A Day in the Life What Makes the Average German Tick?

Part 8: How Germans Decorate and Relax

6:00 p.m. The Germans at home

A young woman, 32, blonde and petite, is standing in front of the stove in an older apartment in Cologne. She says that the kitchen is her favorite place to be.

Anja Backhaus lives in three-room apartment with about 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) of floor space, which is only slightly larger than the German average of 90.2 square meters (971 square feet). She lives with her boyfriend, which is also typical for Germany, where the average household consists of 2.2 persons and the average rent, excluding utilities, is €408 ($653).

Backhaus hosts a home decorating program called "Wohnen nach Wunsch - Das Haus" ("Living the Way You Want to - The House"), which airs every Sunday at 6:15 p.m. on Germany's Vox television channel. Her program is relatively popular, reaching an audience of 700,000. Backhaus drives to people's homes, where she strolls through their houses, shaking her head at the drab, run-of-the-mill décor she encounters. Her team, an architect and several workmen, renovate the house, and in the end the owners weep for joy. Backhaus says that she also likes to spend time in the living room, which mirrors her candidates' preferences. "The kitchen and the living room are at the top of their list of places to be. For women, the kitchen is even more important." She says that the families who take part in the program are always the happiest when their living rooms and kitchens have been redone.

Backhaus, who recently paid a visit to the Paul family in the Sauerland region, says that their house looked the way 80 percent of German houses look: "Wooden ceiling, a huge wall unit and ugly wallpaper."

The Paul's home, says Backhaus, is like 70 percent of the cases profiled on her show: Left more or less untouched in 30 or 40 years and still containing patterned upholstered furniture.

Backhaus explains that tastes are slow to change, especially in rural areas, where they can sometimes last for generations. German furniture chains like Höffner and Roller still advertise wall units in their brochures with names like "Del Sol" and "Swing." "But they know what they're doing," says Backhaus. Two-thirds of Germans live in small towns and villages with populations of less than 100,000. In fact, provincial living is the norm in Germany.

Almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA.

Almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA.

"We spend a lot of time traveling through rural areas," says Backhaus, adding that perhaps this is because there is more demand for her services in the countryside. The crew on "Living the Way You Want to" does its fair share of clearing out and throwing things away, buying new furniture and giving houses a makeover. Sometimes the makeover extends to the patio, including a barbeque grill at end -- a bigger and better model than the old one.

Every German likes a new barbecue. Germans are also partial to parquet flooring. "Cherry or walnut," says Backhaus. Besides, she adds, they're tired of wall-to-wall carpeting and woodchip wallpaper. Nowadays, many would rather have "plastered walls in sand colors, along with a new kitchen," says Backhaus, "with vanilla-colored cabinets and dark countertops." The kitchen is becoming more and more important.

Furniture retailer IKEA conducted a survey to find out what people like to do most in the kitchen. According to the results, only 24 percent of Germans now use the kitchen purely for cooking. Thirty-five percent see the kitchen as an entertainment space, and 43 percent like to use it to make phone calls.

IKEA stores in Germany receive 90 million visitors a year, and almost every German has a piece of furniture from IKEA at home. The company painstakingly studies the living habits of its customers. This has led to the development of the company's classic designs, the pieces of furniture that everyone knows. IKEA's most popular furniture includes the Ivar and Billy shelving series and the Klippan sofa.

"The bedrooms are shabby in almost every house we go into," says Anja Backhaus, sitting on her couch in Cologne. She believes that this is because visitors normally don't go into people's bedrooms. "With many candidates, the car -- something that other people can see -- is in better condition than the house."

According to Backhaus, people are withdrawing more and more, watching TV a lot, spending more time at work and hardly inviting anyone into their homes. Backhaus is a case in point. She says that she works 30 days out of every month.

Her kitchen is painted curry yellow, and her countertop wobbles.


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