The place we call home is ‘ours’ for only a short time.

We live our life there.

We invest our money into it.

But, at some point we will move on and it will pass to someone else.

Once other people occupy that space, it is like we never existed. 

We share our homes with the ghosts of the people before us, and the people who come after us.

In a parallel universe, they live lives that are just as full – and just as mundane.

With an older house it is easy to imagine past inhabitants.

We see them wearing period clothes, huddled around a range, or open fire, or the radio. They live in ‘our home’ – but without electricity, bathroom, internet, TV or central heating.

Every day these former occupants would look out that same window onto that street. They climbed these stairs and entered these rooms.

In the bedroom their bed is likely to be placed in the same position.

Today, it is a different bed, new occupants, new décor and a very different way of living.

Houses only survive if they are lived in.

The loft may become a bedroom, kitchen extended and garden landscaped.

The home may be re-painted, re-clad, re-windowed and re-roofed. All this, to suit our own tastes and statutory energy requirements.

With each occupant the interior can look very different. A lick of paint, new wallpaper, new doors, the removal of fireplaces, new bannisters, new bathroom.

We may be drawn to live in a Victorian/Edwardian home for what we see as its style: high ceilings, doors, ceiling rose, fireplaces and location.

But, we want a Victorian/Edwardian home that is suited to a modern lifestyle. Not with smokey fires, gas light, an outside lavatory and scullery kitchen.

Interior design trends come and go.

We outgrow our own ‘tastes’.

Sometimes, we just want something different. 

We also want what other people have, and to move with the times.

Our home is a backdrop to all the events of our lives.

That is: significant events made memorable, mundane events forgotten in the routine.

Getting up every morning, showering, doing homework.

Washing windows, making bread, doing laundry, cooking, putting on makeup. Drinking tea, putting groceries away, watching TV.

When we occupy the same place for a long time we share it with the ghost of our younger self.

That is: before arthritic knees and the stairs became too much. When the children were young and the celebration of significant birthdays. Through good news, bad news; with loved ones who have passed, grown up or moved away. 

But we also remember those curtains, that carpet, that colour and pattern.

These elements can become triggers for an era from our own past and also for a collective, shared memory.

Because: that is what everybody did – and had – based on the choices that were available.

And so, what might seem like a simple design choice can becomes a style that defines an era.

Memory is a powerful thing.

In research that deeper memory of place and space is often used within dementia studies.

Objects we used in the past and a style of living can re-connect people to a time when they were younger. This triggers positive experiences from a time in their lives when they were fit and well. 

Once we move house we leave ‘something’ behind.

Letters that are addressed to us, or to ” The Occupant’, may continue to arrive long after we have left. It is evidence that this was once our home too. That we lived here.

We may hope that longstanding neighbours might still remember us. But, perhaps only as a sequence of people who also lived there.

‘Home’ is a dynamic, intimate and powerful experience.

Through dwelling we give life to a space and we establish a lasting connection and deep-rooted memories.

When we move on, this is what we take with us.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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