Privilege Blog

House Is Where The Heart Is

Little known fact. High WASPs don’t say “Home,” as in, “Oh, what a lovely home.” Has to be “House.” “Home” can only be used as in, “I’m going home.” (I cringe at my own snobbery. I am in snob therapy every day.)

I believe, or at least I will invent, that this is because the concept of home is the closest we come to true love. To closeted passion. Clothes are for others, home is for us. Clothes enforce the social divide, at home the divide disappears. Because we are shy about strong feelings, this might not be immediately apparent, but we invite anyone who comes to our houses to join the family. At least for that night. Not, perhaps, a loud, warm, hugging kind of family. Not, certainly, a transparent and straightforward family. A family with a code of conduct and and a web of unspoken requirements. So, I suppose, a family like many others. More blue-eyed than usual.

I can’t find High WASP house style archetypes to name. Probably because we are not trying to make so many statements at home. However, consistently, in any High WASP house you will find some things:

a) from a grandmother
b) purchased on a trip to Instanbul (or Finland, or Ethiopia)
c) which required consulting a designer, traipsing through the Design Center, reviewing fabric swatches, and spending a not inconsiderable amount of money

Of course, today being 2009, you might also find furniture from Pottery Barn. What use is a culture that cannot evolve? Or picture frames. From Pottery Barn. (What is it with Pottery Barn and picture frames? In any case they are quite good at frames.)

In my house you will find:

a) a Federalist mirror from my grandmother’s Massachusetts house
b) a small wooden figure of Ganesh, brightly painted, from my trip to India
c) a Persian rug I bought in Brooklyn, sometime in the early 80’s, before Brooklyn became the cool side of Manhattan

And, yes, a leather chair from Pottery Barn.

The thing is, we High WASPs are unlikely to tell the stories of our homes to others. Home is, as they say, where the heart is. Not our favorite topic, hearts. Home is where we held our small babies on our laps, their lips blistered just that little bit from nursing. Home is where we sit around the table, with linen, with silver, on Thanksgiving, and make toasts choked with emotion. Emotion is appropriate on Thanksgiving, no? Home is where we store old scooters, and ski clothes, and earthquake supplies, for far too long.

Home is where the hurt is. I will invent a theory that when you lack for nothing material, you may feel, very strongly, the injury of inevitable human flaws in significant relationships. Simply because you can. Even if you aren’t supposed to talk about it.

Home is where we wander out of the shower, soles of our feet still damp on slate tiles, where we lay our bills across the coffee table, where someone we love comes up behind us at the kitchen sink and holds our shoulders. Just for a minute. Until we shake them off because, in fact, dishes still need to be washed.

Good thing we have learned to put Lenox in the dishwasher. Gold rims be damned. The task of adulthood is to build a home you can inhabit. Inhabit fully.

Ganesh, me
Chair, Pottery Barn

41 Responses

  1. I can think of no other words than "Come to the house" that send a certain signal. When I was young, I also learned that "come to the house for drinks" meant that one stayed for precisely an hour. Calling the housekeeper by her first name was a tacit acknowledgment that you were a very close friend of the family. (And therefore you could stay past the hour for drinks- and end up sleeping in a guest room.)

    Praising the house or its decor was not done.

  2. My college roommates always gave me a hard time as I live in a rather large building instead of a house but still called it such.

    "You can't call it a House if that's not what it is!"

    Oh yes I can! Great post. Perhaps I will send them a link!

  3. Funny, I grew up also always calling people's homes houses. "Home" is a very different thing than a house, as you so eloquently stated above. Really enjoyed this post. And actually, enjoy and appreciate my "home" the older I get.

  4. and…curtains, not drapes (or gasp, window treaments); couch, never sofa. Do we retain these phrases as signals to others or just from habit?

  5. I love this post. Have you ever done a post on Wasp language (forgive me if you have)? I remember reading a year ago or so about Kate Middleton's (Prince William's girlfriend) family being made fun of by PW's friends. Apparently they are "new money" and say things like "wealthy" and "toilet" instead of "rich" and "loo". LOL. As a former English major, I find the linguistics of class demarcation particularly interesting.

  6. We have this same chair, although its a bit large for our tiny apartment, I just love it!

  7. Funny, I have Ganesh too (from my trip to India), not brightly painted though, but in gray lying on his side.

  8. my husband constantly says, "come to the house." Curiously not, 'our' house, always, 'the' house.

    wonder if he's plotting a coup!

  9. Agreed. We do not treat our windows. I have, however, begun to say sofa. Sometimes I say it over, and over, and over again to myself. It's very liberating. We don't say toilet, unless we are referring to something made of porcelain. The room in which that thing sits is called a bathroom:). Bath or no.

    Lauren, clearly I am out of touch with New York boroughs now. I just make inferences from blogs. Should have known. Thank you for the correction.

    I love my chair too. I even like the way it smells.

  10. Beautiful post. I have been to Istanbul and Finland; I suppose now I need to go to Ethiopia to round out my collection :).

  11. it's a good-natured correction; i'm sure meg would disagree with me (though i think esb would have my back).

    your PB chair-affection makes me wonder if i should direct a friend (in the market for an affordable leather sofa) their way. do you have any experience with larger pieces of theirs – or with leather sofas as a general proposition, while we're at it? i'm a velvet enthusiast, so i'm fear i'm of little help.

  12. Indeed. We had our relatives 'round to 'the house' this weekend, before the wedding festivities started.

    Where they could meet that same Ganesh, brought by an Indian friend from India. wild.

  13. Ganesha – wisdom, prosperity, good fortune. These things are not always random. Unfortunately, Ganesh did not whisper in my ear about leather sofas. My chair has been great for the 3 years I've had it.

  14. House and Home? I think house is the structure home is the ambiance…come home with me sounds intimate and see you at the house sounds formal. Have I missed the subtle nuances of the post?
    Can you comment on the family compound? Monied families that I know have them. They are casual, rustic, on the water be it a lake or the ocean, very simple back to the basics kind of places. Families gather here and friends are welcome into the fold like a warm hug.

  15. I would think house is used when you own more than one.

    And it's always the bathroom. One doesn't talk about what is inside that bathroom except to get it repaired ;)

  16. Duchesse's comment about not complementing the decor of a home is very interesting to me. I was brought up in a working class family, but there was a plantation owner among our ancestors too. I think some WASP ideals were definitely in my upbringing, but not not nearly anything as precise as high WASP.

    I used to think it was awkward to compliment people on the possessions in their home, but have gradually noticed myself doing it more. My ex inlaws were newly rich and were once miffed that a relative visited them in their mansion and didn't compliment it.

    I remember an episode of a British TV show, "Rumpole In The Bailey" where Mrs. Rumpole had a guest compliment her on her wine glasses. When they left, she said something to the effect of "What a nerve! Noticing a person's possessions!"

    Miss Manners said it was always considered impolite, but nowadays people would feel insulted if no compliment was forthcoming.

    What does everyone think about this?

  17. But it's a pity you can't put gold rims in the microwave.

    I don't expect compliments on my home, as not a lot of decorating thought has been put into it, and what thought is trashed by small children daily.

  18. House is the structure, the concrete. Home is the concept. I feel at home. I go home. But I am in my house. Again, there's no right or wrong to this. It's sort of like the hoagie vs. submarine debate. Perhaps a little more charged. I am OK with telling people their house is beautiful. Especially when it's clear they feel pride. I would worry about being rude otherwise. Class structures in the UK have traditionally been more rigid than in the US. But, again, I would never tell them they had a beautiful home. Nor, sadly, would I put the gold rims in the microwave. Impunity gets you only so far.

  19. No gold rims in the microwave?! (Heh-heh-heh.) As always Miss LPC, a classic look at things, and we seem to be in sync on all of it, that's rather amazing. Although growing up the term for that one room was now "The Ladies Room," or "The Men's Room," depending upon the individual who might need to avail themselves of said room. (Heh-heh-heh.)

    Hope the rest of your week is faboo!

  20. Wonderful post – so enjoy your writing… (and I DO have something from Instanbul and something inherited from my grandmother too!)

  21. What? Sometimes I feel I read a different post. Your home, beyond your stuff – 'cause who cares about that, when it goes up in flames you will only care that your babies are safe – the place where you nursed your children and taught them about their great grandmother's life by virture of what she left behind, sounds marvelous. Warm, loving, transcendent. It is not about stuff. Yours, your great grandmother's, the Shah.. whomever, who cares. Well done.

  22. Good thing we have learned to put Lenox in the dishwasher.

    I decided many years ago that my house was my home, not a museum, and that I was not going to worry about rings on the kitchen table or wearing out the bedspread by sitting on the bed to read. I put my feet on the couch (without shoes, though — I am not crazy) and if a crystal glass breaks, oh well. It's a thing. People are more important.

  23. I'm posting this while waiting for a flight to Istanbul and then Tbilisi. You have obviously been to my house!

  24. Fascinating post. Lovely writing. I just discovered you. Of course, home is a deep metaphor, for ourselves. As in, coming home to myself. Finding my way home (to myself). If hearts are not the favorite topic, as you say, then does it follow that the use of the word house reflects the reluctance to look deep inside? Just curious.

  25. I love this post. For me, house = structure / home = concept. Living where we live, I cannot bring myself to say our "house," because technically, we don't live in a house, but a high-rise. I can't bring myself to say, "Come over to our 'flat'" or 'condo' or 'apartment' either because to me, it is much more than those terms. Only close, intimate friends get invited over and we use 'home' with them. Otherwise, we simply refer to where we live as our 'place' when speaking generally.

  26. Hmmmm, somehow the comment I wrote got gobbled up. It said much more than that I like your post, but I do — thank you!

  27. Fixing up a house, building a home, this was an absolute wonder to me this morning. Reminded me just how much I love this dump we live in. Thank you.

  28. I recently moved onto a 57' barge on the Thames and am having a very hard time remembering not to call it the house. I keep asking friends to "come over to my house" and then they get all confused, thinking we must have somewhere on land as well. I have decided to substitute "boat" as I still feel the need for a linguistic distinction between my boat and my home.

    And even on the boat, I have:
    (a) my fiancee's grandmother's oak dining table and chairs
    (b) a carpet I bought in Tblisi and lugged back to London
    (c) a cast-iron Morso stove (not sure if this counts, but it certainly required consultation from experts and was bought at great expense)

    So even on another continent and floating on a river, my high WASP upbringing endures…

  29. Ganesha – wisdom, prosperity, good fortune. These things are not always random. Unfortunately, Ganesh did not whisper in my ear about leather sofas. My chair has been great for the 3 years I've had it.

  30. My house (and it’s always been “my house”) is of many family things: handed down jewelry, clothing, photos dating back to the 1850s, DAR documents, furniture and dishes from great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, leather chairs in front of the fireplace, genealogy of family back to the Mayflower, and documents from Connecticut showing the land acquisitions and transfers of family members. No one became terribly rich that I know of, but many of the customs and social mores still linger today. I hope we can keep that–difficult in such a changing society.

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