“It’s called an Airplane Bungalow,” explained my sister Mary Alice, as she led me up the dark wood stairs. She had been living in her new East Dallas home for at least a year but it was my first time visiting. On the second floor, there were two bedrooms surrounded by windows, calling to mind the cockpit of an airplane. As I set my bags on the floor of my niece’s teenage lair and took in the all-around views, I got the idea.
It was well past sunset when I arrived, the sky inky-purple, but the following day, the airplane design shined through, leaving the upper rooms drenched in sunlight, despite the black tapestry that my niece plastered over several of the windows (you know, teens).
That morning, cicadas singing in the heat, I drifted from room to room. In the living room, I let my eyes run over the titles on the bookshelf—books that I’d seen in their previous home, but here, in a new context, they were fresh clues to my sister’s personality: Susan Sontag’s journals; a poetry book called Hey, Marfa. Above the fireplace, I studied a fiery portrait of Abe Lincoln. (Later, my sister told me the artist was Ike E. Morgan, a native Texan with a penchant for painting former presidents.) I examined the framed photographs of our family like newly uncovered artifacts. In the kitchen, I noted the cookbooks tucked away in the glass-faced cabinets as well as one book displayed on its own shelf: hot pink Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton, which I gifted my sister for Christmas a decade earlier, with an inscription about one of our unforgettable late-night meals there, nibbling on bone marrow and buttered radishes until midnight. In the dining room, I noticed the record player an arm’s reach from the table, setting the tone for an intimate dinner party.
I recently wrote about how the pandemic caused a boost in home remodeling; how traffic to furnishing and interior design websites soared. In the throes of my own DIY projects, my Pinterest board swelled with ideas, and my online shopping carts filled to the digital brim. (The equivalent of window shopping, I pulled the trigger a tenth of the time, if that.) I couldn’t describe a single photograph pinned to my “Paris apartment reno” board, but today, months later, I can still feel the way in which my sister made her home feel cozy and inviting; how she made it hers.
As I explored my sister’s house, it dawned on me that I had forgotten the joy of discovering (or rediscovering) other people’s homes—all of the details that give them a specific sense of geography, history, and taste; that remind you who a person is and what they care about. Homes are like little windows into the soul. As guests, we have an open invitation to peer through and enjoy our hosts’ choices, and also, to cherry-pick for inspiration.
Since returning to my apartment in Paris, I’ve been thinking about my own stylistic choices and what they say about me to people who visit: how the perfectly sized, speckled cereal bowls stacked on the open kitchen shelves bespeak the fact that I am a diehard breakfast fan; how my predilection for tablecloths might hint that I love cooking dinner for people (but you’ll never find a formal setting on my table); how my cookbooks occupy prime real estate on our bookshelves; how the kitchen/living room gets the lion’s share of our attention because it is the space we always gravitate toward.
You'd note that several parts of that home are still in-progress—the plywood hallway still needs tiling, we’re missing a handful of light fixtures, and one bathroom is entirely unfinished—but we invite people over anyway because there is an unrivaled satisfaction in making others feel at home in your home; making them want to take off their shoes, curl up on the couch, and stay a while. I’d be thrilled if they felt inspired, but above all else, I hope that friends feel comfy at my place, the same way I feel at my sister’s.
As the pandemic lingers on, it seems that many of us are feeling safe enough, while taking the necessary precautions, to slowly start opening our doors and inviting friends over for dinner. It’s worthwhile to consider how we share ourselves with the world, IRL instead of Instagram; to ask: How does my home reflect what I care about? How does my home invite people to discover more about me?
What have you missed most about visiting people in their homes? Tell us in the comments.