What's a house for?

I was, rather rudely, some would say, earwigging a conversation between two young ladies on the London Underground last week. It was, I imagine, a fairly typical conversation. They talked about the EMU convergence criteria, the narrowing of bond yields between Germany Italy and whether Anita would be the first of their friends to get married and have a baby.

Thankfully, my fellow travellers felt Anita's fertility to be more relevant than a single currency, making for a more speedy journey between Tower Hill and Earls Court. I learned much of Anita's fondness for men and children. More intriguingly, I was introduced to a housing concept which these ladies clearly thought of as new. What they were espousing, in a quite animated fashion, was the idea of the house as a home. It was something they clearly regarded as a break with tradition. Their generation, they decided, would pioneer the notion that the house was a building to be lived in rather than admired.

I was slightly confused, since to me this utilitarian approach to housing was not new to me. Having been brought up in a shoe box, (licked road clean wi' tongue etc, etc) I have never been exposed to a house which was anything other than an extremely practical building.

I was interested, then, to here my fellow travellers talk of living rooms which were never lived in and sitting rooms which were never sat in.

The closest I had ever come to this was my mother's best china. This was only dusted down for births, deaths and marriages. Its appearance was intensely symbolic and magnified the importance of the occasion. We did not run, however, to a special room which could also be dusted down and used as a showcase for the crockery.

My female travellers, on the other hand, had grown up in properties which were riven with no-go areas. They talked, in reverent tones, of rooms with locked doors which hid great treasures. These treasures consisted of things like tables, chairs and three-piece suites.

Never used, that is, until the cultural revolution, which has been sweeping wherever it is that these young ladies live. To the accompaniment of marching bands they and their siblings have occupied the living room, annexed the sitting room and invaded the dining room.

This set me to wondering whether there are implications for the property market from this new generation of first-time home-owners. If they do not aspire to homes which have sufficient rooms that several can be locked off from the public surely this means that demand for big houses will dwindle. From what my companions on the underground were saying I assume that someone like their Anita will always need a big house given her fondness for men and children. However, those more in tune with the 2.4 children nuclear family will only ever want 3.4 bedrooms. What use to them will four reception rooms and three bathrooms be?

Perhaps it is just the naive idealism of youth which led these young ladies to take such a strident view on the house as a home. Maybe age and 2.4 children will lead them to take a more considered view of their room requirements. The natural exuberance, or vandalism as it is more correctly known, soon makes the wisdom of the no-go area more apparent. Only once you home has been trashed by a couple of four-year-olds do you realise that your parents were not quite as stupid as they seemed when they locked the living room door.

We shall see. My guess is that owners of the five-bedroom four-reception properties need not yet rush to have them converted into flats.

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