It has been very interesting to spend more time now in Architecture after spending so much of the last few years in film. I guess it's not surprising that I now see buildings, more than ever, as containers for narrative, and see a critical role of design as support for that narrative. It's most obvious in forms that have developed over centuries, like churches. But once you see it, every building is a story. A house, for instance, contains the story of intimacy.
NOT QUITE A STRANGER
Your front fence is a city wall. Standing between the vast world of everyone and the little piece of it that's just yours, your fence is the first of the concentric layers between the public and private. At the gate, the paving changes from the thirty-six inch wide grey concrete public sidewalk to something a little special, like pavers or brick, to let everyone know they've left anonymity and entered somewhere distinct. A little garden helps make the distinction between out there and in here, between wildness and domestication. It's still vegetation, but it's vegetation of your choosing, cultivated and arranged to display your personal taste. You might even plant a flag here in a very literal way, your name on a little banner, staking your claim. And here your address is displayed, too, calling out the legal description of your small, rectangular portion of the world. Though visible to all, it's to be entered only by those who have business here. A kid that hits a ball over the fence or the guy that reads the gas meter are welcome, but only briefly and no further. Only those you know better can come further inside.
THE PLACE OF NO NAMES
The porch is a point of embarkation. It's a spot for keeping watch and welcoming travelers, the wharf of the house. It's even built like one. Neither inside nor outside, the porch is a weigh station for those who have specific business with you. The canvassers, the salespeople, the Jehova's Witnesses and the pizza guy can stand on your porch. But that's as far as they go. Even inviting the pizza guy inside would instantly elevate him above all other porch-dwelling pizza guys. You would learn his name and remember him because beyond the porch lies a whole other level of familiarity.
THE SORTING ROOM
The entrance hall is a critical junction for sorting and debriefing. Here, names are exchanged and sometimes papers or money changes hands. And here decisions are made about who leaves and who stays. This is where you decide if a date ends or continues and whether or not that neighbor becomes a friend. Notice that this room is well-prepared for such a decision. There are no seats here. There's always a mirror to let an entering person decide whether they're ready to go in and an to let an exiting person to decide if they're ready to go out. There's a coat rack in case someone is staying. The space is big enough to allow some distance, but small enough that the person entering can still make a quick escape if they need. To help them decide, you've dropped some hints about yourself in here. There's a lovely quote in a frame declaring something you believe and there are glimpses of your taste in the furnishings and art. But just a little. It’s too early to show yourself completely. You’ll reveal a little more in the next layer.
If someone has made it to your living room, they are – at minimum – an acquaintance. It's almost certain that you know the name of everyone who has ever been in your living room. Your insurance salesman, who you know a little bit, can come into your living room, but has probably been no farther inside. And if a date makes it this far, they’ll soon know a little more about you because the room will tell them. In here, there are pictures of you and pictures of your people. There are mementos and pieces of art chosen by you and likely made by someone you know. There are places to sit, since people who've made it this far will be around a while. But there is still a little distance, a little formality. The seating in here is at angles or side by side, so we can all stay just a little oblique. The focus of this room isn't directly on each other, it's on a share source of conversation and attention, usually a TV or a fireplace.. For direct closeness, you need to move to the room where deeper conversations are held and where you share an intimate bonding ritual.
In the Dining Room, you're no longer adjacent, you're gathered. Instead of side-by-side, you sit directly across from one another, face to face, centered around a table and a central point of light. And you share the personal, biological, and ritual function of eating. Having shared that, you can drop your guard a bit. Here, you can lean back in your chair and tell stories that would feel inappropriate in the Living Room. You are free to laugh and to use the occasional swear word. The Dining Room magically turns acquaintances into friends and relatives into family. But those to whom you are closest go in even deeper, hanging out – always – in the physical and spiritual center of the house.
Love is expressed in the kitchen. Tis is where you take care of each other, prepare each other meals and hand each other cups of coffee or wine. There is trust in your kitchen. You stick your fingers into each other’s food and eat with your hands and out of jars. You swear freely. Announcements are made in the kitchen and news is broken. Your friends often prove how at home they feel here by sitting right on the counter. You are your best self in the kitchen, which is why we always congregate there. In the kitchen, you know that you are with your truest friends. But beyond the kitchen, the door to real intimacy lies.
Few things are s sacred as the hallway of a house. Crossing this threshold requires overt permission or, at least, acknowledgement. “I’m going to get my coat!” you might shout. Or, “I’ll be right back.” Or, if you're looking for someone, “Is Lauren down there?” You'd never feel the need to announce a trip to the Dining Room, but you need to let someone know you’re going down the hallway. Because unless you live here, you don’t belong in the hall. This is deep family territory, back stage. Old photos of ancestors are often hang in the hall. It's poorly lit and there are no windows. This is the place you have your loudest, most difficult arguments because it's a family DMZ, a dead end, unclaimed by anyone and full of doors to be slammed and behind which you can escape. This is, of course, because the hallway is the transition to the most intimate places of all.
SHARED AND BARED
Bedrooms are secret chambers, strictly for the people who sleep in them. There's no lock - and often no door - on the Living Room or the Dining Room because they contain no secrets. But bedrooms have a door with a lock, often more than one. There are people who you have known for years, people that you count among your closest friends, who have never seen your bedroom. And you've never seen theirs. For adults, this is the place that holds your most precious moments, your most prized possessions, your deepest intimacy. Your darkest secrets are told here. Your silliest dreams are revealed. Your confessions are made. Your marriage is broken and repaired here. The conditions under which you are most vulnerable – naked, asleep, making love – all happen here, so there are heavy curtains to be drawn to keep everyone, even the light, out. It’s so private that if your best friend is in your bedroom, it’s likely they are helping you dress for a special occasion or that someone has died. There is only one room in the world more intimate than this.
WE DON'T SHARE EVERYTHING
In the bathroom, you are hidden even from your partner. Here, you are farthest from the public world, protected by layer upon layer of rooms and walls and doors, alone with your thoughts and fears and your biology. You can drop all pretense and be completely yourself here, gross and noisy and hairy and plain. And you cry here in the shower because it's safe and because there is no place on Earth more private. Here you strip all the way down and here you begin the process of reapplying the layers you need to face the world anew.
As you pass through them, you mask yourself with make-up and razors and deodorant in the bathroom, then cover the rest with clothes from the bedroom. You take water and coffee from the kitchen to sustain you, collect your bag from the living room with the stuff you need, grab your hat and glasses from the entrance hall, and your umbrella from the porch. By the time you step out of the gate yard, you're ready to be a stranger again.