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Where the heart is: Why having a place to call home is the ultimate luxury
From waterside mansions to country cottages and urban apartments, there really is no place like home, says Anne Ashworth...
The English language offers a multiplicity of words for home: dwelling, residence, hearth and abode, to cite but a few. The list has been diversified by the slang of different eras, such as pad, gaff or crib. Such range is a good reflection of the variety of feelings that home inspires. And for more proof of the place that home has, in even the least sentimental of hearts, look no further than the number of songs with home or house in the title or lyrics. “Home is where I want to be,” sang Simon and Garfunkel. And we all agree.
Technology has enabled us to tour countries, cities and neighbourhoods that we would potentially like to call home. Visit your favourite property portals and you can step straight inside the homes you could acquire. You can imagine living in those apartments, villas and houses, while working out what improvements you would carry out. Your thoughts may also turn to previous occupants. Did the first resident of that beautiful town house – which will be yours, when the price is right – live quietly, or live it up? The design of the house, with its huge first-floor drawing room made for parties, suggests the latter.
The uses for homes evolve, of course. In London, the grand white-stucco squares of Belgravia and Mayfair were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries to accommodate aristocrats and upwardly mobile persons of commerce who entertained in style. Most people restoring such a mansion today will preserve the ornate cornicing found in the drawing room – the designated party space – but the layout will be reconfigured to provide a media room and two kitchens: one to prepare snacks and meals for the family; the other for preparing food for when hosting formal parties.
The refurbishment will invariably also include the installation of enough bathrooms to surprise even the most hygiene-minded member of the Victorian filthy rich. But the popularity of the en-suite bathroom is not just about cleanliness – it is a side-effect of the recent deepening of the relationship with the home-from-home that is the luxury hotel.
Ancient instincts for warmth, survival and embellishment remain strong and drive the search for the dream home.
Around the end of the 20th century, the decor of the typical five-star establishment, aiming at the customer with a Globe-Trotter suitcase and a globetrotter way of life, was elegant but untouchable. But the upsurge in business travel during this century (despite the technology intended to lessen such to-ing and fro-ing) has meant that guests began to feel more comfortable in something smart, but less stand-offish. Something more like home.
Clever hoteliers contrived to make their rooms and bathrooms into something that customers would regularly rebook and aspire to recreate at home. They toned down the white marble in the bathroom and made the armchair in the bedroom less corporate and more friendly and inviting. Take the newly launched Principal Hotel in London, formerly the Russell, blending an awe-inspiring Edwardian exterior with rooms that have a deliberately “residential” feel. The palette of greys and navy blues seems set to be imitated in interiors from Manhattan to Milan.
The process of improvement to which the properties of the affluent are subjected can be relentless. Such following of fashion may seem to display too much devotion to trends, but let’s not be too harsh. There is an age-old craving for a secure refuge (another of those synonyms for home), but also the yearning to make this shelter (there’s another) more beautiful.
Conjecture surrounds the intentions behind the paintings in Palaeolithic caves, but the artistry suggests a purpose beyond the merely workaday. The ancient instincts for warmth, survival and embellishment remain strong and drive the search for the dream home. This may be an overworked term, but it sums up the universal longing.
Ask people with the time and resources to indulge their passion for real estate and they will sketch out for you the vision of their own dream home. Or dream homes. “For me,” one explained when I asked, “it’s houses in different locations worldwide – London, Bath, Marbella, Zurich, in each of which I feel at home, but in each of which I could also live happily forever if the rest were lost to me.” Other people may extol the varied delights of Cornwall, Martha’s Vineyard or Manhattan, but they are all looking for The One – the place that combines all of their desires.
Buying agents, the professionals hired by the rich to scout out property opportunities, talk of the long shopping lists drawn up by some of their clients, especially those searching for the rural dream. These people want a house of a certain size, in a specific location. Land is essential for the authentic squirearchical experience. So too is a lake. Who doesn’t aspire to take the oars of a rowing boat on a warm summer’s evening? The mansion or manor should ideally have a past, but the buyers also want to build their own dynastic futures.
Possessing the resources to make such a dream of ancestral hectares come true may be the ultimate luxury. But when the new owners of the mansion arrive at the front door, followed by vans filled with furniture, their first thoughts will be: “I hope we can make this into a home and be happy here.” Whether it’s a flat, house, cottage or any other type of home, does anyone, anywhere, ever wish for anything else?