The Historical Relevance of Masculine and Feminine Spaces Within the Home

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This essay will analyse the historical relevance of the idea of masculine and feminine spaces within the home and whether these ideas are still apparent in a 21st century South African context. This analysis will be done by using the ideals placed on the Victorian Household and the psychological gender of the spaces, through looking into key spaces within the De Villiers family home and how the design interventions used in their home are relevant or irrelevant to the idea of masculine and feminine spaces. Through looking at both Public and Private Spaces within the house this extent will be analysed.

The Victorian era is an era that has held a lot of symbolism to our current culture. It has been the cause of some great debate about the gender roles on men and women for centuries (Forty 1986: 110). The Victorian era held the strongest reasons for questions to be asked about the house and what went on in doors (Forty 1986: 109). Our current society still lives by some of the rules that were placed into the home environment, though a few roles may be reversed or neutralised. When looking at the key culture of the Victorian era the person has to analyse the middle class to upper class households that held more than three rooms and had rooms that were gender orientated (Forty 1986: 106). “As domestic environments have come to be regarded as signs of the occupants' characters, people have gone to great lengths to present a satisfactory account of themselves.” (Forty 1986: 106)

As people we base a large amount of what we think of a person or family on their living conditions and therefore we project the desired opinion that we want from others onto our own living spaces, to be perceived in a certain way. This was a mentality that was seen in the Victorian era as well and predicted the future of you and you relatives (Forty 1986: 102). The Home was seen as a class symbol that would project the wealth and status of the family that lived within (Forty 1986: 101). This was an important part of knowing who to socialise with and what their personal worth would be to you.

Sexualities can only be adequately evaluated in relation to their broader cultural contexts (Smyth 1992:20). This can determine if one or both partners in a heterosexual relationship tend to be either more feminine or masculine in the relationship. Cavallaro (2001:115) states that:

“Anti-essentialists do not deny that men and women are biologically and anatomically different. However, they argue that masculinity and femininity are not timeless realities grounded in natural laws but actually cultural concepts that change significantly through time and space.”

The sex of the person does not affect the gender role that they have. How that will affect the relationship within the home in terms of the interior style according to the gender role that is more predominant.

The De Villiers family home is a household that is commonly found in South African, a mix of Afrikaans plaas and English City mentality (De Villiers 2015). The mother was brought up in Johannesburg and the father on a farm in Nelspruit (De Villiers 2015). The household consists of the mother, Debbi and the father, Lewis with their three sons over twenty-one living with them (De Villiers 2015). The family has a love for hosting friends and family in their spaces, this has made some design choices crucial in the house (De Villiers 2015). Debbi Studied to be a grade 5 teacher, but after having her first son chose to raise their children as a stay at home Mother (De Villiers 2015). At this stage the father had a big part in the design choices and certain things like floral patterns and colour were not allowed to play a role in the communal spaces (De Villiers 2015). Debbi decided to do her own curtains for the house and this soon after became a business that was bringing in more money than the construction Job that Lewis had (De Villiers 2015). They soon started to work together and this is when the change in the house happened and the chance for Debbi to bring Hints of florals into the house (De Villiers 2015).

The house is over 85 years old and was renovated eleven years ago to modernise some of the feature and add to some of the spaces in the house (De Villiers 2015). The family hosts a large collection of inherited antiques that have been reupholstered to suit the style of the house (De Villiers 2015). The mix between contemporary and old form a balance in this neutral colour scheme home. The latest room to be redecorated was the television room in February 2015 (De Villiers 2015). The exterior is a common South African face brick exterior. In the Victorian time the men had domain over what the exterior of the house was to be this was because the exterior world was a man’s world (Forty 1986: 104). A masculine exterior was seen as superior as it improved the power status of the family that lived within the house, if the exterior was more feminine the house was seen as bordering on a childish expression (Ehrnberger, Räsänen & Ilstedt 2012: 89). The exterior of the De Villiers house is masculine but the garden softens the exterior and makes the overall appearance more neutral.

As one enter the house you walk onto a raised platform that forms the passage to the private areas of the house and the public areas, this can be seen on the diagrammatic in Figure 1. The entrance looks into the open plan Formal living room (Figure 1 and 2). This room would be the equivalent to the music room and drawing room in a Victorian household. The space is divided into three defined segments: the first a Lounge area that is symmetrical with Colour making the space asymmetrical, seen in figure 2; a seating area of two wingback chairs that has a table with family pictures and other memorabilia, seen in Figure 2; and a Music area that has the piano and a music stand, the piano has memorabilia on top of it, seen in Figure 2. The soft furnishings are in a majority neutral palate with red cushions and pale blues or florals (Figure 2 & 3) being brought through, this a feminine way of decorating the space (Kinchin 1996: 13). The dark woods of all the hard furniture is a masculine trait (Kinchin 1996: 13). “Boundaries between inner psyche and outward aesthetic expression were growing ever more indistinct” (Sidlavskas 1996:70). The overall design of the room is more feminine with the Photographs and displays of plants and embellishments throughout the space, these embellishments of the room can be seen as a nostalgic element of a more feminine nature of remembering things from the past (Morley 2002: 58).

The next space is the formal dining room that is off the kitchen and Formal living room, as can be seen in Figure 1. Figure 4 shows the entire space of the dining room. Mainly done in dark furnishings with a few decorative items. The room is more masculine with a strong contrast to the Formal living room. The Fire place has a feminine look to it and has been in the house since it was originally built. The furniture is all repurposed family antiques. The pictures on the walls are prints and painting of men. These elements make the room more masculine and as it is more purpose decorated, therefore it has a more serious feel to it. This space is not a common used space and is kept for special occasions where in the Victorian era it would have been the most used room and the biggest status symbol in the house (Kinchin 1996: 16). This use of the dining room would also allude to the Victorian ideal of the saying ‘man of the House’ and this would therefore need the space to come across more masculine to show the ownership of the house unit.

The outdoor patio space that is off the dining room, seen in Figure 1, is a space used to celebrate family events. Morley (2002: 19) talks about the need of the family to part take in rituals (Birthdays, Easter and Christmas celebrations) in certain areas of the house as a way of showing an “appearance of proper family relations”. This space in the De Villiers house is the Main patio, which has been designed to be an entertainment area. This area was added to the house ten years ago and has been used to celebrate a wide range of events, as well as a favourite space to spend time with one another. This space is a multi-purpose space that brings in the families love of nature into the space with the garden bordering the space. This natural element is seen as a feminine side and with the curving chandeliers and lighter colours. the overall space has more of a feminine feel to the space.

The Family Sitting room that is off the dining room, seen in Figure 1, is the most used space by the entire family. Decorated in a Postmodern style that is emotionally decorated (Figure 6) and not functionally decorated, “stressing a unique and ‘daring’ combination of heterogeneous furniture elements all favoured for their authentic individual merits” (Cieraad 1999: 9). This space was redesigned in February and therefore the gender role of the room has changed. All the dark wood furnishings have been limited and some painted white to give a softness to the hard furniture. The walls have been repainted in a neutral colour, while the colour blue has been brought in with florals and patterns to balance masculine and feminine in the room (Figure 6). The room that was predominately the son’s haven therefore more masculine, has become a shared neural space for the whole families use.

The son’s bedrooms are each different and match each of their personalities. The oldest son’s bedroom (figure 18) is bedroom 3. The colour scheme is very similar to the rest of the house with a more neutral gender role. The middle son’s bedroom (figure 15 and 16) is simply decorated with blues and a few items on his desk. The youngest son (figure 17) has the most items in his bedroom and has a large about of memorabilia in the room. The colour scheme is blue and green. The boys have masculine rooms. “We must recognise that often home is ‘a contested domain: an arena where differing interests struggle to define their own spaces within which to localise and cultivate their identity’” stated by Ehrnberger (Räsänen & Ilstedt 2012: 57). Each of the sons are trying to find their own identity in their individual rooms and therefore their rooms are a contrast to the overall style of the house.

The main bedroom suit that is off the main passageway next to bedroom 1, seen in Figure 1, is the haven in the house for the husband and wife. Figure 7 to 14 show the entire suit. Each space has a different gender role and this shows who the space was designed more for the people living within it. The bedroom shown in figure 7, 8 and 9, is less ornamentally designed then the public spaces. The furnishings are in mainly neutral colours with very little patterning on them. Each night stand has a different appeal. There is a small patio and seating area for the husband and wife to spend time with each other in their shared space. The wife’s night stand (figure 7) is round with a table cloth making it softer, it has a plant and a small lamp on the table along with a few books and other items. Along with her dressing table it marks her individual space within the room. The husband’s nightstand (figure 8) has a chandelier hanging over it, the stand is made of a dark wood and has piles of books on the stand. The husband’s side of the bed is closest to his study. “The surface of a room, the shape of an object, its colour, can inspire sympathy or even antipathy… objects become signs of a great number of small actions” Paul Bourget (Sidlauskas 1996:73). The individual spaces within the shared spaces are strongly defied unlike the rest of the house.

The rooms off the bedroom each have more masculine traits. The study (Figure 10 and 11) off the main bedroom is overflowing with clutter and books. This space seems messy but is a well-used space and is the husband’s main space for himself in the house. The atrium off the space shows the need for individual space in the garden area for him as well. The bathroom seen in figure 13 and 14, shows a more masculine space with the use of dark woods along the neutral colours. There is very little decoration other than two paintings and a chair that has been placed in the space. The bathroom is more of a place of function then emotion, making the space more masculine (Morley 2002: 57).

The De Villiers house was designed in a French style that would lead one to think that the femininity of that style of design would be the most prominent gender role within their house. This house shows that through the people the space is made a home and their personal gender roles, along with the functionality of each space determines the overall gender role of each space. Rothchild (1999: 11) talks about the change in ownership roles of the house due to the workplace becoming more feminine. This allows one to see that the family unit has a more balanced Gender role household due to Debbie and Lewis working together as co-owners of a business, though Debbie now has a more design choice in the house. The private spaces applies to the individual that spends the most amount of time within that space. While the public space tend to be more masculine with feminine touches or elements being brought in to balance the space. The exterior of this house does not have an effect on the overall gender role within the house. From my personal perspective, the De Villiers house tends to hold a more balanced amount of masculine and feminine gender spaces, though feminine elements outweigh the masculine elements in the public spaces. The overall design style of the house stays consistent throughout the space.

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