Our homes represent more than our financial assets; they have a deep and unique emotional meaning. Our earliest memories of home are often connected to our childhood.
For better or worse, they also represent the success of our parents: our homes are an outward expression of our family wealth, providing comfort, safety and a sense of community. But as much as we define them, our homes also define us.
For our ancestors, home was no more than a small fire and something to protect us from the elements of wind and rain. Somewhere between then and now, the notion of home has become far more interpretational and embedded in the human consciousness.
As we began to advance in agriculture, we nested and became less nomadic. Yet what exactly is the meaning of home?
The meaning of home is complex, interpretational and unique. It is also subject to our aspirations, beliefs and historical experiences. Whatever it is, the meaning of home is a way of organizing and understanding the space within ourselves and the way the world is constructed around us.
Image via Architectural Farm
Shane Cotter and Kathryn Wilson founders of Architectural Farm describe home as something deeply textured and layered. "It is defined by memories, contents and people as much as it is by physical form. It is an evolving idea that continues to change as memories and inhabitants come and go. For a home to function well it needs the basics of threshold, sanctuary, space-to-be and space-to-share."
Erhard Aa-He Kinzelbach of KNOWSPACE recognizes the material and social importance of home. His residential work operates on the "believe that architecture carries a genotype and a phenotype."
Studio Spaces by KNOWSPACE
Does the meaning of home have both a unique personal and public character? The personal quality of home provides a place to experience our inner being and also allows for the temporary detachment from our public character.
Fabio Candido of Sunday Morning parallels the poems of the Odyssey with our search for returning home. Candido identifies the portrayal of two distinct elements of home in the Odyssey, home intended as an expression of the individual's identity (personal) and his relationship with the community (public).
Firstly, there’s the great bed (monolithic and made of wood) that Odysseus chiseled with his own hands from an olive tree. The origin of the bed is a secret between Odysseus and Penelope and becomes the conclusive evidence for revealing the hero's identity to his wife. The bed represents our private and personal character.
Secondly, there is the porch courtyard (both public and private space) where the suitors of Penelope were feasting. The courtyard soon becomes the place for vengeance, intended as a reaffirmation of the individual's social position. The porch represents our public character.
Candido notes we can therefore look at the house as a dwelling where individual and public aspects find a concurrence.
Image via Sunday Morning
Can the meaning of home also be a place that we can never see as a stranger? Home is so familiar that Alvaro Siza describes the presence of an inhabitant within home as an ephemeral phenomenon. The notion of home dissipates when the inhabitant is gone; what remains is not a home but a house.
So when all that remains is a house, does the previous meaning of home alter? When my grandfather passed and I returned to his home, it was different. I not only missed him but something else was missing, not only the house but every object inside became different. Everything was now a mere object, the person whose heart and mind who bound them into a single entity — a home — was gone. It’s meaning, forever altered.
When the meaning of home can so easily vanish, is there a difference between "feeling at home" and "being at home?" I recently spent time 9,000 miles across the globe in my partner’s childhood home; I was a stranger in a strange land but connecting everything to him and with the safety he provides, I felt instantly at home. Is the meaning of home therefore tied to a location?
Some people move throughout their lives allowing home to be rediscovered over and over again, while others are tied to one place and choose never to leave the location they call home. Is the meaning of home therefore transient or stable? The only certainty in my own definition of home, which lives on in many places, is to identify everything else as "not-home."
A friend once told me that only when she became "homesick" could she could fully appreciate the sharp boundary between home and "not-home." The boundary was so deep and painful that the difference between the two was like a psychological thermocline.
Image via LoT
Leonidas Trampoukis, co-founder of LoT describes the meaning of home “as the idea of belonging somewhere not only in physical terms, but also the feeling of being comfortable, the moment of perceiving and enjoying the small things that inspire you and bring you peace."
Your meaning of home, no matter what it looks or feels like will be unique, connected to your experiences and embedded within your heart. Your home as much as you define it also defines you.