Book Review - Home sexy home

Domesticity finds renewed passion in home ownership

When amorous wanderlust settles into monogamy and Friday night cavorting gives way to children, dogs and lawn care, home becomes our next romance, the obsession that makes our hearts go pitter-patter.

Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses (www.anchorbooks.com) is Harvard English professor and cultural tea leaf reader Marjorie Garber’s treatise on our homes as the elusive love or lust objects that haunt our dreams and consume our weekends. “The house is the repository of our unmet needs, our unfulfilled dreams, or our nostalgic longings,” Garber argues in her compellingly Freudian linkage of home ownership with a state of perpetual, unsatisfied longing. As sex once was, so now are the real estate ads, the RE/MAX signs, open houses and shelter magazines to adult desire.

Garber calls the ravenously consumed Nest and House & Garden culture of American decorating-lust a kind of “yuppie pornography.” Like pornography, the cult of the home in America is a state of restless, covetous desire — a frantic browsing through better bodies, prettier faces that never deliver the satisfaction those come-hither glances promise.

Anyone who has ever shopped for or purchased a home will sense immediately the gravity of what Garber contends in Sex and Real Estate. Few things, other than childbirth, marriage or the death of a loved one, unleash the psychological despair, elation and trauma that home buying does. It forces us to re-evaluate the basis of our very beings: Is this house me? Does it say about me what it should? What, exactly, is me? Will I be happy here?

All the heartache, passion and obsession do not end there. Home ownership is an endless “to do” list, a Home Depot purgatory that stands as a metaphor for the other myriad denied gratifications of daily life.

As Garber notes, “The keynote of much design today is not character, not values, but desire. And desire, by its very nature, cannot be satisfied. It points always onward, toward the next redecoration, the next renovation, the next house.” We are a nation continually on the move, repeatedly suffering the “seven-year itch” of domesticity, before seeking a greener pasture, a nicer home, a better job, our brains filled with sugarplum visions of teak, small town cottages, mid-century modern furniture and a more elusive notion of home, sweet home.

Garber’s tantalizing treatise led Creative Loafing in search of some Atlantans willing to expound on what they think of their residences and the “almost animate and often passionate relationship of house and dweller.”

Christopher Jones, Director of development for College Park/HomeRestorer

Time at current address: MONTH

Creative Loafing: Do you enter into a new home purchase with a sense of anxiety or excitement?

The first one I did was complete excitement. But that’s because I was 18, and I was naive and stupid about what a big investment it was and what it really meant.

Do you think of your house as having a soul?

I think a house has a soul. I think a house can speak about what happens to it.

Do you think of your house as male or female?

Some houses feel more feminine than masculine, but different periods reflected that as well. You look at the architecture at the turn of the century — Queen Anne — much more reflective of feminine lifestyles and entertaining and all of that. I think this is a much more masculine house.

What is your dream home?

My dream home would be a great Cape Cod shingled house that rambles with one addition after another. And it’s set in the coastal lowlands somewhere in Virginia or South Carolina.

Do you think it exists?

Yes. I just haven’t found it. And I think that’s because internally as a person I haven’t evolved enough to where I see it yet.

What is the happiest home you’ve ever lived in?

A house that I bought from a very good, older friend of mine. I waited five years to get the house, until he was ready to retire and move. And because of that, I got to know him so well. I got to know what it was like for him growing up in the ’30s and ’40s in that house.

What does your house say about you?

My house says that I am seeking, longing for, maintaining stability, comfort, a sense of history, a sense of personal history and an attachment to people and things that are important.

Will you miss the house you just left?

I will miss it because I did the work primarily myself. But I’ll also miss it because of the emotional issues going on in my life at the time I lived there. It’s like, I helped my late partner renovate his house and he used to say while he was alive and sick, ‘You’re here every day. Every day you’re around me, because you painted the walls, you renovated the house.’ All he had to do was look around and he saw those touches.

Yasharel Manzy, artist

Mary Manzy, bookkeeper

Time at current address: 13 years

CL: Describe your house.

We looked for a house for a couple of years and it had to have certain specifications: It had to have a great sunset, that was No. 1. I think I was going through a lot of ups and downs in my life, and I felt if I had that beautiful opening to the sunset, I have something to hang onto. So sure enough, we drove up and I told the lady, pull the contract!

Did you feel as sure about the house as your husband?

MM: I wanted to see the inside first!

Do you think of your house as having a soul?

MM: Absolutely.

YM: All of the things you do to it are a manifestation of your personality. And whoever has come to the house, they all have said the same thing, ‘It’s so warm.’

Do you think of your house as male or female?

YM: It has to be female because I feel so comfortable in it. It is like a womb, really.

Is this your dream home?

MM: No. I would be happy for this to be my dream house, fix up a few more things, maybe add another story for a studio. But it’s not Yasha’s dream house.

What is your dream home?

YM: Something a little bit more like the house I lived in [growing up in Iran]. We had four gigantic walls around the house, so we were very secure inside.

What has had the greatest influence on your idea of home?

MM: Definitely my childhood, because I grew up in the country (Blairesville, Ga.), and we had a big house with 400 acres of land. So I have to have a big space and big rooms.

YM: I remember a neighbor — he was the richest man in Isfahan. And he had this grand house. He had four gardeners and once in awhile the gate would be open and we would pass the house, and really it was the grandest of the grandest thing. When you grow up at 7, 8, 9 you see that, it’s like, ‘Hey, I want something like that.’

What would you fix about your house if money was no object?

Both: Add a second floor.

Kurt Wenner, government affairs

Ruth Dusseault, artist and art professor

Max, toddler Time at current address: 3.5 years

Creative Loafing: Do you enter into a new home purchase with a sense of anxiety or excitement?

First home: anxiety. This home: excitement.

RD: Anxiety.

Is this your dream home?

KW: No.

RD: Yes.

What is your dream home?

KW: My thoughts of an ideal home change regularly, but it would be something with a lot of room, private spaces and something that incorporates the outdoors in the house — something where the border of inside/outside is blurred.

What has had the greatest influence on your idea of home?

KW: Childhood and the movies.

RD: My mother, because she was a housewife, but believed in a modern and efficient home.

What is the happiest home you’ve ever lived in?

Both: This one.

How would you characterize your decorating style?

KW: Lack of a distinctive style.

RD: Resourceful.

What would you fix/change about your house if money was no object?

KW: More room.

RD: A second bathroom.