Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review: House Thinking

House Thinking: A Room-By-Room Look at How We Live
Winifred Gallagher

I've been reading this book for the last week or so, after picking it up from the local library while looking for home decor books. I have three chapters left, but think I've made it through enough of the book to be able to write about it and tell you what I think about it.

The premise of this book is really interesting - Gallagher delves into a variety of fields to discuss how and why America's homes are they way they are. While the most emphasis is given to environmental psychology, bits of history, home economics, engineering, other psychology fields, and even Eastern religions and traditions (like feng shui) are thrown in. The book is arranged room-by-room (just as the title suggests), beginning with the entry way of the house and working all the way down to the basement. It was interesting to read about how each of these fields has contributed to the shape, size, and uses of each room - how home economics changed the look and feel of the modern kitchen, and how engineering has changed the look and feel of the modern bathroom.

My only have a couple of complaints about this book. The first is the organizational structure of the chapters - they aren't very conducive to the sometimes completely-unrelated facts that the author discusses. For example, you might get a tidbit about behavioral psychology and the conditioned responses to a dining room that we all grow up with, and then have it followed by a completely unrelated tidbit about how home economics made women more responsible for the prevention of germs. Both pieces are interesting, but I don't know why they were put in next to each other! I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the author connected certain points with each other.

My second complaint is that the author provided a ton of great descriptions about historical homes of prominent people - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Edith Wharton, Louisa May Alcott - BUT there are no pictures! After a beautiful description of Edith Wharton's bedroom, I wanted nothing more than to actually see it and understand visually why it worked so well! But alas, there is not a picture in the book. I'm usually not one to demand pictures, but when you're discussing colors, furniture, and specific visual elements of a room, a picture really helps.

Despite the short-comings, I highly recommend House Thinking. It's different than your usual how-to home decor book, and it gives you some additional things to think about when you're redo-ing a room or two.


ShockTheBourgeois said...

I've found poor flow and organization to be fairly common in books on interiors. It's frustrating to me- as I'm someone who loves design, but also prefers a logical train of thought...

As an example, try out the Apartment Therapy "Cure" book. Some interesting ideas, but SHEESH, let's edit, shall we?

Lastly- you should pick up a copy of Edith Wharton's design book (the title eludes me at the moment). It's lovely, and because she was a writer, it actually makes sense.

I'll have to pick up House Thinking- thanks for the review!

Ann said...

There's a sweet little Swedish movie I saw a few years ago called "Kitchen Stories", in which researchers observe the kitchen habits of single men (the film ends up focusing on the relationship between one man and his watcher). There's a FASCINATING opening montage showing the movement paths of the average kitchen user... and then the rest of the movie is just frickin' adorable.

Not quite on topic, but it's what this post reminded me of. :-)