Other people’s houses

Other people’s houses

Lisiting homes of historical interest has long been a favorite pastime for tourists. But today, increasing numbers of curious visitors are buying tickets to explore kitchens right in their own neighborhood, or to see how a family with the same kind of house they have has used the space to create something "different."

It’s "a great deal of fun," said Carol Berliner, co-chair of the YJCC in Washington Township’s first annual house tour. "People are curious to see what other people have done with their homes — how they’ve changed the environment to express who they are."

Participants in the YJCC house tour may pick up decorating tips while visiting five houses in Bergen County.

Also, said the Paramus resident — who is organizing the May ‘4 event together with Sharon Reissman of Upper Saddle River and Marilyn Siegel of Park Ridge — "it’s a great way to get ideas for remodeling or redecorating and a nice way to spend a few hours with a friend."

Berliner and Siegel have been going on house tours in New York and New Jersey for years.

"Even following the map [to the houses] is interesting," she added. "You get to see places you’ve never seen before."

Co-chairs Sharon Reissman, Carol Berliner, and Marilyn Siegel say the featured houses display "unique character and design."

House tours are not the same as "show houses," Berliner pointed out. In the latter, each room of the house is filled by a different designer, and rooms reflect diverse styles. The YJCC house tour will highlight "houses of real people — everyday functional houses."

Participants will be invited to explore five homes in Bergen County. Four are owned by members of the Y. Houses range from a Woodcliff Lake colonial decorated by Greenbaum Interiors to the Saddle River manor of designer Philip LaBossiere. Four have been decorated by a well-known designer and one, which Berliner called "spectacular," was decorated by the owner.

The event will be held between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and will cost $36. For $100, those on the tour can also get breakfast at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton. Visitors will be given maps to help them find each home, and surgical booties, so they won’t damage the places they visit.

Howard Robboy, who teaches sociology at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, has a "hunch" about the increasing popularity of house tours.

"It has to do with increasing individualism," he said. "We don’t have neighborhoods the way we used to. Now people live more inside their homes than outside. Before there was air conditioning, people used to sit outside and talk to their neighbors. [Now] we’re cut off from each other."

Going on house tours is one way to be "invited in," he suggests. Especially if the homes being shown belong to more affluent members of the community and "you don’t know the people well enough to be invited — and you’re not likely to be invited anyway," it’s one way to gain access.

Privacy is highly regarded in Jewish tradition. In Parashat Balak, when King Balak asked the powerful prophet Bilaam to curse the Israelites, not only did Bilaam refuse to do so, but he said instead, "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel."

Citing Rashi, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, religious leader of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, explained that Bilaam was impressed by the fact that the openings of the tents were not facing one another, therefore shielding privacy.

"People couldn’t see what was going on in their neighbor’s homes, [thus] maintaining both privacy and modesty," he said — but, he agreed, if people invite you in, that’s a different matter.

While Berliner acknowledged that visiting other people’s houses is "a kind of voyeurism," she said it’s a win-win situation because visitors are curious to see the homes and owners are proud to show them off.

"It’s an inexpensive, pleasant way to spend the afternoon," she said, "and it’s for a good cause."

All proceeds from the event will go to the Bergen County Y. For information or registration, call Dayle Rosenfeld, (’01) 666-6610, ext. ’30, or e-mail her at drosenfeld@yjcc.org.

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