Home, Home on the Metaphor
Metaphors are dangerous. “Dumb as a post” makes sense, “Dark as Egypt” not so much.
Using the familiar to pry open understanding of the unfamiliar, clarify meaning with imagery or simply making words sing with poetic allusion can seduce writers and readers alike. But like wrecking a stew with random inspiration, words intended to delight and reveal can simply confuse.
Homes are so important and familiar that metaphors used in their description may seem forced. But where we live is so central to our lives we seek inspiration and clarity at every opportunity. HOUZZ has over 16,000,000 unique visitors a month: sometimes 1,000,000 a day: far greater than almost all television programming.
I have designed about 500 built homes. I have seen the sausage being made: the gritty realities of subsoil, zoning codes and bills that kill the buzz of building. I have also seen the gut level ecstasy of making beauty and reflecting your values in the one possession that protects and projects you in the world.
Grounding expectation in perspective is why I write: but I also type this to reveal the reasons for the joy humans have when we feel our homes both nurture and reward hope with tangible benefits.
To that end I offer up a very simple metaphor: the home as body. We live within our skin, but we also live in a skin we build: our house. At the risk over overplaying it, the connections are real, and understandable – we design and build the metaphor – it’s not coincidence we can see ourselves in our homes: its natural.
Our front facades get morphed into faces, our garages feel like engorging/excreting portals of necessary ugliness, trim and ornament are jewelry: but the simple truths of our bods and our pads are inextricably cross-referenced:
SITE AS BONES. We can lose weight, grow or cut hair, get tattoos, or get ripped in the gym – but beneath the cosmetics are things we cannot change: our bones. We can paint our house, garden it into bucolic splendor or design a new or expanded home to fulfill every fantasy: but where all this happens never changes beyond some simple grading: the climate, views, and neighborhood are as defined as your hips or shins. Trying to design a site into your preconceptions is like wearing lifts to get height: faking is not making. Of course, the structure of a home supports it – like our bones support us – but we can change that to create space: you cannot add a few inches to your limbs to play in the NBA.
WALLS AS SKIN. A good tan can add glam (and melanoma) – but it cannot lose the 27 pounds that put you beyond fashion model status. Layering over your house with new trim, siding or paint makes gloss, but not shape: like your skin, you can buff it, but you cannot become buff by rethinking the last layer of a shape.
WINDOWS AS EYES. You cannot see where you have no vision: “eyes in the back of your head” is wishful thinking: if you want to see the world, it has to be thru a lens – either eyeball or plate glass. If what you can see is what you wish to avoid, sunglasses help, but closing your lids is the only way to not countenance what’s there: closing off windows to the ugly and opening walls to beauty is as simple as turning your head and opening your eyes to see.
MOUTH AS ENTRY. Letting food and air in sustains life in us. Getting into a home is its reason for being. Wide open may encourage unwanted access, a clenched jaw means starvation. Our front doors can be a beckoning smile or daunting frown. Letting in can be delightful or threatening – but we control that: and we can control how we offer up our homes to access.
ROOMS AS FLESH. We create space, we make our own shape. Rooms can be big, or not exist: we can engorge and bloat or diet and shrink. We can make density of storage to compact our homes like a ripped set of abs, or we can let ourselves go, wear sweat pants and let our objects make every space smaller – it’s our choice.
There are infinitely more metaphors: but it can get a bit forced: THE ALIMENTARY/STOMACH/INTESTINE AS ENTRY/HALL/STAIR. But all our homes have realities we are often blind to: familiarity may breed blindness, but a little metaphoric allusion can, dare I say, turn the lights on.