Saturday, September 1, 2007

Great Rooms, Dogs and Books

There is a term that gets used more and more, and it is starting to grate on my nerves a little. People, in these strange days of modern housing, love to refer to their "great rooms." For some reason this term seems unbelievably pretentious to me. What used to be called a living room or a den is now called something that hearkens back to the middle-ages. To me this adds to the general feeling that Americans want to view themselves as modern day nobility. A great room?C'mon. Why don't you just call it a big space where the contractor could save money by not having to build any expensive extra walls. I often hear things like this, "yes, we just had to buy the house because of the 450 square foot great room." What are you planning to do, host a renaissance fair? Fly radio controlled airplanes in it? Set up a beach volleyball court? It always amazes me when I enter someones great room and find it sparsely furnished and soulless. I had a friend, a really good friend by the way but one who believed in the power of material worth. His great room contained three items besides the built-in fireplace, or should I say hearth. One was a practice putting green, another a sofa, and the center-piece was a life-sized cut-out of Michael Jordon. The room had no depth at all even though it was very big. In contrast, the bedrooms of this house were tiny, smaller than my smallest guest room.

This came about I believe with the emergence of subdivision housing and later with the McMansion industry. When I was a kid, if we didn't have a number of rooms to escape to when annoying siblings or mothers with a to-do list were threatening our piece of mind, we would have killed each other. Don't get me wrong, clutter and darkness makes me uncomfortable as well, and one things these rooms usually have going for them is abundance of light. It's just the use of the term great room that causes me the most problems. If you tell me you have a great room, when I visit, you better greet me sitting on a throne with court jesters and damsels strewn about. If not, I'll just go back to my house with its damaged porch, its half-finished patio, and its very serviceable mead-hall.

By the way, here is a shot of my "pretty-good room."

I also want to add this. Four years ago I had just left my job of eleven years and was seriously floundering, wondering what I was going to do next. Two great things happened during this time. I was given my dog Booker as a present from my parents, and I read one of my favorite books of all time Life of Pi. These two events would have significance for a number of reasons, and funnily enough both the book and the dog are located in reaching distance as I write this. For those of you who have had puppys you know what the first year can be like with chewing and other fun side-effects of unmitigated cuteness. Well, when Booker was small, nothing was off limits for chewing, and things with my smell on it were particularly popular targets. Shoes, telephones, remote controls, couches, chairs, and practically anything else I had touched were usually found mauled on the back-porch.

So I came home one day during the time when I was reading Life of Pi and found this:

I've kept this copy and view it fondly now, but at the time I was pretty pissed. Now I see it as a souvenir of a different time in my life, one that I've worked hard to steer away from. Both Booker and the book are representative of a time when I caught my breath, gained a loyal companion, and rediscovered the power of good fiction.


Jeremiah Paddock said...

Hurrah! Links to songs that work AND a cute dog story. Made me happy.

Charlotte said...

I've never heard the term "great room" and it does sound unbearably pretentious. Could great rooms be the American equivalent of "open-plan living" where the kitchen, dining- and living-room have all become one? Or is it another beast altogether?

Speaking of beasts, it sounds like Booker has been a very good friend to you despite chewing the cover off your favourite book.

imichie said...

Hey Jeremy, thanks for commenting. I figured out ripway again last night so more should be forthcoming.

I like that term better Charlotte. Open plan living makes more sense. And booker has redeemed himself a hundred times over for that chewing thing.

Froshty said...

When I was a guide at MESDA, the first room on the tour was a "Great Room" from a 17th century Virginia house. It was dark and kind of scary with a huge fireplace at one end. When I read that people have a great room, I immediately see this room. My favorite line is "What are you planning to do, host a renaissance fair?" Thank goodness for solitude in a hotel room. By the way, this post reminds me of an article I read a couple months back where a Money Magazine writer was complaining about "Stadium Kitchens"--another McMansion feature where you need to don running shoes to get from the stove to the refrigerator.

imichie said...

Froshty, I like the idea of a great room in a rambling old manor with wings and passages leading away from it. But a new three story concrete buttress filled in with drywall, two-by-fours, and PVC pipe doesn't conjure up the same image. I do however LOVE split-level ranchers from the fifties and sixties.