Clare Melhuish reviews the changing nature of the private residence
What sort of a society is it where one day the media screams at us to dispose of our homes as fast as we can on a crashing market, and the next assures us that our homes are 'our return, our cocoon', 'the nucleus of who we are', and 'as important as our mother and father'? These sentiments, uttered by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Linda Barker and Terence Conran respectively, provided the semblance of an intellectual backbone to BBC2's The Joy of Home, and highlighted the charged confusion over whether homes should simply be viewed as products or commodities like any other, or whether in fact they embody some aspect of spiritual and cultural identity which cannot be subjected to the ephemeral nature of the market.
Naturally, in these days of anaesthetic television, the BBC avoided tackling such social and political issues. The only gesture towards acknowledging the housing crisis was LlewelynBowen's observation that 'we are the last generation to afford to buy a house [and] we will never pay off our mortgages ', but the implications for the concept of home were not explored - certainly not the possibility that we may be reaching the end of 'home' as we know it, and certainly any joy in 'home'. Perhaps, in hindsight, this programme will be seen as a glorious retrospective of the final swansong of the home.
For architects, especially those involved in house and housing design, this retrospective of domestic design and taste since the Second World War made for frustrating viewing, so narrow was its survey and so unpolemical were its assumptions. Its basic premise, that houses, or homes, have become 'a national obsession', both reflected and fuelled by TV programmes such as Changing Rooms - to the extent that people are wandering around with photos of their interiors - is so obviously untrue that it is laughable.
The people interviewed, including Anna Ryder Richardson in her Barbarella-type spaceship interior, and Lowri Turner in her minimalist heaven, where two-year-old son Griffin is 'being taught to tidy up', were so uniformly upper middle-class owner-occupiers of luxurious residences that it was embarrassing to watch. These cases represented the home as nothing more than a rather narcissistic extension of an occupant's self-image - an essentially internal and controllable world - without any discussion of the changing nature of the private residence in a world of the non-nuclear family, home-working, or even home-sharing; in short, a much more multi-faceted existence than this programme would acknowledge.
Architects know that to work for a private client on a domestic job is to assume a role close to that of personal therapist; but the real issues which make domestic design such a live topic now, and demand TV's attention, are those of the broader social dimension.
The Joy of Home was screened on BBC2 on Thursday 2 January