It started when I was a child. With my family, I would go visit people – family friends – in their homes. Not all these places were interesting. But those that always got my attention were the homes where the feminine influence was easy to see. Where the practical was just a side effect of the aesthetic. Velvet curtains, flowers in china vases, vanities heavy with perfume bottles and jewellery boxes, a hand cream tube resting on the night table. I could almost picture myself living like that when I would be old enough to have my own home. If I happened to stay overnight in such a place, it was a sheer joy to use that woman’s toiletries: shower gels, body lotions, and secretly, a bit of perfume, too.
Our apartment was not as interesting. We had good furniture, it was clean and tidy. My mother was proud of her impeccable white towels and she took laundry very seriously. My sister and I were immaculately dressed, preferably in white. The cupboards, the wardrobes, the pantry were all well organized. In our children’s bedroom, the drawers of our desk were regularly checked and sorted. Any pen that did not write, any paper that did not serve a purpose were simply thrown away, never accumulated. We were not allowed to post things on the wall, as we saw in other children’s rooms. Posters were considered tacky, plus they would ruin the paint. Ours was definitely a masculine home, and my father’s military background had a lot to do with it. I did not have a problem with that. On the contrary. When I visited my friends in their homes, I would show them how to tidy up or I would just do it for them. Because I could not sit and watch cartoons with them if their room was a total mess. It bothered me. But even so, a part of me was intrigued by the atmosphere of such a place – it must have felt very free and bohemian to me – and the carelessness of the people living like that.
The life of others has always fascinated me. Their routines, their choices, the little things that make them happy. And there is no place that can tell you more about someone than their home. I love to be in other people’s homes, to look around and find traces of their personality. Furniture, tableware, art, accessories, books or the lack thereof – all good indicators. Sometimes, visiting people is a disappointing experience. The utilitarian is what most are after. You may just as well be in the waiting room at the dentist and the experience would be just as uninspiring. You are happy to leave. A different story when you are in a beautiful home, where there is care for details. In the space around you, you feel the love and the generosity of the host. You feel spoilt, looked after. You are lucky. You are in a real home.
When I booked this apartment in Lisbon for a longer stay, I was expecting it to be spacious, stylish, and comfortable. What I did not expect was for it to feel so homey, to exude the warmth and the care of the host even when she is not around. Even more surprising was to find myself in her choices. This is a home shaped after the needs of my soul. It is not my home, but it could be. The warm kitchen with carefully selected tableware, the cinnamon and mahogany scented candles all over the place, a drawer full of incense sticks, the Jacaranda hand cream on the desk, in the office room, – I have the same one at home and I use it for inspiration, before I start to write -, the green tea perfume I’ve always liked, the lotions in the bathroom, the books on the shelves. It makes me so happy to be in this house, at any moment of the day, on rain or sunshine. The sweet light of Lisbon, pouring inside through the windows, only adds up to this feeling of peace and generosity. Some homes have a special power: they make you feel like a better version of yourself. It’s what this home makes to me. Here, I want to read, I want to prepare meals, I want to write. Even the simple gesture of doing the laundry and hanging it on wires on the balcony fills me with joy. It is a place where I want to spend time and just be.
I’m thinking that, just like the feminine or masculine homes in which we live, there are also feminine or masculine cities. A home like this would not be possible in, say, Hamburg or in Reykjavik. Not even in Amsterdam. But it would be possible in Paris or in Rome. That’s because it takes a feminine city, a city born of elegance and beauty, to accommodate such a place. Northern cities are made with other purposes in mind. As a result, they are more austere looking, they seem so masculine when compared to southern cities: brick instead of stone, function in place of aesthetic, straight lines in place of any decorations.
The buildings in which we live, work, or those we see when we walk down the street most certainly affect our mood, how we feel as citizens, they even give hints on how to dress when we go out, and how to decorate our homes. The reason why this home here, in Lisbon, has such a positive effect on me – and surely on anyone crossing its threshold – is because it is a feminine home in a feminine city. It is supposed to be warm and pretty because Lisbon is like that. Besides, a feminine city asks for feminine buildings, beautiful buildings on both interior and exterior. They don’t have elevators, but they have an elegant, spiral staircase, with wooden steps that crack under your feet, as if to say “welcome home.” These are buildings with dignity and living in them makes you feel like a human being. It makes sense that the homes they nestle can only be special. A home to treat you with generosity and to spoil you, just like a good host.