To personalize a space is to take something that is neutral and design it so that it fits your individual wants or needs. It is the essence of customized expression and a human practice that transforms a house into a home. Personalization describes a level of human investment in the environment. Investing in a home is committing to a relationship with that building and the community in which it is located. It means integrating aspects of your personality into the physical world by making improvements, marking certain spaces or adding items that are significant to you.
We analyzed several houses and questioned what aspects of a house are unique to its owners. We examined how to interpret ornamentation and symbolism as a way to understand personalization. Through the examination of select homes, we uncovered different ways that residents have personalized their space.
In Wang Chao Lee’s home, the focus of renovation has been on the interior spaces rather than on the exterior. Lee’s family concentrated on improving the condition of the living spaces in the main floors as they remodeled their home. Through his remodeling tactics, Lee exposes his ideology for prioritizing space to meet the needs of his family. Muneer Bahauddeen lives in a mixed-use building and he personalized his space in a different way. Although the building has been transformed throughout its history to serve different businesses, Bahauddeen’s investments focused on the layout and design of his ceramics studio on the ground level where he works on his art projects and holds community art workshops.
While some investments are tangible evidence of a current resident’s love for their home, one might also find evidence of personalization in buildings that are empty and abandoned. Foreclosed homes are examples of abandoned spaces without a resident. We found a number of foreclosed homes in Washington Park. A careful analysis of these homes provided us evidence of past residents’ investment and care in their abodes. Like archaeologists we discovered that remains of architectural ornamentation and structural changes made to the building often serves as evidence of prior owners’ investments, expressions and values, eternally embedded in the built form. Often ornamentation such as detailed cornices, carved door frames, intricate hardware, built-in furniture and decorated friezes distinguished the formal front of the building from the informal private back zones.
These markings from the past help us understand how personalization delineated spatial boundaries between outside and inside, public and private, formal and informal. Understanding these marked interior domains provide clues to our interpretation of the life, worlds, and cultures of the past inhabitants of these now-abandoned buildings.
Formal living and dining area in Wang Chao Lee’s home
Art studio in Muneer Bahauddeen’s house
Door frame and wall details in a foreclosed home
Furnishing and furniture in a foreclosed home