What is liveable…

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

heading from section of The Vancouver Sun, October 2, 2008

heading from section of The Vancouver Sun, October 2, 2008


In these days of economic uncertainty and panic, this local newspaper provides daily doses of surreality and fantasy. The above picture is an ‘advertorial’ emblazoned on the top page of a section on properties available to buy – most at a level not to be achieved by ordinary working mortals, should they wish to indulge their acqusitiveness so.
The current situation of the mess in the real estate market in the U.S., we are daily reminded, here in Canada by the news media, does not necessarily mean we here are headed in the same downward spiral economically. Housing prices have ‘merely adjusted or levelled’; what we now have here is a ‘buyer’s market’ with housing taking slightly longer time to sell or exchange owners. Thus, today’s article advises how to turn a temporary slow-down to advantage, and trade up to more desirable properties. The house illustrating the article is a generic design so common in new housing projects here, which are determined by marketers to be the type of structure most of us should want, if we want to be seen as upwardly mobile and of stable home economic standing.

I have been casually observing the construction of such houses in my municipality during the past few years. They are built of flimsy materials, and have all the appearance of a house of cards, if one wants to indulge one’s imagination – all surface nicety, without underpinning of much substance. Now, I know deep in my guts, that marketers want me to ‘trade-up’ to such a house, from my modest, sturdily built 1950s bungalow, which has none of the furbelows and flourishes of such a desirable edifice, and casts a suggestion that our family finances are barely adequate – i.e. we look to be struggling lower class folk. According to marketing savvy, all of us should aspire to living on streets and in houses that in reality are nothing more than Potemkin villages – false fronts of economic status achieved. Those who have been so convinced have left in their wake community after community of empty houses, untenanted and abandoned in a flight from bad investments of money they didn’t have.

What kind of house is liveable? The dream house, the tract house, the shack? When all that keeps the elements from impacting on family comfort and security is the shack – simple and secure -then the shack is liveable despite being cobbled together from different building materials. It is entirely a matter of perspective. And of aesthetics, many might opine. But does the unsatiable desire to live an aesthetic life (the parameters of which are determined by marketers) lead to greater satisfaction in living? That is for individuals to determine for themselves. It might seem that the answer to the foregoing question may be a ‘no’. Everywhere in North America people are bankrupting themselves for a dream or a fantasy of ‘better living’.

12 Responses to “What is liveable…”

  1. johemmant Says:

    It’s a mess over here too…….so many businesses going kaput, people losing their homes. The building industry has been creaming profits for a long time, now they are complaining that there’s no money left in the pot. Sickening.

  2. ybonesy Says:

    I never have wanted a new home unless it was built of straw bale or adobe, both of which are incredibly expensive but very sturdy and with thick, beautiful walls. I love old homes, precisely for the reason you state–they’re sturdily built. Back then, the focus was often on quality, not size. With homes the size they are, it’s no wonder builder skimp and use such flimsy materials.

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I love the three-quarter inch thick solid fir floors in my house. At my sister’s place, she had the fir floors polished and do they ever look good – way better than the laminate so many people are installing. One scratch on this latter and it cannot be repaired. If it gets wet, one simply has to replace the whole floor!
    There are sturdy beams in my house and thick dependable joists.
    Once when Frank and I were looking for a house in East Vancouver, we went to visit one of those flimsy monster houses – a house of cards. We went around the side and looked at the bit of vinyl siding. If you poked it, it caved in and you could see the insulation. There were no boards at all between the insulation and the vinyl. At the first leak. all of that would have to be replaced. And when you see them being constructed of chip board whose consistency is doubtful….
    I’m glad I have my little character house, solidly built in 1924.
    K

  4. The Querulous Squirrel Says:

    The technical sophistication of your blog has advanced by light years. But as for the content: I live in the tiniest house of anyone I know. I am also the only person I know who paid off our mortgage years ago. I just couldn’t stand the bank owning my house. Whereas all those people with gigantic houses also have huge mortgages. Now, that isn’t to say I haven’t often yearned for a bigger house. My children have always tended to socialize at their big-house friends houses and I often feel very, very bad about this. But when we bought this house, before children, I remember thinking: this would be a great house to retire in. It’s also a highly energy-efficient house. Very low heating bills for example. My little family often say to each other: I love this little house. It always feels so safe here. I’ve had recurrent nightmares of moving elsewhere and feeling bereft about no longer having this house. It’s our footprint on the planet. That and all the trees I’ve planted that now shade it make me feel…safe.

  5. suburbanlife Says:

    johemmant – It is our children and grandchildren who will have to rein in their desires, since our generation has been so profligate with our resources. The larger culture within which we live will mutate to a more modest one, and none too soon, but perhaps, too late. G

    ybonesy – i agree with you – the adobe houses in their correct climate a wonderful structures – cool in summer and warmer in winter, and fit into the natural environment in a more organic manner. My Hungarian peasant grandmother’s house was made of clay and straw walls and clay floors with a thatch roof = it was not palatial, but sturdy with beautiful proportions and simple furnishings lovingly made and decorated by members of the family. leisure involved preparation of cloth, wax, lard, consumables and much song and story-telling – not revieved from external entertainment sources. Maybe our situation these days will revive that self-directed form of living. G

    lookingforbeauty – you have landed in a delightful house and have begun to make it your own little corner of heaven on earth. It feels both solid and secure and suits your aesthetic temperament. G

    squirrel – I am trying to upload stuff, but still having problems that need sorting out – have much to learn, heh.
    It is lovely to have your family appreciate the home you have made – it will feel good when you recieve young grandchildren in the near fortune so you can tell the tales of planting the trees each time your boys were born – the house and trees having become a unit on your corner of the world, which combintion you brought into harmony.
    I look at the views from all windows of our little house – each one seems ordained to remain in place while we are still here in the coming years – the familiarity I equate with security of place, from which we can foray out on adventures in life and return to our place of comfort as necessary. G

  6. canadada Says:

    Two things.

    A local land developer has many land holdings in the US. He recently admitted that yes, the ‘downturn’ and ‘credit crunch’ south of the border is hurting him, he’s had to drop his condo prices to match the market demand, from $350G to 250G. Ouch. He then slyly admitted he’s still “making a killing.” WELL, armph. No sympathy for that dude. AND, I hope, by all that’s holy, he is ineligible for ANY kind of ‘bail-out’ financing … if he gets ANY, it’s a bureaucratic legal-ease c*ck up, pure and simple.

    Second item, our family ‘homestead’ is a 150 year old stone house. Yes, it needs periodic repair. A new roof has just gone on, but SERIOUSLY, this house was built to LAST. The remote prospect of being a new ‘flimsy’ home scares the bg’s outta me !!! It seems safer to live in a tent cuz then at least you’re mobile if the land starts shiftin’ under your feet!

  7. Christine Says:

    G, a timely post. I see the ruins of the high life all around me, with many enormous, lovely homes, recently purchased, with for sale signs in front. It’s sad.

    And then there are those Potemkin Villages, as you call them. Apt description!

    Like you, I’ve never been one to think I needed to keep going bigger and better with my house. I like cozy homes stuffed with books.

  8. Deborah Barlow Says:

    The post and the comments are compelling. I too paid off my own house. It is small but like QS, it will do me well for the rest of my life. The McMansions and Penis Houses (the kind that are just meant to be big to show off) have no interest to me whatsoever. I have many vices, but big houses isn’t one of them.

  9. Trish Scott Says:

    I totally refurbished my doublewide and it’s paid for.

    And the view is worth way more than the price of any McMansion…

    Yes, I feel fairly smug 😉

    May not feel so smug if the pics don’t come up here but hey…

  10. Trish Scott Says:

    Ok, maybe just a link to the view http://scottfree2b.com/images/Catalog/318_sunflower

  11. suburbanlife Says:

    Canadada – here an acquaintance immediately went on search for investment properties in the States as soon as he read about the housing crunch there. There are many people around to try to capitalize on others’ unfortunate financial decisions, and the fact that this is so indicates the mindset of winning that is so endemic in North America.
    we canadians like to think of ourselves as a kinder and Gentler sort than the US shark types, but it ain’t so. We have our very own advantage seekers too.
    I can just imagine your very old stone house – wow! to be able to live in one and make it last for many more generations. There is nothing like materials that last several lifetimes to make a home with history. I only wish modern day builders had such a long view of the “shabby” structures they tent to put up – you know, the type where the granite kitchen countertops can eventually weight themselves into the basement G?
    Christine – it seems that we are on the same page as far as living well is concerned. It is indeed sad that people have bought into the hype and are now reaping the consequences. G

    Deborah – ‘Penis houses’ a new one on me , but and apt signifier. I think that most artists and sensible people live pretty simply – that allows then the luxury of having time and resources to engage in creative endeavours, which seem to be a main component of the good life, in my opinion. And as for vices, we all seem to harbour some… G

    Trish Scott – I love your sunflowers, and your view is to die for. Kanab is such a gorgeous place to live – a place where you can weather whatever economic climate befalls us all. it’s good to know you are in a more secure place. G

  12. thepennypincher Says:

    The one thing that amazes me is how poorly thought out the space is inside the large houses. Quite often, they have 2 or 3 small living rooms, rather than having one decent sized living room that you could actually use. I prefer smaller, but functional.

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