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Practices of inhabitance in large houses: Comfort, privacy and status in Sydney, Australia

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Histories of Home (now renamed Studies of Home)
Practices of inhabitance in large houses: Comfort, privacy and status in Sydney, Australia
Robyn Dowling (Macquarie University)
12 October 2011

Since the 1980s house size has increased by around 50% in Sydney, Australia.  This is a large increase and brings with it a rapid change of lifestyle.  Robyn Dowling examines what happens in these enlarged spaces and what makes them a home.  She also investigates materiality and the impact on the family unit that greater space provokes.

The study is based around interviews carried out in the early 2000s and focuses on a study of 26 Sydney mass-produced houses.  These mass-produced houses are increasingly popular in Australia and in most cases are designed with the nuclear family in mind.  The interviewees were found to be largely in their thirties with children under the age of twelve.  Most were middle class and natural born Australians.

So what did Dowling discover?  Well the most significant change is in the fracturing of the household.  With increased room to create individual spaces the needs of each family member is given greater focus over that of the whole.  The expectation has shifted from a family-focused unit to individual privacy, with specific areas designated for quality family time.

This transformation of the family unit brings Dowling to look into methods of parenting in these enlarged spaces and the perception surrounding homeliness (such as notions of comfort and relaxation).  A home is made up from a mixture of standard possessions and personal touches including family heirlooms.  Identification of status and class (including demonstrating wealth through material accumulation and display) is also still highly sought in the design of rooms.  As a final point, Dowling notes that despite modern lifestyle, women still remain the centre of the home.

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