In the United States, it is considered part of the “American Dream” that one should own their own home. This idea became mainstream in the post-war period with the construction of uniform neighborhoods like Levitt Town. Despite the the abundance of affordable homes, the circumstances of their construction did not allow for a particularly strong tradition of individuality in the field of internal and external decoration. In Britain, the concept of home ownership has developed differently given the more clustered and urbanized environment in which the majority of people in the UK reside.
In Britain, “a man’s house is his castle” and homeowners take great pride in the maintenance of their dwelling places while also seeking privacy. Kate Fox suggests that British homeowners tend to name their estates rather prominently display their numbers. This is done to minimize attention and preserve privacy. Conversely, many Americans would find the naming of one’s home to be extremely pretentious and prefer to clearly display their addresses. Indeed, the practice of naming one’s home has frustrated me tremendously as some of my work for my internship has necessitated the securing of full addresses. Fox further suggests that the vast majority of British homeowners tend to improve their homes through do-it-yourself projects as opposed to private contractors. This comes in stark contrast to the American tradition, at least in the cosmopolitan part of the nation where logistics can often prohibit personal home improvement. Such practice is more common in the suburbs and rural areas of the United States.
Humorously, it seems that British society may adhere to the similarly fussy rules about matching furniture sets and general decoration. Fox specifically chooses to cite the necessity of a matching bath and toilet within one’s restroom. While I have not made a habit of observing the layouts and color schemes of the many bathrooms of which I have made use on this trip, I can attest to my own home. All of our bathrooms have white toilets and bathtubs. The same is true for the flat in which I currently reside. It seems, to violate this arrangement is considered a cardinal sin of British home decoration.
Yesterday, I was watching a sketch-comedy television series called That Mitchell and Webb Look. In the episode, British comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb made fun of this exact phenomenon. The sketch depicts a real-estate agent showing a couple a new house while filming them for a reality show. The agent shows the young couple the bathroom which the find satisfactory. Though he tries to apologize for the state of the bath, the couple doesn’t understand, to the agent’s disgust. He demands that they take another look to see what is wrong with the bath. When the couple again find nothing wrong, the real-estate berates them for being fine with a avocado bathtub, sink, and toilet insisting that white is the only appropriate color. He continues to insult them when the female interrupts and declares her partiality towards the color scheme. At this point, the male prospective buyer, her husband, strangles her saying that it is for her own good. Sobbing, the man declares that he just “couldn’t live with it” to which the real-estate agent replies that he did the wright thing.
I have to say that, while I completely agree about the absurdity surrounding a colored bathtub, sink, and toilet scheme, the extent to which the British prize their home decoration rules does seem a tad odd.