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David Feld On “House” And “Home”

A home and garden editor finally learns the difference between “house” and “home.”
By David Feld |

Home Boy
After 19 years in shelter magazines, I’ve finally learned the difference between “house” and “home.”

In the rarified world of decorating, we use the word “house,” not “home.” “Home” is said to convey a state of mind, but not necessarily the place you live. Some of my more snotty decorator friends think it’s tacky to use the word “home,” somewhat akin to using “drapes” instead of “draperies,” and that the choice of one or the other reveals much about your level of sophistication, at least when it comes to window coverings. So what does it say about us when we use “home” over “house,” or vice versa? Think about it for a minute: House bound. Homecoming. House divided. Home and hearth. Hothouse. Home again. One is clearly just a place to be—sometimes nice, sometimes not so nice—but the other is really the place I’d rather be. Home.

As a new editor at D Home, the H-word is a topic I’ve given much thought to lately, mainly because when it’s there on the cover, glaring at me, I’m forced to consider whether a perfectly decorated house, photographed and laid out among the pages of any shelter magazine, can ever really be a home. The whole idea is inherently too impersonal. This one thing I do know: when there is a major change in my life, I paint. After my last relationship ended rather inelegantly, I re-painted every room in the house, not to mention calling in a sage-wielding shaman, a feng shui master, and an exorcist.

In the five years that I have lived in my tiny Dilbeck cottage, I’ve always been re-painting rooms, changing art and object placement, or storing out-of-vogue furniture inside that rather pricey storage unit I can’t seem to give up. I mean, what do you do when you have a 12-foot, black-granite Knoll dining table and an 11-foot-square dining room? I use an octagonal mahogany English Regency breakfast table instead. I may need that granite table someday—perhaps as a slab for my tomb—and so I keep it. What about the brown-and-white transfer collection that I started when I was 17? I struggle to understand my unwillingness to let go of anything. We won’t go into my shoe and outerwear problem.

Is this relentless acquisition of things just a professional hazard? I’ve never known a decorating editor whose taste remains constant. Last year’s Venetian glass and aqua hallway become this year’s buttery taupe and Edward Curtis photographs. But did I tire of those things, or did what they once meant make me remove them? This is the difference, evidently, between living in a house and living in a home. What we acquire during our lives has vivid resonance. It not only shows what we feel on a purely visual plane about shapes and colors, but at the core, the state of our hearts.

Recently, over a period of two days (and since things happen in threes, I thrillingly await the final blow), I broke one of a pair of 18th-century French opaline vases that my mother carefully hand-carried from the Olympia fine art and antiques fair in London several years ago. Each is more than a foot high, and the opaque glass is gloriously banded in graphic gilt stripes. I truly loved them. My mother had seen something that she knew I would love and bought them for me, and, well, I was heartbroken when the vase shattered. The next day, my housekeeper tripped over a dining room chair and broke what was possibly my most treasured possession, an Old Paris tureen (the prize piece in my collection) in perfect condition, given to me by Paul Garzotto, the partner of the late Maggie Green. Maggie inspired me to start collecting Old Paris a decade ago, and Paul said of this gift, “certain things just need a loving home.”

There is a metaphor here. Home is a visual memoir of our lives thus far. lt’s the mistakes in decorating, the things that don’t seem to match, but that tear at your heart each time you see them. It’s the too-big things you dragged sideways through the door because you loved them. Those things make a home.

At decorating magazines we call these places we inhabit “houses.” And when we photograph interiors, we go to great lengths to remove objects and furniture from the rooms that would show life being lived, hiding the very clunkers that make a house a home. Perhaps it’s because we’ve become convinced that our mission is to show you a fantasy of visual perfection worth striving for. It’s as if our message to you, the reader, is that if you will only buy this couch or hire this decorator or use this fabric, then your life will be that perfection. But it won’t. Here at D Home, I like to think we know our readers better. Home at last.