Existential Living Rooms

The person who is truly free is “engaged in doing something purposeful, in the full confidence that it means something.” So believed Jean Paul Sartre, says Sarah Bakewell in her excellent new book At The Existentialist Cafe.

Perhaps Sartre would have approved of the women I recently met who applied themselves with purpose to the project of re-styling their homes. The home was their thing, their ongoing passion and a canvas for their imagination. Shopping for accessories was a regular weekend activity and flicking through Pinterest in the evening was “better than TV”.

This is a new thing. The homes they had grown up in only changed every few years while their grandparents homes looked like they were last decorated in the 1960’s. However, their own homes are in a perpetual state of flux as they are constantly modified, refreshed and accessorised. It seems to be a fact of modern life that the home is never finished.

A generation that once left an important part of their brains somewhere in a field in Hampshire are now grown-ups and their creative energy which was once spent on fashion and music and pulling is increasingly channeled into searches for throws, lighting and the perfect shade of paint. (One woman said, without a hint of irony, that she had tried 12 test pots of grey paint before finding the right one. And isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey as much about interior design as sex anyway? His office…his place…his dungeon. There’s even a parody book called 50 sheds of grey.)

Unlike their parents and grandparents, this generation are well-served with off and online retailers offering homewares at a price low-enough to assuage any guilt about profligacy and allowing them to get as engaged as they like.

If your home is your project then you will be spending many hours online searching makers marketplaces and pinning things you love to themed boards. Your weekends will involve driving to some out-of-town big box retailer with your Bestie in tow or queuing outside the post office parcel delivery office for your latest eBay find. This is not just shopping as leisure or a way to kill time, although its probably those things too, its a fully engaging creative obsession. But does it mean anything?

There should be no value judgement here. Sartre’s idea of a project that gave life purpose may have been writing a play or a philosophical tome but why shouldn’t writing your home be equally valid? Its the same thing in the sense that its a project that makes life feel meaningful. In that way, each writer is free.

Its not the shopping that make us free though, its the pursuit of the project that liberates us. Our consumer behaviour is always a reflection of some other purposeful activity, like re-imagining a room or perfecting a vinyl collection or educating your palate in the nuances of craft beer. The consumer is just a shadow of a more authentic individual on a mission.

Does it matter that the homes all looked vaguely the same and the contents were bought in shops rather than made from scratch? Uniqueness and individuality were maybe not not the point. Home projects have meaning in that they express something personal about the owner. That something changes with mood and fashion and it is something that needs no justification. It is an expression that cannot be wrong unless you deem it so. It is your idea and you can hold it up defiantly against the world of taste, saying I like this.

“I want people to like my house but if they don’t then so what? This my place and this is how I want it.”