Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Space - The Final Frontier!

How big is big? How small is small? When someone says they want to live in a "big" or a "small" house that probably depends on their perspective. Space and square footage among friends often means status. "Bigger" sometimes seeks to impress others. Smaller sometimes means "downsizing." For everyone it's different. What is big to one, may be small to another.

Truth be told, we all live in "space." That fount of all great knowledge Wikipedia defines space as the "...three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur..." Huh? The discussion then goes on to "non-Euclidean geometries; Einstein and the theory of relativity." Way Way above my pay grade! Let's be simple here: we live in space, not square footage. Your work in designing a new home, or adding and remodeling your existing home depends on your requirements - what spaces you need to accommodate your lifestyle. Let's look at some extremes.

Sarah Sasanka started a revolution in 1998 when she published The Not So Big House. Next thing you know she was on Oprah, HGTV, and was written up in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Her book was advocating the idea that homes should be designed in such a way that rooms share multiple functions. In other words you wouldn't have a Media Room with just a large screen and some big overstuffed leather chairs, you would share that space with a pool table, bar and the accoutrements of a Family Room. The Living Room - often the "museum" in many older homes, goes away to become a Family Room with big screen TV as well as a separate space for what used to be a Dining Room. Sarah is an English born architect. I swear she just brought the shared space concept from across the pond to a building industry that was ripe for going on a diet! Her wonderful ideas have spawned all sorts of complimentary avenues for her: The Not So Big Life; Not So Big Showhouse; even Maitrhea which has something to do with exploring the space of your inner self - OK, how did we crossover from architecture to self examination?

This is one of Sasanka's interiors. She is combining the concepts of shared function with an extremely high level of quality and craftsmanship. The style is faintly reminiscent of a Prairie type of architecture.

Jay Shafer goes even further. He has taken small to the extreme with his 65 square foot Tumbleweed Collection. Even his website is small! Little more that a large dog house occupied by humans, Tumbleweed focuses on simplifying your life by using only the bare essentials. (Read: no pool table!) Jay's Tiny House collection includes a "wet bath" with potty, sink, and shower all in one little cubicle. For the really adventurous Tumbleweed has a Small House collection that zooms all the way up to maybe 275 square feet.

The point here is that space is linked with function. The bi-product of those two elements becomes square footage. There is no real right answer - it differs according to need.

On the other extreme are homes that have separate rooms for every life function. If you want to play pool you go to the Billiard's Room; movies are watched in the Theatre; the grandchildren play in a separate Gameroom; and drinks are served at a separate Bar. The square footage meter burns itself out on homes of this size!

What's practical? What are your true needs? Site constraints, location, and budget usually define the early perameters of the space to be designed. Sometimes outside influence determines what space gets designed. Re-sale (a dirty word for most people), property tax implications, energy efficiency, even Realtors opinions can add additional pressure to the design process.

Where do we begin with trying to figure out what we can design? Not necessarily in the correct order, here are a few thoughts:

  • Catalog your living habits. How you like to live; spatially where you would prefer to have others (children, spouse, guests) in relationship to you; and normal daily tasks that have become habits (waste basket and recycling bin vs. trash compactor) are important to note.

  • Carefully examine your existing accommodations to evaluate how spaces and room functions relate to one another. What works? What doesn't? What would you improve? What will you never have again ('During parties I hate being able to see the caterer from the Dining Room!').

  • Budget. What resources can I allocate to the process? Will my property taxes be affordable? Same question for gas, electric, and water.

  • Define your "mindscape." What preconceived ideas do you have for the space? When the process is completed, what are my expectations for how the space will function? What are the one or two things you can't live without - are they included in the project?

  • Who do I trust to design my project and build it most closely to my expectations?

Not surprisingly you will find that a careful inventory of these thoughts and feelings will result in a plan that reduces "space" into "square footage." We all find it a lot more comfortable to live in well designed space as opposed to simple square footage!

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