Qfwfq Reports: BHA House Tour 2011

On Saturday I “got my inner WASP on” (as a friend cpmmented), and went on the BHA House Tour. The houses for this year’s tour seemed, from this person’s perspective, more understated than usual. There was little of the ostentatious displays of opulence that dominated the houses of tours past which always made one rush to Floyd for a stiff drink.

124 Willow, built in 1831 and renovated in 1885 by William Tubby, was the most impressive of the spaces, but its grandness only extended through the parlor floor rooms, as the rest of the home settled into an average feel. On the other end of the spectrum, the modern design and layout of 12 Sidney Place were not to our tastes, but the daughter’s loft space was pretty cool. 72 Hicks, with its fabric-covered walls, seemed to be a cleaner’s nightmare.

Yet, more interesting than the houses themselves were the people who shelled out the 40 bucks to meander house to house and ostensibly be impressed by the grandeur. It seems most people, including myself, privately find themselves feeling a mixture of awe and contempt — awe over the size and structure of the space, contempt for the owners who to their eyes abused it. “That chandelier is tacky”, “Why is the bed so short?”, “the staircase is gaudy”, “I prefer open kitchens”, “this is what? An EXERCISE ROOM?” — were a few of the comments overheard. The BHA tour guidebook — which is about 20% historical tidbit and 80% name-dropping — seemed to be totally ignored, as few cared if Winston Churchill really ate at the table, and were more concerned with the alignment of the personal mementos and tchotchkes that litter any person’s home according to their own logic. It seems we tour these houses to confirm our private hopes that those more well-off than us have as much subjectively poor taste as the rest of us.

I found myself making similar comments — “fabric walls?” “Mao-era ceramic figurines?” “This looks like it came from Ikea” — until I realized, hey, MY kitchen came from Ikea, what the hell am I talking about? What would I have done with the the space? Turned it into a Pee-Wee Herman’s playhouse? It was envy, over what I don’t have and can’t transform to fit my own personal aesthetic.

I wonder why the home-owners put themselves up to the scrutiny. Did the BHA brow-beat them, or were they so confident in their own tastes and positions that they simply don’t care?

Anyhoo, those were my impressions of the house tour. Did anyone else go? What were your thoughts?

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  • David on Middagh

    I could have stayed all day at 124 Willow. The rest (except for one of the Sidney Pl. houses) I didn’t visit, because I have a limited tolerance for long lines. I’m told that this year’s event was *very* well attended, no doubt helped by word-of-mouth from last year, and Saturday’s excellent weather.

  • AEB

    But, Qfwfq, were you able to get through the tour without using your cell?

    Or did you have to excuse yourself, as if desperately needing a smoke, to slip outside and use your phone? To talk. To Text. To get your email? To play Aliens Vs. Predator?

  • T.K. Small

    Maybe there needs to be a “People’s House Tour” featuring apartments and houses where more ordinary people reside. I might even volunteer my apartment if Homer agrees to do the commentary.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Today I saw a woman whose house was in the show, and asked her how it went from her viewpoint. She rolled her eyes, and said “800 people!” Nevertheless, she said, the volunteer crew supplied by the BHA did a superb job, and the tour went smoothly.

  • jim

    fantastic post – you captured many similar thoughts of my own
    – thanks for sharing!

  • HeightsGuy

    A nice and honest post. Thank you QFWFQ.

    In many ways, I think your comments illustrate the psychology of many people who comment about house listings on the web. Many people tear apart either the decor of the house or they have negative comments about high prices. It seems that you have hit the nail on the head for those people: envy. No, not everybody commenting is envious, but your sentiments capture a portion of the posters.

  • carol

    For me the house tour is always fascinating for the infinite ways that people have created personal expressions within the basic townhouse envelope – front and back windowed and side party walls. The emergence of more contemporary design has only increased the variety. It’s also a great way to see how others have solved problems and used space.

  • http://loscalzo.posterous.com Homer Fink

    @TK – the thought has crossed my mind.

  • Bette

    I did the house tour and saw all the houses… I thought it was a lot of fun. I agree with T.K. in that it would be equally fun to see regular people’s apartments. In fact, I’d be willing to part of a tour where the “guests” leave their suggestions on a sheet at the door. Of course this might result in all kinds of snarky comments (“the diver in the goldfish bowl is totally fake”, etc.) but if someone could give me some helpful suggestions about window treatments, storage solutions, I’d be grateful! Maybe.

  • lori

    Someone whose house was once on the tour told me that she would never do it again. She had made the mistake of being around and was horrified to hear people’s comments about the home she had created and adored.

  • Heather Quinlan

    I would love to try and get more than 3 people to fit in my apartment.

  • T.K. Small

    @Homer: I’m glad that great minds run in the same gutter! As a teaser for my possible inclusion in this effort, I have a mirror installed at an angle over my stove so that I can see down into the pots. But I make no promises or guarantees about removing various piles of books and papers.

  • lori

    Where was the fourth house? And what was the “bonus” house?

  • ABC

    the bonus house was on willow place. Very nice.

    I liked the house tour this year. There have been years when I liked the houses better, but I’ve always been impressed by the number of volunteers they get to help out and the amount of tickets they sell. I’m sure it’s a lot of work but they make it look easy.

  • Gerry

    i bought new living room furniture at Raymour & Flanningan out in Garden City measured carefully so that it would fit up 2 flights of Brownstone I LOVE our new living room NO it did not cost $10K or more it cost under $2K do I plan to die on this furniture? Not hardy! In a few years when its looking old I will throw it out buy new stuff – middle of the road not complete junk but NOT a $10K or up sofa for me no way.

    I want to copy T. K. his interior design the mirror over the stove thing sounds chic BUT I want to put the mirror over our bed.

    It was a grand house tour.

  • cat

    Is it 2012 already?

  • http://loscalzo.posterous.com Homer Fink

    good catch cat! the copy editing team is sleep deprived!

  • EHinBH

    Seems like a mean-spirited review to me.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Yawn! (Rubs eyes.) Ahhhh….

  • T.K. Small

    Oh no! Now my secrets out and people know the real purpose of the mirror in the kitchen!