“Ouch!” The carpenter bangs his head on my door.
“It’s a very low ceiling," he looks up, marginally horrified.
Here we go again. I’ve heard it all before. I roll my eyes hither and feel my diaphragm sink with weary. There are many reasons I just don’t like visitors, so many in fact I could stack them all up on top of each other and create a spiky, impenetrable rampart. But the self-appointed design consultancy has got to come close to the top. Sigh. My house is designed for me. Not you. Not him. Not them. Thus it’s perfectly adapted for anyone around the 1 metre 65 mark, which incidentally is above the average for women worldwide, and depending on which country, men too. In fact the only people it’s not very suitable for is tall Northern Europeans. Why this is considered my problem, I’ve no idea.
I suffered the same disparagement about my Mud Home in Turkey of course. I love low ceilings. They provide a wonderful womb-like feel. They are cosy and cutesy and engender happy sensations within me. Sure not everyone likes them, but they can build their own house how they want, can’t they?
As I stand and view the raised hackles of the sierra through my new windows, my old mud home rises before me like an earthen genie. I remember throwing down the last row of earthbags all those years ago, when someone had asked, “but what will you do if you get a tall boyfriend?”
Slapping the butt of the earthbag, I’d furrowed my brow before piercing them with a long sharp stare. “So I’m supposed to design my 6-metre diameter mud house for an ethereal boyfriend who may or may not be tall, and who will presumably spend the greater part of his time in this house horizontal?”
The reply sank into the earthbags and reverberated there. The house snickered to itself while the humans shook their heads at the contrary mud-chitect of round.
Of course, this is just how it is when you dare to step over the loveless ruler line gouged into the concrete foundation of modern architecture. Reams of useless opinion are rolled out over and over again like a tired old IKEA carpet. As with everything else, there’s a kind of mass brainwashing regarding architecture’s one-size-fits-all conveyor belt standard. Doors have to be 200 centimetres high. Ceilings have to be 210 centimetres. Bedrooms have to be up, and kitchens have to be down. Windows have to be this or that shape. Stairs have to have steps 18 centimetres apart. And so it goes on in tedious, magnolia monotony. I can hardly keep typing I’m so bored.
A word from the hobbit realm
The tyranny of the tall in architecture started with Le Corbusier, the French Swiss architect of the 1930s responsible for so many of the unusable urban spaces in the world today. Unusable by the majority I should say, because contrary to the prevailing world view most of us aren’t six feet tall. By a long shot. But lucky you if you happen not to be vertically (or physically) challenged in any way, because with the exception of air travel, the modern world has been designed for you. The rest of us hobbits simply have to suck it up, pull out the ladders, climb this, hang on that, strain here, and risk injury there. That top kitchen cupboard holding the blender is inaccessible. The “simple” act of changing a light bulb is an endeavour involving a rickety kitchen stool, a gymnast’s balance, and a cricked neck. Even a trip to the supermarket leaves many of us giving up on that top shelf entirely.
Door handles, sinks and taps, mirrors, windows, car seat belts, staircases, banisters, kitchen cupboards, curtain rails. The whole lot was designed for a six-footer. And most people don’t think anything of this. It’s perfectly acceptable in the World-At-Large mind that most of us have to climb many times a day to reach things. Yet, if someone has to duck just once in a house visit, it’s the end of the frigging world!
I like tall people, honest!
Please hear me out though. I’m not tall-ist. I like tall people as much as short people. Gandalf is as good as Frodo. I don’t think all houses should be designed for elves or that we must cancel Le Corbusier and ban him posthumously from Twitter. I expect the chap had a good idea or two lurking somewhere on his bookshelf, even if most of us have to stand on a beer crate to reach it. No, tall is fine. And the exceptionally tall, the basketball players and seven-footers, have their own height-ist crosses to bear. Mirrors at waist height. Sinks by their knees. Backache replaces knee ache.
My point is merely that the overriding joy of building your own house is that you make it how you darn well like. It’s the one space especially for you on this entire planet and thus can cater to your every quirk. It saddens me a little though that this doesn’t prevent many of us owner-builders from submitting to the tenets of the bog standard. Or from feeling inadequate in the face of raised eyebrows. Even a mud queen of truculence like myself will spend a night or two worrying before throwing a comment out of the window.
“It’s so much warmer at the top of my house, so I want to put my living room upstairs,” said a friend of mine who is as introvert as myself.
“Yes, I’m doing that. It makes no sense how they do it, sitting in what is essentially a cellar.”
“But the architect said no one would step in my house if I did!”
We both rolled our eyes in unison. “Oh no, that would be a shame now, wouldn’t it?” I said. We fell about laughing. Not everyone wants to entertain guests. Not everyone is a family with 2.4 kids either. Or a couple. Or mobile. In fact not one human on this planet is standard. Most people have simply learned to adapt to a world not designed for them.
So folks! Why not reclaim our world from the standardised, creatively impaired, moronically dysfunctional functionality of the 20th century? We can’t buy everything we read in House and Garden wholesale at the expense of our inner yearning, our instinct, and our inspiration. All those beautiful words start with ‘in’. This is what so much of the Western way has got wrong. The inner is as important and rich as the outer, and it holds the keys to why we even came to planet Earth in the first place.
These days I start to realise that one of the “reasons” I came to Earth was to make quirky natural living spaces hand-in-hand with the land. It’s not what I was taught to do. It’s not what anyone told me I should do. Some people even say I do it all wrong. Yet I love it. It makes my heart sing.
As I jigsaw my bed platform into strange shapes and build a split level kitchen (“What? You can’t do that!”), I feel the life force inside me rushing to my fingers. My heart flutters. My mind whirrs. It feels so good. I see mud walls and curling couches, and I can touch my ceiling by standing on tiptoe. Everyone except children would have to duck to enter my home, because I left the cow entrance in place. Good. Be present if you enter my world my friend. This is the barn of broken rules.
Le Corbusier would turn in his grave of course. My olde worlde restoration is everything he wanted to banish from the face of modern design. But I’m afraid that’s just too bad because you are below ground Le Corbusier, and I am still above. My kitchen is up. My bathroom is down. I’m doing my best to eradicate every straight line I can find. Because the idea there can be a right or wrong in home design needs to die a swift, conclusive death.
People wonder what my name means sometimes. Atulya. It was given to me by a wise swami in Tamil Nadu many moons ago. Atulya, as my Indian readers will know, is Sanskrit for "incomparable". Naturally I love it:)) But these ancient Sanskrit names aren't there for our egos. They refer to basic elements of the human being. We are all incomparable. Thus one person’s home creation can never be compared to anyone else’s. This is individutecture. I mean what’s the point of a home if it doesn’t mirror the needs and loves of its unique inhabitants? Book lovers will have reading niches, gamers will have tech basements, dog owners create whole hound-realms, while film lovers enjoy a movie cave. Some people like hot tubs. Others want a cob oven. Some like hammock swinging, others work online and need a decent chair and a table near a plug socket. Some desire big dining tables, others can’t think of anything worse. And so it goes on. And on.
The mistaken resale theory
One reason people shy from indulging in their dream design is this absurd myth they’ve picked up somewhere on the road between Homebase and the estate agent regarding resale value. Personally I can’t think of anything worse than designing my home just to “flip” it to a stranger. I’d lose the will to build. But even if that were a consideration…
I gaze out of my new windows. The fat orb of the sun moves higher and the clouds bunch hesitantly behind the hills. The skies may be Atlantic but the rays are Mediterranean this spring. My mind returns to that first mud creation back in Turkey. To a mud home on a hill that was generally met with disdain and disbelief.
“What will you do if you want to sell your house?” They had asked. “It’s so small!”
“Yeah and it’s made of mud. Who wants a mud house?”
“Urgh composting toilet. No one would buy it with that!”
Hmm. When the fateful day came that I put my mud home up for sale, it didn’t turn out how anyone had thought. The advert garnered 40,000 views in a week. I sold my house that same week to the first beautiful people to visit. And yes incidentally, they were quite small – did I mention that most of the world is? There was no bargaining or messing around. Five other people were waiting to view it that week. Someone was even coming from Germany.
You see it doesn’t work the way they’ve told us. We can't copy a lifestyle, or a house, and expect it to work like someone else's. It won't, because there’s only one right way. It's unique. It's heart-filled. And it’s ours.
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The time to hear the planet is now. Are you in the right place? Are you moving in the best direction for you? In this unusual exploration I share with you my own experiences and means of hearing the land around me, plus how I follow her nudges. This project is on a tiered funding basis, so you can choose what you pay. Just like all my courses it will be updated and added to as time goes by, so hop on now to get full benefit.
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Atulya K Bingham
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