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2006-07-15 11:21

  Home. Few words in the English language have such a special meaning. Home is a place where you can relax, kick back and just be yourself. Just about everyone has a strong opinion of what makes a house a home. And for most people in America, home should be, above all, comfortable.


  Americans like their homes to reflect their personal tastes. Many do-it-yourselfers enjoy fixing up their house and making it more "livable." They often try to create a cozy atmosphere so that when they're at home, they'll really feel "at home." Sofas and lounge chairs may be heavily padded and arranged in groupings conducive to relaxed conversation. The bathroom even receives special attention. Carpeted floors, scented soaps, colorful wallpaper and decorative curtains adorn the "comfort room" in many homes. And on average, Americans have more bathrooms than any other people in the world.


  Lisa Marie Odegard, an interior designer in Bozeman, Montana, comments that "a home is a haven. People want an open, easy feeling to make their homes comfortable." For that reason, many new homes now have big, open kitchens and vaulted ceilings.


  Americans try to make the most of their space, too. The majority of homes have built-in closets and shelves, and people spare no pains to add dressers, filing cabinets and closet organizers to maximize their storage space. Although keeping the house neat is often a constant battle, Americans feel it's a battle worth fighting.


  People in America keep an eye on the latest trends in interior design. In the 80s, the "country" look dominated the home decorating scene. Rustic furniture and shelves full of old-fashioned knick-knacks created a homey atmosphere reminiscent of rural America several generations back. The 90s have brought in another longing for the past: the retro 50s and 60s look——plain and simple furniture with square backs and arms and block-style legs.


  Some parts of the country have their own regional preferences. In the western United States, homeowners favor the Navajo Indian style of the Southwest or the cowboy look. In contrast, Easterners prefer French Country or more "fussy" styles.


  With all this attention to their homes, you would think Americans place a high premium on housekeeping. In fact, however, keeping house doesn't receive as much attention as it used to. Why? The fast-paced lifestyles of the 90s allow little spare time for dusting, vacuuming and scrubbing the tub. Ironically, however, even though more and more women work outside the home, women still do twice as much house work as men. Modern conve-niences like the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, and the dishwasher have taken some of the drudgery out of household chores. But in general, Americans these days take their cue from books like How to Avoid Housework.


  As a result, you might think American homes of the 90s are less than spotless. Witness the fact that sales of household cleaning products have declined in recent years. Besides that, Americans seem to be less persnickety about their housecleaning——especially in areas that nobody sees. Vacuum under the sofa? Dust the baseboards? Are you kidding? Ironically, though, American women seem quite satisfied with their housekeeping, according to a national survey conducted in 1995-96. Besides that, people are designing their homes with low-maintenance features——tile in bathrooms and kitchens as well as marble on countertops——to cut down on the need for frequent cleaning. Even so, more and more people are hiring outside help to clean their houses. A Roper poll found that one in six Americans hired cleaning help last year, up from one in 10 in 1986. One professional housecleaning service, Merry Maids, has grown to over 800 franchises in recent years.


  In a pre-Revolutionary War speech in 1761, James Otis made the famous remark that "a man's home is his castle." Americans like their castle to be as comfortable as possible. They would like to have a home they can be proud of, a place they can call their own. Not everyone's home looks like a castle, but "be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."





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