30/10/2014 11:33 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

Why Our Homes Should Be Lived-In And Loved, Not Immaculately Arranged

Why our homes should be lived-in and loved, not immaculately arranged

Remember when house parties used to involve cartons of wine, goings-on in the bathroom, some poor sod turning up with a traffic cone and slinking off in embarrassment'? I never thought I would, but I miss those days.

Now house warming parties seem to be all about showing off - big style. They're not even held days or weeks after moving in. No, only once the builders' snagging list has been ticked off, can you expect an invitation to sip perfectly chilled wine and admire the smooth sliding of kitchen drawers (ohh, is that really the time, must go and relieve the babysitter!).

And after years of saving, months of living in a building site, what do these homes look like? Mostly, they look the same.

Sleek white kitchens with marble or Coran tops. Tick. Hotel bathroom with colour coordinated fluffy towels. Tick. Glass doors leading to indoor/outdoor garden landscaped within an inch of its life with 'low maintenance' = intrinsically dull plants. Tick. Blown-up canvases of golden looking children? Tick.

But where are all the real signs of family life? Where is all the primary coloured plastic tat, part of the package that comes with children along with sleep deprivation and finger printed walls? The family 'heirlooms', testimony to the compromises of marriage? "OK, I promise not to willfully try and break the 70s glass nest of tables, but I draw the line at those leather chairs." The ever-increasing piles of shoes inside the front door, never neatly stacked where they're supposed to be? The boxes of recycling, piles of opened and unopened post and school letters magnetted to the fridge?

I'll admit that for years I suffered from chronic house envy; taking particular walks home from work to pass my 'one-day-I'll-live-there' house, pressing my nose against estate agents windows, poring over glossy magazine interiors and watching back to back home makeover shows.


I became addicted to property porn online; a very particular voyeurism enjoyed by women who like sticking their nose into other people's bathrooms without having to bother with introductions. A beach side house today? Click, click, ohh just a couple of million.


But slowly I realised that, despite all this constant consumerist stoking of my envy, I didn't really hanker after a Good Taste home. Finally a visit to an old family friend hammered that home (pun intended) for me. Her kitchen is an idiosyncratic mix of beautiful pictures alongside children's drawings, mismatched crockery and an ancient cooker, her sofa big and threadbare, her garden a riot of colours and loving neglect. It felt like home.

My friend Hlary used to date a man who lived in a decorated-by-numbers Shoreditch batch pad. At first she was quite impressed but then came the dawning realisation that after she had used the bathroom he would surreptitiously go in after her and wipe down the marble sink top, where she might have scattered a few drops of water, and rehang the towels. This perfectionism-OCD tendencies, coupled with the fact that his bathroom cabinet contained more beauty products than her own, put paid to any dreams of setting up home together.

And that fundamentally is my problem with show home houses. I just couldn't be bothered to keep it looking immaculate forever and ever. Imagine! All that wiping of white surfaces!

My children complain loudly enough when I plump up cushions around them or insist they collect up armfuls of belongings to their bedrooms. My husband groans when I do late-night loo bleaching or web bashing (the original ceiling ones, not the internet).

What would they do if I banned all items from surfaces bar three carefully chosen, colour coordinated ones? I swear one Perfect Home owner I know has three items on display in her kitchen - her pale blue Dualit toaster, her pale blue recipe book holder and a pale blue fruit bowl. You can bet her oranges never end up sticking to her bowl.

For the past 10 years we have been vaguely meaning to do up our kitchen. Last summer we even sat through the most tedious three hours of my life - a kitchen planner site visit in which we discovered we didn't have any opinions on cupboards. So after years of doing nothing, we took action - a quick paint job and putting up an Ikea shelf. Job done.


Frankly, I can think of a million things I'd rather do on a Saturday afternoon than choose taps. I can think of 10 million things I'd rather do than spend money I don't have on a kitchen. A holiday would be nice.


I've also realised I love my kitchen just the way it is - and so do our friends and family. I used to be suspicious but they're not just being kind when they say they love it. The battered old table - the first buy we ever made together - is large enough for a bunch of teens to sit comfortably at or for my children to do homework at while I'm cooking.

The photos of the children, walls of their paintings and certificates for handwriting and mental maths may not be high art, but they are certainly decorative. And the map of the world is helping their geography and world affairs discussions no end. The cupboard door sticks, but we all know how to make it work.

It's true that open plan (that's the polite way of saying nothing fits, nothing matches) does mean a lot of pens and dog hair emerging every time I brush under the cupboard. And I know the fireplace should be turned into a chimney-large-stove-everybody's-got-the-same-look. But I like having a marble fireplace slap bang in my kitchen - so there!

A true home is a hotch-potch of objects: sentimental and much-loved possessions, things you've collected along the way that are simply familiar and the really useful stuff. It's not curated and soulless and samey.

Immaculate Homes v Proper Homes

Canvas 'arty' shots of children v The collage of toddler photos involving a lot of chocolate

Designer lighting v Slightly sticky fairy lights in a long-ago bid to be Nigella

Kitchen tops you must never put a half lemon on v Slightly worse for wear wooden surfaces

Sleek line sofas in unexpected colours v Squashy comfy sofas with cushions and a blanket

Colour coordinated children's rooms with bunting and princess beds v A tip

Walls of cupboards and a place for everything v Books, photos, newspapers, piles of post

Do you or did you suffer from house envy? Are you happy with your home?
What makes a home feel like home for you?