My favourite room is our kitchen. Perhaps the kitchen is the most important room in many houses, but it is particularly so in our house because it's not only where we cook and eat but it's also the main meeting place for family and friends. I have so many memories of times spent there: special occasions such as homecomings or cooking Christmas dinner; troubled times, which lead to comforting cups of tea in the middle of the night; ordinary daily events such as making breakfast on dark, cold winter mornings for cross, sleepy children before sending them off to school, then sitting down to read the newspaper with a steaming hot mug of coffee.
Whenever we have a party, people graviate with their drinks to the kitchen. It is always the fullest and noisiest room in the house. So what does this special room look like? It's quite big, but not huge. It's big enough to have a good-sized rectangular table in the center, which is the focal point of the room. There is a large window above the sink, which looks out onto two apple trees in the garden. The cooker is at one end, and above it is a wooden pulley, which is old-fashioned but very useful for drying clothes in wet weather. At the other end is a wall with a large notice-board, which tells the story of our lives, past, present, and future, in words and pictures: a school photo of Megan and Kate, a postcard from Auntie Nancy in Australia, the menu from a take away Chinese restaurant, a wedding invitation for next Saturday. All our world is there for everyone to read!
The front door is seldom used in our house, only by strangers. All our friends use the back door, which means they come straight into the kitchen and then we all sit round the table, drinking tea and putting the world to rights! Without doubt some of the happiest times of my life have been spent in our kitchen.
Housing in Britain
In Great Britain, families prefer to live in houses rather than flats. Over 70% of people live in houses and only about 20% live in flats. About 35% of people own the houses they live in, or buy them with money borrowed from a bank or building society.
There are different types of housing in Britain. Terraced houses are attached to each other in a long row. They are usually found in towns and cities and many were built in the 19th or early 20th century as houses for workmen. Today, Victorian terraced houses are very popular city homes. In earlier times, terraced houses were also called town houses. These have three or four stories and very large rooms, and town houses are now very expensive and fashionable.
In the 1930's a large number of semis were built. They share a central wall. Typically, a semi has a small garden in front of it and a fence divides a larger garden at the back. Semis are still built where land is expensive.
A detached househas and round it. More and more modern homes are detached, although in areas where building land is expensive, the houses may be very close to each other.
Country cottagesare often old stone buildings which were part of a farm. Some country cottages are very old and they may have a thatched roof. Today many people who work in the cities buy cottages so that they have a place to go for the weekend.
A bungalowis a house where all the rooms are on the ground floor. As there are no stairs, many older people dream of going to live in a bungalow when they retire.
A block of flats.In the 1950s and 1960s local councils cleared a lot of slums in the inner city areas and knocked down terraced houses in very poor areas. Block of flats or tower blocks can vary from 3-5 storeys high up to 10-20 storeys high. Each storey contains 5 or 6 flats for families. But people don't like to live in them because there are many social problems.
The country mansion.Very few of the British live in country mansions. Today many mansions are used as restaurants, hotels, old people's homes, etc.
Many British people are lucky enough to live in their own homes, and the great majority of these have a small garden. However, housing is a problem in many cities. Many young people have to live in, or share, small one-room flats called bedsitters, and the homeless are still a problem.
Where Americans live
In the Unites States, many people once lived in large two-and-three-story homes. Today many people would like to live in such dwellings, but most people can't. They don't have enough money to buy them or even to make the first downpayment. So, many people rent from month to month.
But some Americans really want to live in a house of their own, so they build their own home or they buy a house that is situated in a vicinity where homes are cheaper. It is better to reside in a bad part of town, they think, than not to live in a house at all. Or they buy an old house and removed it. Then they decorate it with antique furnishings. Sometimes, they can make an old house look more beautiful than a new one.
Usually, it is not difficult for people to find an old home to buy. Many older people decide that they don't need a spacious home after their children leave. So they sell their house and move to a cosy apartment.
But when people move into a house, they sometimes have problems. Homeowners have to do their own maintenance.
TYPES OF HOUSES
The primitive of many native tribes are often little more than shelters of mud, skin, or wood, hardly deserving the name of "house". It's only in settled civilizations that permanently constructed houses have been developed. Their forms differ widely according to the life people live, the climate, the materials available for building, and the skill with which these are used.
The shape of the house is strongly influenced by the climate. Where it is warm as in the Mediterranean and Arab countries, the plan of the house is open, with the rooms often arranged round a country and which admits air but not too much sun. In the north, houses are more compact so that they can be more easily kept warm in winter; where there is much rain, they have steep roofs to throw it off; but where there is much snow and frost, as in Switzerland, they generally have flatter roofs where the snow will lie, making a warm blanket over the house.
The shape of windows is also dependent on the climate. They are large in the north to admit sunlight, though not so large as to make the rooms too cold; in the south, windows are small so as to keep the house as cold as possible inside, and are often shaded from the direct glare of the sun by balconies or verandahs which provide a cool sitting place in the open air. Shutters outside the window also provide protection from the sun. Windows are placed facing away from the sun in hot countries and, where possible, towards the sun in cold countries to let in as much light and warmth as possible. Chimneys are a prominent feature of the exterior of the northern house.
The materials of which houses are built play a large part in giving character to the scenery of different countries. In England, before modern transport made it possible to carry cheap bricks all over the country, and before standardized building materials were made in factories, every region had its characteristic building material. Because old houses are built of local materials they fit into the landscape, and their colour and texture harmonize with it. Efforts are still made, therefore, to build as far as possible in local materials, especially in country districts.
Other countries, especially those less highly industrialized than Britain likewise retain many traditional materials and building methods. In Mediterranean countries the prevailing building materials are white-washed brick and plaster, with roofs on half-round Roman tiles. In many parts of central Europe the prevailing material is timber, though nowadays in towns timber is used less because of the danger of fire. In Holland and Denmark red or yellow brick is used, with roofs of red pantiles or plain tiles.
In Oriental countries houses are most commonly built of local sun-dried brick or timber. Japan is probably the country where the houses have retained their characteristic structure and appearance with fewest changes. The traditional house has a timber frame and the walls and partitions are light screens of paper, bamboo, or similar material. Such a light construction is situated to a climate and is less dangerous in earthquakes than heavy materials would be.
The shape and size of the Middle Ages, when people spent most of their time outdoors, rooms were few and barely furnished. But as indoor activities increased, there was more emphasis on indoor comfort, and rooms were set apart for different purposes. Nowadays, in the West, the desire for privacy has led to small houses or flats with small rooms, so that each family can have a separate living place and each person a separate room. But not all people want privacy; in the Arab lands of the eastern Mediterranean and in Mexico, China and elsewhere parents, children, grandchildren and other relatives all prefer to live together in the same house, forming one large household. In warm countries people live much more out of doors than in the north, and consequently, the houses are simpler and more barely furnished. In Japanese houses the dimensions of all the rooms are based on those of the mats with which all the floors are covered. The mat is always of the same size, so that each room is so many mats wide and so many long, thus making all houses consistent in scale ana1 proposition.
In the USA houses have changed as social customs changed. At first, American houses followed the patterns brought from Europe by the early immigrants, but, since timber was the most easily obtainable material, boarded walls and single roofs largely replaced birches, and tiles. Lately, different regions have evolved their own methods of house building to suit local conditions; for instance, a low, rambling house with widely spreading eaves, extending into lodgings and terraces, is typical of the Pacific coast. In addition the plan of the house has begun to change as the American way of life has diverged more and more from the European. Houses are less formal and rooms merge one into other, providing more space for general family life and fewer rooms for special purposes.