Did you ever watch Dr Lucy Worsley’s historical series’ If Walls Could Talk?’ on the BBC, where the historian took us through the history of each room in the house? From medieval beds made of straw, ‘hitting the hay,’ to the Elizabethan introduction of living rooms, Worsley, who is the chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, entertained us by dressing up in period costume while revealing some of our strange living habits – like ‘bundling’ – the custom of allowing unmarried couples to lie tied to a bed fully-dressed all night, ‘just to chat.’

But while this was all very entertaining, the point of the programme was to demonstrate that the way we use our homes reflects the times in which we live. For example, Elizabethan society became increasingly consumerist, with the result that wealthy people wanted more rooms to show off their possessions to guests. This meant society moved away from living in one-roomed houses and barns, to aspiring to live in large houses, with many rooms fulfilling many functions from work to play, so they could separate the private and public. Then, as the modern age developed, more people owned or rented their own properties, which in turn shrunk in size. Consequently, we spent less time indoors as we went out to work, school and play.

Now, at the start of a new decade in the 21st Century we suddenly find we’ve been forced back to our own patch again, thanks to a powerful, destructive virus. But is this the start of a new phase of how we live now, or just a temporary blip? Of course, a lot will depend on the progress of the virus, but what are we learning from this experience?

“Those who adapt successfully, are those who are able to maintain clear boundaries in terms of a designated space and time.”

You’d think that an enforced period ‘a la maison’ wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for the English – after all, there’s a general idea in our national consciousness that your home is your sanctuary, and what you do under your own roof is your business. This idea was enshrined in law in the 17th Century by lawyer and politician Sir Edward Coke, The Institutes of the Laws Of England (1628). ‘For a man’s house is his castle et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man‘s home is his safest refuge].’

It’s true that, for many of us, returning home has made us re-evaluate and appreciate aspects of our lives overlooked in busy times – helped by warm days and balmy nights. Describing their experiences, Sue Macey and Cathy Morris-Adams, managing partners at Lodestone Property, which has a branch in Shaftesbury, feel grateful for clarity. Sue told us, ‘we are lucky enough to have a 4-bedroom family house and we were thinking of downsizing,’ she says, ‘but this experience has made us realise that we are not ready to do it. Two of our three children have come back home and because of the space we have, we have not got on top of one another. And because of the weather being so lovely and as we are fortunate enough to also have outside space, ‘lockdown’ has not had a huge negative impact on us. We have decided to stay because we appreciate it all so much more.’

Cathy’s experience was different – she says, ‘I managed to sell my house during lockdown, no mean feat but we are experts in chain progression! I am now going to be renting and what has come out of this for me is that I thought I would be happy with a very small garden because work keeps me so busy, but this has made me realise how important a garden is, especially space for veggies, and I think this will be a conclusion that lots of people leaving cities will also come to.’

Hanna Sampson, 28, and Mollie Mogridge, 23, owners of a florist and café, have also noticed a feeling of contentment. The young business owners opened Pamplemousse, their Shaftesbury-based business, 5 days before quarantine – but adapted fast to being forced to close the shop by offering doorstep deliveries of flowers, cakes and now bread, which is proving very popular. ‘When we turn up to people’s houses to drop off a surprise gift, they are often in their gardens and seem like that they are enjoying themselves, perhaps because they have slowed down,’ says Mollie. ‘People are being thoughtful too,’ she continues, ‘sending gifts just to say they care rather than for a birthday or anniversary and our customers are loving receiving handwritten notes with their parcels rather than just a text.’ Hanna’s experience is slightly different, however, in that she has a two-year old son, Ralph, who would usually be at nursery most of the week. ‘We always planned that I would have one day at home doing the accounts,’ she says, describing the pair’s initial ideas for how they would divide the work, ‘but it is quite hard answering the phone and entertaining him, although it’s nice that he is having more mummy time.’

So, while those of us with gardens and space are largely adapting well to these new conditions, others may find it stressful, particularly if we have to work at home. Chartered Psychologist Emily Hooper, based at the Riverside Psychology Service in Yetminster, agrees: ‘People will have very different experiences, depending on their circumstances,’ she says. ‘For example, working from home when you live alone is likely to be easy from a practical point of view, but may bring psychological challenges in terms of loneliness. Meanwhile, someone attempting to work at the same time as home schooling will have very different issues.’ But the availability of so much technology like video conferencing and broadband has meant that the actual act of working from home is much easier – and effective. Emily continues: ‘Many people have found they are far more productive. I believe those who adapt successfully, are those who are able to maintain clear boundaries in terms of a designated space and time. In addition, they maintain meaningful contact with others, such as an in-depth telephone conversation. Significant contact is especially important for those where the workplace provides a great deal of their social interaction, as meeting these basic needs are essential for our wellbeing.’

So, does the relative ease in which we have embraced making home our focus mean a change in the way we use our houses in future, especially if we are to move in and out of lockdowns in the coming years? Simon Neville-Jones, Lodestone Property’s Dorset manager concludes: ‘Although no-one knows what’s ahead, at the moment, we’re seeing lots of people looking at houses online who are thinking of moving, and my anticipation is that we will see lots of people want to move out of densely populated areas. I think what they’re going to be looking for is a village with a post office, good broadband and home office. For the upper echelons of the market, people will want a pool and tennis court too, because they will want a property that does everything for us.’ So, despite the abundance of modern technology, we could actually return to a home life similar to that of affluent Elizabethans and later, the Victorians, where rooms were used for many different purposes, so residents hardly had to leave their properties at all. Home, sweet home? Time will tell.

Catherine Rapley, Lodestone Property

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