Book Review: The Well-Centered Home

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Well, I assigned The Well-Centered Home: Simple Steps to Increase Mindfulness, Self-Awareness, and Happiness Where You Live by William Hirsch AIA (I think that has something to do with architecture) to my Pandemic Book Club, as the alternative book for February. (The main book—which I’ll review soon—is about stress and health.) I thought that since we’re stuck in our homes more than normal, it would be a good time to ask ourselves if those homes are comfortable for us or if they could be more comfortable. I was leery about the terms “mindfulness” and even “self-awareness” in the subtitle, but the book came highly recommended by the narrow field of people who had read it.

Turns out the “mindfulness” on the cover was a big tip-off. But it didn’t need to be. What I’m saying is the book is interwoven with comments which I would call pseudo-New Age fluff (being nice), but the meat of the book—the actual architectural insight and practical recommendations—don’t need you to buy into any of that to utilize it. Turns out Hirsch isn’t a religious or psychological expert of any sort (smashing together a random assortment of mostly Eastern ideas that read as hip and relevant nowadays), nor is he a logical wizard or a debate winner. His strengths instead are in his experience with architecture and people (where architecture meets), as well as pretty funny and spot-on (even if not very official) home-personality categories. I found myself not only laughing along to his nailing my and my husband’s peccadillos (from feeling needled by sharp corners to needing a reading chair in a corner), but also having many aha! moments as I looked around my house between reading.

Hirsch recommends some things that can be done right this second: I started opening my blinds all the way (past the midpoint) because he told me it would draw my eye outward much easier and calm me down and darned if it totally didn’t. The book is full of suggestions that run the gamut from do-today for no-money-down, and expensive, long-term ideas that you might want to consider when purchasing your next house. Or maybe I should say should consider, because I really do think there are great ideas here for how to make your house work for you on both a practical and emotional level.

Caveat: besides all the goofy, fluffy stuff, the book isn’t edited all that well, either. There is some needless repetition, awkward sentences, little mistakes that just should have been addressed. I’m reminded that, while Hirsch might be a powerful ally in redecorating, he is not a writer (and, like I said, not a spiritual guru). We don’t need to go near as far as “energy flow.” Personalities—so psychology—and physicality are far enough to make all his suggestions meaningful to you. (Note: I actually would have liked educational asides about how other cultures do architecture, including the spiritual aspect of it, as well as a deeper exploration of how our souls inhabit our space. But where he does that, it’s just not rigorous enough for me and it assumes a lot. For example, when he went through the four ways in which you need to “center” your home, I kept thinking in more rational terminology: for “anchoring,” space or location; for “earth-grounding,” nature; for “solar orienting,” natural light; and for “lunar orienting,” view of the moonrise. Get it? But coming up with new terminology for myself or not, I’m going to respond to blue ceilings and fluffy pillows no matter what we call them.)

I took his test. I’m totally a Galileo (which probably explains my reaction to his writing style and spiritual beliefs), and I’ll be using that as a reference point as I move through my home in the next months, years, and on, to be conscious of what I bring into my house, how I place, it, and how I interact with it. I’ll use the book for color ideas, furniture selection, to put a plant next to my powder room door and two rugs in my family room, because, at heart, what Hirsch has to say here is experienced and makes sense, even if he’s wrapped it all up in a hearty dose of spiritual hodgepodge. It’s brief and dead useful, just not in the best package for me.

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