I live in a rather unusual place. It started life in the 1970s as a housing cooperative. A group of people got together and applied to build a collection of medium density houses that all complement each other and share some common facilities (gardens, a community centre and a pool). They engaged a really good architect. They made the government change the rules so that they could build it. The houses sit on a block of land that’s paisley shaped (how ’70s is that?!) and they are pretty damned funky. People of all ages live here, from original owners (some of whom are in their seventies) to families with young children, and everyone in between. We call it the Village.
The Village recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. As part of the celebrations some people were asked to open their homes so that others could come and look at the different types of architecture. I’m the newest resident and have only recently moved in, but I said yes to opening my house because it was a good way to meet people. I hastily unpacked boxes and shoved everything in cupboards. Now I don’t know where anything is. If there was an Olympic medal for speed weeding I’d win it, because I went through my garden like a whirling dervish. (Not sure about those mixed metaphors. Anyway, you get the idea.)
About 25 people turned up on the day to walk through my house. Most were from the Village; some lived elsewhere in the suburb. The contradictory things people said made me laugh. “It’s small, isn’t it?” said one person. “I like how you’ve made it look bigger,” said another. “These houses are very hot upstairs,” said someone. “These houses have great cross-ventilation,” said someone else. The great thing was that everyone told me about their own house and how much they like it here. Some started off as renters then bought a house. Some bought one house then sold it and moved to another one, still in the Village.
The funny thing was, absolutely everyone stopped in front of my etching of a dog called Jenny (by a friend who does wonderful etchings) and told me about either their artistic talents or their pets. I met people who make jewellery, people who like to sew, people who paint and draw. I met dog lovers and cat lovers. It was so much nicer than the usual conversation people have when they first meet, which is, “What do you do?” What all these people do creatively is much more interesting to me. After the open house I went up to the community centre to look at the art and craft show that was part of the 40th anniversary celebrations. People had exhibited ceramics, models for theatre sets, paintings, jewellery, embroidery, prints, furniture, clothes and video art. It was a small but heart-lifting display of the wonderful things people make at home. And I thought that whenever I meet new people in my community perhaps a better question to ask is not, “What do you do?” but “What do you make?”