More Than a House

Creating a well-lived home.

When I watch home makeover or design shows, and the homeowners’ ensuing delight, I wonder: What now? How will the lives of the house’s family members be different with an updated decor? After all, the point isn’t making a house more attractive or functional, but rather converting a house into a home— a place where we are accepted, refreshed and energized. Do the TV families go on to make their dwellings a well-lived home?

The process of creating home is a personal task often without a crew of design professionals. As homeowners, we’re on our own. Would we know a well-lived home if we saw one? What does it look and feel like? How do we know when we get there— or live there?

On a quest to identify transferable qualities that provide a framework for a well-lived home, I interviewed more than 80 individuals. They live in a variety of places and circumstances, all from a healthy sense of home. What I learned confirmed my theory that a dwelling place is possible no matter what our current home and resources are like, and no matter what the home in which we grew up was like.

The Framework of a Well-Lived Home
The prime qualities I discovered were acceptance, connection, beauty and growth. As we discover what each of these words means for us in our homes, we should first place them in the larger philosophical framework that I refer to as the four walls of a well-lived home:

  1. Home is an environment— a place.
  2. Home is the relationships within that place.
  3. Home, like a cocoon, is a place where we must be able to be ourselves and relax.
  4. Home is a place where we refuel so we can live fully in the larger world.

Altogether, home is the type of place we long for. It’s what happens at the intersection of people and place. And a well-lived home has components of “in-ness” and “out-ness.”

Acceptance

The quality of a dwelling place that most compels me to drive home night after night in auto-pilot mode is the allure of a place where I can just be me. The well-lived home provides acceptance. Sure, I’ll do my part when I arrive home, getting a meal on the table and maybe throwing in a load of laundry. But, first I can put on my comfy sweats, adjust the dinner menu according to my energy level and available ingredients, and spend some time alone on the patio with a glass of iced tea, giving the dog a pet and a scratch.

Acceptance at home also includes emotional safety. We can count on an environment where people care enough to celebrate with us, mourn with us and healthfully disagree with us.

Connection

In the well-lived home, the spaces are conducive to its people’s needs— sometimes for privacy and other times for connection. The family room, for example, is furnished and decorated for the family’s favorite shared activities. Enjoy snuggling during movies? Pillows and throw blankets abound. Favor board games? Good lighting exists over the game table. Is snack time essential? A big tray sits on the coffee table, ample coasters fill the room, and end tables hold plates and bowls.

Connection builds belonging. As my father often said, “It’s a cold, cruel world.” We all need love that keeps the home fires burning, such as with quality time together at home.

Beauty

As creative beings, we crave beauty in the place we dwell. As writer Ingrid Trobisch said, “Beauty feeds my soul and gives me strength to do the drudgery things.” Beauty in a home can be expressed in little things— a tiny vase of forget-me-nots by the bed, as well as seashells arranged along the vanity in the powder room. Beauty can also be seen in large things— draperies in a rich fabric and crown molding in a dining room. Beauty is additionally expressed in whimsy— a frog pitcher, treasures in shadow boxes and unusual collections.

Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is personal. Every person living in a home adds his and her sense of beauty, like thumbprints of family members’ personalities. The various expressions of beauty in a home necessitate connection, as family members discuss where personal items may be placed. This builds a acceptance and respect among family members.

Growth

There is steady change in the well-lived home. In an acquaintance’s home, for example, hangs an “evolving painting” over the kitchen table. Whenever family members grow tired of the scene in the painting, they haul the canvas to the garage and paint another— the whole family participating with brushes. The process is fun, as is the daily viewing and the remembering of times spent creating artwork as a family.

Extending Home

Thus far the framework of a well-lived home has involved characteristics that are cocooning in nature, such as acceptance, connection, beauty, and the play and rest side of growth. However, balancing these concepts is looking outward— for a home is the place that we go out from. In our homes, we refuel so that we can live fully in the larger world, and sometimes we invite people inside to experience home with us.

Home generally becomes the primary place for celebrating milestones that give a family identity, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, homecomings, retirements, weddings, baby showers and receptions after funerals. Our homes tell our stories. They can tell our stories because they’ve lived them.
Outwardly, participating in a larger community is a way we extend the shelter of home.

More than a house, a well-lived home is possible for us, as it is for the TV-home-makeover family. Such dwelling places are rich in resources and possibilities. Live fully with your family in the space you call home.