Seeing past the styling - What really makes a comfortable home

  • Posted on: 11 February 2015
  • By: Jennifer

This blog post was originally going to be called “What I love and loathe about The Block”.  I started writing it and then realised when I was half way through that what I was writing about wasn’t necessarily only about The Block but how we are presented with homes that we may be considering buying or building.

Yes, this season I have been enjoying the guilty pleasure of watching The Block much to my husband’s dismay.  Of course it is enjoyable to watch all the ins and outs of people doing lightning fast renovations to their apartments.  The main thing with The Block, though, is that it is mainly an exercise in styling.  At a stretch you could call it interior design but as most of the constraints are pretty set (e.g. walls, heights, floors, windows, doors) it is mostly an exercise in decorating and styling.  That is totally fine as long as we understand exactly that that is what it is.

It’s a similar thing too, when you go and visit display homes, which I happen to do fairly often so that I know what my customers are seeing.  Display homes are also an exercise in decoration and styling.  The way these homes are displayed is to give maximum “wow!” factor when you walk in the door.

That’s great, too, as long as we all know that’s happening.  In display homes, much of the boring stuff that can actually significantly affect how comfortable you are in your home is not really shown off, so “out of sight, out of mind”.

What are these? Three things that can really make or break the comfort that you feel in your home are light, temperature and acoustics.  This is regardless of the size of your home, whether you are in a studio apartment or a 5 bedroom house.  If your home can be filled with light, be not too hot or too cold (which should be readily achievable in a climate as benign as Sydney’s) and be quiet enough for you to live in then doubtless there will be many a happy time spent in your home.

On the flip side, regardless of how big your home is, if it is too dark, too hot or too cold and way too noisy then most likely it will never be an enjoyable place to live.  Unless, that is, you can afford to pay the significant electricity bills and can enjoy the wonderfully styled interiors. 

While these may be three simple things to look for, it can be quite difficult to actually work them out in many a fully kitted out display home. This is partly due to the fact that you cannot turn off the lights.  Often there are dozens or more downlights and other light fittings burning away simultaneously in every room of the house so that you can see that Versace-looking cushion in the bedroom or those elaborate vases in the multiple living areas.  With all these lights on it is hard to tell which rooms are going to be flooded with natural light and which are going to be quite dark in even the middle of the day.  Does anyone want to live with every light in their home switched on all the time?

The air-conditioning in all the display homes will be on by default, even if the doors to the alfresco are wide open.  This means that when you walk through, you can’t really tell if a room is going to be warm or cool just in its natural state. Many a room can be comfortable the vast majority of the time without any air-conditioning as long as windows are facing in the right direction and air flow is controlled.  I would love to find out exactly how much the electricity bills are for these display homes because they must be in the thousands.

The last feature common to many a display home is that there will often be a fountain going full throttle at the back of the house just near the alfresco or outdoor entertaining area.  It’s the sound of loudly running water that draws you through from the front door and also makes it difficult to tell if a room or your whole house will be noisy or quiet.  This is often an issue for families and many living in two storey houses, where day to day noise can become a problem that interferes with how comfortable people feel in their homes. 

So much focus is placed on the styling of display homes that it can make it really difficult to make informed decisions.  Decisions about how you live and how you wish to live.  Working out which parts of the home are for which family members, how you will use the spaces day to day.  Real, practical elements that can effect how comfortable our homes are for the longer term.  We need to get clever and be able to see past the styling and the Versace-like cushions to truly understand whether a home is right for us.  Once we get the basics right we can have as much styling fun as we like making homes that not only work well but make our lives better.