Confucius once said: ‘The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.’ I was pondering this rather magnificent statement as we put together this issue, which celebrates not only the powerful influence of fashion on our abodes, but also the rooms that represent the heart and soul of any home: kitchens and bathrooms. Not long ago, the bathroom was intended merely for washing and the kitchen for cooking – both activities to be undertaken somewhat covertly. Over the years, however, the concept of ‘bathing’ has gained traction and the designs necessary to accommodate this soothing pastime have evolved as a result. Meanwhile, the kitchen has taken on the triple function of cooking, lounging and dining zone. Appliances are contained and equipment concealed; island units with integrated tabletops act as family focal points for everything from Sunday lunch to our children’s homework. Innovation in kitchen and bathroom design represents big business, and many of us aspire to recreate the glorious visions seen in catalogues and advertisements. But as the walls between our rooms come tumbling down in the perpetual pursuit of space and light, where do we find privacy? Where are the nooks and dens for us to be alone and quiet? After all, the brain and body need solace as well as stimulation to thrive.
Given that trends are so often about action and reaction, I can’t help but wonder whether we will, eventually, see a return to a Victorian template, whereby individual spaces each held a strict function and could only be accessed from a single hallway. There is, I think, a certain Downton Abbey-esque romanticism to the idea of having a formal drawing room for receiving guests or a morning room solely for taking tea. Throw in a couple of dressing rooms, a study, a library, a larder and a boot room, and my domestic fantasies are complete. The tricky bit would be to accommodate all these rooms within one’s existing footprint – unless, of course, I join those pursuing potential underneath their homes. I’m sure you will have read about the four-storey basements, replete with carports and swimming pools, being carved out under some upmarket London properties. On the one hand, this shows smart lateral thinking, but on the other, quite apart from the lack of natural light and the extreme disturbance to the neighbours, there’s the sheer expense involved. It’s almost always more costly to excavate than to build up or out, mostly because of problems related to waste disposal – oh, and the need to shore up an entire building while you decimate its foundations.
More interesting from my perspective, however, is the irony inherent in the fact that in this type of super-luxe, overtly capacious home, the occupants still tend to congregate in one of the smallest rooms – preferably in front of a TV or a fireplace. However much space they own, people generally want to feel safe, protected and cosy at home. For all the potential pomp and display of home-making, our primal instincts are to crave equal measures of sociability, solitude and simplicity.
So, to return to Confucius, if our home embodies our nation’s integrity, then to have a social hub/community/kitchen at its core is good; to create areas for quiet contemplation/learning/bathing is essential; but to have a place where we can simply ‘be’ is paramount. It reminds me of the idea that we each have three lives: our public life, our private life and our secret life. True enough, don’t you think?
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the March 2014 edition of ELLE Decoration