Culture Studies · Life & General

Designing a Home for What We Do

But Maddy!” I can hear you say, “Aren’t you Living the Student Life? Why are you designing a home!?

The conundrum of being a PhD student in a family of financially stable professionals aside, I have practical reasons for wanting to consider the design of a future home early. Here are my three top reasons;

  1. Someday there will be children, and I will need to juggle commitments
  2. I want to be able to ensure that my home enables my multifaceted role as a parent and a professional; not to make it more difficult, and
  3. What’s the point of living in a home that just makes life difficult?

Here is a rationale, explaining the above three points in reverse order.

Point One – What’s the point of living in a home that just makes life difficult?

Consider your daily activities.
Where do you actually spend the most time? Where do you enjoy spending the most time? Why do you spend a lot of time in that place, and is there a better way of doing things?

For me, I spend most of my time in two places;
At my computer, and
In my room.

With the invention of laptops, smartphones and tablet PCs the ‘at my computer’ is now much more flexible. I can be ‘at my computer’ in a hospital, in a cafe, at the beach, or at my kitchen table if I so desire. Thus, having a home that facilitates ‘computer’ use and a comfortable place to sleep are two of my main priorities for design.
Yet, as always, I factor in my partner’s needs too.
My husband spends most of his time in two places;
At the computer, and
In his bed.

See a pattern here? As academic, curious adults we are constantly absorbing information. We play games, listen to lectures, watch shows, listen to podcasts, read PDF texts, write, email, create, draw and read out jokes endlessly. Screen access is a big part of our home culture and, as such, the two most heavily-used spaces are those which enable such activity. Conveniently, my husband’s time spent in bed is his ‘unwinding’ place, as the daily stresses of hospital work require some down time. Specifically he has told me about his desire to someday have a bare room with blank walls and a blank ceiling, and the ability to shut off all light and most noise. It seems like a small request to accept, and so I factor that in to any plans for a future home.

Notice how both of us spend a lot of time ‘at a computer’ and in our room.
There is no mention of a ‘living room’.
There is no mention of a ‘kitchen’
There is no mention of a ‘dining room’
The fact that we don’t list the bathroom as our favourite place to be also says something, too.

So, naturally, these areas wouldn’t take the highest priority in my ‘to-do’ list of home design. Consider why we don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen or dining room?

Our lives, fundamentally, don’t revolve around food as much as other families might.
Many cultures bond and spend time over meals…yet we simply don’t. (Believe me, I’ve tried). It never works out the way I envision, and so I rarely make the effort anymore. It’s not a tale of lost experiences so much as a tale of learning what’s important to us.
A ‘kitchen table’ fr us is simply a conveniently large bench to work on. I work on my laptop, my partner spreads out his paperwork, and occasionally games are played on that table. It’s rarely used as a food-surface, so why dedicate the table to such a purpose?

The same goes for a kitchen. Pinterest-perfect galleries of professional-style pantries and enough frying pans to run a restaurant are baffling. With an anticipated family size of 4 (3, if I have one child and decide that’s enough), there would never be a need to have a cafe-sized kitchen in our home. At the most, I can envision two hotplates and an oven, with a decent-sized microwave for everything else. And, while my husband enjoys tinkering in the kitchen, he’s known for making tasty meals out of literal scraps and a tin can – buying extra pans won’t get in the way of his ability to cook.

So with the need for a kitchen drastically down-sized and the concept of a large bench-table agreed upon, how does this impact the design of a future home?

Point Two – I want to be able to ensure that my home enables my multifaceted role as a parent and a professional; not to make it more difficult.

Parent and professional. I’m not content with the idea of staying at home full-time after working my butt off to earn a doctorate. Nuh-uh. I want to use this brain, honey!

The challenge with this ideal is both the requirement to provide childcare elsewhere, and ensure that the home is a haven of practicality and ease of use. I’ve witnessed Japanese families teach their children self-sufficiency from a young age, so I know that it’s not impossible to encourage a four-year-old to dress themselves using child-friendly drawers and a sticker chart for every morning they complete the task on time.
Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

When it comes to the use of space and workflow design, the home will need to involve the following;
– A home office for both myself and my partner, to house our cables, hard drives, books, shelves and loose paperwork
– A place where a small child can feasibly prepare themselves for the day
– A place where food can be consumed and prepared
– A washroom
– A room where, at the end of the day, the child can play and interact with their parents, and
– A room where, at the end of the day, the parents can retreat and decompress.

It could be reasonably assumed that the home office would be close to the parents’ room, and not too close to the child’s playroom. The child’s playroom can be their bedroom, or the living room (depending on the dimensions of whatever building we end up living in) and the ‘place where a small child can feasibly prepare themselves for the day’ can align with the place where the adults prepare themselves for the day, to demonstrate daily tasks for replication. If our child witnesses how their mother dresses themselves, it’s hoped that they can copy the same action with relative success. There are handy tools for such activities, such as a single-outfit valet stand and/or coat hooks where ‘the day’s outfit’ can be laid out beside a handbag and keys.

It’s a work in progress, but one that I consider to be entirely feasible. None of this ‘craft room!’ nonsense given that nobody in my family is a professional craftsperson. Similar poorly-designed spaces will only cause stress and unwarranted misery for us to live in, so why bother? Get to the point, and throw away that purely-decorative cushion. It helps nobody and serves no purpose other than to achieve an aesthetic.

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