What qualities are missing in our homes? How can we regain them?
The mystery that attracts Howard Mansfield’s attention is that some houses have life—are home, are dwellings, and others aren’t. Dwelling, he says, is an old-fashioned word that we’ve misplaced. When we live heart and soul, we dwell. When we belong to a place, we dwell. Possession, they say, is nine-tenths of the law, but it is also what too many houses and towns lack. We are not possessed by our home places. This lost quality of dwelling—the soul of buildings—haunts most of our houses and our landscape.
Dwelling in Possibility is a search for the ordinary qualities that make some houses a home, and some public places welcoming.
Like Thoreau, Mr. Mansfield is a keen observer and, in his neck of New Hampshire, a granitic critic of the rushed life.
This prolific essayist (with several books, and many articles in prestigious magazines), stands out in the elite crowd of writers concerned about a sense of place. Mansfield’s not a trained architect or urban planner; he is by nature and practice an avid historic preservationist and cultural historian. It is not aesthetics that informs his narratives; it is sensitivity to human needs; it is compassion; and ethics. He makes us look at ordinary things differently. His measure for successful housing is: “Are the people here dreaming well?”
author of The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home
This wise and witty meditation on what makes a house a home fascinated, challenged, and tickled me. After reading it (and believe me, you should read it), you will look at your surroundings–and, perhaps, yourself–in a richer, more nuanced way.
author of Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved and Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words.
Howard Mansfield is a graceful writer with deep-rooted curiosity and a free-range mind. Reading him is like taking a long walk with a learned friend. In Dwelling in Possibility, Mansfield invites us to travel across time, geography and culture before delivering us—wiser and more thoughtful—to the full-of-meaning place we call home.
Howard Mansfield is the author of nine books about preservation, architecture, and history, most recently The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down (Bauhan 2018). He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, Historic Preservation, and Yankee. He and his wife, writer Sy Montgomery, live in a 130-year-old house in Hancock, New Hampshire.