I don’t know how other people spend their pandemic days, but I watch a whole lot of television. The shows a person watches reveal a lot about that person. As a homebody, I prefer to watch shows about houses. Renovation shows. Tiny houses. Stay-or-sell shows, you know the ones. But lately, I have fallen down the rabbit hole of watching a certain category of home shows–the ones about the homes of the fabulously rich.
I found these shows using the word “architecture” in the search bar. The number of tv series about architecture, I discovered, is staggering. Homes built in the rainforest. Homes built in large cities taking up entire blocks. Homes underground. Homes jutting out over canyons.
Here is the thing: the majority of these homes, and they are inhabited, mind you–these homes are virtually empty. As you can see in the stock photo above, which is a home that actually contains some furniture, space is the goal. If you are rich enough to build a home costing more than the gross national product of a small country, you apparently need space to breathe.
Our apartment is 1700 square feet. We have no trouble breathing in here. And when we want to sit down, there are chairs. In one of the houses I have seen in these shows, if you want to sit down, there is an area inside the house that is entirely grass. Just grass. You can sit down in the grass or even lie down in the grass. This grass is evidently extremely comfortable. And if it rains, go into another room and watch the rain hitting the grass. Of course, watch it while standing up.
Modern mansions these days are built so that it doesn’t look as if anybody might actually live in them. For instance, in one of these homes, every single appliance is hidden. If you want to make a cup of coffee or a sandwich, or even get a drink of water, you have to move walls and pull the kitchen out of a hidden niche. My God, that is a lot of work for a glass of water.
Another home has a bed that has no sheets or blankets. It’s just a huge rectangle. I guess those people have servants who come in every day after dinner, open up some hidden doorway into a linen cache, and then these servants make up the bed. And I guess they have to come in the next day and hide all of that. Over and over. My God.
Another home, inhabited by just one woman and her two tiny dogs–the house that takes up an entire city block–has an entry staircase that would take about five minutes to climb. Every damn day. The ceilings are curved and vaulted, and the light hits things at different angles during the day, so that the entry looks very much like, I guess I would call it a combo of opera house and airport. Not a stitch of art on the walls, no carpet, or anything, because it’s all about the light.
In this house, once you climb the stairs and catch your breath, you enter the dining room with a table that seats 60. This is not an exaggeration. The room contains just this table with the 60 chairs. There are windows. But that is all. Let me say again: this woman lives here alone.
On this house tour, she took the host into her kitchen, which was just a mile of empty countertops. One huge sink the size of a bathtub, with a container of humble hand-pump liquid soap, which looked so inconsequential sitting all alone in that huge space. I wondered why she left that out. There was also a stove. Not a dish, not a flower, not a towel, nothing but the tiny little bottle of hand soap. Again, she stressed the beauty of the countertops, which were made of some sort of extremely precious stone–probably from a mine somewhere in a country where all the miners are under the age of six.
What do these people do when it is cold? Where are the blankets and the candles? What do they do to get cozy? Are all the chairs stored in a room out of view? Do they have to haul them out when they are sure nobody is coming over to see that they actually have some furniture?
I cannot fathom why emptiness has such cachet. I do get that during the pandemic we are all a bit claustrophobic from having to stay home. But if home consists of miles and miles of marble floors and rooms with just grass, claustrophobia is not an issue. Comfort is.
I may be way too plebeian. I admit it. But here’s the thing: these people who build the huge, empty homes filled with nothing but air–who are they fooling? Themselves. Because I cannot imagine that all of that emptiness is actually fulfilling. Life as art. Phooey. Go to a museum for that. Then come home, put on sweats, and plop down on the sofa and put your feet up on the coffee table.
I am willing to bet that the people who live in these open air houses? They have bean bag chairs under lock and key.