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Home: A Short History of an Idea

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,221 ratings  ·  134 reviews
Walk through five centuries of homes both great and small--from the smoke-filled manor halls of the Middle Ages to today's Ralph Lauren-designed environments--on a house tour like no other, one that delightfully explicates the very idea of "home."You'll see how social and cultural changes influenced styles of decoration and furnishing, learn the connection between wall-hun ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 7th 1987 by Penguin Books (first published 1986)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  1,221 ratings  ·  134 reviews

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Dec 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Examines the European-American evolution of the cultural concepts of privacy, comfort, and the intersection of form and function. I'd group this book as informative to ecopsychology, although the author, writing in the mid-1980s, didn't use the term.

The author admits that comfort "is an invention--a cultural artifice. Like all cultural ideas--childhood, family, gender--it has a past, and it cannot be understood without reference to its specific history. One-dimensional, technical definitions of
Erika RS
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physical, owned
This book examines how the ideas of "home" and "comfort" and "domesticity" came into being and changed over the years and the relation of these ideas to technology in the home. For the most part, the book covers the period from the middle ages to the present. It is the author's claim that during this period, the home as an idea (rather than a shelter) came into being.

During the middle ages, homes contained many people who were only tenuously connected. A person's livelihood was based out of the
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it
was good - informative - a bit dry at parts but maybe thats just me - some parts were really interesting like the part where it explained why a chair is designed a certain way and how the home came to be because of the children staying longer for school and things like that - I liked the history of something I never though much about
3.5 stars - Can be dry, but overall an interesting and informed look at the topic.
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Read for #NonfictionNovember2017 Home Challenge

This was an ok read. Parts of the books seemed to be disjointed and jumped around to different subjects. It was also focused a bit more on architecture than I usually enjoy reading about. I did learn a few interesting things from it however.
Nick Carraway LLC
Oct 05, 2014 rated it liked it
1) "The Middle Ages not only produced illuminated books, but also eyeglasses, not only the cathedral, but also the coal mine. Revolutionary changes occurred in both primary industry and manufacturing. The first recorded instance of mass production---of horseshoes---occurred during the Middle Ages. Between the tenth and the thirteenth century, a technological boom produced the mechanical clock, the suction pump, the horizontal loom, the waterwheel, the windmill, and even, on both shores of the En ...more
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a short book, written in a style as comfortable as its subject matter. I'm sure that Rybczynski is not the first person to have written on this subject; nonetheless, it's good to have a work for a popular audience that covers the deceptively simple-seeming idea : what is "hominess"? Although I knew in the abstract that the ways people use their living spaces has changed, still, I was surprised by having the development of privacy, intimacy, and domesticity pointed out. Rybczynski's treat ...more
Peter Kerry Powers
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Rybczynski, Witold. Home : A Short history of an Idea. 1986

I’ve been troubling over the notion of home since our Center for Public Humanities’ excellent Humanities Symposium on the topic this past February, partially out of the interest to punch up the substance of my own presentation on the idea of Home and the Pratice of the Humanities. Partly because I’ve troubled by the contradictions between the ethic of welcoming the stranger and alien that is so central to Christian (and Jewish, and Islam
Mary Catelli

A tracing of how our modern ideas of comfort came about.

Starts with a discussion of medieval homes and monasteries, including medieval inventions of furniture -- the first drawers were used by the Church.

Life in the Dutch Golden Age and genre painting, showing their homes, and the women in them because for the first time the home really was becoming the woman's sphere, on account of the men starting to have places of business elsewhere.

The court of the Sun King and the evolution of chairs, whi
Jul 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, library
“The notion that what is artless must be better than what is not requires a precarious leap in reasoning, but for all that it carries great weight … It is a shallow conceit. A little reflection shows that all human culture is artificial, cooking no less than music, furniture no less than painting. Why prepare time-consuming sauces when a raw fruit would suffice? Why bother with musical instruments when the voice is pleasant enough? Why paint pictures when looking at nature is satisfying? Why sit ...more
Shira and Ari Evergreen
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book offers a fascinating and incredibly detailed account of European and American developments in comfort, "home" (as a concept), house architecture, ventilation, plumbing, and other domestic technologies and cultural affectations. I really loved the many anecdotes and historical tidbits; my brain is now full of fun new facts and a deeper understanding when I look at houses and furniture.

The only thing this book lacks is an awareness of the narrowness of its scope; it consistently ignores
I'm a fan of Rybczynski's architecture writing in Slate, so I figured I'd check this out. A history of the home as it has been defined over the centuries, this book not only builds a cohesive arc from the middle ages to the 1980s, it is brimming with all sorts of historical facts and antidotes that, at times, can be more interestingthat Rybczynski's overall point. As the book reaches its final chapters, Rybczynski begins to make some more critical statements, mainly in terms of the lack of archi ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Starting in the 1500's and moving pretty quickly forward, the author explores how and when the idea of comfort in the home became possible and came about. This was pretty interesting to me, but Rybczynski is no Malcom Gladwell. The subject matter is thoroughly researched and well presented, but not a lot of fun. Also, there are a lot of paragraphs about chairs. And later there are a bunch more. Paragraphs about chairs.

the author stated at the beginning that this is not an interior design book,
Tristan Bridges
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My dad recommended this book to me. It was written a while ago, but it's a fascinating look at how the concept of "home" emerged throughout architectural history. It has a Eurocentric bias, but it's a really astounding amount of information and it's written extremely well. Rybcyznski makes you really care about furniture and why it changed and when. He does a great job illustrating how homes transformed as the people living in them changed. So, for instance, chairs began to be designed for comfo ...more
Nov 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book on the recommendation of my partner who said that this, along with one other, were the two books that have most influenced his thinking. Considering that and a writing project Im working on related to the topic, I figured I'd better read this. And I'm so glad I did.

I've read Rybczynski before and knew his prose was fluid and flawless, so that was no surprise. What has been a surprise, I guess, is how much this book has stayed in my thoughts in the weeks since I began reading it
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
An interesting study of how the idea of (the Western) home has evolved over time. It is largely focused on Europe and the United States. I especially appreciated the part about Catherine Beecher and her contemporaries, applying management principles to the design and function of the home -- they predate Susanka's The Not So Big House by over 100 years. There was also some interesting gender stuff in there -- about how when women really were the mistress of their domain (the home), the home was s ...more
As usual, Rybczynski manages to give an intelligent overview of a scholarly subject without oversimplifying. Includes a good, reasoned riposte against modern furniture that is aesthetically pleasing but uncomfortable, though it’s a bit dated; I would like to see an updated version that considers household technology scholarship that came after this book's initial publication, like Susan Strasser’s works and Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s "More Work for Mother." It would also be interesting to see him inc ...more
Amy Beth
Really great history of the development of the idea of home. I was fascinated by the emotional development across time. One of the best chapters was on the Dutch and how much their culture has influenced our ideas on privacy and simplicity. I also loved the discussion of chairs and what makes a comfortable chairs; the 18th c. French perfected the design and it has never been improved on. The one idea I did not hear was the acknowledgment of how the imperfect can make home even more dear. At the ...more
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is a historical review of the concept of home and related concepts such as comfort and privacy in the western world. I loved reading this book. Many times while reading it I turned to my husband and said, "Did you know that..." For example, the first most popular electrical device after lighting...? An electric iron. Another: at the turn of the century water-powered home appliances were available including vacuum cleaners. This book made me think about the way my house is constructed a ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good overview of what has constituted "the home" in the west over the past few hundred years. Strong point is that it doesn't get too deep in the weeds, which could have been possible if handled differently. Oddly enough, the more modern sections seemed to have that issue more than the earlier sections. Definitely recommended. Audio narration a solid fit for the material.
Isabel Chavier-Geist
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE this book. One of my all-time favorites. I re-read it regularly for inspiration and comfort.
Terry Kearns
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm finding it to be a page turner. I see the paintings, the antiques, the design magazines. I never really thought of how these things came to be. You mean we didn't always have nice chairs? Really?
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: architecture
Excellent look at what appear to be very basic concepts: home, domesticity, and comfort. This author never disappoints.
Christina “6 word reviewer” Lake
Original thinking--Flanders shamelessly rips off!
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Rybczynski's book looks at the history of the idea of home. Tracing the concept back to the middle ages he analyzes how it changed over time reflecting larger cultural ideas. An important book for anyone interested in houses and homes.

“This acute awareness of tradition is a modern phenomenon that reflects a desire for custom and routine in a wold characterized by constant change and innovation. Reverence for the past has become so strong that when traditions do not exist, the are frequently inv
Todd Stockslager
Apr 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: Oh to be home again

Home in the time of Covid-19 has a different meaning than it did just six months ago. Home is now the place where we do all of our working, sleeping, eating, playing, relaxing, and socializing distantly and virtually. We are discovering how well or poorly our homes enable us to do all these very different tasks, do them well, and enjoy them while we do them.

When Witold Rybczynski wrote this small study 35 years ago, he captured a significant yet overlooked aspec
Dave Courtney
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a book about the development of the "home" on a historical level. More than this, it examines the nature of a home from outside of simply an industrialized form by looking at it from the perspective of "comfort", the definition of which forms Rybczynski's essential thesis. If home is primarily about "comfort", then how do we define comfort in light of history and its present function and understanding (which the author would insist hasn't changed much).

What Rybczynski ultimately hopes t
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Rybczynski writes about architecture in a clear, accessible, and colorful way that is engaging for those with only a layman's understanding of the subject, and (of course) brings to bear not only the structural/physical facts of what makes a "home," but the emotional aspects as well. The book is, broadly speaking, an exploration of why we assign emotional/sentimental value to architectural forms in a way that creates something that we call "home." As the book is around 30 years old, I thoug ...more
Alex Jeffries
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Comfort is that condition in which discomfort has been avoided."

I didn't know what I was getting myself into with this book. Ostensibly, I wanted a book about homes as research for a building-related writing project. What I got was a wonderful look at the evolution of homes, and their function, and the idea of comfort, over centuries. The book is filled with fun trivia (the origin of spring cleaning), for sure, but its spine is a great theory about how we've come to live in homes as we know it,
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, spaces
A rare yet perspective-changing read for designers and architects. The book follows narratives of parts of "Home" as we know it today and uses these narratives of individual objects to address the concept of "Home" itself. In this process, it also raises questions such as "what is comfort?", "what qualifies as taste or artistic ability?", "Are object forms always consequences of 'functional' needs?" and "how has home been defined in the East and how is it different from the Western understanding ...more
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Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also co-edits the Wharton Real Estate Review. Rybczynski has ...more

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