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inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #76 of 103: Alan Turner (arturner) Thu 27 Mar 08 08:30
    
Cars and houses.

Architects do compare them from time to time, and that goes way back.

The fictional architect Howard Roark described a car designed with all
kinds of decorative elements, analagous to the decorative elements common
on a building before the Bauhaus.

Some time after the 50s, when tailfins finally disappeared, we started to
look at cars as functional, and functional design was good for cars.  Not
so much for houses, we generally kept ornament and traditional styling.  In
all fairness, some of that might be because some early experiments at
functional housing didn't turn out to be very functional after all.
Talking about houses and cars simultaneously is a way to talk about design,
but you can just as well compare houses to teapots or umbrellas or
soda-vending machines if you want to talk about design.

But since WWII, how nice or cool you house or your car is has always been a
way of showing your status.  From the mid 90s on, we've had McMansions and
Hummers as a way to visibly spend money.

Both cars and houses stopped being about functionality or usability and
turned into being about doing something more visible than a one-carat
diamond pinky-ring.  Everybody always says they want functional and
efficient and usable.  But they end up going for the big pinky-ring
anyway.

Here's a dumb and simple question:  For about $5000, you can install an
upstairs laundry in most two-story homes, sacrificing ten to twenty square
feet of floor space.  That puts the place for laundering dirty clothes in
close proximity to the place where dirty clothes are discarded and clean
clothes are stored.  If you have that, it's a lot less work to deal with
your sheets and shirts, something you have to deal with every week.  Why do
people spend ten times as much for a great room that rarely gets used?
Because the upstairs laundry doesn't show.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #77 of 103: Philippe Habib (phabib) Thu 27 Mar 08 09:34
    
I feel so practical.  When we built our place, we put the laundry
upstairs and don't have any big showy space.

I think you're right on with the house as visible status symbol.

Daniel talks about it in the book as well.  Where you live has become
a shorthand for who you are and what you value.

When Daniel goes to the Toll Bros. house with Sarah S. the agent
"knows" he's a tire kicker just from where he lives.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #78 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 27 Mar 08 10:05
    
>upstairs laundry doesn't show

Reminds me of when I lived in a house built in 1900 that had all the
bathroom pipes on the wall rather than inside it -- because, by God, if
you had interior plumbing, you wanted to show it off.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #79 of 103: Angie (coiro) Thu 27 Mar 08 10:16
    
That cracked me up. I'm also an admirer of Susanka's philosophies and
grateful for her influence, so was glad to see her in the book. (Full
disclosure: I am far, far more judgmental and scornful of the "more is
better" crowd than Daniel is in the book. Selfish and short-sighted.
But anyway ... )

I appreciated that answer, Daniel. And Alan's expansion on it. I'm
fascinated with the psychology behind all of this, and the question of
whether it's a new or displaced (old) craving could keep me listening
to theories all night.

Means and assets are a huge part of this House Lust phenomenon, of
course. I'll soon be on my own in a 1500sf house. Tiny to many, but it
already feels too big and demanding of my time. If I had resources for
gardeners, housekeeping, and maintenance help, I might feel
differently. Still, I expect the silliness of the unused space would
push me to scale down eventually.

In the book, I loved the description of the house with the dual
sweeping stairways in the foyer. Exactly what I dreamed of as a child,
watching old Hollywood movies. So of course the immediately following
thought was, "When I was a child I thought as a child ... ".  My belief
and comfort in living small feels to me like having "put away childish
things".

Slipped by Sharon. And think how practical - the leaks were right out
there where you could see them!
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #80 of 103: a plague of cilantro (cjp) Thu 27 Mar 08 10:32
    
Sharon's post really got me laughing, too. And as for the dual
staircase, I know one woman who had a giraffe barn built in the early
'90s, and it too had dual staircases. Why, I don't know. But she also
had 10 bathrooms and only one teenager at home. And marble floors all
over that were really slippery in wet weather, and we had to take off
our shoes in her house, but no slippers were provided, so I spent most
of my visits huddled on the couch. And the ceilings were so high in the
massive foyer that both heat and a/c were out of the question. 

But get this: she saved what she said was lots of money on the house
by having an architecture student design it rather than a certified
architect. And so as the builders put the house together, the owner
would suddenly realize that things were the wrong size or whatever, and
she'd have them tear that part down and rebuild. One year later there
were settlement cracks all over the stucco, and the house already
looked old.

Oh yeah, that house made lots of sense.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #81 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Fri 28 Mar 08 13:13
    
Re the upstairs laundries, in the book I quote a woman who lives in a
9,000 sf. house talk about how she has two dishwashers in the kitchen,
so there's always one ready for  dirty dishes and she doesn't need to
keep them on the counter. She says she could never go back to not
having two dishwashers. It certainly sounds excessive, but it's also
sort of practical, in a way.

I cite my own similar example: we added an upstairs laundry in our
house during a renovation. (It's the only way to go, as Alan suggests).
But we kept the old one in our basement, too. (I didn't see much point
in trying to sell the 8-year-old machines on Craigslist.) Truth be
told we dont' use the downstairs laundry that much, but it is nice to
have on days when we want to do a lot of laundry really quickly.
(Computer types would think of it as parallel processing!)

It sounds excessive having two laundries, but for us it sort of works.
Anyone want to point out the ridiculousness of this?
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #82 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Fri 28 Mar 08 13:16
    
Since there are at least a few people in this discussion who've
mentioned that they enjoyed HOUSE LUST, if it's not bad form let me
take a brief moment for a commercial interruption: if you have an
Amazon account and enjoyed the book, please consider writing a review
of the book there. While this is my first book and I'm still trying to
learn exactly what drives people to read and buy books, as best I can
tell the Amazon reviews can be pretty influential. I appreciate your
considering it. Here's the link to my book's Amazon page, and THANKS!

http://www.amazon.com/House-Lust-Americas-Obsession-Homes/dp/038551929X
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #83 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Fri 28 Mar 08 13:22
    
Angie is spot-on in saying I don't come off as particularly
judgemental or scornful of people who live in McMansions. While I hope
I succeeded in letting some of my characters' funnier behaviors speak
for themselves, my mocking tends to be pretty gentle. That's partly a
function of my personality, and partly based on my sense that if a
person opens themselves (and in many cases, their home) up to a
reporter, there's an obligation to exercise some restraint in making
fun of them.

I do think I also tend to be a little relativist when it comes to
matters of taste and spending. While I recognize the flaws that Susan
S. and others see in McMansions, at times I'm not a big fan of
critically acclaimed works of architecture (or movies, or literature
for that matter), either. And while some of the ways people spend money
on houses strikes me as very excessive, I'm not sure this is any worse
than spending a lot of money on jewelry, clothing, cars, etc. I'm not
sure if the book would be any "better" if I'd had more fun at the
expense of the people living in these sorts of homes (anyone think so?)
but for better or worse, I didn't feel it was necessary to really
condemn them to accomplish what I set out to do in HOUSE LUST. 
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #84 of 103: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 28 Mar 08 14:10
    

I have major house lust.  All of my dreams include owning one.  I don't 
see it ever happening though.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #85 of 103: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 28 Mar 08 14:12
    
"if a person opens themselves (and in many cases, their home) up to a
reporter, there's an obligation to exercise some restraint in making
fun of them."

This line triggered disgusting thoughts of Borat and #2 in that
southern mansion, not knowing how to use indoor plumbing. :=)
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #86 of 103: Philippe Habib (phabib) Fri 28 Mar 08 21:11
    
I do wish that was a reporter's creed.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #87 of 103: Angie (coiro) Sat 29 Mar 08 12:09
    
Daniel, I thought your reserved judgment was absolutely right-on for
your purposes, and it was great that you put it right out there up
front. And I agree with your obligation to your interviewees.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #88 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Sat 29 Mar 08 16:55
    
Wow, I hadn't connected my own vague sense of obligation to Borat, but
I do see what you mean....
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #89 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Sat 29 Mar 08 16:57
    
Re Linda's post about the affordability (or lack there of) of modern
homes, I'd actually hoped to do an eighth chapter in the book which
looks at what it's like to live in an area (it would have been set in
the Bay Area) in which so many people don't have a realistic hope of
being able to buy a home. Under pressure to get the book finished, and
at the urging of my publisher, I ended up bagging that chapter. While
most of the reviews of HOUSE LUST were quite good, the one in the San
Francisco Chronicle took issue with the fact that the people all seemed
to be fairly affluent, and that I hadn't focused enough on people
whose house lust stems from being left outside the windows looking in.
It was an apt observation, and made me wish I'd had enough time to do
Chapter 8. 
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #90 of 103: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 29 Mar 08 22:24
    

That would be an interesting chapter.  Next edition!
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #91 of 103: Alan Turner (arturner) Sun 30 Mar 08 15:55
    
I'm back from SF, and one of the people I met was an old friend that I
taught CADD to about 20 years ago.  Little formal education, he joined the
Navy before finishing high school (they did make him get a GED), and then
got a certificate in architectural drafting (pen and ink days) from a
community college on the G.I. bill (such as it was then).  He's since kept
his skills current, and he's better at CADD work than I am now (and I'm
damnn good).  He moved to San Francisco, got hired almost immediately, and
couldn't afford a house there, so he wound up in Auburn.

Yesterday, he was telling me that he wasn't sure if he was going to be able
to keep his house - not a mansion by any means.  Not big enough that
getting a roommate is a realistic option.  None of that extra square
footage like in some of the houses you describe.

My point in telling that story is that your eighth chapter wouldn't
necessarily be about people in San Francisco who can't afford a house.  It
could also be about people like my friend with the high-tech skills who
can't even afford to live 120 miles from San Francisco.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #92 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Mon 31 Mar 08 08:49
    
Re 120 miles from San Francisco, yes, I'm very aware this phenomenon
exists in many urban areas (and the further suburbs that surround
them.) Coincidentally a relative of mine, age 29 and working in
Washington DC, sent me a link this morning to a house he's considering
buying. He's currently a renter and has wanted to buy for some time.
The house in question is available via short-sale at $340,000. It's
1350 sf, 2 br, 1 bath, in need of refurbishments but most of which
could be done via "sweat equity." While who knows how much further real
estate prices could drop, the home seems like a very good deal to him
at that price, relative to transactions that are taking place in the
neighborhood. He works for the federal government, at a decent
twenty-something professional salary. He's looking for advice.

I haven't emailed him back yet, but a few minutes of playing with a
mortgage calculator make me question whether he can afford it. I dont'
know if he has a sufficient downpayment, but even if he does, he's
certainly looking at a monthly payment (P,T&I) of at least $2300.
Unless I'm underestimating his income I think he'd be right at the edge
of qualifying. Even now that the real estate bubble has popped, I'm
wondering if he'll ever be able to buy in the DC area on a government
salary unless/until he joins forces with a spouse or significant other
who's also bringing income to the table.

I'm sure this story holds true in many areas.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #93 of 103: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 1 Apr 08 12:33
    
It does in South Florida.  I know people who live 2 counties north of
me and work one county south of here.  NO jobs up north, no affordable
housing down south.  Crazy.  

I am right now wishing I had those two dishwashers, though.  
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #94 of 103: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 1 Apr 08 17:49
    
One thing about your book that was so true was that being an architect for
a house or a renovation for a married couple is tantamount to being a
marriage counseler.  Things like "Bob never puts the cap back on the
toothpaste tube" and "Mary always has her friends over for bridge during
Monday Night Football" come out all the time.  And some additional
architecture is supposed to solve the problems of a couple that hasn't
exactly agreed on how to live together in the first place.  But a little
more house might do the trick.  And then they argue about which part of a
little more house is the right thing to do.  It can be extremely
unpleasant.

One firm I used to work for wouldn't do a house unless the couple had a
minimum of a million dollars to spend, and then only as a favor to the CEO
of some commercial clinet - and that was 20 years ago, in Philadelphia.  It
just wasn't worth the overhead otherwise.

You could design an entire shopping mall in the amount of time that one of
those houses took.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #95 of 103: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 1 Apr 08 17:54
    
Hah.  That sounds entirely believable.  Thanks for that interesting
slice of reality.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #96 of 103: Philippe Habib (phabib) Tue 1 Apr 08 19:14
    
When my wife and I were looking for people to build our first house,
one of the contractors talked about how many of his clients split up
from the stress of building a new house.  He said since we were
recently married, we might avoid that fate.  After we were done, my
wife said that if I wanted to build again, it could be with my next
wife.  In spite of that, we're building again and we remain surprised
by how similar our tastes and desires are in a house.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #97 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Wed 2 Apr 08 05:39
    
Both these observations, from the architect's view and the homeowner's
view, resonated with me.

In the book I quoted a former kitchen designer who saw a huge
proportion of her clients split up during the course of jobs. And
having gone through a big renovation (which utilized an architect)
myself, I know how personal some of these issues can become. Here's
just one example: Nowadays in our region, most big home additions
include a master suite with a bathroom, and one of the big design
choices is whether to close off the toilet in a separate room or to
leave it out in the open. In order to decide that, the architect has
little choice but to inquire how much privacy spouses want/need while
using the toilet, since a master bath is generally a shared space.
Another example: lately there has been a lot of media coverage of a
trend toward "snoring rooms" (a separate sleeping space for spouses for
whom sharing a bed is problematic), and sussing out the need for that
also requires questions that may be a little invasive. For a home to
work well, it really needs to function in synch with your life, so
conversations between architects and clients can get intensely
personal.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #98 of 103: Daniel McGinn (danielmcginn) Wed 2 Apr 08 05:44
    
Earlier I posted about how on Monday I received an email from a
relative, who's around 30 and rents, who's suddenly decided to buy his
first home, based on his hunch that the market may be nearing a bottom.
Later that day I heard from a colleague at work who'd also become
smitten with a house over the weekend; she and her husband, first-time
buyers, put in an offer yesterday. She says many of her friends, mostly
in their late 20s, are suddenly househunting; if you check Facebook on
Sundays, she says, their status updates all talk about open houses.
She says in places like Boston, DC and elsewhere, home prices seem to
have dropped far enough that the monthly mortgage payments are about
equivalent to paying rent, so she and others are diving in.

I don't think that necessarily signals a market bottom, but it's
certainly a good sign.

I believe this is our last scheduled day for this discussion, which
I've really enjoyed. I'll check in again later today to answer any last
questions. In the meantime, I really appreciate all of you who showed
up to ask questions or just to read along. If any of you would like to
reach me directly after this discussion ends, feel free to email
anytime at houselust@gmail.com. Thanks!
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #99 of 103: Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 2 Apr 08 05:56
    
Alas, today is the last day of your two week interview.  Thank you
Daniel and Philippe.  These two weeks have been incredibly enjoyable
and informative.  

Despite the fact that we are launching a new interview with a new
guest, we would like to invite you to stay here as long as you'd like. 
The topic will remain open indefinitely for further posts.
  
inkwell.vue.323 : Daniel McGinn, "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes"
permalink #100 of 103: Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 2 Apr 08 05:57
    
Oh, and I just wanted to say that our GC on our renovation project
probably saved our marriage by coming up with the third solution to the
problem of where to put the door.  Ken had already given in to my
wishes, but the GC had a better idea still.  Chalk one up to experience
for the professional.
  

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