What do I want a home for?

Which house to buy? Which life to live? Will we walk to work crossing over Forest Hill Parkway, walk to Blueberry Hill, Ranoush, around downtown University City? Or will we walk to Clayton, or DeMun? We will certainly bike around Forest Hill Park. For Houston, we’ll have to fly.

When you choose, you rule out other choices. This holds for how we use every minute of our day, what job, what hobby, what path. Some choices we love, others we regret. Some we can change; others cannot be changed. My father once said not to worry too much about choices, because whatever you choose, you’ll easily regret. This is because the disadvantages of the path taken become clear, while the disadvantages of the path not taken remain forever hidden.

But today I’m thinking about where to live only. In Houston we made two excellent choices, first Knollwood Village south of S. Braeswood, east of Buffalo Speedway, and then inside-the-loop Bellaire. Both had great neighbors, great schools, great trees and parks. And neither home has flooded in the 30+ years we were there. We built our larger second home, and incorporated a lot of features we liked about the Knollwood home, including a continuous living and dining room, a welcoming kitchen, a family room off the kitchen.

A home has two main features, and I think it is important to think about each, and to think about them separately, for they are different. The most important is what we do in the home. No house will work as a home if you can’t do what you like to do in it. We like to cook many pizzas for our friends, family, colleagues, and students. For this we need a good kitchen with flow-through, a good oven, and surfaces for the pizzas. We have always had a vegetable garden, and need a sunny spot for one, though trees are also nice. We have a wild corner to our yard with untamed native shrubbery. We want our house to feel like home for our children, even though they are mostly grown, and for their families. A big dining room table would be good. We need a nice corner to read, and a friendly-feeling study to write. We need space to sleep, bathe, and dress, and to allow others to do likewise privately.

The second feature of a home is storage, and I have to admit this one feels very silly. We lived three months in Denmark and did not store things we did not use. I suppose we could break down storage into another two categories, since I’m on twos right now. One kind of storage is also action-based, and is equipment for activities like camping or kayaking. We don’t do these things every day, but when we do, we need stuff to do them. I suppose we could rent these things, but sometimes it is easier to just have them, and run out at the drop of a hat. Also, having them and looking at them helps us imagine these pleasurable activities.

The second kind of storage is stuff you don’t use, but like to have. Some things we like to look at it, sentimental photographs, reminders of trips, past times, books already read someone else might want to read. These things help people judge you when they come into the house, and remind you of who you are. I am the person who read Proust in French, all the volumes, and here they are to let others know (not at all true about me, but an example). Then there are the clothes that no longer fit, the baby toys that future grandchildren might want, the yellowed books inherited, even the bronze busts of great grandparents (true!). I want to winnow this category down so it isn’t an albatross, but keep enough to be happy.

The last thing we have in our homes is art. This is important. It is on the walls, on the floor, and on the shelves. It is like poetry and humor, and makes for a life lived joyously.

We want a green home as much as possible. I don’t know if we can put in a whole-house fan like we have in Houston. I like the idea of migrating to the cool basement for the summer. We’ll just have to see.


St. Louis has these big, boxy houses on small lots.


They often have very cute insides.


The bathrooms are often quite basic, but that is ok with me.


Closets are a huge problem. In this home the sole occupant used all the closets in every room for her clothes!


I’m excited about having a basement, but it has to be radon free.


Old, leaky windows waste energy.


This one is huge, but stunning looking, also not for sale.


The best space of all – top floor Wilson, with turret offices for grad students!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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