In Britain, some of the more popular shows on the television are about buying properties by the sea. It’s escapist entertainment for suburbanites (I’m one of them). You can watch these shows and dream, for a moment, about escaping your cramped, humdrum confines and settling in a property with a view, where you can while away the hours creating your art.
Inevitably, the properties are small, run-down and over-priced, but to present them in their best light, the rooms are stripped bare of clutter, devoid of any of the accoutrements of a creative existence, so that they look spacious and expansive. The living room is the one that causes me the most wry amusement. It’s called a living room because that, supposedly, is the room in which you can live your idealised life. It’s the hub of your activity – the place where you can self-actualise and spend many happy, flourishing hours on Earth.
The truth, however, is that all you can fit into many of these living rooms is a sofa and a coffee table. In somebody’s conception, your life needs to reduce down to sitting on the sofa, sipping coffee. There is no space for an easel, a music studio, a library of books, a potter’s wheel, a woodworking shop or a jewellery making bench. There’s no place to weld.
When architects take a brief to design a new house, I wonder how many of them actually consider what it means to make a living room – a room for living. Do they ever consider what the elements of living life to the full really are? Do they child-proof it so that babies and grandchildren can come and express their creativity, in among the hustle and bustle of adults also living their lives? Is there a place to debate, argue, and discuss philosophy with friends, over a good Armagnac? Is there even a place to store said Armagnac? How do you grab an acoustic guitar or two, within easy reach, to compose a song spontaneously, with your best musical friend and collaborator? If you record that jam session, are the room’s acoustics and noise isolation good enough to make the recording worth anything? Where do the drying oil paintings sit around? Is there a socket for the kiln?
What most people are offered, when somebody is trying to sell them a modern, recently-built house, is a small cracker-box, barely large enough to accommodate some minimalist furniture, so long as you don’t put anything around the walls to block access to that furniture. What are you supposed to do in that room? What’s the conception? Is it to sit in front of a computer on Facebook or to watch endless televisual drivel on your flat screen TV? What do the builders and architects imagine you can do in these small, confined, inadequate living rooms?
Of course, the idea doesn’t enter their heads. What they are mostly focused on is returning the maximum profit for their investment in the land and the buildings. They cram, so that they can sell more people the lie of having a “living room”, when what they are selling is not fit for purpose. The more you unquestioningly accept that what they sell is a living room, the more money you are prepared to pay for something that really isn’t. You’re being short-changed.
This could all be different if we insisted on seeing some evidence of being able to live in the living room, before we value it or pay for it. That means we’ve got to stop accepting stripped bare rooms presented to us, when we view a property, as a good thing. They’re not. No creative person would want to live such a minimalist existence. People content with bare rooms generally do not create, in my experience. The most creative people I know have their creative tools, information, supplies and finished works coming out of every nook and cranny (what is a cranny, actually?). That’s what living is, for an artist. If we began to hold architects, builders and other vendors of properties to a realistic standard of living, then we would adjust the value of their properties accordingly, but the surveyors and mortgage lenders would have to agree (at present, they don’t spare a thought for standard of living). If you really cannot live in the living room, the place should not be able to advertise itself as having a living room. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The sooner we begin to demand living rooms, in which we can actually have a fulfilled, meaningful life, the sooner the providers will have to respond. If we don’t, we’ll continue to be sold tiny, inadequate, poorly-designed properties, for way too much money, which actually impose real and immovable obstacles to self-actualization. These “living rooms” stop you from living your life to the full. To my way of thinking, that’s far too high a price to pay.