Creating a Home — Not Just a House

‘Feels Like Home’ speaks beyond the four walls.

‘Feels Like Home’ is a source of inspiration in the home of Bridget McCartney Nohara.

As a lifelong lover of home design and the essence of “home” itself, stumbling upon Feels Like Home (Abrams Books, 2021) by Lauren Liess a few weeks ago at my local library simply made sense.

Taking the book from the shelf, I quickly lost myself in the tranquil image on the cover: a lush plant breathing life into a room; a cloud-like couch, begging to be reclined upon; and heaps of natural light flooding the space. 

I flipped through a few pages, discerning if it was worth checking out. By my quick survey (and much to my surprise), I spotted the Blessed Mother prominently, albeit humbly, on a living room mantle. This was unusual for a secular home-design book. Intrigued, I concluded this book would come home with me for the next two weeks.

Later that evening, I knit together the moment I had been looking forward to all day ... a blanket, a candle, soft instrumental music and Feels Like Home. I quickly realized that what I had originally picked up for its aesthetic appeal was captivating me on a deeper level.

Through the pages, author Liess explores the idea of home, but not just on a design level. She goes deeper, diving into the feeling of home, why it matters, and how we can cultivate this precious sentiment in our houses. The sprawling interiors, beautifully photographed by Helen Norman, are accompanied by words worth savoring on every page:

“Somehow, the physical place in which life takes place shapes us and helps form us. Home is literally the backdrop for our lives, setting the stage for all that we feel and do, which is why I’ve done so much soul-searching and questioning about how the design of a home affects our lives and can help make life more meaningful.”

Liess addresses the house-obsessed culture, which encourages pouring copious amounts of time, money and energy into curating living spaces, noting what is vital about home itself. 

“Why do we care so much about our homes?” she asks. “It’s a physical thing, a place, and most of us understand that material goods aren’t the path to happiness, so why does home matter so much? Because it makes us feel.” I resonate with this.

In this, her third published book, Liess takes the reader on a journey through the different homes she and her family have lived in over the years, as well as various homes she has designed. For each project, Liess offers more than insights on how to properly hang window treatments or how to pick countertops (although these are necessary topics, too). Chapters bearing titles such as “Habitual Joy” and “The Practice of Gratitude” speak to curating a lifestyle that animates the home, not just a design style. “Create a rhythm,” Liess recommends, “a cadence, a pace of life that you intentionally choose and take part in — rituals that make life flow and function better.”

I’m no stranger to design and decor books, but I have to discipline myself so as not to fall into the comparison trap. Somewhat like an Instagram or Pinterest scroll, the pages of this category of books are often filled with picture-perfect images that can make me feel like my own home is at best “not good enough” and, at worst, entirely drab. 

This is another reason I cherished this book so much; while the photos in Feels Like Home are as stunning as in any other such themed book, Liess grants the reader freedom through her wise insights, such as those found in her chapter “Embracing Imperfection”: 

“Never once have I heard someone equate the feeling of home with perfection. Home is real and raw and messy and beautiful.” 

Throughout the book, Liess plays with the idea of harmonious living. She gives practical ideas for how our homes can and should suit our lifestyle. This allows the home to feel restful and energizing all at once. To achieve this, Liess explains, we must keep our values and beliefs at the center of our life. “Living in harmony with our values and beliefs creates an authentic life full of purpose ... and a life full of contentment. … Knowing what things I value in my life has allowed me to think about how I can get more of it in my life through design.”

From start to finish, the book was dripping with truth, beauty and goodness. 

While not overtly Christian, the book contains graceful nods to Catholicism: Mary on the mantle, an icon on a shelf, a crucifix above a door. But more than the images, the very heart of this book speaks directly to anyone working to build the domestic church or unpack the theology of home. Leiss hones in on the notion that the family unit is invaluable, that striving to give our best efforts is always worth it, and that creating a home — not just a house — is, indeed, possible. 

As Leiss says on the final page, “there’s something to love in every day.”

And as St. Thomas More put it, “The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”

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