How our living spaces affect our behavior—that is, how they support or hinder our lives—is the question explored here.
Cultural critic and journalist Gallagher, who examined the broader question of how the larger environment influences our moods and behaviors in The Power of Place (1993), has now narrowed her focus to how the houses we live in make us feel. Feeling at home in a house, she says, has less to do with aesthetic fashion than with cultural and personal needs and inclinations that we may be largely unaware of. Her “psychological house tour of the American home” proceeds one room at a time, with most chapters opening with a description of an especially noteworthy or famous one. Thus she takes the reader into the idiosyncratic entry hall at Jefferson’s Monticello, Abigail Adams’s colonial kitchen, Longfellow’s impressive dining room, Edith Wharton’s private bedroom—and Hugh Hefner’s more public one. Gallagher, who visited dozen of architects, draws on their work and on that of environmental designers, psychologists, ecologists and primatologists to discover just how our homes can best support us in our daily lives. She considers the function of each room; how the needs of sociability and privacy must be balanced for maximum personal comfort; and the benefits of contrasting small and large, high and low and quiet and busy. Gallagher also recounts the history of various spaces, showing how technology and lifestyle changes have shaped and reshaped our bathrooms, kitchens and basements. She winds up with a brief consideration of the nearby natural world and the psychological benefits of a second home close to nature, and finally, a sketchy look at the pros and cons of suburban neighborhoods. Between chapters, she inserts brief essays about her own home and the changes she made once she began examining it from an environmental-behavioral point of view, a technique that goes far towards reassuring the reader that making one’s house more you-reflective and more user-friendly is no big deal.
One quibble: in a book that cries out for illustrations, why repeat the same line drawing of a house exterior at the opening of each chapter?