Visiting a friend’s new home, my house envy hit fever pitch

It’s no fun at all, it’s miserly and mean, the most shameful of the seven deadly sins

If we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, why wouldn’t that extend to our sofas?

I heard a new term this week: “house envy”. As terms go, it’s a new one on me, although it’s a concept I am way too familiar with. Perhaps you are too – it’s the sinking feeling when you register someone’s altogether grown-up interior, or spot their artfully arranged bookshelves in the background of a Facebook picture.

I have no idea why, but my house envy has reached fever pitch of late. I went to visit a friend in her new rented house in a quiet Portobello street. The itch of envy flared up as I walked through the maze of terraced houses, and got worse when I knocked on her front door, freshly coated with an eye-catching shade of mint green.

By the time I walked inside, I had reached weapons-grade envy: a small courtyard, modern kitchen, subway tiles in the kitchen, an open working fireplace . . . and space. Lots of it. To get one of these features in a new rental in Dublin would be a stroke to good fortune, but to happen upon the full house was a modern-market miracle.

“How much is your rent?” I side-eyed my pal curiously, and she revealed a number so low that it could have only involved some serious deal-making with a satanic figure.


Of course, I am delighted for my friend – she spent many an early Saturday morning queuing at house viewings, and was rejected by several landlords before happening on this place. But it did get me to thinking about how much I coveted her clean, modern space, not to mention her keen eye for a statement interiors piece.

I couldn’t ignore a slightly sinking feeling that, if ever my ship came in on the home search front like that, I’d probably be at the airport. It’s no fun at all, the feeling of envy: it’s miserly and mean, the most shameful of the seven deadly sins.

I'm really happy for her. I swear.

Another friend tells me of a story in which she bought her sumptuous Dublin 6 house during the market crash, and saw the advert pop up on a public holiday when she knew most people would be nowhere near a property website. She beat the crowd and bagged herself a bank holiday viewing, put her money down at exactly the right time, and is living in one of the loveliest, best-dressed houses I know. I’m really happy for her. I swear.

Houzz, an online epicentre of gorgeous interiors, has a regular blog called The Cure For Houzz Envy, in which they note that it "occurs when you look at beautifully styled photos of well-appointed rooms for a long time and feel forlorn and hopeless about your own home".

Some appear to be among the blessed few who have always managed, whether by accident of design, to find superior properties at below-market prices. Even at a time like this, when rental prices are rising up like a bad batch of Japanese knotweed, these people manage to buck the odds and find a dream dwelling amid the damp semi-Ds, the boom-time builds and the charmless new developments. Not for them landlord gripes, leaky showers or scratchy pine furniture.

Perhaps they make their search for the right home longer. Perhaps they just won’t stand for cracked bathroom tiles and a two-foot fridge. Maybe it’s just pure luck. But usually, the waiting game pays off.

We know that these desirable, Apartment Therapy-ready properties, whether to rent or buy, are hen's teeth rare.

Feeling "forlorn and helpless about your own home", as Houzz would put it, probably has less to do with someone else's Egyptian cotton bedding and more to do with one's own mindset. And in the current economic climate, it wouldn't take much for people to feel insecure and vulnerable in their current living situation.

We know that these desirable, Apartment Therapy-ready properties, whether to rent or buy, are hen’s teeth rare. Certainly, a well-appointed house that doesn’t break the bank is less the rule and more the exception these days. As a feeling, envy is the niggling pain caused by the desire for the advantages of others. In today’s market, a sense of scarcity and lack is commonplace. We are aware that the opportunities to bag a great home are finite.

And with our eyes essentially trained on the housing market, it’s natural for our collective conscience to retreat to the domestic realm, take a look around, and place emphasis on our homes anew. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have probably changed the way we think, too: if we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, why wouldn’t that extend to our sofas?

Please tell me I’m not the only person who looks at a picture of someone’s cat, dog or baby and ends up feeling avaricious towards their duvet cover or parquet floor. It’s easy to feel that if someone has fresh orchids constantly on the go, or has a huge kitchen table with perfectly distressed mid-century chairs, that their lives are going a lot more smoothly than yours.

I did ask one friend how he always managed to wind up in the best places, and his advice was simple: “Think about how much you can afford to pay on rent at a stretch, and then add another €100 to that figure,” he intoned. “Also, ask the landlord if you can paint the place yourself. I can’t bear biscuit-coloured rooms.”

If I thought a quick lick of Farrow & Ball would cure house envy, I’d be in B&Q quicker than you could fasten your seat belt. Maybe it’s a state of mind you can buy your way out of. But something tells me that house envy is a shameful sentiment that could well go deeper than that.