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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Home decoration and the expression of identity Pratt, Geraldine J.


Home decoration is considered as a concrete expression of the relations between a person decorating or supervising the decoration of her or his home and, in a general sense, society. A Meadian or Sartrean notion of self and the concept of social worlds are introduced to allow for a culturally relative consideration of the house-self relationship. A field investigation was conducted - 56 women living in elite housing in the Shaughnessy/Kerrisdale area or in West Vancouver were interviewed. Two social worlds are identified by means of a network analysis, and a consideration of different value orientations and varying domestic landscapes of the persons interviewed. A social world associated with "traditionalism" is identified with the women living in the Shaughnessy/ Kerrisdale area - most of these women and their husbands have grown up in the area, belong to the same social clubs and actively participate in the same community and philanthropic organisations. Consequently, their network of social relations is quite extensive - most of the women interviewed from this social world know of each other. In contrast, the West Vancouverites have a more "modern" orientation in the sense that they are internationally recruited, and lead relatively insular lives with fewer community or organisational involvements. The network of social relations amongst the West Vancouverites is fragmented and diffuse. The differing social worlds are reflected in attitudes towards taste, the temporal continuity of furnishings and the.use of an interior designer. The Shaughnessy women consider good taste to be objective or socially defined and feel that their own taste has been formed by their parents but has been relatively uninfluenced by the media. Their inherited home furnishings quite literally offer them ties to their past and their conformity in current choices bind them to their social group. In extreme contrast, West Vancouverites think that good taste is an individually defined matter. They consider their taste to be uninfluenced by their parents but rely instead on the standards and fashions portrayed in interior design magazines. They change their furniture fairly regularly to keep up with the trends so displayed and consider that their taste actually changes in concert. In contrast to the Shaughnessy women who feel that one's home is a clue to one's activities, the West Vancouver women consider their home to be an expression of individual creativity. Differing attitudes towards what one's home should express about one's self are exemplified by the extent and type of use of an interior designer. The Shaughnessy women tend to make extensive use of interior designers, although most use one interior designer who is also a member of their social world. The idea of the house as an expression of individuality is relatively foreign to the Shaughnessy women - one's home should conform to the group canons of good taste. In contrast, the West Vancouver women acquire the designers that they do use through the media. In these cases, the designer is employed in the capacity of artist, to perfect a portrait of the individual's self. As a West Vancouver woman stands as an individual in relation to others, she tends to choose an interior designer unique to herself. Considered as a group, however, the West Vancouver women make relatively less use of interior designers than do the Shaughnessy women. Because the home decoration is felt by them to be revealing of individual creativity, the use of an interior designer has some of the implications of fraud. The differences noted between the two social worlds and the contrasting object orientation of participants in each are then considered in relation to varying cultural critiques of modern society.

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