BACKGROUND: Residential care in nursing homes continues to be necessary for those individuals who are no longer able to live at home. Uncovering what nursing home residents' view as quality of care in nursing homes will help further understanding of how best to provide high quality, person-centred care. AIM: To describe residents' experiences of living in a nursing home related to quality of care. DESIGN: The study utilises a descriptive exploratory design. METHOD: In-depth interviews were undertaken with 15 residents who were not cognitively impaired, aged 65 and over and living in one of four nursing homes. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed by categorising of meaning. RESULTS: Residents perceived the nursing home as their home, but at the same time not 'a home'. This essential ambiguity created the tension from which the categories of perceptions of quality emerged. Four main categories of quality of care experience were identified: 'Being at home in a nursing home', 'Paying the price for 24-hour care', 'Personal habits and institutional routines', and 'Meaningful activities for a meaningful day'. CONCLUSIONS: Ambiguities concerning the nursing home as a home and place to live, a social environment in which the residents experience most of their social life and the institution where professional health service is provided were uncovered. High-quality care was when ambiguities were managed well and a home could be created within the institution. Implication for practice. Achieving quality care in nursing homes requires reconciling the ambiguities of the nursing home as a home. This implies helping residents to create a private home distinct from the professional home, allowing residents' personal habits to guide institutional routines and supporting meaningful activities. Using these resident developed quality indicators is an important step in improving nursing home services.