What Makes a House a Home?

“For our house is our corner of the world… It is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.”

Gaston Bachelard, philosopher

Now, here at Story of Home, we like our philosophy, and that Gaston Bachelard knew his stuff, but at first glance his words seem to offer little guidance in deciding if the piece of real estate your agent is showing you around should be your next home. There are two very different forces at work in making that decision.

One force is massive: the potential of what this place will mean to your life. This could be practical (a school catchment area), physical (the layout of the bedrooms), emotional (distance from a previous chapter in life), spiritual (I want to wake up and see trees) or philosophical (this place could change my life).

The other force is about the minutiae and specifics: we love the windows, the design of the kitchen, painted floorboards, the fact that the stairwell will take the family photos. A series of small details makes us feel good about this place in a big way.

But there must be something more fundamental to understanding what make a house a home.

The Dream

We often experience a very particular dream when we are buying a new house, in which we discover bigger or extra rooms in the property we are moving to. Psychologists explain this as being about change in one’s life, or recognising emerging aspects of one’s own personality. For many of us, the dream is about potential. Buying a new house means envisaging a new chapter, a life full of fresh plans and possibilities.

And although every room, wall, nook and cranny of a new place has potential, the extra room dream and the nervous excitement we feel when on the brink of a move is really not about the curtains or floorplans, but about something more fundamental – how do I want my life to be in this new place?

Trust Your Instincts

Interior design is important and exciting, but it is the second layer of homemaking. And while we do sometimes have to compromise on or wait to afford this second layer of choices, we don’t have to compromise on the first layer – which is asking ourselves, how do we want to feel in our next home? Answering that question increases the number of potential dream homes out there. Okay, this property does not have the layout we envisaged and said was vital, but having seen it we realise it is perfect for the sort of life we want to live.

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

Over Exposure

Working from home or having pre-school children changes the nature of your home. No longer a place to retreat to in the evenings and at weekends, there is a risk of over-familiarity taking some of the magic away.

For those of us who will be at home most days, it’s vital to protect what Maya Angelou calls “the safe place” by envisaging that life when choosing a new home and separating the daytime work/family space from the home space. This might be done by using different areas of the home or by transforming the feel of a space with lighting and a tidy up, possibly fold-up work or children’s furniture. Or it could be a decision to draw a line between the working day and the rest of the day, and to see and enjoy our home differently either side of that line.

Home is a sanctuary from life to greater or lesser degrees, and if we are working from home we have to protect that status. 


It is said that the home is part of our self-definition; it reflects our personality. We agree but believe the route to that truth is a simple one: if this property feels like the right place at this period in your life, and if it is beautiful to you, then it will be a home. So, go with your gut.

Some properties are intrinsically appealing to our visual and spatial taste. If this weren’t the case, every house and apartment would be built to the same design, albeit on varying scales. In future Tales of the City blogs, we will be talking with some of the finest practitioners from the worlds of interior design, lighting, furniture making and architecture, but for now our focus is on the instinctive decisions we make about our own continuing life stories, that enable us to make a house a home.

The Story of Your Home

Think of the story of your current home, if you were asked to tell it, and then extend your own story into the near future to include the house or apartment you are looking for. Tell the story of the life you want to live and how you want your home to be a part of it. This story is the first layer of your property spec. The second layer is the detail and the wish list.

Our client, Victoria, had been looking with her partner at beautiful tall townhouses. But after several viewings of properties that seemed to fit the brief, she realised that one ‘must’ for her was to have three bedrooms on the same floor, so that she and her partner and their two children were together. This meant an end to the slim townhouses, and looking instead at Edwardian properties in a different part of town. Five years on, it is the best decision they ever made, as their children grow up with the open, sociable feel of a first floor with all the bedrooms and the family bathroom on one landing.

“It has meant the children sleeping incredibly well and feeling secure,” Victoria says, “and it has led to funny rituals that we could never have imagined, like all four of us lying on the landing carpet outside their bedrooms at bedtime in a big cuddly heap while the bath runs, and having lovely, funny chats.

While we would never have brought a house we didn’t like, or somewhere we didn’t want just to have the bedrooms all together, recognising that we wanted that as a part of our family life is one of the key elements that made this house a home we love, and which has had a real, positive, sometimes magical effect on our lives.”

Whether you are an individual or a large family or anything in between, designing your property search around your daily life and what makes you feel good and secure, and the things you love to do, is what leads to you finding a home rather than a piece of real estate. So maybe Gaston Bachelard was on to something when he described our house as a cosmos, a universe. Those are big places, they are limitless. They have boundless potential. Potential is what our dreams of extra rooms are about. Potential is what a new home allows us to fulfil.

“If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Gaston Bachelard, philosopher

Through the art of storytelling, years of experience, and sheer determination, we help London homeowners start new chapters.

If you are thinking about moving, we would be delighted to hear from you on 0207 867 3999 or hello@storyofhome.co.uk