Home, it would seem, should increasingly embody the sociality, multiplicity, and fluidity of the contemporary moment. Mobility reigns. Personal information is shared at an excessive, if not alarming rate. We turn to the Real Housewives of somewhere to see how other people live. The classic divide, homemaking and paid work, has dissolved into the rhythmic continuum of multi-tasking. Yet, when it comes to home, dualisms endure. Private/public. Home/away. Mine/yours. Amidst an overabundance of information, communication, and interconnectedness we still want a picket fence—and to peek over it.
One entrée into the unsettling of home in the contemporary era is being carried out under pitched roofs and coved archways across the country via domestic voyeurism. The home tour, once reserved for viewing elite residences, has become an annual event in many residential historic districts to celebrate the architectural distinctiveness of ordinary historic residences. Unlike mediated voyeurism—omnipresent, distanced, and often experienced alone—the home tour is an embodied, social encounter in other people’s intimate spaces of inhabitation. In the space between public and private home is made—anew, the same—in gestures, utterances, and expressions. As “tourists,” many of whom are neighbors, move through the modest-sized historic homes, bodies and features of the house collide, memories erupt, and conversations about cabinet refinishing arise.
The allure, and act of, looking en-home-tour-route is not optical, but sensate. Looking with and through our shifting auditory, olfactory, haptic memories we peek, scan, touch, get closer and enjoyably encounter the familiar, the new. The bodily act of touring a neighbor’s ordinary domestic space facilitates both intimacy and distance from daily home practices. The hue, grain, and tedium of everyday become worthy of note. The spectrum of materiality, from the original 1920 bathtub to the flat screen TV, transmits ways of inhabiting in temporal juxtaposition. Love at first sight, loving restoration, and other amorous expressions push relationships between people and things; acts of rescue and caretaking abound. Libratory potential is found in the absence of garages and presence of built-in nooks.
History is encountered affectively, in impressions and stories—the ways they erupt from neighbors, old sidewalks, and milk doors—in relation to remnants. These historic homes and much of their contents, are appreciated precisely for their status as remainders; in the City’s first suburbs, what was once mass-produced, now conveys an “aura”—paradoxically—of an original, of authenticity. The critique of debilitating nostalgia, of false history dissolves into an appreciation of factual diversity, a bricolage of pastness. Instead, through the display, assemblage, and stories of remnants, the past is enacted, comes to be, as part of the unfolding present.
The interior of these petit homes, where home and history have been made for 70 years, escapes the regulatory domain of local preservation zoning. Though the façades of decades past, stoic and weary alike, are largely protected from stuccoed whimsy and other architectural insult, they give little indication to life lived inside. Here, in the interior space of an ordinary 1930s single-family dwelling, subversive domesticity and creative historicity await discovery.
On February 28th 2010 in central Phoenix, twelve Brentwood historic district households graciously opened their homes to the public for the annual Coronado historic district home tour. Designated in 2005, Brentwood is a small historic district located within the greater Coronado neighborhood, a broad swath of the central-eastern corridor housing three residential historic districts: Coronado, Country Club Park, and Brentwood. As one of the largest and oldest historic districts in central Phoenix, Coronado’s historic home tour highlights different sections of the neighborhood each year. This year, for the first time ever, the Coronado home tour was held on one block of the Brentwood district. On June 9th, 2010 Brentwood was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Post-tour we returned to Brentwood to collect stories and impressions, a re-home tour of 5-month duration. Three bodies, two cameras, and an audio recorder were kindly welcomed back into each of the 12 homes for closer looking. Yet, like frantic bees, clumsily jostling through hallways, blurting out questions about stoves and childhoods, making pictures of doorknobs; we did not simply gather histories. Our own memories and thoughts bubbled to the surface and we pollinated the block with many re-tellings of tellings. The break-in and the stolen dog. The attempted break-in. The jeep on fire. The oldest house that is no longer the oldest house. The lost dog that was almost a stolen dog. The new sidewalks. The old sidewalks. The porn house. We hope this telling of home tour invites a new enactment of storied Brentwood.