Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

'The House In Good Taste'

Britta Huegel

Dear You, 
On Sunday husband and I talked about 'home' as (one) expression of ourselves.
People are always quite astonished at how we live.
Their fantasy paints pictures that might stem from husband's profession - "a university professor" at least in the German mind has a special image, and we often brim over with mirth when we remember a quote that son brought home in the days he still went to grammar school:
"I see you and your parents", one learned teacher told him, "in the evening - all three of you making Hausmusik in front of your fireplace." 
(If any student of Hans reads this, he/she will roll on the ground screaming with laughter too).
The second 'label' was quite correct: books, books, books (and some more books). Most of them in the three-room-study in our house in Hildesheim (above our big flat where we, the family, lived - and also many books in that too). Most of them are still in Hildesheim, (although 6000 went as an endowment to the Literary Archive in Marbach - though that didn't help much to create more space: miraculously the shelves filled up with lightning speed). "They are my tools", Hans says apologetically, and he is right - now they wait for him three or four days of the week in Hildesheim, because in Hamburg, then in Berlin, I wanted less of these dusty friends (there are still enough!).
A friend, an architect, said after his first visit to us: "I am so happy! I really feared what might have been your interior design - but I think it is absolutely you!"
You bet! A very mixed style, not many antiques (as a lot of people seem to expect), nor stylish modern "design". (I put it in brackets, because everything is design).
And my kitchen - which I like! - is a shock for all these dream-kitchen people, who look at the advertisements (where - in a ridiculously spacious kitchen - huge - grey - with a bar and lacquered shining fronts -  you might find after look hard enough somewhere in the vast wilderness a chic little couple, lacquered as their empty kitchen - maybe they discuss whether they will order something from the Chinese take-away, because that sort of kitchen isn't made for cooking). Or those baths: when I see the altars - oh, sorry, got the wrong impression: it is the bath tub, not an altar - also in a room as big as a football field -- I wonder... though I admit that I would like our bathroom in Berlin to be a bit bigger - (as it was in Hamburg) - our bath now in the 180 square meter flat has somewhat Spartan features - but then: we can live with that.
What we love and want most is space and light.
Except twice we always had Art Deco flats in the many cities we lived in - high ceilings, high windows, pitch pine or beautiful parquet, folding doors, stucco. In every flat each of us had a study - a room of one's own.
Our guests have to sleep on a comfortable daybed for two (I tested it) - if you need two seperate beds we have to think hard and please tell us before your visit.  
PS: The title of this blog is from Elsie de Wolfe's lovely book "The House In Good Taste", first published in 1913, written by 'The First Lady of Interior Decoration'.
I hope very much that you find that the Quiche and the lamb's lettuce and the home made mousse au chocolat will provide the good taste when you just drop in...


  1. You photograph of the homely pot showing above the beautiful pot says almost as much as this delightful post. My favorite description, though may contend, is of the "dream-kitchen," which can't be used in real life. Lovely post!

    1. Dear Sue,
      thank you! Yes, that mix of high & low culture as in the pots is what I like. And thank you for mentioning 'The Art of the Tart' - I have her on my blog-list now.

    2. Ah, and I almost forgot, Sue: You know that I want dearly that you will come over and have a stay!

  2. "A room of one's own" --a favorite essay under discussion as Daughter got into her teens. We learned much from a keen observer, a flâneuse, an incomparable essayist and were not afraid of Virginia Woolf. Daughter is 30 now and has worked all over the world. The emergence of a personal space, even at short notice, is most important. Your home, in all its incarnations, sounds delightful

    1. Dear Geo.,
      I love the word 'flaneuse'! Will use it, defintely. if you allow. I like Virginia too, and Vita. Your daughter is of the same age as our son - as you I am glad and proud that they are so autonomous.
      In many houses I wonder why there is a guest room, but no room of one's own for the Lady of the House. I am sociable, but also want each day to close the door between me and the world for a while. And that shouldn't be only the bathroom door.

  3. My daughter lives in a very old house and has a cooking area of stove, refrigerator, ovens in a galley of no more than six by eight feet. Her prep area is about 18 inches wide. Her pans all hang overhead on a clever rack her builder made of bent pipe. Her meals are delicious. She owns a restaurant that once had as little room; the chef cooked in the front window! It has grown some in the last twenty years, but I still wonder what she would do with big and shiny.

  4. Dear Joanne,
    I am always captivated by seeing a real cook at work. They are so quick and work in a well ordered way. So the cook in the window might have attracted even more guests - and one thinks: wow, everything here is trustworthy.
    Of course your daughter can be very proud when her restaurant prospers.
    As to small kitchens: we managed to cook in that tiny 'room' on the narrow boat for ten people - though it wasn't easy, but everybody was content.

  5. Britta.. I have been so dissatisfied with my home lately! Just too much clutter! Where to begin? I just read a post from The Cozy Minimalist about moving. After reading I have would be easier to move than de-clutter! Just kidding...I am setting a goal - De-clutter at least one room... This week, this month, this year? Guess I will have to work on my time table! However, my books are definitely not clutter! Am sure your home is in very good taste!

  6. Dear Susan,
    clutter is a fascinating theme: and having written a very-well-selling book about how-to-do housework for young men I still read a lot about this subject. 'apartment therapy' the eight-step home cure by maxwell gillingham-ryan. (Bantam) is interesting - they also have a blog.
    We moved a lot - decluttering is easier :-)

  7. Dear Britta - when we moved to our present house it seemed a great opportunity to so called de-clutter. Now after nearly 20 years we are virtually back to the same state of clutter again. My husband is a great source of clutter, I nearly said junk, books and papers, he never throws anything out, he too was a university professor.

  8. Dear Rosemary,
    yes, clutter sneaks in... books and papers from husband, shoes and wardrobe and china and, and, and... from me. I am not a minimalist, and I am not one to follow "Throw everything out that..." - my things often wear well for quite a long time, so why not keep them -- though of course something new in fashion is added and needs room too...
    I'm always curious, and hope it isn't intrusive when I ask: which faculty?

    1. Engineering Faculty - Maritime affairs, environmental pollution, shipping regulations - the Chair of International Transport.

    2. Wow - we had a French maritim engineeer on our narrowboat - in between he had to fly to Scotland to do something for his company. It is a real interesting subject, I think. Like always to discuss with engineers: they are so clear.

  9. Dear Britta,

    Like you, our home is our own private space in the world, and it's meant to please us, not anyone else. Do we have antiques? Yes, but not necessarily because we bought them as such. We've simply owned them long enough for them to earn that designation, and for the most part, we still use them for their intended purposes. We have lots of wood in the house, and lots of homemade items and touches of bright color and whimsy. We have cats, too, so this leather office chair I'm sitting in has been greatly "decorated" by their claws. When our children all left home, one of the first things I did was turn one of their bedrooms into my office. My lady cave, and I love having this space to myself. Our kitchen? Not the most fashionable in the world, but I've got plenty of room to cook to my heart's desire. (Right now, a lovely piece of beef is marinating in the fridge so I can make some sauerbraten. One of my favorite dishes.)

    Happy weekend!

  10. Dear Susan,
    I love the description of your home. To use things for its intended purpose (or give them a new purpose, but use them) is what I also do. Wood makes a home cosy. So nice to have cats! We still think about it - maybe a bit later, because now we are still travelling much. "Lady cave" is cute! If you can fabricate a Sauerbraten - which is served in the parts of Germany where Hans comes from - you easily would have a guest more at your table :-) Happy weekend for you too!

  11. 'you might find after look hard enough somewhere in the vast wilderness a chic little couple, lacquered as their empty kitchen - maybe they discuss whether they will order something from the Chinese take-away'

    I love your sense of humor, B. This makes me positively ache for that train ride through the German countryside with you!

    I am like you in so many ways. Space and light, yes, this is the way. And you know even more cherished than living space, because I like very much the ease with which a small space can be maintained, is light. Light, light and always more light! We tip toward it like hungry houseplants, knowing from whence true nourishment issues!

  12. Dear Suze,
    thank you - I'm quite sure we both will laugh a lot together! That's why I love young people so much: they see far more often the fun in things.
    Light brightens spirit too - that's why I prefer Berlin to Hamburg: far more sun, not always that lightly grey sky with a little mist in it. It is colder here, but brighter. And that's the good thing in our flat: it "bends around the edge" - meaning: in the morning the sun shines into the kitchen, the dressing room (a less elegant word might be: why-do-you-have-so-many-pairs-of-shoes-andgarments-and-hats-and-whatsoever-in-this-little-room?), the huge living room, than it sneaks to the hallway and bathroom, and then turns to come around the other three rooms, bathing the balcony in sunshine.