Monday, December 29, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

Show us pictures of *good* modern houses. If such a beast exists.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I heartily agree with every word. I have been arguing for years against the 'Subdivision Special', which is basically a two car garage with a front door attached; twn together are a ready made slum; just add debt and wait ten years.

It torques my ass to see farmland destroyed so a developer can put up 5 of these to an acre and take teh money and run.

Anwyn asked about "good" modern houses, and while I can't supply pictures here, i can tell you a general descripton, in my opinion at least.

A house about 16-18 hundred square feet; three to four bedrooms. Stylisticly it should match the neighborhood, as the best new house will be a fill in in an existing neighborhood, so if we are in a 1940's Levittown, we are looking at a Cape Cod.

Garage will have doors on the side, or if possible, in the back, and the house will be served by an alley.

A large, deep porch is at front, instead of a driveway, to put the people back in the neighborhood.

But I will, of course, bow to our host's opinion, and look forward to it!

Anonymous said...

A double-wide may not fit your definition of these new, soulless houses, but your remark about houses "being extensions of your car" reminded me of a double-wide I was looking to buy: it had a two-car garage attached to it.

I'm not kidding. I had a serious "WTF" moment with that one. I mean, thnk about it: Here this person/people had a chance to expand the living space of their tiny house, and they do . . . . what? Build stalls for their cars?

No, I didn't buy that absurdity.

Thud said...

you are spot on yet again...the currency of housing has been debased like much else we take for granted.

Anonymous said...

I like my snout house. It's exactly what I wanted, a 2 car garage with a house attached. Aesthetic beauty and old world craftsmanship are expensive and far beyond my and my neighbors means. Unless you're willing to pay the mortgage I'll keep what I have.

SippicanCottage said...

DRWatson: It's no skin off my nose if you like your house. But you're making a error if you think I'm talking about making it more elaborate and fancier to fix the problems I see with the design.

That house in the picture is for sale right now for $569,000. I built my house 14 years ago for less than a $100,000 and none of the rooms in it look like that dungeon they've got over the garage.

The money is getting spent. It's just not getting spent wisely.

Anonymous said...

Boy howdy, did this post hit a home run.

Here on the Southwest Border, they're buying up desert hills and river farmland, paving over arroyos, and installing (rather than building) "Tuscan-style" cookie-cooker homes, err, houses. Then they paint the houses in neutral desert tones, throw gravel and a few desert plants in the yard (that's what passes for xeriscaping to a developer), and sell them like there's no tomorrow.

It's disgusting. We looked at a few when we moved here and the blandness was appalling.

For our choice, we moved into a 22-year old suburb (itself, yes, built on former farmland, but with mature landscaping and some nice 60-foot pine trees), bought a Territorial-style (stucco, ugh) home with a detached garage that doesn't front our street (corner lot). Naturally, since it is //old// it doesn't meet the needs of a lot of people here, who smile at our cheap purchase even as we poke fun at their dull environments -- in fact, the sellers moved out to move to a new Tuscan-style home. Tuscany in the desert: who knew?

Anonymous said...

What about Syd Mead?

Eric said...

Right. So Dover books was having one its pre-xmas sales and I picked up "Chigago Tribune Elegant Small Homes of the Twenties; 99 designs from a competition" ( actually dates from 1927, and these all had the designs on landscaped lots-that are only 25x100 feet square. They are all 5 and 6 room houses, with 2 bedrooms, most with a basement, and a seperate garage in the back. A lot of them have more than one bathroom as well, which I find curious for the period. Still, why in the world are not architects mining this sort of stuff for ideas for houses today?

Harry said...

You wrote:

"There has been a concerted effort to dismantle all standards of right and wrong and beauty and truth."

Indeed, and not only in the design of housing, though it does show up there. In our time to actually state a belief in the existence of “right and wrong” or “beauty and truth” is regarded as shamefully primitive in many of what are supposedly our finest universities. Instead, modern minds will admit only that these notions reflect common prejudices or political ploys to oppress those who do not meet or subscribe to them as ideals.

Do you think I am raving? CLS became most fashionable at Harvard Law School. Literature is treated exactly the same way on most campuses. To use the word “canon” at most any university (except as an insult) is to have your thoughts go beyond what is permitted.

It is not only our houses that suffer as a result.

Anonymous said...

I live in one of the first 'planned' suburbs. Riverside, Illinois. The housing stock is actually quite mixed - Victorians, brick bungalows, FLW homes and some new builds. the village takes it's historical designation quite seriously and has very strict building regulations.

One of the smartest things this village ever did was pass an rule that all garage doors must be at least 10 feet behind the front door of the home. Now the new builds tend to have some bad side garages... but at least they aren't snout houses.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Excellently phrased. Applicable to any creative activity, from movies to sculpture.

Thud said...

Sipp...I spent summer looking at houses in Napa and finally found one I thought I liked in the redwoods high on the hills overlooking the valley.At the last moment I backed out of the deal as I realised the position of the house and the land was what I was buying. The house was very different than what I am familiar with but it seemed insubstantial and as you have said very much a garage with a house added. I plan to try again this year but will now consider self build if I cannot find something with substance and character.

Anonymous said...

Hallaluiah Brother. This is about the human condition and its current status. About character and substance. The really frightening thing is that the last generations (20 yrs or so) do not know anything else but this insipid, uncrafted lifestyle. They're too far removed from the history of craftmanship. They live in the retro days of Madonna wearing underwear on the outside of her clothes (where I feel may be the beginning of many things going askew. They live in days of uncontrolled greed and narcisism, image vs substance, personality vs character. They see boxes that pose for houses, rags that pose for clothing, paper that poses for shoes, CHEMICALS that pose for food, techno-gizmos that pose for socializing, wellness that poses as health insurance, on and on. Its all corporate driven sham, smoke and mirrors in a profit driven culture. We put up with less and less quality and pay more for it. When man is forced to live with and within an unnatural, environment, man becomes mentaly ill. Lose character, substance, truth, beauty, aesthetics, and thoughtful design in any endeavor and you do lose your soul. Craftsmanship = head, heart,& hands. Deny this and you deny yourself and your children.