They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression and nowhere is that truer than when you step into somebody’s home.
In Roman mythology “genius loci” was a spirit that was said to guard a place. These days the term is often associated with architecture as the spirit or sense of a place.
It’s indefinable. Some places feel welcoming, comforting. Others leave you feeling slightly on edge. It’s a reaction at a purely intuitive level.
Paul Tilse of Paul Tilse Architects says the pursuit of genius loci is largely a sub-conscious, internalised knowledge.
“It’s not something you necessarily think about, but it’s certainly inherent in architectural principles,” he says.
“There are many elements to consider in creating a sense of place – the block, any special features, whether there’s a view, the landscape, trees, the movement of light and so on.
“You have to identify the most special feature of a site as your starting point.”
The architect says home design builds on that knowledge and takes it into the architecture.
“That is expressed through the floor plan and how rooms connect with each other and the outdoors.
“And that’s further enhanced by choices in materials which might include stone, timber, steel, glass and more.”
Tilse says natural materials can enhance the feeling of a home and give it a more welcoming feeling.
Fellow architect and commentator Tony Trobe of TT Architecture echoed Tilse’s comments with a particular emphasis on the comfort provided by sustainable design.
“With a good block selected the next thing is to get the most important parts of the house in the right spot,” he says.
“This sounds obvious and it should be; it means locating the key living areas (probably the family meals and kitchen zone) facing north.”
Trobe says these, too, should have their long axis facing the sun and relate well to private outdoor spaces. The avoidance of glare is another architectural priority in making a home comfortable.
“The passively designed houses of the ’70s often had windows on the north only side and combined them with dark floor and wall finishes that resulted in uncomfortable glare,” he says.
“Small double-glazed openings on the south have the advantage of promoting good cross ventilation and that lovely indoor-outdoor connection that most of us crave.”
Property stylists Melinda Jamieson and Suzy Piani of Sold On Styling are frequently called in to prepare homes for sale. They have extensive first-hand knowledge as to whether they are in the presence of genius loci or not.
“The spirit of a house can be an elusive quality to conjure,” Jamieson says.
“It derives from the building and the people who inhabit it – it is a cohesive, naturally organic mix of everything including furnishings, and, when it works, it appears effortless.”
Piani says an integral aspect of styling is the knack of bringing all the elements together to achieve a sense of genius loci.
“The elements that are imperative in creating a holistic home are: space, light and a connection to the environment,” she says.
“And beautiful things. Pieces like quality artworks, tactile objects, vignettes curated from heirlooms, travel purchases and gifts, books and living plants.
“We use all of these to create a warm, stimulating and emotive place to be,” Piani says.