This little book turns out to be full of information and ideas that transform it into something, as estate agents would say, surprisingly spacious. Edwin Heathcote is the architecture and design critic of the Financial Times, and you feel that the book has been packed with half a lifetime’s cogitation, much of it recondite, on what our homes actually are, in our own minds and also in tradition, myth and inherited expectation. We are not three pages into the introductory chapter when he is already enlightening us on the parallels between the house and the Greek alphabet – the second letter of which, beta, derives directly from beth, ‘house’, which survives in Hebrew. Delta, the upper case of which is a triangle, represents a door (delet in Hebrew), epsilon a latticed window, and so forth. How could we ever have doubted or simply not known it? And how come Jung’s famous characterisation of the layered human psyche as a house, with the collective unconscious always in the basement, has not been consciously in our minds as we pop around our own houses, which are but feeble and inescapable replicas of so much that has gone before?
Well, this is the kind of question you find yourself asking as you read this book. Almost guiltily you realise that what you have taken to be a classic Georgian or Victorian house built for the perpetually rising middle classes, or a pleasant 20th-century version of tamed rurality, is really