There’s a house near me, probably built in the 30s and recently refurbished, that is occupied by two young men with tidy habits. I know this because their ground-floor bedroom windows face directly on to the street, and they don’t have any curtains. I frequently find myself approaching this house with a sort of fearful fascination, observing with horror that one of them is obliviously changing his shirt mere metres from the road, and entering a complex battle between polite discretion and pervy gawping. Because when a stranger is disrobing in front of you, you’re torn between wanting to look away and wanting to find out just how much they will reveal. And because nobody can walk past an uncurtained window and not look in to it.
I have a horror of people looking into my windows, which is why – to my mother’s endless disgust – I prefer to keep my public-facing blinds drawn. I’ve lived in a fair few places right next to the street, including one house where passersby could literally bang on my windows from the footpath (and they did). It just makes sense. Not much feels better than shutting the door on the outside world at the end of the night, knowing that the pile of unfolded washing from the night before and the cup of cold coffee left over from breakfast remains a secret shared between me, God and the living room floor. The world over, privacy is a privilege people gladly pay for. Gated communities. McMansions. Architecturally significant Grand Designs accessible only by helicopter. Which is why I find an apparent trend towards uncovered windows among the richish so disconcerting.
There are some fancy new townhouses and apartments being built in Christchurch central these days, all sharp angles and giant windows. Granted, they would look a bit naff with drapes. But they need them. I sometimes wonder whether the architects are designing with isolated bits of hill country in mind instead of Montreal St. They visualise their clients gazing out on rolling land and wide Canterbury skies, forgetting the strangers on the footpath who will be looking back at them. Some clever home builders have cunningly plonked a garage at the front of the section and the house at the back, creating a private courtyard area and doing away with the need to cover up. But others are as close to the street as any tenement dwelling and their front windows beg to be peered into. These are high-end properties that everyone assumes cost a bomb. What property lover is not curious about the kitchen fittings? If I forked out a million bucks or thereabouts for a townhouse I would not want the hoi polloi looking in, judging my taste in lampshades. No. I would get myself some blinds, quick-smart.
Selecting blinds for a house seemingly built for double-glazed exhibitionism can’t be easy. For a start all of the windows are either immense, or oddly shaped (and sometimes both). I suppose the complete ideal would be that glass that goes opaque at the touch of a button. But it’s fair to say that it might blow many residential budgets. Also, a large white window right on the street is kind of boring. If your house is a bit fancy then you owe it to yourself, the house and the people who are going to stare at it to make that privacy solution count. Perhaps your windows could become a giant artwork after dark. A nice cedar venetian is never wrong but why not, instead, a massive, snazzy print? Something for people to look at that’s not you, your telly, or your manky old trainers on the garage floor. Don’t succumb to the pressure to make your home into a McKenzie and Willis display window at all times! Get a blind and revel in the privacy you damn well deserve, with a mortgage that big.
As for the tidy-roomed young men, one of them got a clue pretty quickly and installed a set of matchstick blinds. The other? I’m still avoiding eye contact.