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Where the Heart Is ...

A house is made of walls and beams. A home is built with love and dreams.

Creating your home as a monument to your success is so 2005.

Today’s economy has re-prioritized many things. One of the best upsides of these changing times is the return of the notion that home is a place to find comfort, a place to recharge our personal batteries and a place to share life’s special moments, rather than a place to impress the neighbors.

For years, we’ve bought into the notion that, as far as homes go, bigger is better. From 1960 to 2007, average home sizes doubled. 2008 saw the first signs of decreased home sizes. Seldom used rooms and high-energy costs are out. Coziness and connection with loved ones are in.

To me, the cycle is exemplified by the Aaron Spelling family. When magazines first covered the story of television mogul Spelling’s 57,000 square foot home, suddenly having luxury spaces such as home theaters and gift wrapping rooms became de rigueur for middle class America. Just watch an afternoon of HGTV & DIY to count how many garages and basements you see transformed into home theaters. You can thank Mr. Spelling for that.

A decade or so later, when Mrs. Spelling put the house on the market, the veil was lifted to reveal that she had many rooms she never went into and rarely had guests visit. Oh, and she doesn’t speak to 50 percent of her children. Big house, not a lot of happiness.

Over the years, I’ve been in countless houses that were built to impress. Room after beautiful room that dazzle guests ... yet many contain spaces that are barely used and, many times, are only seen by visitors and housekeepers.

I spent last Thanksgiving with (distant) relatives in their newly renovated home that had been expanded from an already huge 8000 square to an astounding 25,000 square feet. 
The living room looked like a hotel lobby with multiple seating areas. It was perfectly appointed and ready for a design magazine photo shoot. Impressive, yes. Cozy, comfortable, and inviting, not so much.

The homeowners confided that while it is visually what they requested, emotionally it was not what they planned on.

The husband told me, “Other than our bedroom and bath, we only use the kitchen and the den! The den is the smallest room and it’s where we feel closest to each other. It’s the only space that’s feels homey.”

His wife put it another way. “We were so much closer as a family when the house was smaller. The kids would come home and share their day with us. Now the house is so big that I can’t even hear when they come home! I miss so many little details of their day because we are literally too far away from each other in our own home. Since they’re teenagers and ready to head off to college, I need every moment of time I can get!”

My brother Tom told me a similar story. At a recent open house for one of his real estate listings, he recognized a man touring the house as a neighbor who had just completed building an over-the-top McMansion down the street. The man said he was just looking, so to make conversation, Tom said, “It’s a great layout, but only 2800 square feet, certainly not what you’re used to.” He was taken aback by the man’s response: 
This is a real home. I built what I thought was my dream home and it’s a nightmare. It’s just a house. But this is a home. You can feel it. It’s a place you want to come home to. My place is just plain big, but that’s it. I made a huge mistake.”

These folks found out the hard way that making the size of the house bigger will not make the love and happiness bigger. In fact, in their cases, it just made it easier to get lost inside.

A home is not about the building, it’s about the life that’s in it. It’s our home base, our launch pad and our recharging station, all in one. Home should support our emotional, spiritual and physical needs, including our needs for both privacy and connection with others. So, yes, we need space for privacy, but connection is found in the common space. If we’re lost in a maze of rooms so spacious that we can’t hear each other, let alone find each other, the home loses its soul. And that’s not impressing anyone.

By creating our surroundings for the highest good of all household members, we will indeed create a home, in the best sense of the word.