|I live in a house. It
shelters me from the vagaries of life, but it is only
a make-do contingency for two nomads. Ms Keogh and I
have no sense of home, a place where we feel we
belong. This house plopped in the middle of suburbia
is not an expression of our tastes; this is not a
community that shares our politics nor our values.
Although we have lived here close to twenty years, it
was always temporary.
What is wanted is a home. First, we want to live
within or near a community that shares our aesthetic
principles, that offers a richness of stimulating
ideas through social interaction and finer
entertainments. We want contact with art and
education that doesn't have to be reached by long car
drives. Furthermore, we want an environment that
serves as a backdrop to frequent walks, a place that
will always engage our attention and appease our
spirits. Second, the house itself must be a microcosm
in which to comfortably live our lives and flourish.
From the time I was ten I have exercised my
imagination on constructing a dream house. It was my
way of escaping moments of drudgery. I found comfort
in the distraction of designing the proper frame in
which to set my life apart from a banal existence. My
dream house was always evolving. It grew smaller over
time, more realistic, not requiring robots or
servants to maintain. When I met Ms Keogh, my dream
house was a one room cottage with sleeping loft that
I could keep clean myself.
What would my life and happiness be without Ms Keogh?
It became absolutely necessary to engage her in my
exercise, since I could no longer imagine a dream
house she wouldn't share. The house grew
exponentially, evolving faster. It developed a
breakfast room, a greenhouse, a studio, a bath house,
and my study became an outbuilding, but it didn't
stay that way. The dream house settled into its
present state, reflecting the vicissitudes of life,
the expansion of our experience, and the pragmatism
that comes with maturity.
In its present state, this vividly imagined home
would occupy a lot in Princeton, New Jersey. Tomorrow
it might be in Portugal or England. Earlier this week
we considered placing it on the rooftop of another
building in Philadelphia - but for now, Princeton.
The large lot would have plenty of towering trees and
the house would be situated as far from the street as
possible. As you would approach our home, in its
present manifestation, the outside would appear an
unassailable stone bunker. This is because Ms Keogh
does not want any windows in the outer walls. She
would have it so for maximum isolation from a world
too often rude or harsh. This is something we
continue to negotiate, as are the placement of the
bathrooms. I would have had a few windows, perhaps
high up in the walls, with my concern being such
exigencies as escaping a fire. She suggests we should
have secret escape routes leading out of the
Our one-story home would be built of four long wings
arranged at right angles. In the middle would be a
perfectly square space open to the air - more about
this, later. Each wing would be a slightly different
width, length and height, with one end of each wing
extending out, so that from above the layout would
appear like a square with overhanging corners.
The house is entered through a vestibule built onto
the north wing. A pair of oak doors open and the
visitor enters an antechamber which has a bench to
one side, a large closet to the other. This room is
provided for folks to divest themselves of their
outer garments. Then through another pair of doors
that open into the middle of a long living room
running east to west.
There are cathedral ceilings in every wing of this
house. The ceilings would slope up from the outer
wall, but the degree of slope would vary for each
wing. Above the opposite walls that face the inner
courtyard, a row of skylights, starting at the top of
the wall, would hold the apex of the roof aloft.
These windows would face south in the living room.
A quick stroll, counterclockwise would take us
through every room of the house. The next wing,
running north to south, is primarily the kitchen.
Entered from the living room, we first come into a
dining area. Further along is the fully endowed
kitchen, which would include a washer and drier for
clothing. The space would be open, no wall to
separate the kitchen from the dining area, except
that the kitchen would have a tile floor. We would
have lots of counter space in the kitchen, and a
place where we can sit on stools and eat a quick
meal. Very important, there must also be a couch,
because I have noticed how often people gather in the
kitchen to talk when someone is cooking, and I see no
reason to suffer the cook to labor in isolation. In
this wing the skylights would face east.
From the kitchen we could pass through a door that
brings us into the third wing. This will be Ms
Keogh's studio running east to west and the skylights
here would face the north.
Passing through another doorway we would enter the
fourth and last wing. An archway would divide this
room in half, with a pair of sliding doors built into
the archway, available to separate the two rooms. The
first of these two rooms is our bedroom. Step through
the arch and we enter into my study-library. At the
far end of my study-library is another door which
returns us to the living room, where the tour began.
With every room of the house, if you draw back the
draperies along the inner walls, it would reveal
French windows. They provide a view and passage into
the heart of our dream house. Essentially, the entire
house is designed around this single architectural
element, my desire for a personal ambulatory, an
arcaded walkway surrounding an open courtyard where I
can happily consume hours reading books while walking
in circles around this open-aired courtyard.
The idea came from a permanent exhibit at the
Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum has a room in
which I like to sit and relax, write letters to
friends, while listening to the water dribbling from
a twelfth-century Romanesque fountain. Surrounding
this courtyard is my ambulatory, overhanging eaves
topped with clay tiles that are held up by a row of
arches bouncing along the tops of marble columns. I
have practiced pacing on the slate flooring beneath
those eaves, eighteen comfortable steps from corner
to corner. This small arcature once belonged to the
Abbey of Saint Génis des Fontaines in the Roussillon
region of France. The Benedictine abbey was founded
at the end of the 8th century by Sentimir, but my
ambulatory only dates back to the thirteenth-century.
In the 1920s, a certain Monsieur Gouvert, an antiques
dealer in Paris, bought the cloister and dismantled
it, and this part of it ended up in the Philadelphia
Museum of Art.
Ms Keogh doesn't enjoy the exercise as much as I do.
She only wants to consider what is possible. For me
it remains just a dream house; I tolerate fewer
restrictions on my dreams. Too many conditions must
be met before such a home can be real. We would have
to obtain wealth, but it is obvious to us that we're
not headed in that direction. And as the world grows
more saturated with people, as suburban sprawl
ingests more property, the dream only grows further
remote. Maybe we will get through life no worse than
we are now. But often I think if we don't die soon,
we will die poor, living our lives out in crowded
institutions under the care of a bankrupt State. Even
then, and with better reason, I will be distracting
myself with planning my dream house.