Homecology 101 with Moneca Kaiser

Homecology Podcast – Episode 2



Liz:  Hello again, Moneca. I’m here with Moneca Kaiser Design Build on this lovely Sunday afternoon. How are you today, Moneca?


Moneca Kaiser: I’m great, thanks.


Liz: Great, great, so we’re at it again. However, this time around, we’re going to get deeper into the conversation and philosophy of homecology. Now, that’s a term you have coined, so to speak, and how about we start with your explanation of what homecology is.


Moneca Kaiser: That’s a great place to start, Liz. Homecology is a synthesis of some things that are very important to us but we don’t really talk about a lot. Home is kind of … It connotes something about community and environment, and it’s evocative of something meaningful to us. We all long for home. We talk about homecoming journeys. We write poems about home, and we all know what homesickness is, and I wanted to try to study that, to what is it that makes up a home, and I wanted to begin a conversation about what those elements are, so homecology is about our interdependence, and our community, I guess. What I’m trying to do is elevate the build environment to be in harmony with the culture and ecosystem we’re dependent on, to have more of a symbiotic relationship with everything.


 Liz: What are those elements that you are speaking of?


Moneca Kaiser: I’ve been playing with this for a while and it’s complex. It’s not complicated, but it’s complex, and there’s a big difference. There’s an elegance and a simplicity to it, but talking about it can get a bit unwieldy, so what I’ve done is I’ve broken it down into five elements of homecology, or principles, things that we need to aspire to in order to create great homes, and the aspirations are awakening, acknowledging our interdependence, cultivating adaptability and embracing adaptability, cultivation, which I just used that word, I didn’t mean to, but cultivation is like what do we want to cultivate in our homes? What do our homes want to cultivate in the world? So setting an intention and design into words that intention and honoring our values all the time, and thinking of the home as a living organism, and something that propagates meaning and values and enlightenment, actually, is my hope, and then ease. We need ease. We need ease so that we can give more, so that we feel abundant and we can flourish, so those are the elements and we could easily do a podcast on each of them.


  The idea is that you can’t build a home alone. I think John Dunn said no man is an island, and we repeat that and repeat that because it resonates so deeply, and no home is an island, either. We can’t create a home alone. These track builders, they can build these terrible parasites on the environment, and rape the land for as many dollars as they can have, and just these places that nobody really wants to live, but it’s all that they can manage.


Liz: Dead zones.


Moneca Kaiser: Dead zones, yeah, and they’re not alive. There’s no diversity. They’re sanitized, homogenized communities that don’t work and …


Liz: You see a lot of box towns growing these days. That seems to really resonate with people that, “Oh, I have to own this type of box house,” instead of building and inspiring to have their own type of values put into their homes. Is that something that relates to that?


Moneca Kaiser: Very much so, very much so, and I think that in order to build an actual home, we need to co-create it. We can’t do it alone. It’s a very intimate process of listening and learning, so the person who needs this home needs to be listened to the way a mother would listen to a newborn baby and understand its needs and wishes and aspirations. You know how a mom can … A really good mom is attuned to her baby, and she knows the baby wants something, but doesn’t know what, but she’s wise because she’s had a few other children, or she’s read the books, and she cares a lot, and we have to start approaching homemaking with a lot more caring and not about the granite counter tops or the quartz counter tops or the leather granite countertops or the whatever concrete countertops, and not even about how eco-effective those things are.


  That matters, but the deeper conversation is where is this countertop situated in your heart? What are you going to do there? How is your grandchild going to help you roll out the cookies, and where are you going to get the flour to make the cookies? Are you going to be living locally, in that trying to buy from the local people, and what does a kitchen look like that cares more about heart or environment, or your grandchildren than Dwell Magazine? It’s a bad choice, because Dwell has enlightened, but we have to stop thinking about how things look and talk about how things feel and why we want them to be that way, and what they’re going to cultivate.


Liz: That’s great, and so what inspired this idea behind the values? Where did it stem from for you?


Moneca Kaiser: I guess I started out I had a difficult childhood. I was pretty challenged, and just home was very dysfunctional and sad, and I realised really early on that there must be more to life. This is crazy, and I wanted to find things that I could really believe in and hold on to, so I just spent my whole life studying philosophy and initially, I did it at university. I left it, but I was so overwhelmed by having all of these concepts that didn’t belong to me, so I met a wonderful teacher of Tai Chi and art and meditation who is Buddhist, and I left university and I’ve practiced with him for 30 years, and has been this lovely discovery of really aligning my life with my values. I wanted to have a meaningful life, and a truthful life, and I chose to get to know myself and figure out what I care about. I’m 51 years old and I’m so happy. I had terrible depression till I was 28. I really had a lot of suffering and then I spent most of my adult life cultivating, not in a self-help way, but being present in meditation and with good people, and learning about meaningful things.


  Then being blessed by this wonderful teacher, who I believe is enlightened and has been able to impart … He always raises the bar, and helps me just elevate my thinking and vision, and I really want to bring that back into homemaking, into something very practical, and I feel that the reason I’m happy is I have aligned my life with my values. I created business that reflects my values, and I’m abundant and I’m nurturing and I give a lot, and it’s easy. I remember being young and it was hard to think about other people. I had a good heart, but I had not capacity, so that’s what I want. I want to make good homes for people, and through co-creation and interdependence and this little bit of awakening, these homecology principles that I’m asking us to reclaim in our homemaking process, I think people will be nourished and they’ll feel taken care of. They won’t feel taken advantage of like those counter tops are great, but they cost like 12,000 bucks, and who took a piece of that? Instead, they’ll be like, “Oh, I made a really good decision on this kitchen. It works,” and “I’m going to make cookies for the whatever community event that’s coming up,” and beyond. That’s just the beginning.


Liz: Let’s take a practical application here. Can you talk about an experience in which you applied homecology principles to design and how it made a difference to the overall design of the homes, specifically. Is there a client that you satisfied that way. I’m sure they’re all, in that sense, but …


Moneca Kaiser: There’s a really nice one that comes to mind. A client came to me, and you know them, Liz.


Liz: Yes.


Moneca Kaiser: They inherited a little bit of money. They told me how much they had and they said what they wanted to have done, and she had this really fun vision of wanting to do something a little bit over the top, and very … I’m sorry, I’m ignorant of decorating styles, because I focus on something more fundamental, but it was playful and a little bit over the top, a little bit too much, which is a style that I really love, and I got know them a little bit, and she has chronic fatigue and he has a few health issues developing, and they’re creative, lovely people, and I thought, “I think you need peaceful home,” and I started to talk to them about, “Maybe we could scale this back a bit, and calm down our palette,” because they talked about wanting to have shared space, but also private space. One’s passionate about opera, the other about jazz. They don’t necessarily love listening to each other’s music all the time.


Liz: That happens.


Moneca Kaiser: We moved into this. You can find it on the website, this really wonderful transformation, and it’s kind of classic, very minimal, very calm palette, but beautiful and elegant, and they love it so much.


Liz: I do remember going through the portfolio for that one, and the noticeable from the as is, you can tell every piece of music equipment and albums that they have, it’s still there but it fits and attunes more to their lifestyle now. You can really appreciate it, and they showcased their – I think it’s one of the main pictures – they showcased their main artists in the kitchen and stuff like that, but it really shows a piece of them, in a sense, so …


Moneca Kaiser: If I could, if you go to their Pinterest board, which we should share on Facebook, it’s not like that at all, because they were thinking of how do they want this to look instead of how do I want to live, and once we got into that deeper conversation of how do you want to live and what do you value, we ended up with this very harmonious, lovely space, and then just to take that a step further, we never had a conversation about me or my personal beliefs or their personal beliefs, really. We were always talking about home, needs, coaches, kitchens, and interesting enough, when the job was all done, Rio said to me, she said, “I’m different now,” and I’m like, “What do you mean?” She goes, “Well, you changed me,” and I said, “what do you mean?” She said, “Well, I believe in God now.” I’m not kidding.


Liz: Wow.


Moneca Kaiser: I know, and she said, “I don’t know how that’s going to manifest or what that means or even what religion I’m into, but I feel more connected.”


Liz: A connection, a connection to something other than yourself, or a piece of furniture or a certain countertop, in a sense.


Moneca Kaiser: Yeah.


Liz: That’s great.


Moneca Kaiser: It was really neat.


Liz: Well, so speaking on that, and I know this doesn’t … It fits into homecology, but you’ve kind of mentioned the term. Can you talk a bit about curing dysfunctional house syndrome, and how that ties into homecology.


Moneca Kaiser: That’s a really good one. My nephew came up with that brilliant concept of the dysfunctional house syndrome, and it’s so appropo. So many houses do not accommodate our lifestyle, and the number of struggles I have with people about, “I know you’re giving up valuable real estate in your living room or your dining room, but you have to have a closet when you come in the house. Think about your marriage, and your relationship with your kids.”


Liz: Where are you going to be putting those shoes if you don’t have a closet.


Moneca Kaiser: Who are you going to be yelling at for leaving them in the wrong space. You’ve got to be able to get in the kitchen if you live with a family with more than one person in there, but maybe you want a certain area of the kitchen and only you get in there, and again, it’s all to make the home more harmonious so that you can live together. That idea that good fences make good neighbors. You have to apply that to your home, and what kind of boundaries and built elements can you create that provide proximity and spaciousness and privacy and co-habitation and all these different ways we like to live. They all have to be be adaptable. We can’t just plunk things together. Families grow, we grow, we all evolve, and the home has to grow and evolve and adapt to our different needs. We can’t just think, “Well, this is good.” It’s good when you have little kids but they’re going to go to school and to high school and to university and grandparents might move in, and …


Liz: Kids can’t always be sharing the same room. One usually moves into the basement. Is that going to be part of it all. What type of questions do you ask your clients when you first meet them?


Moneca Kaiser: Well, we’ve developed this whole quite elaborate series of questionnaires. They’re really fun and they overwhelm the clients, so they’re going to be in the book, because they’re very relevant, but I scaled it back, because one-on-one, we can interview and intuitively attune to these things, but what I really want to know, I don’t want to know how big kitchen you need, or how many people you have over for dinner. I want to know who do you admire? Who’s your hero? Where have you felt most comfortable? If you had to describe your ideal environment in a color, what color would it be, and I don’t mean that literally. I just mean what color evokes the feeling you want your home to have. I want to know what do you hate? What really gets your Irish up. I hope that’s not offensive. You’re not Irish, are you?


Liz: We won’t speak on that.


Moneca Kaiser: My teacher …


Liz: Hopefully, my mother’s not listening.


Moneca Kaiser: My teacher always said that hot blood is a sign of a good heart, and associate Irish culture with hot blood, so those kinds of questions. Those are what we need to know to make homes.


Liz: Then how does it get down to finally picking the countertop thing?


Moneca Kaiser: Right, well, it’s almost like the countertop picks us in the sense that … We’re going to do a podcast someday about permaculture with people who are much more eloquent about it than I am, but the idea of permaculture, I took this weekend workshop once and it was wonderful. It gave voice to these thoughts that I’ve always had but I never had a vocabulary for, and they talk about designing in harmony with nature, and allowing everything in it’s ecosystem to give from it’s highest level of capacity. You work with me, so you know that when I do admin, I set us back three weeks. Whereas when I do design, I’m elevating everything.


  The idea also that I took away from permaculture and it’s just good sense and they’re modeling after nature is asking the question of what does this space or home or program want to be? And then to look for clues and to listen, so really by the time we get down to picking the countertop, we know ourselves and we know our team so well that of course we want the concrete countertop, or the recycled glass countertop makes complete sense, and we want the recycled glass because it’s in keeping with our values around sustainability and beauty and we want the concrete countertop because we want to make it ourselves, and even though it’s a little bit hard on the environment, we want this in our home, this thing we crafted, and we’re going to look at ways of offsetting that carbon whatever thing. Sorry …


Liz: Carbon cost, yeah, the carbon cost, that makes sense. We talked a bit about this last time in the last podcast, the home master plan, and how that idea of having a plan for your entire home, so that it relates to your community. How do you tie in homecology with that?


Moneca Kaiser: Well, that’s what’s essential is I think the fundamental element of homecology is it wants us to think in terms of systems and the whole in harmony and so we look at our home as a part of something greater, and a part of something smaller, so right down from that countertop, out to our street and our community, our neighborhood, our city, and so we need to integrate a master plan, and the master plan isn’t just where’s the kitchen going to be? What’s going to happen when the kids are grown up and off to college? What if we break a leg and need to live on the main floor? It’s not only that. It really is beginning with what do I value? What do I want my home to cultivate in the world? What story do I want it to tell? How do I want it to welcome people? How do I want it to teach the children? What are elements that are in harmony with all these things so that when I go decide that I need …


  I don’t know. A lot of times people will want to develop their basement and they won’t realize that in five years, they’re going to need a new kitchen because they’ve outgrown this one. They’ve got the basement finished. They have to rip out this 80 or $100,000 basement ceiling. The ceiling’s not that, but you can easily throw away $20,000 ripping out the part of the basement to make the future work, and that’s what we want to avoid, so you don’t hang a nail, in my opinion, without a master plan, because the art has to be in harmony with the whole thing too.


Liz: That’s true. Even when you were speaking of a previous client. They had so much that spoke to them, their items, their records and everything, but it wasn’t a matter of finding the right cabinet for how to showcase those. It was building around their value of music and their values of their home and how they wanted to make that work. Well, again, Moneca, it’s been pleasure picking your brain, and we’ll catch up next time. We’ll talk actually more in-depth about curing dysfunctional house syndrome, because I know that, in itself, is a fun little entity, so thanks again.


Moneca Kaiser: Thank you. It was a pleasure.


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