Everybody, quite rightly, dreams of sheltering himself in a sure and permanent home of his own.
In the quarter century since the publication of the first House Book in 1974, there has been something of a major revolution in the firls of home design. Those intervening years have seen the arrival of the urban loft conversion as the blueprint of contemporary living and spatial planning, the widespread acceptance of modernity, both in decoration and furnishings, and burgeoning consumer choice in terms of finishes, materials and fittings - a breadth of reference that was unthinkable even a decade ago.
Twenty-five years on and you see similar fashions on the street, self-conciously revived as 'retro' or 'vintage'. But whereas in those days interior design stool a little apart from the hectic fashion cycle, now it is fully enmeshed in it. To go with your vintage wardrobe, you can buy retro wallpaper and tongue-in-cheek Seventies furniture. 'Lifestyle' is defined not so much by what we do, buy by what we buy.
While popular makeover programmes on the television have whetted the appetite for change on the domestic front, technological advances have also redefined the meaning of home, making possible new ways not only of living but of working. Like the telephone perched on its hall stand or the television console concealed in a cabinet, technology used to be the public intruder in the private domestic space. Nowadays, the fully wired home, with networked computers, interactive appliances, and programmable servicing, lighting and sound systems, has the potential to evolve into a smart skin, making it not so much a boundary as a communicator in its own right.
The home has become a transparent and permeable medium for images, sound, text and data.
Hand in hand with such developments have gone changes in expectations. What many people want from their homes these days is flexibility. Homes are no longer simply places of domestic retreat, but are in many cases places of work; they may also have to accomodate various permutations of the extended family some or all of the time. Such demands are leading to departure from the traditional centuries-old house plan, where separate rooms are assigned specific functions, in favour of more open, transformable layouts that can be adopted and used in different ways as the occasion demands.
The blurred boundary between public and private space has had another impact: the increasing professionalism of the home. The trend started in the kitchen. The ubiquity of celebrity chefs and the rise of restaurant culture inspired a desire of catering-style fittings and equipment at home. The 'trophy' cooking range, a battery of utensils, vast refrigerators and acres of stainless steel made a statement of serious culinary intent, ironically at a time when less and less time was actually spent cooking at home. The emergency vogue of the home spa - combining the pampering luxury of the hotel bathroom with the excercise and relaxation facilities of a health club - is another instance of the same impulse. Home offices, atriums, panic rooms - all of which feature prominently on up-market consumer wish lists - are spaces that are not domestic in origin, but direct borrowings from the public realm.
Nevertheless, some things do not change. It was Robert Frost who defined 'home' as the place where 'when you have to go there, they have to take you in'. What rings true about this rather wry definition is the way that it captures the sense of returning or belonging, which seems to be bound up with the whole concept of home. Home, for many of us, is somewhere you come back to. It is not so much a destination in itself, but the whole point of departure for other destinations or adventures. Homes house memories as much as people and possessions; home has a meaning for each one of us, which is unique and individual. It's the fixed point of our emotional compass.
'I never wanted a rock'n'roll house. I just wanted a normal house' - Liam Gallagher
Even those people who live much of their lives in hotel rooms find a way of imbuing their featureless, interchangeable surroundings with trappings of a more personal, settled nature, distilling the essence of home down to a few framed photographs, a favourite scent, a cushion or throw. It seems that without such a familiar talismans, or symbols of what home life means, individuals run the risk of running adrift. In the 24/7 culture, the whole idea of home has become more rather than less important. Increased mobility has had a similar effect. Fewer and fewer people live their entire lives in the same town, let alone in the same house or apartment - Americans, for example, move on average every five years - but that does not lessen the ties of home or alter its central importance in our lives as a focus of security in times of rapid change.
If home is a fixed point, it is also a theatre of self-expression and change: it may well be one of the few places where we can enact our desires in the most fundamental sense. An important part of this process is the way in which we choose to design, decorate and furnish the spaces in which we live. Such decisions are not merely superficial or cosmetic, but have the power to affect our whole sense of wellbeing. There is nothing trivial about the quality of light, for example, or the way a space is planned and fitted, and it is with basic elements like these that we truly shape our homes.
'The house is the repository of our unmet needs, our unfulfulled dreams, or our nostalgic longings. It cannot really satisfy any of them, but perhaps that is why we have so much satisfaction in making the attempt.' - Marjorie Garber, Sex and Real Estate.
Homes may be made of bricks and mortar, plaster, paint and wood, but they also enshrine dreams of living. Everyone builds castles in the air. Even if few of these dream houses are subsequently realised, they still tell us a great deal about how we want to live. Not all dream houses, of course, are unattainable: one-third of those responding to a recent British survey said that the bungalow was their ideal home - a sort of apartment in the countryside, I suppose. The process of creative daydreaming is not merely wishful thinking, but can direct us to solutions that are affordable and practical as well as fulfulling.
It is a process that starts early in life. Children play house in tree houses, forts, Wendy houses and secret dens. I remember drawing on my own dream house as a child: it was long and thin like a stable, with each room opening into the next without corridors to connect them. That first attempt at home design may have been one of the reasons why, in my early twenties, I was so smitten by the open and essentially linear nature of Nancy Cunard's converted barn in Lot, where I stayed with some friends during a memorable trip to France. That seemed like a dream home to me. The interior of the barn was arranged across a series of open levels, stepping down from a bedroom at one end, via a bathroom, to an open-plan living/kitchen/dining area on the ground floor, and then up again at the other end to a spare bedroom and bathroom. You could see right the way across the interior. A similar expansiveness and functionalism was evident in the houses and featured in the Arts and Architecture Case Study programme (1945-66), the designs of which, with their easy informality, had an enormous impact on me as a young designer. Nowadays, i would have to add into the picture a location overlooking water with rolling countryside at the back.