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Words I wish I’d spoken—from a man I’ve never met

One of the best articles on housing that I have read in a very long time has been sent to me by a former employee who now works and lives in Seattle. Titled “Why is Your Home so Boring?” it was written by Lawrence W. Cheek (an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects) and appeared in a Seattle newspaper.

So what did he say that I found so interesting? Many things, in a very long article—but space limits me to two themes.

Firstly, in an observation that I believe has echoes here, he argues that the modern American upmarket project home is designed to wow prospective buyers, not satisfy the needs of eventual owners. “For example”, he points out “the most dramatic interior space in nearly every display house is the one that a family will never spend more than a few seconds in: the entry.” He describes in detail these “soaring” two-storey spaces with “their staircases slashing upward”, “bright, expansive…full of promise”. “But the promise shatters…in the featureless” spaces where people actually live.

They are displays “built to sell, not live in”.

Now Lawrence Cheek would not know of my company, and I certainly donʼt mean to imply that he endorses our design approach. But I can say that I wholeheartedly embrace his views. Indeed, I spelled out our philosophy some months ago under the heading… “Houses are to Live in, not to Look at”.

The second theme? Addressing the American fashion for colonial-style display homes (more echoes here?) the writer pleads for “something bolder than a revival costume—something like a room whose mood shifts subtly with the quality of the dayʼs light, whose spaces and textures not only accommodate the human imagination but also stimulate it”.

I could not have written those words—but I have spent every week of my 26 years in this business trying to design and build homes with rooms just like the one described.