Saturday, February 13, 2021

Still Life with Robin: Watching Other People's Houses

by Peggy Robin

Now that we’re all done with that compulsively watchable mini-series, Impeachment Trial 2: Insurrection!, it’s time for something nice and relaxing – a lovely, low-stress show with just 12 episodes….and I’ve got just the thing. It’s called The Most Extraordinary Homes in the World, and you can find it on Netflix.

What makes it so perfect for this moment? You get to see our genial hosts – two Brits, Caroline Quentin, an actress and sometime property developer, and Piers Taylor, an architect, fly around the world, landing in exotic locales, where they go on extended house tours of some of the most spectacular homes ever built on planet earth. When you see them descend through a long, dark tunnel to emerge inside house built into a Swiss alp or watch them walk along the edge of a wing-like roof of a house set in the middle of a cactus-dotted wasteland, you may not feel entirely sure that they really ARE on planet earth.

Every one-hour show gives you a tour of four different houses. Some shows are arranged by the environment of the site (e.g., “Forest” or “Coast” or “”Mountain”); others are by country (Spain; Japan; India; Norway; and others).

The homeowners in some cases have essentially given the architects a blank check and a free hand to design whatever the architect thinks a house should be. The results, in a few cases, make you think, “Why would anyone ever want to live in THAT!” And in other cases, you might say to yourself, “If I had a house like that, I would never, ever leave.”

Whatever you think of each house, it’s armchair eye-candy to tour through each custom-designed, multi-grillion dollar residence. Usually there’s a pool, too!

Can I tell you why this show is so relaxing? You probably know The Great British Baking Show (and if you don’t, you should!) If you like that show, you should love this one. Like the baking show, it’s got a pair of very British hosts – genial, joking, guiding you through whatever you’re seeing, and never talking down to you. It’s got people who are extremely good at making something, and you get to see how they do it. While in the baking show, you’re watching people whip up incredible edibles in a short amount of time, in the Extraordinary Homes show, you won’t see the long, laborious construction process, but you will learn a great deal about the design concepts that the architect turned from blueprints into reality.

But here’s the big difference between the two shows: The Great British Baking Show is a competition. It starts out with 12 contestants, and week by week someone gets eliminated. If you start to root hard for one baker, you can get invested in them, and you'll want to see them make it to the end. And each week that your favorite stumbles or is in a time-squeeze to finish a bake, you 'll be worried for them. If your person gets knocked out, you may be sad. Even though everyone on the show is super-nice and they’re all such good sports – there’s crying in baking, sometimes. But there’s no crying in architecture – or at least not in this show. There are no winners or losers. You just look at the houses and feast your eyes. Nobody gets sent home at the end. Because each time you are invited in, someone already IS home – and even if you happen to think that particular home is really just a big, old, ugly concrete box stuck on a mountain top, it’s always clear that it’s somebody’s dream home and they absolutely love it.

Ready to get started? You can watch one of the segments in this free Youtube clip:  

Or dive right into the real thing in your Netflix account: 
3 Seasons (2017)

To quote my favorite heroine of fiction, "Oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home!"


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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