East, West, Hame’s Best
Friday evening, two friends stopped for a couple hours on their way from the Twin Cities to Bismarck. I grilled some brats and we washed them down with New Belgium beer and hard cider on the front porch we call “the Green Room.” Later, in the living room, we tasted several of the regional craft bourbons. The house is a mess—I’m working on that—but at one point I looked diagonally across the living room, through the dining room, toward the built-in buffet with its faceted mirrors, leaded glass doors and faux-antique light fixture. “I’ll miss this house, if we ever have to move.”
Our house is nothing special. One hundred and thirty-four years old; moved to its current site in 1903 and renovated; chopped into three apartments on its way to becoming a single-family home in the early 90s, we probably don’t meet your notion of style; certainly not of tidiness. Our friend Reed calls our decorating style “Early Neglectic.” And it was that cluttered bourbon-induced diagonal perspective that produced my twinge of nostalgia. This may be the closest I’ll ever get to gemutlichkeit.
It will come as no surprise that Howards End is a favorite novel and film, not only for the house that Merchant-Ivory found to embody E. M. Forster’s text, but also because Forster’s 1910 work deals with themes reflected in the cultural shifts of our own time. For Edwardian Britain, they included universal suffrage and class restructuring; for 21st-century America, it may be the impending collapse of those Progressive achievements and the arrival of same-sex marriage. Is it a curse to live in interesting times? I think not.
The Arts & Crafts movement, whether the vision of William Morris or of Frank Lloyd Wright, offers a measure of comfort to those caught in the cultural crossfire of either age: 1910 or 2015. Its muted tones and tactile nubby textures; its evocation of family; its authenticity (real or fictive) of craft and construction orchestrates an overall sense of comfort, echoed in the many mottos from that earlier time:
- Als Ik Kan—a Flemish phrase best translated as “as best I can” or “to the best of my ability.”
- East, West, Hame’s Best—a Lowland Scots phrase reassuring us that no matter how far we may roam or how exotic our travel itinerary, the return home—hame—is our ultimate reward.
- “Good friend, around these hearth stones speak no evil word of any creature”—carved in wood above the fireplace in Wright’s first home for himself and his new family; the house he built for Catherine and their six children.
“Home” I suspect may be among the most abused of English words and it is in the breadth of those meanings that I intend the next Agincourt exhibit: Agincourt Homecoming.