Architect Peter Eisenman famously does not live in a house that he designed himself.  

Wexner Center for the arts, Columbus, Ohio
by Peter Eisenman (1989)
Image courtesy of TijsB via Flickr
“Architects design houses,” Eisenman said. 
“I live in a home.”  

Presumably, this distinction helps to explain Eisenman’s living arrangements. Most architects of his stature live in houses that they have designed and whose designs are published widely, but he divides his time between two homes, neither of which he designed and neither of which has been published.

Eisenman characterized one home as “a dumb little apartment” in New York City with “a kitchen that’s not comfortable for two people to be in at the same time.” He characterized the other as a “wonderful old New England house, made of stone, brick and tile,” which was an 18th-century mill and is built over a waterfall. “No architect has ever worked on it,” he said. “You couldn’t design like this. It happens over time,” as successive owners altered it to meet their needs.

Offering an explanation for his housing choices, Eisenman said, “I am immersed in architecture all day, working in my office or teaching.” Afterwards, “I want to go back to my home, where it’s cozy.”

See the full article by Katherine Salant (The Washington Post, April 29, 2011).


Artists' Handmade Houses
a book by Michael Gotkin, 2011
I wonder what the architectural profession has become if people--even architects--don't want to live in overly designed spaces.

According to Eisenman in the article above, a home is
  • made of handcrafted materials,
  • built over time, and
  • cozy.

I'd like to add a few of my own.  A home is also
  • a comfortable place to relax and put your feet up,
  • welcoming to guests, and
  • an authentic place where real life is visible, not hidden.

A home is not
1964 Fridge Decor
Image courtesy of x-ray delta one via Flickr
  • perfectly organized and decorated,
  • perfectly clean at all times,
  • a work of art ready for a magazine spread,
  • a gallery for works of art, nor
  • a museum of residential architecture.

Our Home

Our home is constantly in a state of change.  It was built in 1906 with very traditional materials: a sandstone basement, brick exterior walls, and frame interior walls with wood lathe and plaster.  And it has seen many changes over the years, including a second storey apartment added in the 1950s.  

our 1906 house in 2006 when we bought it,
exactly 100 years old
What's horrifying to me about it is the alterations that were done in the 1980s, that decade of DIY courage and ignorance!
This was after the common wisdom of how buildings are put together had died out and before the birth of Youtube.  Home improvement was still happening, encouraged by the expansion of home improvement chains.  I'm often nervous to open up a wall from this period, worried that I'll discover the whole thing was held together with wood glue and peanut shells...

But back on point, this home has developed over time before we bought and since.  We didn't have the funds to do a complete overhaul when we bought it, so we are approaching it one space at a time.  Living here has imparted a much more in-depth sensitivity to what it could be; what it wants to be; what it needs; what we need as a family.
Handcrafted Modern by
Leslie Williamson, 2010

Building a Home Over Time

I often think about how generations past
almost always built their homes over time.  Start with a two-room cabin, then an outbuilding or two, then a lean-to addition, etc.  

People built what they could afford to pay for, even if that was only two rooms.  They typically built it themselves with locally available materials and help from extended family and community.  Their mortgage was often on the land and not on the building.

Early Mortgages in United States*

Kidner House, Nelsonville, Ohio
Image courtesy of gb_packards via Flickr

Prior to 1916, national banks as well as many state banks were prohibited from making 
real estate loans. “Even after 1916, many commercial banks refused to make real estate loans on the grounds that they were ‘illiquid.’ Those that were willing to make such loans believed it was ‘bad business’ to lend more than 50 percent of the appraised value of a home. Building and loan associations loaned up to 80 percent or more of the appraised value, but at [higher] interest rates ranging between 8 and 12 percent of the loan.” 
*This excerpt is from page 14 of History of Mortgage Finance With an Emphasis on Mortgage Insurance (2009) by Thomas N. Herzog, Ph.D., ASA is based on Sydney Hyman's paper Marriner Stoddard Eccles, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, 1976. 

Are We Better Off Now?

Image courtesy of via Flickr
Is it better for banks or consumers that the standard limit on mortgages is now 80% of the value of the land and building?  
Consumers can get a loan that they might not be able to afford and banks are exposed when a defaulted loan is more than they can net after a sale.  On the plus side, families don't have to save up for a decade for a 50% downpayment.  

Tiny Homes & DIY Homes

Image courtesy of Tax Credits via Flickr
Can we reverse this approach of domestic entitlement and start living in homes that we can build ourselves as we can afford it, without a mortgage on the building?

There are challenges, to be sure.  
  • Zoning requirements & neighborhood covenants that require a minimum square footage;
  • building codes that don't make allowances for DIY methods like cob and rammed earth;
  • fears that only contractors can build a building these days; and even
  • social pressures to buy a large home and furnish it right away--on credit--to indicate that you are, in fact, an adult.

What's your definition of "home?"  



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  2. They typically built it themselves with locally available materials and help from extended family and community.guesthouse



It's somewhat ambiguous, but the definition of affordability has to be related to income, right? Income as well as other debt & ob...