Accepted paper:

(Dis)Continuity of comfort: notions of comfort in existing single-family houses in north-west Germany


Benjamin Widholm (Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL))

Paper short abstract:

How can comfort be created in a house built for another family? Data material that has been gathered in an ethnographical field study provides insight into practices of making comfort in existing houses. The exploration focuses adaption processes as well as the transformation of notions of comfort.

Paper long abstract:

I use the concept of comfort to explore strategies of appropriation by families, who bought existing single-family houses. I utilise notions of comfort, and the transformation of discomfort, to get a new perspective on empirical material that I have collected in an ethnographical field study, a section of an intersiciplinary project ( This material gathered is a result of interviews and house-site inspections. The sample comprises 20 houses in north-west Germany, bought by the current residents within the last ten years. The houses were built between the 1960s and the 1990s. The inhabitants' autonomy in implementing their own notions of comfort is the distinctive feature of this housing type. I consider making comfort as a reciprocal process. On the one hand, the inhabitants adapt their environment to get a particular ambient reality. On the other hand, given settings of space provoke the transformation of individual ideas. Questions hence arise regarding the fluid transition between comfort and discomfort. My basic approach is to identify elements in existing houses which were remodeled or maintained with the purpose of feeling comfortable, and to comprehend the practices of the inhabitants. This approach to material culture raises questions about the variation of ideals between the former and the current residents that my paper seeks to answer: which adaptions are necessary to feel comfortable in a home environment built for another family in former era under specific circumstances? How does the given material environment influence the house owners' idea of comfort?

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Dis)comforts of home: historical and cultural perspectives