House vs. Home


I’m far enough removed from finishing my Interior Design Master’s Thesis this May that I think I can now talk about it with a bit of a clear mind. There was a point in time pre-thesis that I thought about continuing on in my education to pursue a doctorate in historic preservation or architecture. Teehee. After the year plus long process of writing my thesis, I know believe that you have to be a little bit insane to want to write a dissertation. Doing historic research was hard to put it mildly, probably the hardest part of my degree–worse than hand drafting an entire page of text in architect’s handwriting, much worse than learning to draw in perspective, and definitely worse than the science of lighting design (ugh, what the heck was that?). But, I don’t want to dwell on the thesis writing process at this point, painful memories of a near psychotic break are no fun. So let’s talk a little about what I wrote about, k?

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House vs Home

I wanted to research the differences in a house and a home–what are the environmental and physical differences in the two? Why do some beautifully decorated houses not feel ‘homey’? How can a house that has not been treated with extreme care in the design of it feel comfortable and inviting? An interest in this topic as well as a love of history and historical home styles led me to my topic:

How did home service (shelter) magazines published during the years 1929-1945, specifically House Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens promote the notion of ‘home’ to its readers?

In hindsight, this is WAY too big of a topic to tackle in one master’s thesis. But once I figured that out, I was way too deep in the school year to narrow it down, so I had to roll with this. I am not going to talk about my specific findings in this post, rather what I feel are the universal characteristics that I believe make a house a home, gathered from reading magazines published at this time, as well as other studies on the topic of house vs home.

So then, what makes a house a home?

The bubble diagram above shows what I believe to be the characteristics of a ‘home.’ I’ll discuss below a bit on each of the aspects of ‘home.’

A home is comfortable

A home is a place where the occupant feels at ease; it is a refuge and safe haven from the outside world. A home that offers these amenities can contribute to the occupant’s wellbeing. The words ‘convenience’ and ‘efficient’ I had listed in my diagram referred to magazines during the time period I studied promoting creating a floorplan that flowed well and was easily navigable for the household manager, either household help or the woman of the house.


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A home offers privacy

A home has both public space–for family and social gatherings, as well as private spaces for each member of the family to retreat to. If an occupant shares a room and has no where in the house that is solely theirs, this can contribute to a feeling of not being at home.

Single family, detached homes on a large lot will offer privacy and space needed to feel at home, not cramped and on top of your next door neighbor.

A home is a stable environment

A home is familiar to the occupant–objects and architecture can remind them of permanence. It offers a base of activity for the members of the house, usually a kitchen or living room. A person feels secure in a home–they are not overly worried about their safety.

A home has an interaction with nature

Homes offer views of nature, which are scientifically proven to ease and relax. Their is a strong connection between the indoors and outdoors in homes–outdoor space is utilized to the fullest.

A home is a place of social interaction

Mentioned above, a home is a place that offers social interaction, both among the family members, but also it is a place for social interactions with friends and neighbors.

A home offers space for personalization

A home is a space that offers the occupant the opportunity to personalize their space. When someone is able to display their prized possessions and objects that reflect their personality, they feel at home.


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A home conjures up nostalgia

A home reminds the occupant of times past–either moments with the family, or historic architectural and design choices and remind the occupant of earlier times in history, adding to a feeling or permanence. This is perhaps why super contemporary homes may not make you feel as at ease as a traditional, Colonial center hall home.


That’s it! I’d love to hear what you think makes a house a home.


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