Hemingway once said, “Don’t live life as it is, live life as you want it to be.” Hemingway certainly practiced what he preached, living what most would consider a swash-buckling life as a writer in Paris, an avid sportsman, a mercenary war hero, and a ladies’ man. He lived his life in Paris, Spain, Montana, Key West, Havana, and aboard his beloved boat Pilar, named for the heroine of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although Hemingway’s own story didn’t end so well, his character has continued to be perpetuated as The Most Interesting Man in The World. Needless to say, his persona has sold a lot of beer. 

Hemingway aboard Pilar – the picture hangs above my bar in Maine.

But as we all grind through our daily lives, dealing with real-life issues such as traffic, sick kids, and taxes, many of us find little time to focus on living an “interesting life”, we simply move forward day to day.

 

I am a fortunate one; I don’t go to work in a cubicle, my kids are out of the house (well, theoretically), and since I live 3 minutes from the office I don’t even deal with traffic. Unfortunately, I do have to pay taxes. As an architect, I work in an interesting environment, with interesting, often fascinating people, and I’m required to travel for projects in places like the Bahamas, Costa Rica, San Francisco, Aspen, and the like. As one disgruntled hard-working friend put it, I make a living painting “pretty pictures”. Life is tough.

A pretty picture of a project in Bel Air.

But what is most interesting about my “job” (if you want to call it that) is that, as architects, we are trusted with the remarkable privilege of helping others shape their lives into something more; that dream of a “life as you want it to be”; for, that life usually begins in our home; the one place that is ours; the one place that says, “this is who I am”. There are those who wish to live life, and there are those who wish to live a lifestyle. Sometimes, these are simple expectations, but often they are grand; sometimes, it is a single vision, and sometimes it is an entire family with generational aspirations. As designers, we are trusted with this dream- a dream of a life of meaning.

A perfect family.

 People don’t walk into our office and we say, “here you are, we grant you new life”. Discovering what’s meaningful in one’s life is a process, and often a long one- so long in fact, we may never realize it has happened. It’s not scientific, nor is it even rational; it’s more like peeling away the layers of an onion to reveal what’s important to one’s quality of life and to one’s environment. It may be rediscovering a feeling lost to memories past, or it may be a newfound devotion in life; a new family, or an important cause.  Whatever it is, as architects and designers we seek to shape it; reinforce it; discover it- and then coddle it. We seek to define it with space, light, material and craft; it is aesthetic, but it is also tactile and audible; sometimes even odiferous. We shape environments for life experiences. As those we design for celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, life and death, love and (hopefully) general happiness, they fill these spaces with new memories; their memories, and the memories of those they care for and love, until one day- that house is no longer a beautiful house, but a beautiful home.