Home of the Year: Nice house, but you wouldn’t live in it

RTÉ judges say they’re seeking personality but seem more impressed by sterility

Declan O’Donnell, Deirdre Whelan and Hugh Wallace

Declan O’Donnell, Deirdre Whelan and Hugh Wallace

 

Homes say so much about us, don’t they? That’s why they must be kept silent. Homes know too much.

“What makes a house a home?” begins the voice-over for the fourth series Home of the Year (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 8.30pm). Its panel of professional snoopers offer some sage advice.

“Personality,” says architect Hugh Wallace.

“Colour,” says interior designer Deirdre Whelan.

“The building should really rise from the site,” chances the permanently enthusiastic Patrick Bradley.

That cruelly dashes the hopes of anyone who has burrowed their way deep down into the earth, but not, conveniently, anybody whose has modelled their gaff on the layout of a nearby wedge tomb.

That, precisely, is the situation of their first competitor: a clean, sharp, geometric edifice in Derry, which is certainly striking. Inspired by their neighbours, the residents of a 6,000-year-old burial site, it is as white and off-white and light grey as a dimming view of the afterlife.

Though the owner proudly recalls her father’s assessment – “Well, this has to be the nearest thing to heaven” – it’s hard to take it entirely as a compliment.

Condemned with such as faint praise as “Cathedral like”, “echoey” and “Ulster House of the Year winner in the 2017 RIAI Awards”, it is a place that asks to be worshipped rather than loved; somewhere to rest your weary bones, so long as you don’t need them back again.

“Who lives in a house like this?” Lloyd Grossman used to drone on Through the Keyhole, a show that understood where personality resides. It doesn’t seem coincidental that these houses resist the answer.

An achingly tasteful and charmingly renovated period home in Wicklow, for instance, clearly accommodates a family of swallows within its elegant eaves. But its owner, Samantha Mackey, gives very little away herself.

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” says a framed print on the wall, and what does it say that there is so little here that seems spontaneous? The artwork, always revealing, suggests an occupant with sights set elsewhere, mainly Africa, and it’s not for nothing that her favourite place – identified with the show’s oversized red dot – is in the hall, a transitional space.

Bradley, tellingly, adores its lack of clutter – “you don’t often find that in traditional houses”. That says it all, really. Nobody’s home.

By the time the judges arrive to the third dwelling, in Down, covering more than 450km in their unrumpled, continuity-abiding clothes, appearance seems to be everything. “The home-owners here really want to impress,” one remarks, which hardly sets them apart.

But in this instance, the judges seem to thrill instinctively to be in the presence of one of their own – its lavish “period-style home” tricked out with the details of an interior designer.

“It nearly feels like you’re in a boutique hotel!” approves Bradley, which, if I understand the title correctly, ought to count as grounds for immediate disqualification.

But, of course, homeliness is hardly the point of Home of the Year. Death is.

“I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Whelan insists of their winner. How about that for a model of perfection? No one ever imagines living in it.

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