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A woman builder, please?

I am always a soft touch for reading American settler stories and viewing well-crafted, self-built houses. Nancy Hiller links together an age-old desire – to build a home of your own – with a democratic idea that anyone should be able to do it. In a civilised world, it should a universal right. And in America it’s almost true, or at least it was. Plentiful land has provided the opportunity to willing souls, beyond the obvious candidates of males and well-monied types, to single women, hippies, poorer families and poets.

Nancy’s delightful, brave and original book, A Home of Her Own, shows what comes about when women build their own homes. It breaks from the classic interior design format, so it has the missing bits included – mini-biographies of the individuals who have built against the odds, as well as indoor and outside photos. You get the whole picture, not just smart, primed-up, perfectly decorated interiors.

A very personal account of Nancy’s emotional relationship with the first American house she bought herself (she lived in Reading, UK when she was younger) and her longing for it, provides a moving account and an insight into the wider aspects of what the process gave her. As she is both a cabinet-maker and an academic, renovating the house gave her mental relief during a difficult time. It backs up the claims of Sherry Tuckle, sociologist and author of Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, that objects naturally become emotional companions that anchor memory, inspire meditation, demand time and commitment, and foster total connectedness to place by encouraging the development of skills.

When you make stuff yourself, build your own roof and walls yourself, the emotional quotient doubles. I recently re-built a workshop in the woods with my son Felix, and my brother (sadly, not my daughter). It’s small, basic and of simple construction but every time I go into it I feel a ridiculous amount of pleasure.

In my opinion, a country where you can build a home of your own is a place where democracy thrives and the living must be good. If women can do it on their own, why don’t we have more women builders, craftsman, particularly cabinet makers?


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