Do you like going to model homes even if you aren’t in the market for a house? I do, and if I am ever on an errand alone I slip into one if it’s nearby. (There is always one nearby in our area.) I don’t really enjoy the architecture of most of them, but I do like the decor sometimes. What I really find interesting is the staging.
Photo from realtor.com
(A crystal gazing ball is essential to keep the towels from…blowing away?)
I love seeing things like fake fruit in bowls, cookbooks open on the counter, the never-used dining room table set invitingly. Sometimes there are bottles of champagne by the bathtub and Victoria’s Secret bags in the closet. The kids’ rooms generally have a boys room with an airplane theme, but no toys anywhere. The girls room is always princessy, and pink. I just find it all very interesting.
What is the purpose of all this stagecraft? To sell the house, obviously, but why include these silly props when they are not for sale? A lot of people will say it helps the buyer imagine how to use the rooms. I’m pretty sure the buyers are not that stupid. Or to make the buyer comfortable. But being in an uninhabited house with the occasional sign of life is not comfortable. It is actually pretty creepy.
No, staging is used to sell the feeling of a brand new life. The home itself sells clean, storage space, new. The staging sells happy marriage in the bedroom, neat and well dressed children, evenings entertaining at home. Of course, buying the house does not get you any of these things. The evenings drinking champagne in the bath will never happen. It was all an empty promise. We know this intellectually, but it is hard to separate the feeling from the product. We want how it makes us feel, so we buy it.
(I do firmly believe that a well designed home feels good, but ironically tract homes are very unlikely to incorporate any of the features that can accomplish this.)
And of course, this purchasing things based on our feelings is the root of advertising and consumerism. Advertising (good advertising at least) does not sell beer, or pillow covers, or houses. It sells a life, a feeling. It tells you “You have always wanted this. You need this to be who you are.”. We don’t buy fondue pots. We buy the feeling of being a good hostess. Not picture frames, but a well collected family home. Not a porch swing, but idyllic family summer afternoons. I say this as a person who owns all of these things.
(Why might a pitcher be above the fireplace?)
There are of course things we need to buy. Many things are useful tools, or truly beautiful and will improve our home. Sometimes it is hard to know if we are looking for a thing for our home, or a feeling. Impulse purchases driven by advertising are almost always based on emotion.
A homemaking book I like, Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson puts it well: “Decor usually gets too much attention at the expense of other influences…there are ways of living in your home that make it homey as well…you want to provide pretty and good things and do something with them, beyond merely buying…When you talk, read and write, play music or games, or sew, you leave traces of this in the room…Faked signs of life make the room feel desolate and lonely.” (28-29)
(Like what is the point of this table in my house? How much more homey would a simple bookshelf be, filled we things we use? This was an impulse purchase no doubt.)
It seems that only way to make a house feel like a home is to have it be a home. You have to live in it, and occasionally buy things you like and need. But you can’t buy them for the express purpose of making it homey. I guess if we need a container for the blocks on the floor, and we want it to be an attractive basket, that’s fine. But if we see an attractive basket and we think “country…charming…the good old days”, well that is just another empty promise. It might as well be a bowl of rubber pears on the kitchen island. Buying a feeling will disappoint you every time.