One spring more than 200 years ago, Xavier de Maistre, a well-to-do, well-read French army officer and balloon enthusiast, was sentenced to house arrest for a dueling incident. He spent 42 days in his bedroom, in a modest apartment on the top floor of a building in Turin, and wrote a whimsical travelogue of his time there called “A Journey Around My Room.”
Wearing his “traveling clothes” — a bathrobe and pajamas — he visited his comfy sofa, his desk, his cheerful pink-and-white bed (colors he recommended to his readers because they compelled him to wake up happy) and his memories, seeing all of these elements with fresh eyes. (He wrote a sequel, “Nocturnal Expedition Around My Room,” in which he journeyed by looking out his window at the night sky.) Like the Pevensie children, who stumbled into Narnia through an old wardrobe in a spare room, M. de Maistre found an entire world in a confined interior space, and pioneered, as Alain de Botton wrote in the forward to a reissue of both stories, a novel mode of experience: room travel.
During this long year of house arrest, our relationships to our homes, like M. de Maistre’s to his bedroom, have been altered in profound and ridiculous ways. Our homes have been a refuge and a prison, often filled with too many people (and their newly adopted shelter dogs) doing things the spaces were never meant for, like school, work and physical activity. (The 19th-century rural model — the home as the site of leisure and production — has been reprised, although the activity may be happening in a cramped apartment instead of an airy farmhouse.)
Partners and children have stayed put, which has been both a boon and a corrosive to family life, depending on the family — or the day. Or maybe the home has been empty save for one human, and the place that was intended to be a launching pad or a respite from the energy of public life may have felt like solitary confinement. And that’s if you’re lucky.
despite moratoriums in many states, the idea of home is evanescent, a relationship not just fraught, but unattainable, as even basic shelter becomes a luxury — and more completely out of reach.
After so many months confined to our homes, we asked those who think about place — architects, urban policy experts, novelists — how our relationships with our homes have changed, and what home means to them. (Their responses have been edited for clarity and condensed.)
rescheduled for May, with a title — “How Will We Live Together?” — made more poignant and urgent by the delay.
Our homes now operate 24/7. Before, they used to take a break from us during working hours. We are paying more attention to them, but we are also wearing them out. They are tired of us. We need to be gentler with them.