Does Love Trump Good Design?

Blogger: Allison Arnone, Principal Workplace Strategist | Princeton, NJ, USA
October 19, 2011

My kids know that I love them so much that I will usually put their needs and desires before my own.

I recently set out on a risky, stressful adventure that I knew would be really good for my family. It required a lot of research, legwork and family meetings. It also meant leaving the safe haven of my beautiful home and venturing out to a wonderful imaginary place that I knew would provide opportunities my kids weren’t currently getting.

Our adventure? I moved my family from a fantastic home in a mediocre town, to a mediocre home in a fantastic town.

I wanted to have it all: a safe community, excellent schools, good friends, and a beautifully designed home. For the most part, I got what I wanted. But I can’t help but wonder, did I make the right choice?

Our previous house was a diamond in the rough, solidly constructed and just the right size for being alone or all together with three kids. Period-correct cabinetry, iron hardware and moldings were carefully crafted by the cabinet maker who lived there before us. Social spaces were organized around the heart of the home—the kitchen—with panoramic views to the opposite side of the house. After 13 years of massaging, every room perfectly reflected our personalities.

The previous house is situated in a respectable neighborhood with antisocial neighbors we never met,  in a town without a center, a community, or a place to stroll. In fact, there is a fine line between safe streets and very dangerous ones. The schools lack funding, community support or resources. Crippled by budget woes, the town asks residents to pay the highest taxes in the county for the lowest-ranking schools and a high crime rate.

It’s got to get better than that!

We are very happy with where we landed. However, now that we’re all settled into our new house, I’m noticing the details. We fit comfortably in our new house, but it’s missing the quality and personality of our old house. The furniture fits perfectly, but the antiques are truly out of place. The hollow-core doors are a drag, especially when I need to slam one to make my point.  And the layout and proportions are so irrational that I constantly redraw the floor plan in my head. It’s a far cry from the well-designed shelter we came from.

On the other hand, we’ve experienced a multitude of shocking, confusing, delightful things in our new town. Neighborhood kids actually come to the door and ring the bell to ask politely if one of my kids can play. The feeling of community is amazing, positive and supportive. My kids can walk safely into town to get a treat at the bakery or a quart of milk at the convenience store. The high school was just placed in the top third in a Newsweek study of the most outstanding schools in the country!

So which is better, a great house in a bad town, or a bad house in a great town? You’ve got to know your priorities. If I was living alone, I might’ve stayed in the old house, shutting myself in and reading books all weekend long, only venturing out to go to work or dig in the garden. But I wouldn’t have anyone to share it with, and for exactly that reason—those reasons, my three kids—I had to make the move to a better environment for us. Nothing trumps love, not even custom-made cabinets.

Images (of current neighborhood) courtesy of Allison Arnone

Reader Comments (1)

It is much easier to renovate a home than build community.

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