At the least a house gives shelter and protection from the elements. At best it is a personal haven for comfort, security and a place to call 'home'. Exactly how does a house become a home? Rosie Cox's study in Home Culturesexplores property owners' notions of 'home' and their home making journeys and argues that sometimes what is 'homey' about a home is its very lack of robustness.
We tend to assume that most people wish for low-maintenance, well insulated robust houses offering reliable protection from the weather, dirt and noise of the outside world. Most of us strive to keep our houses well maintained, to our own taste and reflecting our own style via DIY. Could the DIY process represent more than just upkeep?
Cox interviewed 30 homeowners from New Zealand about their home improvements: were they DIY or paid for? She explored what motivated their home renovations and the division of labour. Surprisingly, most did not want a perfectly fortress like house but preferred to put their own stamp on it through self-improvements and felt they did not truly 'own' it until they had.
The bond between house and owner was also found to be linked to the fabric of the house, many expressing a preference for more malleable materials such as wood over concrete or steel. A historical dearth of stone dictated many wood constructed houses, which has continued to the present day. One homeowner considered his wood front door 'a special part of the home'. Despite the extra maintenance it needed, it was warmer and more welcoming than an aluminium or uPVC one and gave great satisfaction to work on it, preserve it, be proud of it and call it home.
For many New Zealanders, DIY not only harked back to the home building crafts of early settlers but also evoked emotional responses such as cementing family relationships and establishing social identities as well as creating a home. Cox concludes, "This article has illustrated one of the reasons why people may opt for homes that are made of familiar and traditional materials and… has shown how strong their motivations are to do so.… (It) expands the concept of homeyness and invites new ways to think about the relationships between home, housing materials and the identities of home owners."
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