Thursday, May 03, 2012

Old Posts People Are Reading For Some Reason, Part The Third

The Greater Fool Theory Of Housing

I must open by assuring everyone that I'm not denigrating other people because I don't like their houses. When I hear buzzwords like sprawl and McMansion and hyperconsumption and unsustainability and so forth, they are universally used as pretexts to allow the author to hate his fellow citizens without seeming snobby. No one needs what I don't want is the slogan of the age. And all the schemes are about rationing now. Martinets will decide if you need something or not. I hate it.

I don't want you to live in a snouthouse, though, but not because I don't like you; it's because I think you're swell and I want you to be happy. Your house might be making you miserable, and you don't know why. I know why.

I was asked in a formal setting why I make furniture. I have many stock answers for that, but I hesitated for a moment this last time, because it occurred to me that I was fighting a rearguard action against a determined foe, one that was beating me. The American house is being ruined, and I'm fighting a guerrilla war by trying to help people return a little soul to their homes by filling them with furniture that's got some. Half-million dollar mistakes have no reset button. You've got to deal with them.

Here's a house for sale in the town I grew up in:
Everyone looks around and sees houses like this. They pass unremarked now. After a while, if it doesn't look like this, people are going to think a house looks strange. And it's wrong, wrong, wrong. The situations where a house nailed on the ass end of a garage are appropriate are so few there's no use talking about them. Never do this.

There's Postmodern evil afoot here. Everything is boiled down to a pastiche, and you put all these disconnected totems into a blender and put the mixed up parts on a concrete rectangle. It's making us all crazy in a very subtle but profound way.

There has been a concerted effort to dismantle all standards of right and wrong and beauty and truth. If ever truthiness was put into sticks and bricks, this house is it. When you rebel against standard things, sooner or later you run out of ways to be original, and all that is left is to do the exact opposite of good. It's the only permutation of new that's left to you after a while. The American house is becoming that perfect distillation of bad ideas. Everything exactly at cross-purposes with its stated purpose.

People are rational and no rational person will ever feel any close connection with this structure. They will be proud of their house because it conforms to the general description of what a house should look like. There's a reason why everyone wears skinny glasses in one decade and skinny ties in another, all doing it at the same time as if on command. People will look the same kind of weird if they think that looking weird makes them look normal.

"The Greater Fool Theory" means you purchase equities or commodities not based on any intrinsic value they hold, but simply based on the assumption that you can find a "greater fool" to purchase it from you later at a profit. When people refer to Wall Street as a big casino, they're right only because they behave like a racetrack tout there; there's no reason why it should be that way. People should invest to own a portion of a company whose activities generate more than publicity and venture capital and the hope of a greater fool.

I read that the minute people are under water on their mortgage, many mail the keys to the bank and leave, because they "invested" in their house in the same Greater Fool way. It's just a big plastery box nailed on the back of a garage, after all. When escape from the house via automobile is the central theme of the structure, I figure the lienholders surprised by default should have gotten an Omega Man vibe from the occupants, not a Harry Bailey worldview, and planned accordingly.

Here's the "bonus room" you get for making your house into an outbuilding for your car:
I was going to make a joke and compare this room with the room Hitler was confined to in Landsberg Prison, where he wrote Mein Kampf, but I realized halfway through that I've seen pictures of Hitler's room in prison and it's a lot more pleasant than this one.

Stop building this house.


Expat(ish) said...

A friend of mine took the "bonus room" and turned it into a "kid kave" with a door too darn small to admit an adult.

Perfect, because I used to have one of those when we lived in Baton Rouge - I discovered that my closed had a hatch door that led to a very small space under the stairs.

I was John Glenn, etc, etc, in there.


Ken said...

Okay, you come shovel nine inches of glueball wormenating from off my drive. ;-)

Kidding aside, I take your point. Every decision anyone makes is a tradeoff. My garage is at the back of my 130'x60'(ish, no disrespect intended to Expat(ish) above) lot, which means I have about 90-100' of driveway. It's not really the snow removal that bothers me, it's what I'm going to have to pay to replace the nasty thing. I suspect it's going to cost quite a bit more than my roof will.

I volunteered for it, so I don't have to walk far to find the complaint department, but at times like this, one thinks, "How bad is a snouthouse really?" :-D

benjaminthomas said...

Your house might be making you miserable, and you don't know why. I know why.

Okay, I'll bite. Why? Can you show a picture of what that house should look like? Is it just the placement of the garage or the shape of roof that is the problem?

I'm not trying to be dense (I just am, I guess.)

SippicanCottage said...

Hi everyone- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Benjamin- I could write 10k words about what's wrong with that house from those two pictures alone, and just be warming up.

Let's take one, awful thing besides the fact that the inhabitants are living in a shack behind the garage like a dog or a servant. Look at the sun. It's high enough to give raking light, and it's shining on the right side of the house. There are leaves on the trees. That means the right hand facade is facing south. In a house in the northern hemisphere, a house should face south, or southeast. That's where the sun is. There is essentially a blank wall on the southern exposure of this house. It's the smallest facade, and it's blank, or has one small window. That's insane. That's a housing death sentence. I'd cane everyone involved in its production. Probably no room in that house will have light on two adjacent sides of it. A prison cell has a four walls and a window on one end. Every room in that house is a prison cell.

benjaminthomas said...

If I ever get the chance to build my dream house (well, let's be honest, my beautiful, long-suffering bride's dream house), I'll gladly pay you for those 10k words.

I don't have the knack for these things, but I'd read your writing if it were on the side of a cereal box.

Thanks for sharing.

dadofhomeschoolers said...

My idea of a house is a large garage with a bedroom attached to it. I work in the garage like you work in your woodshop. I take your point about natural light, and my garage would have large skylights, but you blind yourself when you slide out from under a car and look up into the sun and then you can't see when you go back under.

Bram said...

Nobody builds a house like that for themselves. Houses like that are thrown together by developers to sell for a profit. (Not that I have anything against profit.) If the builder decides to live in the neighborhood, his house is easy to spot with a game of "one-of-these-things-isn't-like-the-others."

Most people are too risk adverse and cash strapped to buy land, hire an architect, engage contractor, etc... to build the house they really want. So they buy these houses off the production line.

We tried shopping for land a few years ago in our town (unwilling to move due to kids in good local school).

Finding no decent land available, we eventually settled for something less hideous than the house in the picture - but definitely not "our" house. Maybe when the kids are gone...

Anonymous said...

Houses with garages protruding from the front are called "snout houses".

pngai said...

I would also love to hear more about what makes a good house.

I have a comment also. In the house I just paid to have built, I made sure that every room had "light on two adjacent sides of it." I've showed the house to probably a couple of dozen people now and point this out each time but no one ever responds to it.

Oh well, I enjoy the house anyway.

Sam L. said...

My house is old. Built in the 1890s. No garage, no stable to convert into a garage. Would like to have one; too costly (garage, not stable--no room for horses). It would be behind the house, there being no other place for it.

SippicanCottage said...

Anon- If you Google "snout house," Sippican Cottage is in the top ten results.

Bram- I'm afraid hiring an architect is no guarantee of better results. They'll build the house upside down, underground, just to be edgy. I hope you find a way to make yourself comfortable in your home.

pngai- Your friends are waiting to be shown all the dreck they saw on Home and Garden TV. Pointing out that your house is pleasant to live in doesn't cut any ice. They want to see Home Depot exploded all over the place. Then they go home and take four Paxils and eye the kitchen knives because their house is a dungeon. They don't know why their house makes them crazy. It does.

Hi Sam- Thanks for reading and commenting, as always.

jhc said...

"In a house in the northern hemisphere, a house should face south, or southeast. That's where the sun is."

Two problems with that assertion.

First, it may make sense up there in Yankee Land but it's not necessarily a good idea south of the Mason-Dixon (or thereabouts). A house that faces the sun is asking for a hot house and/or a high cooling bill (assuming you can get it cooled) in the long, steamy summers. In those climes, a blank wall to the south isn't too bad an idea (though it does cost you solar gain in the wintertime).

Second, that south facing business may work for houses on large lots in the country. But of all the houses built on the blocks marked by town or city streets, only 1/4 (give or take) will face south. The other 3/4 will be facing North, East or West. I've yet to see a city block where that wasn't true.

The fellow who built our house (in the country) knew what he was about. The house faces west. Our bedroom, at the back, looks to the east over a river valley. So we have the sunrise in our bedroom windows every morning. We wouldn't have it any other way - and we wouldn't have it at all if house faced the south.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but what else can one expect in Timber Meadows, Lakeside Heights, Pheasant Run, etc?

Amazing that folks will gladly spend $60k for a car which is 10 minutes later worth $10k less, once off the lot. But then seem righteously indignant that they can't sell their 6 month old house for 15% more than purchase price, NET.

That house is an agglomeration , no, accretion of disparate and uncomplimentary architectural styles. But I'll wager it has high end appliances, & granite counters in the laundry room.


Old Tybee Ranger said...

For 22 years, we have lived in a classic split level built in the mid-70s east of metro Atlanta. It may not sound like much, but its unusual open floor plan in the common areas has served us well while providing privacy in a variety of nooks, crannies and a few enclosed spaces. A great advantage of this home is its siting: the front with kitchen,den and master bedroom faces a few degrees east of north, and during the coldest month or so morning sunlight pours into the windows. The south facade has a screened porch, Florida room and three additional bedrooms all warmed by winter sun, but shielded from summer heat by a deciduous forest. In effect, the siting keeps the kitchen cool, maximizes valuable sunlight and helps dissolve the barriers of inside-outside living especially in winter. If we should move, we will certainly remember the significance of aspect in the livability of a home.

Anonymous said...

Our home is in Florida and our southern wall has a very longish eyebrow window near the ceiling. In the winter the sun is low in the sky and shines directly in, warming the house. In the summer it doesn't. Probably 90% of our light in the house comes from that one window.

Cambias said...

The sad thing is that most of the design problems involved in making a house comfortable and livable were solved by the ancient Romans (read Vitruvius); adapting their lessons to colder climates was solved by British and American builders of the 18th century. Designing good houses is a solved problem; people nowadays build bad ones by choice.

Bilejones said...

Nowadays, of course, the real greater fool has moved to Vancouver.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi everyone- thanks for reading and commenting.

Bilejones- Holy cow. I had no idea. Although I have relatives in Canada, and they've been eating bark and poutine for decades, and they're all getting rich on that sweet, sweet, tar sand money now, so I guess nothing surprises me any more.

Cambias- You've hit the nail on the head. Pretty much the only way to be different in such matter is to be bad.

anon in Florida- You've described the reason for a southern exposure perfectly. The sun is overhead when it's too hot, and shines on the roof, and in the cool months it's lower in the sky and comes in when you need it.

hilda dada said...

Sounds very interesting! I will check this out! brick house plans