A house becomes a salon

The home should be the treasure chest of living. 

— Le Corbusier

Freedom is from within. 

 Frank Lloyd Wright

I went to Montpellier last June to work with a yoga teacher who had the privilege of working with Desikachar for many years.  He has a depth of knowledge of yoga and Sanskrit, is hugely insightful and illuminating.  His unique way of working involves building a structure and a language that is individual to every student.  So the friend I went with seemed to spend much of her time with him in inverted postures such as headstand, whereas I sometimes only moved from my chair in the last 15 minutes of a session, and for the rest of the time had some fascinating discussions that led me to reflect for months to follow.
In the middle of our conversations he asked me about my home.  He said he had a vision of it – a spacious front room like ‘a saloon’! I did a doubletake, having an immediate mental picture of Mae West serving at a bar….  He then corrected himself, being a Dane who lives in France yet speaks impeccable English – and said he meant a ‘salon’.  Proust then floated to mind.  Ah, that was better.  He had an image of me hosting groups of intellectuals and artists engaged in stimulating exchanges.  Well, not quite…..but I did rather like the idea, as described in Wikipedia:

‘A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse est”). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th century and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently, in urban settings, among like-minded people.’

He talked about finding space for the expression and simply being of one’s spirit, and how through some simple posture work I might discover a different place within myself to respond to others from, more space for understanding.  I was invited to explore these postures, and to see how my relationship with myself and my home developed.  On reflection this was an invitation to make my home the treasure chest of living, perhaps through exploring how the body may be the treasure chest of the spirit.
I was intrigued by this link.  Not so long ago, we had moved to a much larger house than before.  More space, more freedom, yet the move had felt enforced, unlike any other house move I have ever made.  In our previous smaller intimate house which I loved, we found ourselves surrounded by an encroaching world, crowding in on our space – new neighbours on one side who razed their inherited overgrown garden to the ground, using a small bulldozer on a beautiful May evening, and then sat on their porch staring at us day after day, so we soon had to erect a fence to get some shade from their insensitive gaze.  Their situation unfolded, with occasional incidents of domestic abuse involving social services which were extraordinarily distressing.  And neighbours on the other side whose over-exuberant children invaded our garden – in the nicest possible way.  And then there was a plan to build a holiday park in the woods full of deer five minutes away.  Two cats run over and my husband nearly run over just down the road – maybe we were a little slow in picking up the signals but eventually we knew that the world was giving us a message and so we had to move.  This home was no longer the treasure chest of living.
We found our house at the same moment when the perfect house we already knew and loved came up for sale: a house where we had stayed several times more than 200 miles away in Somerset, sited in a warm, inviting garden with stunning views.  For me the choice on one level (the Feeling level) was obvious.  But Thinking and logic prevailed, and the choice wasn’t simply mine.  The logistics would have been exhausting and maybe impossible.  And then the dream house went up in smoke anyway, due to the owners changing their minds about selling (who wouldn’t?).  So we ended up where we are now.

I like our house.  I enjoy the way it relates to the space of the garden.  The house  asks me questions though – do we fill it? is there too much space?  is space a luxury? what is the space for?

Is your home a treasure chest of living?  How do you use your space?  I am interested in other people’s reflections on these questions.

The yoga teacher’s invitation to revisit the space of my home, and the space of me, felt timely and spoke to me.  At some level I have been doing that since I went to Montpellier, and my relationship to the space of my home has changed, and to myself, and to myself in my home.  And so I was struck when, in November, hosting a home concert for 45 people, I realised my house was now, for that evening anyway, a salon.

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11 Responses to A house becomes a salon

  1. souldipper says:

    A very timely post! Having reached the stage where I do not have to leave home to work, I am noticing many subtle changes in my attitude toward my home. This is validating. Many thanks.

    • Karin says:

      You make a very good point about how one’s attitude to home changes when one works there, and when one does not have to leave at a regimented time. This makes it a much easier exchange, in my experience. Another friend has commented in the past about how good it is to be able to just wander into the garden with a cup of tea when the sun comes out (for a brief fleeting five or ten minutes at this time of the year here!) and just be – before continuing with the rest of life’s demands.
      I’m glad the timing was right.

  2. Simon Jones says:

    Our home is the centre of our world. Having read Karin’s blog here in Singapore I am reminded that I am missing it very much, especially my wife’s presence and our three dogs. The centre of our home is definitely the lounge where we enjoy the company of family and friends, not quite the literary set but certainly the psychologically minded.

    In the Winter the centre of our living is the hearth and our wonderful fire place with warm glowing embers of wood from the local forest and coal from ancient times.

    Recently we extended our lounge in to a new glass roofed conservatory with special glass to deepen the colours of the Summer sky, a reminder for me of intensely blue Australian Summer hues. We now open the French doors and the lounge windows on opposite ends and experience cool breezes that bathe our living on the warmest of days.

    We now have a lounge extended for all Seasons.

    I have always called my home my Spiritual centre where I am who I am, with whom I am. It means rest, contentedness, peace and togetherness where we experience the triumphs and turmoils of each day.

    I like Frank Lloyd Wright’s quotation. Yes we are who we are at home, freedom to be, and sometime to do as we wish, with whom we wish.

    • Karin says:

      Your home sounds truly multicultural, Simon. That special glass that deepens the colours of the sky has really caught my imagination. As ever, your comment really captures the ambience of the place you are writing about, and makes me the reader feel I’m there. I am left wondering how you are going to integrate some sensory reminder of Singapore into your home?!
      Hope you have a good trip back soon.

  3. Karin says:

    An artist friend of mine has e-mailed me an interesting reflection in response to this post which I’d like to share. She says: ‘I disagree with the Wiki on its determination that salons were being held “until quite recently” – they are still going on. Louise Bourgeouis held one at her studio until she died, and I hear it was a pretty interesting and varied affair, within the framework of visual artists showing and talking about their work.’

    My friend goes on to make the fascinating suggestion that ‘the time is particularly ripe for a real resurgence [of salons] because with the net, people [artists]…who are shy of exposure are emboldened to be more open with their productions, through the mediation of the virtual as an “ante area” to real life exposure. I imagine that could expand into real life meetings, not only because of the greater habit of self revelation, but because of the greater opportunities of making connections with like-minded people.’

    In response to this, I have the idea of a virtual or on-line salon, and I would love for this blog to be that kind of a place where people join in as and when they feel like it, to exchange impressions, thoughts, ideas and questions, and enjoy each other’s virtual company from across the world. Meeting face-t0-face would be an added bonus.

  4. Chris says:

    Mmmm! Home! The place to be. The centre of my being. Always has been ever since I was a small child. Why would anyone ever want to go anywhere else?

    But wait – I now have two homes.

    My main home is an old farmhouse changed and updated by just about every inhabitant since 1640. A large sprawling house with a staircase so steep it resembles the ladder which I think must have been there originally. Climb up into the attic and you can see the remains of an older lower roof and oak beams that blunt modern saws and which resist any attempt to bang nails in to them. There is even a small remnant of lath and plaster wall concealed behind a more modern wall in one place. The older parts of the house are cool in summer and warm in winter. The more modern parts cost the earth to keep warm in winter despite good insulation. Those old builders knew a thing or two! Colour is everywhere – in carpets, curtains, cushions, bed linen. All set against white walls many with old wooden beams in them. The house is full of the stuff people accumulate by the time they reach retirement age. Items of furniture proudly bought forty and more years ago by dint of saving hard for months choc-a-bloc with more modern items which are better quality but no more loved because of that. Books, books and more books crammed on to shelves and surfaces in every room. Pictures everywhere reflecting the very different tastes of the three people who live here. All in all a fine example of the belief that if you have space you fill it. This house has a large garden and an attached field with a huge drainage ditch running between them taking water from fields to a nearby estuary and preventing flooding in the low lying area behind the salt marshes.

    By contrast my other house is a small modern two-bedroom bungalow a couple of hours drive up the coast. A holiday home close to the dunes and the sea. And this house is sparsely furnished and muted. Pale cream walls, aqua carpet throughout, the palest of apricot floor tiles in the kitchen. Beds, dining table and chairs, sofa and two armchairs, television, a table for my sewing machine, a desk for computers and that’s about all. A careful selection of pictures and ornaments but lots of bare wall space. As yet still no curtains or window blinds. When we moved in maybe four years ago I hung some plain sheets at the windows as a temporary measure and have grown to like their simplicity. We aren’t overlooked so shall I ever replace them? Possibly not. This house has a tiny enclosed garden, a small patch of grass for the dogs to take the air. But who needs a large garden when the dunes and the coast are two minutes slow walk away?

    I think my two homes reflect the two sides of my nature – the one old, mellow, embracing, womb-like and the other cool, modern, light and uncluttered. In the one I am the most recent few minutes of its long history. In the other I am the first soul of whatever its future may be. And the things I do in them are different. At my main home I’m heavily involved in community affairs and spend a lot of time on the computer in that connection. I’m always busy there with domestic matters – shopping cooking, laundry, housework. In the bungalow I’m more relaxed. Time here feels like stolen time. I get on with my quilting or read or laze. Housekeeping is minimal. Meals are basic. It’s truly a hidey-hole.

    And are either of them salons? Absolutely not. I leave that to others. I am not an unfriendly person but very few people visit either of my homes. The older I get the more I resemble a tortoise or a snail. My homes are so integral to me that there’s not really room for visitors. It hasn’t yet reached the stage of actively repelling boarders but I fear that may not be far away. Excuse me while I go to make a start on the moat and drawbridge.

  5. Karin says:

    This is a fascinating piece, Chris, and many thanks for writing it. Your two houses so clearly embody different aspects of you, and there seems to be a liberation in that process of moving between two different spaces. Time is experienced so differently in these two places partly because of their positions in time and their own relationships with it – but not just that I sense. It seems like your other home/other self is a kind of place out of time; you say ‘time here feels like stolen time’. It truly feels like a holiday home and as if you are allowing yourself to Be differently, something that your primary home somehow precludes. It feels like going to The Other Home allows this self to emerge. I can understand that from my own experience of holidays, though personally I’ve always struggled with what feels to me the contradiction in the phrase and experience of ‘holiday home’. A home carries with it deep associations and reponsibilities which, for me, a holiday offers a respite from. Is that the full explanation for the other Self is or is there something more?

    On the subject of home as salon – for me it has to be a very occasional experience. I wouldn’t wish to have a Henry James or Edith Wharton type drawing room with people calling in regularly or even like clockwork. But the occasional event lifts me out of myself and gives an injection of energy well worth the invasion!

  6. Chris says:

    Hi Karin,

    I used to feel like you about the concept of a ‘holiday home’ – that it was a contradiction in terms. But I grew to hate the organisation of a holiday, the planning, packing, the making arrangements for normal life to continue while you were away, the necessity to be in a particular place at a particular time to board train or plane or take possession of a house or a hotel room and then the reverse process of packing and getting home, restoring the house to rights after an absence, the laundry and so on. It all seemed to drain away the benefit and enjoyment of the holiday. With a second home within comfortable driving distance you don’t get any of that – you have the essentials at each property. The knack I think is to make sure that you don’t replicate at the second home the life you lead in the first otherwise it’s just double trouble. And in my case, with no work to go to, I’m not even bound by time restraints a lot of the time. This weekend is a fine example. I intended going home today but a late start and a beautiful day persuaded me that tomorrow will do. No extra booking to be arranged, no travel plans to change.

    One interesting thing to me has been what things I have doubled up on (one at each house) and what unfailingly travels with me. It would seem that my essential soul is comprised in a laptop, my sewing bag, a briefcase and whatever book I am currently reading. Add necessary regular medication, a best friend and three dogs and I’m ready to roll.

    I would regret the organisation and lost time necessary to maintain a salon of my own or to attend one elsewhere. I have a powerful sense that the time left to me is all I’ve got, whether it turns out to be one day or thirty years. I increasingly guard that time jealously and begrudge giving any minute of it over to something that may not pay dividends to my own sense of inner content. The internet and the old fashioned letter (how I love receiving one of those) serve me well. And your blog is a super salon of cyberspace. Keep up the good work.


    • Hi Chris,
      thanks belatedly for your fulsome comment. And reciprocal thanks for your much appreciated engagement on this blog, which brings a lot of life to it. I was a little distracted last week in the time before my travels to my ‘first’ home – which in contrast to your comments holds little of my soul or self in it, but a lot of history and memories. I think you will appreciate the quotation in Amanda’s comment below.

  7. I have a house that’s big for one person to live in. When I was looking for a house in Harrogate I wanted there to be space to teach yoga in and for an art studio. I didn’t think I’d need a lot else. But my nearly grown up kids kept saying ‘What about us?’ in urgent tones. So I bought a house with a bedroom for everyone + yoga studio + art studio.

    My kids have gone now but having a big space has brought a lot of people into my life. There is a constant steam of people coming into my little yoga studio where I endeavour to help them grow towards having happier lives – to breathe with more ease, iron out tense parts of their bodies, feel more comfortable in their own skin. I’ve also had a lot of lodgers who have all brightened my life in one way or another.

    I’ve slowly over eleven years been renovating and decorating my house. It was built in 1860 so I’ve taken care to restore in the best way possible – the way I feel it deserves. I say ‘My’ house but in a sense I feel just the temporary caretaker which is all I am.

    I like Thomas Moore’s views on ‘Home’ in his book ‘Care of the Soul. He says ‘Care for our …houses …however humble is also care of the soul. No matter how little money we have, we can be mindful of the importance of beauty in our homes’

    • Hi Amanda
      Thanks for this comment and the Moore quotation too. The way you use space in your house sounds very alive. We also have a larger space than we need, which is what allowed us to have the home concert and also for me to teach yoga there, though the low-ish ceiling requires a little ingenuity!
      I am currently staying in my father’s very small apartment in Los Angeles (pretty average by US standards), and have been mulling over size and compactness. There is an easiness (not the same as ease) in compactness but also a sense of compression. It makes you focus on the necessities of everyday living. That suits me while I am here briefly, but I have been wondering what difference it makes as a lifetime choice. Thought for the day!
      Warm wishes

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