Strange things in new houses
The “great Australian dream” is to own a house, or so they say. To fulfil that dream, vast estates of new houses are constantly being constructed on the suburban fringes of our large cities.
Yet for those of us who consider ourselves to be practically minded, the new home in the outer suburbs is a peculiar beast. As I discovered when wandering about from one display village to another, some of these new houses have a bewildering array of features that seem to offer absolutely no benefit whatsoever.
Here’s my list of the top 7 “strange things” in new houses:
Strange Thing No. 1: Windows behind stoves
Most new houses have massive kitchens, which is fine if cooking is your thing. But what I don’t understand is why, amongst all that space, the giant kitchens are configured so poorly. Gone is the large window that let’s in winter light and summer breezes. Instead, many new houses have a long, thin window that cannot be opened and which stretches the entire length of the kitchen bench. The window sits beneath the kitchen cupboards, so one cannot actually stand and look out.
Whilst it could be argued that a long, thin window set beneath cupboards may better illuminate the kitchen bench and bring a certain novelty value to the space, the problems really surface once the sun sets.
One cannot place curtains or blinds in front of this window because it’s located right behind the stove and that surely has to be the mother of all fire hazards. So when the sun sets, there’s no way to ensure that the family has privacy; a gift to any creeps, peeping toms or nosy neighbours who live next door.
Yet the problems don’t stop there. Because of this window’s location, it’s quickly going to be covered in whatever grime and oil that spatters from the stove, let alone the condensation when the glass is cold. Sure, it looks nice and shiny in the display home but after a couple of months it’s going to look fairly awful, even if the Spray’n’Wipe is applied every night.
Strange Thing No. 2: The second kitchen
“Oh no!”, I hear you cry. Having just read about the disaster that is the long window set in front of the stove, you may have suddenly been hit with pangs of anxiety. Thank God that some new houses have a second kitchen. That’s right: The pantry of old seemed to have morphed first into a walk-in “butler’s pantry” and now into a de facto second kitchen.
I am not naïve; I have been to some parts of Asia where a second outdoor kitchenette is a necessity owing to the smelly nature of some of the cuisine (Daing na Bangus, I’m looking at you). But that’s generally not an issue in Australia and secondly, those second cooking spaces in Asia would barely fit the definition of “kitchen” in Australia.
I admit that the idea of a large pantry holds a lot of appeal. A second kitchen does not. After all, what is the purpose of the first kitchen if it’s not going to be used? The absurdity of this duplication seems to symbolise an extravagance that’s hard to fathom. Are guests likely to be impressed by the pristine shininess of the sink in Kitchen Number One?
Strange Thing No. 3: The Inadequate Sink
Take a good, close look at the sink in your new McMansion and you may discover that it’s missing a key ingredient: the draining board.
That’s right, there is literally no place to put wet dishes before they get dried. Well, there is. You can place them on the faux marble bench top and spend the next ten minutes mopping up the resultant mess.
Of course there is a dishwasher to handle most of the dishes but there are certain things that cannot go into a dishwasher (wooden items, fine china, delicate crystal) so there are going to be plenty of moments when old-fashioned manual dish washing is required.
Yes, the sink and kitchen look lovely but there’s a very good reason why “old fashioned” kitchens of yore had draining boards.
Strange Thing No. 4: The Dark Room and the Missing Lounge
Times have changed, it seems. It came as quite a surprise to discover that despite the litany of superfluous rooms in the modern McMansion, there’s no space for a lounge/dining room. Instead, that special space that hosts Christmas lunches with the family and dinners with close friends has been replaced with a dark cavern known as the “home theatre”.
Here the family can sit in complete darkness eating chips and soft drinks whilst watching films and entirely ignoring the other members of the household.
Okay, okay, I can hear the howls of protest now. What’s really wrong with a home theatre, I hear you ask. It’s not good for one’s health, but that’s a personal decision, I concede. In many ways, the loss of the formal dining space is the greater tragedy here.
Strange Thing No. 5: The Outdoors That Isn’t
Should the avid gamer or movie enthusiast suddenly desire some Vitamin D, they may want to venture outside. Gone are the pergolas or patios of old beneath which one could enjoy a beverage in the cool late evening summer air, it’s all about the al fresco space now. Al fesco is Italian for “in the open air” which is ironic because many of the al fresco dining spaces that I have seen are far from open.
Pictured above is a superb example of what I describe. Sure, this al fresco de luxe looks lovely but I am struggling to locate the outdoors in this scene. The entire space is enclosed. Aside from a dining table and couches, there is a built-in fireplace, ceiling fan, down lights, kitchen bench, gas stove, sink and cupboards. This must surely constitute Kitchen Number Three!
What is the point of going outside if outside is just a better ventilated version of inside? Perhaps this absurd set-up may work in some parts of the world, but I struggle to see how it’s going to last long in Australia. That couch would be most inviting for red back and white tailed spiders, whilst the snails would surely enjoy hibernating in those cupboards. The weather will fade the fabrics whilst the cheap stainless steel will soon develop spots of rust (I have seen this many times).
And what of that fireplace? Aside from the ludicrous inefficiency of operating a gas fireplace in the open air, I suggest that no-one would want to sit in the chilly Melbourne atmosphere if the temperature is low enough to light a fire.
Perhaps for me, the saddest part of this scene is the lack of outdoors. There’s no grass, no sunshine, no blue sky, no nature. Just fern cut-outs in the wall panelling to remind us that plants actually exist.
Strange Thing No. 6: The Indoors that Isn’t
The topsy-turvy world of the modern McMansion doesn’t stop there. Between al fesco Kitchen Number Three and pristine Kitchen Number One sits a large concertina door which brings “the outdoors inside”. Ah, how lovely I hear you say.
But this is Australia.
The big problem with the large concertina door arrangement is that there’s no scope to apply fly wire and Australian houses have fly wire for a reason. The country is chock-full of insects. It’s not going to be very long before flies, wasps, beetles, bees, ants and all manner of other insects come flying into the house. It probably won’t stop there: How long will it be before a bird flies in or the neighbour’s cat comes prowling?
Wire doors may look a bit naff, but they’re a necessary part of Australian life.
Strange Thing No. 7: The Public Baths
Like a sweet dessert after a delicious meal, I have saved the best for last.
Because after a thoroughly tiring day sitting in the dark playing computer games, exploring the three kitchens and battling the insects that have invaded the house, the home owner may want to retire for the evening. What could be nicer than a warm shower or bath before bed?
Modernity has not bypassed the en suite it seems. Society concerns itself evermore with privacy in every aspect of life except the very place where it is needed the most: the bathroom.
All that stands between the shower and the master bedroom in some houses is a clear pane of glass and a spa bath, which incidentally, is on the wrong side of the glass. In effect, the master bedroom and en suite have merged into a combined wash/sleep room. What could possibly go wrong?
I find it difficult to believe that there won’t be a scenario where a householder, tired from a hard day’s work, wouldn’t want a quiet shower in genuine solitude. I find it difficult to believe that the tired householder, thirsty in the middle of the night, won’t inadvertently stumble into the bath whilst fumbling for a glass of water in the dark. I find it difficult to believe that the carpet beside the bath will remain stain-free. I find it difficult to believe that a sick/angry/lonely/confused child might not enter their parents’ room for some comfort only to be confronted by a scene that will leave them scarred for life.
But most of all, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would want to go to the toilet with nothing but a sheet of frosted glass to provide them with privacy.
What a ghastly arrangement.
The bedroom is designed with a floor-to-ceiling window into the bathroom whilst the windows to the outside world are almost the same size as those found in a prison cell.
What a strange world we live in!