It’s polite to comment on a friend’s home when you visit, so long as it’s along the lines of “What a gorgeous place”.
It’s also fine to ask questions, but there are boundaries.
“Where did you find those lovely cushions?” is great. “How much did that huge TV cost?” is a bit more awkward.
So if you’re visiting friends and don’t want to cause offence, it’s important to be ready with the right questions and to know which ones to avoid …
Don’t ask: How much did that project cost?
When a friend shows you their newly decorated bedroom or fabulous new extension, it’s natural to want to know how much it cost, but it’s a bit indelicate to ask. It’s up there with asking someone what they earn and is therefore best avoided.
Do ask: Something about the paint colours or construction. If you’re considering similar work yourself, ask if your friend would recommend the builder who did it. Zero in on the results, rather than the financial outlay.
Don’t ask: What’s it worth now?
This question often goes hand in hand with asking what you paid for a property, and can be just as awkward. If you really want to know, google local estate agents to find out, but don’t ask your host to name a figure.
Do ask: Has your house gone up much since you bought it? Your friends may then reveal what it’s worth anyway, but you won’t be putting them on the spot in quite the same way.
Don’t ask: Did your kids paint this?
If you spot some ‘naive’ art on the walls, don’t ask if your friends’ kids painted it, just in case they didn’t …
Do ask: Do you feel this painting represents man’s fruitless struggles against an indifferent universe, leading only to his inevitable death?
Don’t ask: How do you manage in such a small/big home?
Drawing attention to the bijou size of your friends’ home, or its mansion-like proportions may make them feel uncomfortable, even if you mean the question as a compliment. If your friends live in a big place, they may feel they have to apologise for their good fortune. If they live in a tiny pad, they might feel embarrassed or patronised.
Do ask: Anything that isn’t sizeist.
Don’t ask: Is this from Ikea?
Again, you might mean it as a compliment, but if your host has forked out a pretty penny on a bespoke kitchen or designer furniture, they won’t thank you for suggesting it’s from a less expensive source.
Do ask: Where did you find this? It’s gorgeous!
Don’t ask: Aren’t those white walls/pale carpets/snowy sofas impractical with kids/dogs?
White furnishings and fittings can throw up challenges, it’s true, but don’t get all practical on your hosts. Their choices are their own. Worse, your question might seem to imply that all those white fittings are looking a bit grubby!
Do ask: Should I take my shoes off?
Don’t ask: Have you thought about extending into the loft?
This is a reasonable enough question, but if the only thing stopping your friends from expanding upwards is cash, you’re obliging them to confess to financial constraints.
Do ask: Have other neighbours done loft extensions? Is there a trend for it in the area? That’s if you really must mention the loft at all. You could just talk about the weather instead…
Don’t ask: How much did this place cost?
Of course, we’re all a tiny bit fascinated by house prices, but asking outright how much your friends’ home cost can cause embarrassment, especially if it turns out to be valuable – they might have had help from family to buy it or got a lucky bargain some years ago.
Do ask: How long have you lived here? Have you seen the area change in that time? Much safer!
Don’t ask: Why do you have such a big oven/TV/bed…?
Size is not important, so refrain from drawing attention to any particularly large elements. There’s usually a reason for oversized items, beyond simple ostentation. Perhaps your friends are passionate cooks, hence their generous oven. Perhaps they have a huge bed so that all the family can snuggle up together, or they’re film buffs and enjoy a large screen.
Do ask: Can I come round and watch the football on that?
Don’t ask: Where do you get your design ideas from? Your place is so unique…
Drawing attention to your friends’ off-beat interiors style, even if you’re impressed by it, can also be read as criticism. It sounds a bit like the sort of question people ask when they’re confronted by a very personal look they’d never choose for their own home, and they don’t know what else to say.
Do ask: Can I shake your hand? Choosing a unique style for your home deserves applause!