If you’ve ever embarked on a remodeling project, chances are you’ve found yourself–at some point–way in over your head, cheekily quoting Tom Hanks’s Walter from The Money Pit: “It’s going to be fun, fixing it up. You’ll see…A little imagination, and it’s gonna be great…” Little did he know…

The ups and downs of ‘making house’ were chronicled in The New York Times’ recent mammoth, “Making House: Notes on Domesticity,” by Rachel Cusk, which is all at once a cultural critique, a philosophy dissertation, and a comedy sketch (don’t miss the story about her ex-boyfriend’s table). Cusk’s article, primarily, is about the human impulses behind the urge to curate the ‘crib’. She writes from experience:

“I was driven to what appeared to be the brink of mental and physical collapse by embarking on the complete remodeling of our London flat…I caused walls to be knocked down and floors to be ripped up and rooms to be gutted; I threw away decades’ worth of clutter and keepsakes and old furniture; with what at times seemed like magic and at others sheer violence, I caused the past to be obliterated and put something new, something of my choosing, in its place…At the time I felt myself to be serving the reality of my domestic life…but now it almost seemed as if what I really wanted all along was to erase it…the house became an extension of the self and therefore subject to the self’s same vulnerability, neuroticism, and pride.”

When we play Extreme Makeover with our own houses, or when we lose ourselves in visions of the “dream home,” we are, in one sense, creating—but in another, destroying. Erasing, Cusk says.

Which isn’t necessarily bad: Let’s jump right to Jesus, the man himself, who was in the business of remodeling Galilee. Wasn’t he? Much of what he did shook up the conventions of the day—he cleared out what the people believed defined them and gave them something else as a replacement: himself.

Part of the process of remodeling is what my dad likes to call “DEMO”: ripping out the old, making room for the new. The realization that the inflatable couch is both uncomfortable and surreal is, really, a gospel moment–this is good news. The inflatable couch does not define us! Throw it out!

At the same time, if we fool ourselves into thinking that buying a new couch will do the trick, we miss the whole point of what was formerly good news: Before long, the new couch will be just as dated as (and even more pizza-stained than) the inflatable one. No amount of home improvement could do what I ultimately hope it will: improve me.


To this end, Cusk is really onto something. The desire to arrange the house ‘correctly’ is the subtle desire to avoid the less glamorous side of humanity that is inherent in the feeling of being home.

“I grew up in a succession of moderately grand houses where the nicest rooms were the ones no one was allowed to use…Those rooms were full of the tension and silence of a museum: Time had stopped there; something above the human had been allowed to take hold.

If our homes are extensions of our identities, as Cusk argues, then creating a home that feels “above the human” indicates that we believe we are, too. We’re reaching. This all sounds very Garden-of-Eden to me. Part of Adam and Eve’s original sin is in their upward reach, their desire to become more “like God,” as the serpent puts it. The human level is too low to live in–especially after the fall, when what is considered ‘human’ is burdened by the weight of shame. The idea of ‘making house’ may be simply angled at alleviating this sense of shame in the space in which we are supposed to feel comfortable–it’s like covering our nakedness in the Garden of Eden.

In his phenomenal guide to Genesis, Eden and Afterward, Will McDavid writes:

Our pasts cannot be hidden, but we can hide our physical selves. Covering-up is the natural response to shame, guilt, and knowledge of wrongdoing…You have sinned, and you must hide that sin.”

Hiding indeed—behind fiddle-leaf fig leaves and hardwood floors, or whatever interior designs we’ve built ourselves into. When our friends step in over the welcome mat, it often feels as if they’re scrutinizing who we are, not just kicking their feet up to watch the season premiere of American Horror Story (it was fab).

Sistine Chapel - Extreme Makeover: 'Blue's good but lets loss all the clouds and the drama.'We tend only to clean our houses if it’s for someone we haven’t seen in a while—or maybe for someone we feel we should be seeing more often. If our parents, for example, live in a different state, we will likely clean our houses before they visit, even scrubbing the rusted gunk off the bathroom ceiling where no one will ever look; but if our parents live down the hall, they will have to coax us with the promise of a snow cone for dessert, or maybe twenty bucks under the table.

And although we cover up (or clean up, or remodel) to display our best selves, this tendency actually prevents us from being loved in the way that we need. When we show off our new appliances, we are trying to offer something “above the human”—something to compensate for our felt inadequacy (or to substantiate our feelings of over-adequacy, depending on the moment). Our cover-ups are the things that we think will close the gap between ourselves and the people around us. They are our means of tying ourselves back to the ones who matter most to us. But in fact they separate us more.

That said, a messy or hodge-podgey house isn’t necessarily a more honest, loving, or Christian house. Likely, a messy house is just as carefully done-up as a clean one.

Cusk’s following example is the picture of a mother’s impenetrable set of values carefully displayed through her messiness:

“The image of the freewheeling mother with her disregard for appearances was somehow threatening…She was superior to the suburban housewife in her miserable prison of immaculate surfaces, and she was superior to me, to the modern divided woman, because her indifference to the domestic represented a form of courage. With her crunchy kitchen floor and her whirlwind-swept rooms, she was claiming the freedom of a man, or a child, or an artist, at the same time as she was asserting the superiority of her mother-love…And like my daughter, I, too, used to prefer other people’s houses, though I am old enough now to know that, given a choice, there is always a degree of design in the way that people live.

The meaning of a home, and, maybe more importantly, the feeling of a home, lies not in the careful filtering of values or the particular exhibition of what we consider to be our ‘self’s; it is in something altogether less visual: the acceptance of the flaws.

“Like the body itself, a home is something both looked at and lived in, a duality that in neither case I have managed to reconcile. I retain the belief that other people’s homes are real where mine is a fabrication, just as I imagine others to live inner lives less flawed than my own.”


Our human homes are flawed just as our human bodies are. Interestingly, for Christians, the importance of Christ’s body isn’t what it looked like. As many have pointed out, we get no physical descriptions of him from the Bible. The importance of his body is only that it existed and that it was given for us–it was broken for us. His body died that ours might live; he received our homelessness and we received his home.

Cusk’s article struck such a chord with me, not because I am a budding interior designer resisting the temptation to rearrange all of my friends’ living rooms, but because my wife of one month and I just moved into our first home together and have suddenly, as if arriving on Earth for the first time, noticed the home-improvement section at Target and the dusky-looking the furniture stores off the highway. After years of cramming in tight with other college students and shoving our clothes into a $30 dresser that fell apart last year, my wife and I now have a place that we can (mostly) control, for the first time.

Speaking on very little experience, it strikes me that when a house begins to feel like a “home,” that feeling comes at no effort of our own. Often it arrives alongside the moments we would try to avoid. It arrives when we are at the bottom of the barrel (especially if the “we” is the husband portion of the duo, really). Those are the moments we’d never invite—those are the moments we’d spend thousands of dollars at Lowe’s to avoid. But when the tears finally dry, we find that the house is still standing. And as Norah Jones sings in her 2004 album Feels Like Home, life-giving water sneaks in through the hole in the shoe (“Creepin In”).


Cusk presents a similar theory in her article. She tells the story of when her daughter threw a huge and very damaging party in Cusk’s carefully curated home:

“More than a hundred people turned up; the disturbance was such that the police were called. I ask if there’s been much damage, and there’s a long silence before I get a reply.

When I call my daughter, my hands [are] shaking in anger so that I can barely hold my phone…Later I realize that what I was trying to express was the pain of discovering that my narrative of home had been — or so it felt — mocked and rejected. But it does not escape me that the reverse might just as easily be true. To use something, even wrongly, does not have to imply contempt; it might in fact imply belief, belief in the reality of this fabrication, home.

When I get back, I open the door expecting to be hit by the smell of stale alcohol and smoke, but in fact what I smell are flowers. It is a sunny day, and the whole flat is filled with them, roses and irises and hyacinths and daffodils spilling out of every vase and jug that could be found in the cupboards. My daughter has cleaned up; the flowers are her apology…

I put my bag on the counter and smell the flowers, one after another. I walk from room to room, looking around me like a visitor.”

This is the closing line of her story; the last word is “visitor.” It goes without saying that this is home, finally. After so much arranging and designing and buying and sliding, she is finally at home when she is a guest in a strange land, standing–alive and loved–in the wake of her worst nightmare.

Home, as a feeling, doesn’t ask us to build better or buy thriftier, and it certainly doesn’t ask us to abide by the rules, whatever those may be. It tells us that it’s OK to be ourselves, even in our neurotic moments and even in our darkest ones. Home is something that pursues us, and, in the most unassuming moments, it comes sneaking on in.