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Sunday Reading: A Sense of Place

In 2006, the journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron published an essay in The New Yorker about her love affair with the Apthorp, a Beaux-Arts building on the Upper West Side, where she resided for more than twenty years. Ephron’s piece is an evocative meditation on nostalgia and the meaning of home. Love, she writes, is a kind of homesickness; we tend to fall in love with people (or apartments) who remind us of something familiar. It was during a particularly low period in her life that she felt rescued and liberated by a sense of place. Over the past year, many of us have been forced to reëxamine our notions of what home means—whether it’s due to the transformation of a city we love or the absence of family members who have always brought us a feeling of contentment.

This week, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about how the concept of home has shifted over time. In “Homemaking,” Jamaica Kincaid writes about her dream house and how she was influenced by the legacy of its past occupants after her family moved in. (“A house has a physical definition; a home has a spiritual one.”) In “The Yellow House,” Sarah M. Broom reflects on the significance of her family’s New Orleans home, which was lost after Hurricane Katrina. In “The Ghost of the Glass House,” Adam Gopnik describes the visionary couple behind the Maison de Verre (or the “Louise Brooks of modern houses”), in Paris, where it doubled as a creative salon that drew artistic virtuosos including Picasso, Cocteau, and Miró. In “Altered State,” Andrea Lee recalls her experience growing up as one of the few Black girls in her Pennsylvania home town. (“I’m good at being foreign—I learn it as a child.”) Finally, in “A House of One’s Own,” Janet Malcolm examines how Virginia Woolf’s sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, transformed a Sussex farmhouse into the legendary artists’ colony known as Bloomsbury. Some of these pieces are enchanting, others wistful—they feel, in other words, just like home.

—Erin Overbey, archive editor


An illustration of an upscale apartment lobby
An illustration of an up-scale apartment lobbyIllustration by Arnold Roth

To move into the Apthorp was to enter a state of giddy, rent-stabilized delirium.


Jamaica Kincaid and her children
Photograph by Mariana Cook

Moving into the perfect house—and sharing it with the memories of the family who lived there before.


A decade after the storm, my mother still can’t go home.


Pierre Chareau’s modernist Glass House, in nineteen-thirties Paris—and the dreams that still haunt it.


Pennsylvania, blackness, and the art of being foreign.


Vanessa Bell
Photograph by George C. Beresford / Getty

Virginia Woolf was Bloomsbury’s genius, but her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, created its shrine.

Source: Sunday Reading: A Sense of Place

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