How do the Middle Class live? Could you distinguish a middle-class family home from those belonging to working- or rich- classes? How would you judge? And would your criteria be transferrable to other countries?
I think that I could pick them out, but not based only on the type of house. The home’s upkeep and trim, the type of car in the driveway, the owner’s possessions and interests on display in the back yard, would tell me more than the scale of house or the way it fills the lot.
I thought about this a lot as I drove through the Chicago suburbs, the enormous contrasts between US and European homes. The suburb, build after the second world war, benefitted from abundant land and cheap construction materials. The streets are wide, the homes set well-back, every house detached from its neighbor by a generous border. The back yards are enormous and open, bordered by flowers and dotted with islands of garden.
I took a similar drive around Poole when I got home, taking pictures that I thought captured the economic variations in households.
First, some cultural orientation, Britain went through a similar burst of home-building sixty years ago. They built more brick dwellings, and more semi-detached homes. People generally build smaller in Europe than in the US, and an similar size and style of house will cost at least double the price of it’s US equivalent.
And the back yards tend to have sheds in place of garages.
Okay, with that said, can you assign class to neighborhood?
British locals tell me that these are all examples of middle-class homes. ‘Perhaps by Poole / Parkstone standards, but these would be very distinguishable neighborhoods in the US.
As an aside, these homes are all distinctly ‘British’ styles of architecture to me, very distinct from US-style dwellings.
Still, the market is not immune from the occasional lot-filling mega-home rising in Sandpoint.
Finally, a worthwhile survey is Peter Menzel’s Material World: A Global Family Portrait. It documents 30 statistically average families, with all of their worldly possessions displayed outside their homes.