in magazines as enticing as anyone else.  When we were working on the house addition, I found myself gravitating to the design books in the library.  But while I was whisked away by certain visions, I also noticed some things about them.  For example, have you noticed that unless they are showing a modernist media room, there’s never, ever a tv in the pictures of fancy household spaces?  Again, unless you are seeing a super modernist or explicitly retro kitchen, or an ad for a particular small appliance, have you noticed that there’s never a regular plastic toaster or blender on the counter of the dream kitchens?  If a toaster does show up, it will be a fancy stainless steel one, or a 1950s original in perfect condition, and either way, cost as much as a cross-country flight.

This, of course, is because plastic is ugly, and so are many of the accoutrements of modern life.  That is, there’s no way to make a tv beautiful, so you don’t have them in pictures of beautiful homes.  Toasters mostly aren’t pretty, so when the people come to shoot the fancy home (of wealthy people with no children, generally ;-)), the toaster goes under the sink, where it does not ordinarily reside.  And this isn’t just cleaning up for the photographers - the net effect of everyone hiding the actual realities of daily living (how often do bathroom spreads even show a toilet ;-)) is that we are given an image of beauty at home that most of us could never achieve.  Not only does it require wealth, but it requires that you not live in your house - even the fossil fueled version of our lives are rendered beautiful by never having any actual needs met by the home.  The home becomes, then, merely a repository of your cash.  It never returns anything but beauty - and that only if you don’t go the bathroom, eat or sleep and mess up the forty layers of decorative pillows on the bed (What on earth do people do with these when they actually sleep?  Where do they go without making a giant mess?  I’m just asking ;-).)

But what if we could come up with a vision of beauty that actually didn’t require us to hide the realities of our lives in the closet whenever anyone comes over?  That’s the beauty I long for - one that doesn’t disappear the first time I make breakfast or the kids tromp into the house - lasting beauty that lasts more than two seconds, and feeds our need for grace and peace all the time, rather than once in a while.

And that means a new relationship to our stuff.   Because most of the stuff we own and use isn’t beautiful - and it can’t be made beautiful.  Try and look at a parking lot full of cars and say “oh, how breathtaking!”  Yeah, right.  Seriously, there is no such thing as a pretty car (although a some are uglier than others) - because a sweep of them is nothing but butt ugly.  Yes, manufacturers can try and make one car look ok, with a half-naked woman and an expanse of mountains, but it is the woman and the mountains that are attractive.  And when the photographers come to take pictures of your yard, bet you a million bucks they want the car out of the driveway to make things look pretty.  If it doesn’t show up often in magazine photos, you can bet it is probably ugly.

Which means that a beautiful home means making sure that your daily tasks are done with things that look nice to you - not with hiding the evidence of your actual life before people come over.  And for me, and my personal aesthetics (others may differ) the shift to a human-powered, manual life does a lot improve my aesthetic situation.  Old things that are well made enough to have survived to be passed down to me are more beautiful than newer ones, and if they were well made, will often last a lot longer, which is another factor in beauty.  Things made of natural materials are often more beautiful than things made of plastic.  Good tools look beautiful in many cases, as well as being beautiful.

Moreover, this life I live requires that I not have to hunt under the sink every time I want a piece of toast.  Beautiful isn’t a picture you take once - it is something you want to live in, like a fish in water.  No one invites guests over and says “here, come look at the one moment the house was pretty.” 

The tools I’m finding for a beauty I can live with are cleanliness (not my strong suit, but I’m working on it), space for the reality of our lives (ie, finding a way to either reduce our clutter or increase our organization or both, so that things fit into the spaces for them), and tools that are both beautiful and useful.  If I can’t find a beautiful version of something, perhaps that’s clue to me that maybe I should begin thinking of ways to replace it with something that is beautiful.

The more my life moves towards utility, the more my home becomes the space in which I work and live, and thus, the space that serves my present and actual needs, the better I like it.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things about my house I think are ugly (the pink tile in one bathroom’s days are numbered, since I manage to scavenge some less hideous tile), or that I wouldn’t change, or things that aren’t better fixed with a can of paint (that’s worth doing while you can too - nothing worse than walking into a room and thinking “gack!” every day), but gradually I’m finding that as a consequence of designing a home to work with less or no power, and to meet the actual needs of my family, it looks more beautiful.

We took the fridge out of my kitchen. I’m not perfectly immune to the lure of those all-steel ones, but since we didn’t use it anymore, we simply took it out, and used the space to build in shelves and a permanent place for my grain grinder.  It looks a lot better than the plastic-sheathed white fridge used to.  Again, I noticed when I read design magazines at the doctor’s office that the only fridges I saw were those stainless ones in the perfect modernist kitchens, all white, all pure, all perfect.  But I only know one person who actually owns one of those - so most of us start hosed when it comes to meeting standard conceptions of beauty.  The only hope is to change them altogether.

I suspect that difficult times may put my family in our home even more than we live in it now, that our options for pleasure activities may become more and more “visiting people in their homes and them coming to us” - which to me means that it is important to consider aesthetics - I do not mean this in the sense of investing lots of money in expensive beauty.  But cheap beauty is cheap.  A can of paint is not so terribly expensive.  Old things, used things, free things are often beautiful - or can be made that way with small investments.  A functional home, designed for work and pleasure, tidy but lived in, is beautiful in many cases simply because it is.  And that’s something we can work towards - the unification of our forms and our new and necessary functions.


21 Responses to “Home Systems: Beauty and Utility”

  1. Susan in NJon 10 Mar 2009 at 11:10 am

    Good post Sharon. This one would have been great (IMHO) for that collection of essays about voluntary simplicity.

  2. Heatheron 10 Mar 2009 at 11:26 am

    Good post!

    On the bed pillows, (I used to do that, but not forty of them :D ) — we liked them for leaning against while reading in bed or for leaning on while playing backgammon before sleep. Current bedroom doesn’t have space to put them anywhere at night really, so we read elsewhere now.

    A lot of photos show (or used to show, I haven’t looked at home mags for a while) a bench at the foot of the bed. So, after you’re done using the bench for sitting to take off your shoes or whatever, you can stack them there for the night. More practically, you could maybe stack them against an outside wall for insulation ;)

    I like wrought iron, so a number of my wall hooks and towel bars are made of wrought iron — pretty, functional, last forever. One of my favorite trivets is also wrought iron, and I hang it on the wall when it isn’t in use, so it helps to ‘decorate’ the kitchen.

  3. Susanon 10 Mar 2009 at 11:32 am

    Well don’t throw the pink tile away, you can break it up and use it in stepping stones or in any expansion of your patio.

  4. Susanon 10 Mar 2009 at 11:47 am

    Another thought: this is also an excellent reason to make the yard as beautiful and functional as possible. If we are going to actually be living in our homes, doing activities there, and entertaining there, having a space that is actually inviting would be most helpful in keeping one’s attitude positive.

    I realized last night that the reason I have been so obsessed with the yard the last few years is that I spend a LOT more time here than when we first bought our house. When we committed to not eating out all the time, when we committed to not going to the bars on the weekends we were off together, when we committed to a more local and homegrown diet it became obvious that our many years’ neglect of our yard had to stop. It’s easy to ignore if you only see it on the way out and the way in the door, not so easy if you actually sit in the yard…:)

  5. Peak Oil Hausfrauon 10 Mar 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I liked Kunstler’s take on beauty in World Made By Hand, something along the lines of “Their lives had become so local and so much more difficult that a lack of beauty became unbearable”.

    Your review of home & garden spreads is right-on. No TV, no clutter, fresh flowers every day. These days, this is the ideal - and even middle-class people pay housekeepers and housecleaners to KEEP them like that all week long. How often has someone said, “Oh, you can’t come over, my house is a wreck!?”

    My MIL’s house actually does look like those spreads. When I was younger, I felt like I had to live up to those standards. Now, I just like the clutter to be contained and no stains be visible :).

  6. Robyn M.on 10 Mar 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I’ve harped on this one before, too, although perhaps from a different angle. We are now so disconnected from our neighbors, but we still have that innate need to “keep up with the Jones’”. Sadly, we don’t know our Jones’ anymore, so we have to use what we see on TV or in Modern Country, or Design Fair, or in Real Simple (gods help us) or whatever other magazines show us as our Jones. It becomes our benchmark, which is unfortunate, because as you point out, no one can, or does, live like that. And so we become ashamed of our “bookcase eclectic” decorating motif, and never let any of our neighbors over to see it. It’s too bad, because it might put us both at ease to find out that our “bookcase eclectic” is matched not by their Ethan Allen, but by their “retro garage sale”.

  7. Leila Abu-Sabaon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:16 pm

    “visiting each other in our homes” and what is wrong with this as a pleasure activity? I am thinking of my time in my father’s village in Lebanon - and then the years when our family adapted to living in America. The LEbanese admired America for its “riches” but always felt and feel that it’s a terribly lonely place. Nobody visits each other in their homes.

    The simplest of Lebanese homes is always set up for visitors. If you have any money at all you buy a suite of furniture for your living room, to receive guests. If you don’t, well, your sitting area might be under the grape arbor, and the pillows on the day bed have embroidered slip covers, and the guests are offered a platter of fruit, a cup of Arabic coffee, a fruit juice flavored with home-brewed orange flower water.

    People on the streets in Damascus, Tyre and Sidon invited me into their homes just because I spoke polite colloquial Arabic. I was fed special cookies, coffee, sodas. People I had never met but were related to me by marriage to cousins took me in for a whole day, drove me around to see sights, feasted me.

    Back in the village, the neighbors hang out together, pop in at all hours, or do harvest and preserving chores together. The neighbor who does not own olive orchards helps the ones who do, and gets a cut of the harvest.

    Now this place is not paradise; neighbors of differing religious confessions sometimes break out into blood feuds. But the traditional culture of visiting is endemic and survived the fifteen-year civil war.

    We Americans used to visit each other in our homes. Read Gladwell’s Outliers and his chapter on that town in Pennsylvania full of Italians. Visiting each other in our homes is a way to stay healthy and thrive.

    I hope we do more of it. I can report that our neighborhood marmalade party went off smashingly last Saturday - we preserved lemons too (just means salt ‘em down in a jar and add lemon juice to the top). Women mentioned how it reminded them of their childhood amongst female relatives - mothers, grandmothers, aunts - preserving together. We all loved it.

    Oh yes and I have discovered that as everybody gets more pinched financially, I feel less weird about my post-graduate student home furnishings. I’m not that great at making my surroundings beautiful. Getting better. But our stuff is mostly junk - trashed! We cover up with slipcovers and beautiful fabrics from my Syria trip. Nowadays people are relieved to come visit and not so worried about the looks. At least it’s paid for.

  8. EJon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:17 pm

    So true. And often just eliminating plastics and synthetics gets you a long way towards beauty.

  9. Pine Ridgeon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think you got it Sharon. No matter how much I worry about food security and expanding my veggie garden, every year I add to the “yard bling” too. Like Susan, we stay home all the time so I want some pretty things to look at, just step over the kids bikes and balls thrown about for good measure please. And even though I have 5 more fruit trees on order to go in the orchard I’m going to ask dh and the kids for a pink flowering dogwood for mother’s day this year. Maybe it really is a need as we power down not just a want.

    I must confess, I have an ugly, but half functional kitchen with cabinets from the 40’s. I did replace the counter and flooring out of necessity, and painted the rest to make it liveable. I am finding after being here 3 years that while my kitchen is not pretty, it does its job, no wasted space, not even room to squeeze in a dishwasher ;) (much to my kids horror). I have done 2 “great” things in there, first I added a shelf over the stove that holds nice glass canisters for my flour, sugar, rice, beans, etc (all eaten fairly quickly so I’m not worried about light) and when we moved the stove we filled the now empty space with open shelving to hold that plastic toaster, but also my crockpot and dutch ovens. Everything is easy to get to while not cluttering the counter up.

    Oh, and keep some pieces of that pink tile. I found some unused in our barn and carried it to the house not sure what I would use it for. Then last year my dd made a ceramic tile in art that said “best mom ever” so I took her tile and surrounded it with pink mosiac and now it hangs in my bathroom. I remind her of the sign everytime she gets lippy with me, lol, gotta love preteens.

  10. Ginaon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Beautiful post.

    Your thoughts are very much in keeping with the craftsman philosophy. If you ever make your way out to Pasadena, CA you would surely enjoy the Gamble House - a 1908 craftsman home where the architects designed not only the house but all of the furniture and many of the more useful objects (lamps, etc.) that fill the home. It is beautiful and functional all at the same time.


    I have been consistently purging our house of clutter, seldom used, or poorly made items for the past couple of years and I am really happy with the results - especially in the kitchen. We use our fridge but moved it into the “pantry” (former breakfast nook - who needs a breakfast nook?). In its place we have a small wood table with shelves above holding jars of dried food.

    And except for one other couple we seem to be the only other homeowners we know in our social circle that don’t have a “cleaning lady”. I detest the “standard” it sets for the rest of us.

  11. Sharonon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Leila, where on earth did I say there was anything wrong with visiting each other? I didn’t - and never would. I’m simply saying we’re going to be spending more time in our homes, and less, say, in restaurants or travelling to “places to do things.”


  12. Maeveon 10 Mar 2009 at 1:46 pm

    For people wanting to paint, if you aren’t too picky you can sometimes find “mis-mixed” paint at hardware type stores, for a fraction of the regular price. It might mean you get some weird taupe, or blue, or something, but I’ve noticed the cost is usually about 75% off the normal price. Which makes a coat of paint in a room even more affordable. :) “Reject” paint livened up a plain gray cement wall in my basement a couple years ago. Money well spent.

    Personally, I cannot wait for the day when we have time to rip out the pointless sofits in my kitchen (I think that’s what they’re called), so I can actually put a few seldom-used dishes up on top of the cabinets. And maybe some vining house plants too.

    House plants really go a long way to make a room feel more welcoming, and there are types that will even grow in dimly lit rooms. (Bonus, they help clean the air!) Buy tiny ones, or get a slip or cutting from a friend or neighbor, and the cost is next-to-nothing. They’ll grow with time. And pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill (or other room if your kitchen doesn’t have a sunny/bright window).

    And never underestimate the power of white. I think there’s a reason that we automatically think of white and pale woods when thinking of Northern European indoor decor. It helps the winters not feel so dark and dreary.

  13. Brian M.on 10 Mar 2009 at 1:54 pm

    OK I’m going to go off, because I have a lot to say here.

    One of the more unfortunate stories in Western Philosophy, was the conflation of “aesthetics” with “beauty” which started largely in upper-middle class 1700s (Hogarth and Kant), continued in the 1800s and early 1900s and has been critiqued again and again in the 20th century (often going too far in the anti-beauty direction).

    There are LOTS of other important and genuinely aesthetic goals, even for home decor, besides beauty. You might want an area to be “fun,” or “cool” or “interesting” or “comforting” or maybe even “intriguing” or “outgrageous.” And these are all genuinely aesthetic goals, even though none is precisely beauty. Even with “beauty” what often happens is that we confuse “classy” with “beauty.” Consider a sterile room that isn’t particularly beautiful, but definately displays tasteful high class. We might envy the owner’s wealth, but since Americans don’t like to acknowledge class-envy we re-code this as some nearby emotional feeling, perhaps admiration or the aesthetic feeling of beauty. But consider when a beautiful moment occurs in a down-market setting, (say this image #2008/11/debt-rattle-november-15-2008-one-dollar.html) the beauty is a things of moments, ephemeral, a scene for the photographer to capture, but it is there. But it codes as “bittersweet” or “hopeful” or “evocative” rather than as just plain “beautiful” because of the class associations.

    But beauty or even classiness, just isn’t the only thing we want aesthetically out of a home. I remember coming home from a few days in a beautiful and classy hotel, and loving the comforting familiarity of home. A room cluttered with stuff doesn’t look beautiful or classy, but it might still look fun, or interesting (how many of you browse the bookcases when you visit a friend) or intriguing (how many of you wonder at the stories of the little decorative item’s strewn about a friends house?). A teenagers room with posters and what not, may not be at all beautiful (or classy) even to the teen or their peers, but it may still be attempting (or even succeeding) to be “cool.” Or consider such goals as “festive” or “charming” or “elegant” or “quirky.”

    So I think hoping for lasting beauty in a home is a misplaced goal, beauty is a thing of moments caught sidewise. Elegance can last, but only if it isn’t used. But liking the space you live in, that is a much broader goal, one that can be accomplished in lots of ways besides beauty. And liking can have different forms. You might admire the space you live in. You might approve of it morally, as fitting well with your values. You might enjoy being there. You might feel comfortable there. You might migth feel proud of your space. Or be calmed by it, or excited. You might dwell in the memories or associations of a space or the things in it. It makes total sense to pay attention to our experiences of the spaces in which we live, but beauty is simply NOT the only experience of space that is worth shooting for, it is one of a large family of appropriate aesthetic goals for a space, and one that I think isn’t particularly appropriate for a home, except on special occasions.

  14. Sharonon 10 Mar 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Brian, you need a blog ;-). Point taken, although I like beauty. But seriously, you need a blog.


  15. Brad K.on 10 Mar 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Two words. Linseed oil.

    The oil of the seed of the flax plant, the same plant that gives us linen. Linseed oil has been used for many years as a preservative. On forged iron objects, I am told the smith would heat the iron just above warm, dip in linseed oil, wipe down and let dry. This is where much of the blackened iron appearance came from.

    When making wood things, you can replace make-do, rough-cut items with seasoned wood, carefully worked and surfaced replacements. A coat of linseed oil gives a traditional finish quickly. After it cures, wax with a wax preparation or actual wax.

    I toured a “Mennonite” house in Lancaster County, PA - a “plain” house. Nothing ugly or off-putting. Set out two more small bunches of flowers - cut or dried - and one or two candles in “duded up” containers, and the functional, well lit home would brighten even more.

    I was in school during the 1960s and college in the early ’70s. Jeans were just farmer-wear. Unless someone that loved you embroidered on them.

    I have a wall hanging my father latch-hooked during a “rest the heart” period. About 1976, I think. This was a kit - but the mat, materials, design could all be created if the kit were unavailable.

    I like using my aquarium to generate *excellent* plant watering water. I haven’t figured out how to blow all that air, once the power drops, or to keep the tank warm for the tropical fish. I do know that the goldfish in my (unheated, often frozen-over) horse tank are four years old, and fun to watch.

  16. knutty knitteron 11 Mar 2009 at 3:45 am

    I wouldn’t say our house is in any way beautiful but bits of it are. I’m finding that the best and most cherished bits tend to be not plastic but even there not all plastic need be ugly. Its more a factor of short or long term use and permanence.

    A beautiful thing is a beautiful thing no matter what its made of. Its like a splash of colour in the woods. It may turn out to be a rare and beautiful flower or it may be just an old tin can but the beauty came with its colour as we first saw it. Ugliness and disappointment only came with knowledge. Should we then say that the view is ugly?

    Or to take another example - a hillside covered in wonderful yellow flowers. I would see it as ugly because it is a noxious weed but any outsider would only think how beautiful it was. (they did too). I now try hard to see it as beautiful but I still see noxious weed.

    Its all in the eye of the beholder. The idea is to find what you think is beautiful and apply as much of it as possible to your life while always being aware that other people might think it ugly.

    viv in nz

  17. Linda Son 11 Mar 2009 at 7:16 am

    We lived in Europe for many years and I was continually impressed with their appreciation for aesthetics — even the lampposts have grace and elegance! And instead of speed bumps, they have flower beds to slow the traffic. In Germany, they have the term ‘Gemuetlichkeit,’ which translates as something close to ‘ambience.’ But whether the word is ‘beauty’, ‘aesthetics’ or something else, we all need spaces that nuture the soul.

    Sharon, I am new to your amazing, wonderful blog, so you may have answered this already — but how do you manage to get by without a refrigerator?

  18. Greyon 11 Mar 2009 at 10:55 am

    I have thought about people’s decor quite a bit - I moonlighted for a few years during the real estate bubble in Florida as an interior decorator. As such, I was often confronted with people’s desires to have “stuff” that could easily be found in any big box type store. I had very few clients who were interested in antiques or had really neat collections of unusual things that gave their home a personal style.

    I’ve avoided this in my own home, preferring pieces that don’t match, have age (and wear and tear) or were found at auction. My hubby and I rebuilt our home, and it has a theme in the form of four squares repeated throughout - in the stonework on the doorsteps, in handmade rosettes over doorways, in the kitchen hardware, the door handles and switch plates. We reused a lot of the original house, because home to us isn’t a track home.

    We’re still working out the cistern for rainwater collection and how to make that look good with the rest of the house, but you are correct, aesthetics mean a lot, and crap in the stores means nothing.

  19. Kation 11 Mar 2009 at 11:08 pm

    You’re right on, with this, Sharon. As usual, of course. My parents house was generally cluttered and not terribly tidy, but it was lived in and everybody who came over always said how comfortable they felt, and it was clear that putting your feet up on the coffee table was ok. Grabbing a book off the bookshelf to browse was perfectly fine. And there were a LOT of books to be looked through (from encyclopedias all the way down to Janet Daily trashy romance). When I met the guy who would become my hubby, I hated going over to his parents house with him. His mom had perfectly matched furniture without a single shred of cat or dog hair on them (with a cat AND a dog in residence) because she vacuumed 3 times a day, her coffee table was glass, and had an ugly bouquet of dried flowers (not all dried flowers are ugly, but this arrangement was), a “decorator’s set” of perfectly matched semi-abstact “paintings” on the wall in perfect 80’s decor fashion, and not a book to be seen in the entire place. It felt cold and unlived in. Year’s later, we’ve finally brought her round a bit (pictures of the grandkids will do that) and she no longer has a perfectly tidy, perfectly decorated, perfectly vacuumed home, but it actually FEELS like a home now. (Of course, that could be because the hubby and I have now been together almost 13 years, and I even lived with them for a bit. So, of course it will feel a little more home-like.)

    This IS the way things work in my neighbourhood. My favorite neighbours, the ones who have taught me to garden, the ones who are my daughter’s guardians should anything happen to my hubby and I, visit us somewhat frequently, and we visit them. Their house is not fancy (in fact, there’s constantly something being repaired, whether the kitchen floor, a bathroom, what have you), it’s only partially tidy, but it feels comfortable to go in and sit down and have a beer (a glass of wine, in my case) and BS with them for a while. We have them over, massed around our tiny table, eating homemade clam chowder, or lasagna, or barbequed chicken on the back deck. Our house is far from tidy (not the great housekeeper my MIL is), but it’s home. And for years I’ve been working on replacing the cheap plastic and cheap press-board furniture with comfortable, wooden pieces. The wall-hangings may be a mish-mash, but they look beautiful and they help muffle sound and block cold a bit. And they cover the walls that we can’t paint. (Long story short, it’s a manufactured home and the wall-paper on the plaster-board walls just won’t accept paint, it peels or chips easily, even with layers and layers of primer.) Sure, there are things we’d like to do (peel out the nasty carpeting and put in wood floors, then add a couple of beautiful throw rugs), but it’s still home. And my daughter’s friends apparently think so too, as they have no problem coming in and rolling around on the floors with the dogs or sitting around our marred pine kitchen table for whatever baked goodies I’ve just made.

    Thanks for putting into words what so many feel should be obvious and yet is so hard to express.

  20. Claireon 15 Mar 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve just been reading the post on the survey of TOD’s readers, hence this comment … this post is one of the reasons I hang out here rather than TOD. So it doesn’t have to do with a technical aspect of PO. That doesn’t mean aesthetics aren’t important. We have to live somewhere, and I think it helps if the somewhere we live is comfortable and satisfying at a deep level. I don’t mind so much being cold in the winter if I am living in a house whose look doesn’t make me feel more cold than I already do.

    Brian did a fine job of teasing out various aspects of aesthetics, including the social class aspects (another reason I like this blog so much better than TOD … it acknowledges the sociocultural aspects of our lives). He didn’t talk much about the influence of advertising on what people think is beautiful, or on the “need” (of corporations) to convince us periodically that some other look would be much more stylish than what we have now. I’m old enough to have seen several “styles” of home decoration come and go as corporations go about their business of creating the conditions for higher profits. The current style leaves me cold (physically as well as as aesthetically).

    One of the things that PO means is that we won’t have the money for constant changes in decor, nor will we have the physical resources, at least not if we humans would like to continue to be around in reasonable numbers. That suggests each of us needs to find a way to have a pleasing look out of few, and very long-lasting, things. Rather than make lots of new stuff, we might look into taking better care of what we have, and finding ways to trade among ourselves when we have excess to trade or need something we don’t have (or just want a different look for awhile).

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