Homes are more than places to live in. They might keep the rain off our heads but they also house a whole host of other issues, things that resonate with us on a deep and symbolic level, a kind of physical manifestation of all our hopes and fears.
That's why when architects are commissioned to design someone's home, they are also hired to perform a range of way more occult services. You're there as much to interpret a client's dreams, intuit their desires, divine their relationships, personalities and attempt to materialise these things into the very fabric of their surroundings.
The flip side is that you're also privy to the paranoias and doubts that also characterise our relationships with the idea of home. I remember late one Sunday evening being called by a client who was in quite a state. They had been looking at a tap catalogue and the choice had sent them into a tail spin of introspection. Their desperate plea rang 'Sam! What kind of tap am I?!'.
Sure, its ridiculous. But its also understandable. Homes are highly complex things: social, symbolic, economic, psychological and legal entities - among much else. The idea of home is a highly wrought cultural entity and even the most modest of decoration projects can cause a personality crisis. Choosing a paint colour for a wall, a new rug, a chair, a vase or even the flowers to put in the that vase is complex because each choice is a negotiation between our own likes and wider and wider societal tastes. In other words, homes are places in which we construct a version of our own selves.
Think of the Victorian home with all of its anachronistic parlours, pantries, drawing and dining rooms. The whole organisation of the home manifesting in inescapably real bricks and mortar the structures and hierarchies of Victorian society within domestic space.
Of course these are the very same Victorian homes that have been often been colonised by wave after wave of contemporary remodelling. Mapping all the knocking throughs we've made, all those additions and alterations to the homes original structure would also map the way attitudes to lifestyle, family and comfort have changed over a century and a half or so.
If we can read the home in this way as a thing that represents our inner desires, then what might we make of all those conservatories, en suites, media dens and kitchen/dining rooms that now characterise the modern home? What should we make of Victorian terraces that have been entirely gutted and internally remodeled? What deep psychologies motivate those oligarchs to excavate cinemas, bowling alleys and panic rooms deep into the London clay?
Lets face it, on this level, Grand Designs isn't really a show about architecture or design. It's a show where people's psychologies are acted out through scaffolding and foundations, through the jeopardy of the ad break all the way to the final resolution: a family reunited once again over a cast concrete island unit. Grand Designs taps into a particularly Anglo Saxon idea of home. Though we no longer imagine our homes to be castles but eco-scando-moderne, rustic-high-tech, urbane-barn or whatever, they are still private, individual entities, forms of individual expression.
Homes are places where we should feel happiest, where we should feel most ourselves This can be hard enough - throwing us into a chrome-plated-tap-based-identity-crisis from time to time.
My real advice for building a really happy home? Resist the creeping commodification of your own domesticity that contemporary Anglo Saxon culture promotes. Construct homes as places that allow us to live out more fulfilled lifestyle. Think of your home as a place that helps you develop and experiment with the possibilities of your identity, family and ways of living rather than something that fits in with external expectations.
Take your dreams - and your fears - seriously. Don't give in to apparent good taste without a fight. And if you want someone to talk to late at night about what kind of tap you are .... please call!