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The cause of these wonderings has been a TV series I stumbled over on BBC2 entitled, ‘The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes’. It’s a little bit like that other TV series, ‘Grand Designs’ but different – although I do find the same questions arise. At the time of this writing there have been four of these programs, entitled in order, Mountain, Forest, Sea, Underground and in each program two people travel the world to find three incredibly spectacular buildings (it would be almost inappropriate to call them houses) that are apparently homes. By the names of each program, you may gather, they are sited either on mountains, in forests, on coasts and yes, even mostly underground. ‘Spectacular’ is indeed, I believe, the most fitting word for these buildings; they are amazing. They clearly cost lots of money, are all architect designed and are in different parts of the world, usually very beautiful in location. They also tend to be very big.

Our attention in recent weeks, in this country, has been caught by flat or apartment dwellers. Historically in my past work I have seen the inside of many ‘flats’, from the small to the magnificent. These ‘Most Extraordinary Homes’ are in another world. They are usually isolated. Interesting isn’t it that given money and left to ourselves, we seem to build as far away as possible from everyone else. I watch modern housing estates going up near us and I am horrified at how close they are building houses next to each other. Small gardens are the order of the day by economic necessity it seems, and that results in so many of us either gazing out the window at an upper level onto a panorama of other building roof tops, or we are gazing at the side wall of another home just yards away.

How different from these most unusual homes from this latest TV program. One of the features that seems almost common to these buildings is large amounts of window space that makes the outside world a major feature of home living, and in some cases the window or glass wall can be slid right back so there is no longer a division between inside and outside.  Observing the rich and the incredibly clever designers at work perhaps sets norms of what pleasant home living should be like, but it is a far world from that which most of us experience. A ‘view’ from the house is frequently something missing. Yes, there are houses perched on hillsides that look out over beauty but as I let my mind wander around the local area like a camera from Google Earth, they are exceptions and not the rule. Most of us look out onto a road or a street across which are more buildings.

You may gather that I have been using these ‘extraordinary homes’ as a catalyst for thinking about what we do with our homes. These affluent building dwellers would appear to spend much time appreciating the scenery round about them and, as the modern trend goes, those who can do it (and you can’t if you live ten floors up) spend as much time as the weather permits them, sitting outside, maybe eating, maybe just sitting! So, given the time, money and space and left to ourselves we seek to draw inside and outside together.

But we haven’t yet got to the big issue about these mega-buildings yet. They are big, they are often incredibly clever in their design so that there are ‘areas’ hidden from each other and, at least in the ones we’ve seen, they seem to be inhabited by a couple. Now that may just be the limitation of the program and it may be the wishes of the owners for privacy, that their families be left out, but the big thing that has had me wondering and reflecting on all this, is that here are just (mostly) two people living in these magnificent spaces – big spaces – and so do these spaces feel ‘homely’ and what does that word mean?

Is living in a hotel ‘homely’? No, because ‘home’ suggests permanence and unless a very rich person has set up home in a hotel suite, that is clearly not so. Don’t confuse permanence with static because one thing I have noticed is that most homes are constantly changing. Writer Edith Schaeffer in ‘What is a Family’ suggested a number of answers to her title, and one of them was a changing life mobile.  You know what a mobile is? It’s the thing we hang above a child’s cot, with a number of ‘objects’ dangling from string, that move gently around. A family, she suggests is like that and that therefore also describes what goes on in homes – change.

In a previous existence I gave a class of construction and architectural students a project to design a flexible house on the basis that a fictitious government charged tax on the number of rooms you had in your home so you would keep them to a minimum. So the house first of all catered for a couple, then later the addition of one child and then two and then three (requiring space increases) who, as they grew up eventually left home and the space had to reduce again, only to be enlarged by a ‘granny annexe to house an aging parent. Apart from the construction challenges it also highlighted this feature of life – of growth and of change.   

But what do we do in these spaces? That has been the thing that kept rising to the conscious level of my mind as I watched these programs. These are magnificent spaces, but what do we do with them? Let’s not descend to the mundane level of thinking about eating, sleeping and all the rest that we can take for granted; let’s try and remain at a more speculative level or maybe observational level and generalize. Yes, there will be some people who stay at home, forced by circumstances to remain there, and end up watching endless hours of TV. Many leave the home for work and many others leave the home to go and interact with friends elsewhere. Some use their homes as offices, others as studios. For some homes provide a collection of warm memories and the home speaks of security. For others homes hang unpleasant memories around our necks but we have not the means to escape and so we live in this ‘cell’.

The variety of home uses is as broad as there are people. Some people are wonderful ‘home-makers’ and others of us just live with it! Some homes are used for hospitality on a regular basis, other homes never hear the sounds of others. Some homes spark creativity, others weigh heavily so nothing ever changes. Some homes are filled with books, others never see a word of print. Some homes display many photos, others have nothing. Some homes are warm, soft and comforting, while others are hard and basic. Money, circumstances, people, so many variables. If these magnificent buildings are at one end of a scale, a cardboard box of the homeless must be at the opposite end. In between, life and ‘homes’ are perhaps more like a kaleidoscope with a multiplicity of colours, just ready to change the moment you tap it. Without doubt, watching this program is pure escapism because it is way out of the reach of most of us, but it is nevertheless good to have our vision lifted above the mundane that we are forced to live with so much of the time. Perhaps, just maybe, our vision will be so lifted that it may spark some new thought, new idea, new creativity, and if not, then it is just good to behold the beauty of this world and see the possibilities of mankind in a good way, to counter the bad news that so often flows across our screens.

Well there it is, homes. Another thing, just before we finish, that has struck me is how homes have changed over my lifetime. Yes, the same buildings in my street were here over eighty years ago, and so haven’t changed much, but inside (and maybe in the garden outside) that is another thing. And the lives we live in these homes…. that is something altogether different and would require another article. But apart from the usual run-of-the-mill houses, around the world we have lots of these new developments that make us question what homes are all about. However, now, as always, some odds and ends of quotes to finish with.

Nothing is better than going home to family and eating good food and relaxing.

Irina Shayk

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

George A. Moore

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.


Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action.

Mother Teresa

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

Maya Angelou

Going home and spending time with your family and your real friends keeps you grounded.

Jennifer Ellison

Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

“There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.” 
HomerThe Odyssey

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