Every month a group of international architects and designers converge on the internet to write about a single topic and publish from their own individual point of view. This is Architalks.

Today we’re asking is it a house or a home? Some people say “home is where the cat is” (I saw that on a pillow on Pinterest so it has to be true, right?). But seriously what is the difference? If there is a difference is it something tangible that we can grab a hold of to know which one we’re talking about? First I suppose we should go to the ultimate source, Webster, for a definition of each term. Housewhen used as a noun, is defined as “a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people.” Home, again when used as a noun, is defined similarly as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” Now, you might be thinking that these two terms may be interchangeable. But lets take a closer look at the specifics of each definition. A house and a home, though defined similarly, are clearly defined separately, and for good reason. A house is described as an object, “a building” required simply for the purpose of habitation or shelter or protection. It is a functional thing only. Conversely a home is defined as a place of family gathering, a permanent dwelling place. Essentially a house is made a home because of the association of the people that inhabit it and the needs that may arise by those inhabitants that define it’s structure and arrangement.

Now that we’ve outlined the distinction between a house and a home, what are the more tangible elements of each that might help us more easily identify each? Is there such a list that can be made to adequately catalog and categorize each? Or is a house simply a house until a family moves into it and makes it a home? To the extent that the human species is a wonderfully adaptable creature capable of making use of just about any semi-enclosed space for the purpose of shelter and gathering, a house will always remain a purely functional entity. But a home is something more, something perhaps less tangible but no less critical to the ultimate enjoyment and value of the family the inhabits it.



As an example let’s look at two housing types – a suburban builder house and custom architect designed house. The suburban builder house is generally built in high volume, with limited variation in plan and elevation, with low to mid-grade materials and sold at a premium to often first time home buyers. They are simultaneously designed, if we can call it that, for everyone and no one, usually resulting in a collision of sterile interior programmatic elements such as kitchen, living room, family room, den, bedroom, master suite, porch, etc. These spaces are arranged in a less than economical way creating a maze of interstitial spaces without any purpose other than to get you from one space to another. There is a purely functional character to the whole structure and then they are decorated with various materials that are supposed to elicit a sense of permanence or quality or even “design”. More often than not the execution fails miserably because the materials are not used in a logical or even structural way which causes a sense of unease to the eye as if something is not quite right. And if you have a frank and honest conversation with the inhabitants of these houses you will find at least 100% of the time there will be a list of things they do not like about the function and flow. There are things they’d like to do different, projects they plan in order to make the house more like a home, but ultimately you discover that these homeowners have struggled to fit themselves into the house.

On the other hand, a custom architect designed house does not begin with a sterile list of functional requirements to be assembled and packaged up for sale like a new car. Instead it begins with a conversation about the family, the household, and how they gather and assemble together. It’s from this conversation and others that an architect will craft a home to suit the needs and desires of the family rather than relying on their ability to adapt to a generic space. The form and materials of the home will also be a reflection of what makes the family unique but arranged and employed in logical and appropriate ways that also harken to the essential nature of those materials and forms. The result is a home that fits the inhabitants rather than inhabitants that are forced to fit themselves to a house.

This is obviously an extreme position. I fully understand that there are many talented contractors that have a talent for design and work very hard to serve their clients just as there are some very untalented architects who generally “design” to the most basic functional requirements with little imagination and even less concern for their clients. However, the point that I attempt to make here is that there is far more that goes into making a house a home than a list of functional requirements and material specifications. Whether you plan to build a new home, buy a new home, or purchase and renovate an existing home, an architect can help you navigate through the entire process so that your needs are met rather than the needs of some fictitious, generic “homeowner” that was conjured up to build that new suburban McMansion on the hill.

For more words of wisdom, check out these other arch-bloggers.

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
The Designation between House and Home

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
House or Home? It’s in the story.

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
House or Home? A Choice of Terms

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
House or Home — Discover the Difference

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
House or Home

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Designing a House into a Home

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Making a House a Home

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
I don’t design homes

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
House or Home: One’s a Place, the Other a Feeling.

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
#ArchiTalks #24 House or Home? #RefugeeCrisis @GrainneHassett mentioned

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
House or Home? – Depends

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“house” or “home”?

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
House or Home? Train for One, Design for Another

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #24 : House or Home

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
A Rose by Any Other Name…


Lisa Saldivar