Assessing Our Living Situations
Whether it is the economic fall out of former homeowners expanding the rental market, or retired Baby Boomers shedding the burden of maintaining houses, or the increasing rental population of Millennials, rental space is in demand. Given the current situation of the post-real estate bubble burst, now would be a good time to assess our living conditions. We need to ask ourselves, what should the next generation of living environments be like? Learning from our immediate past, we can safely say that over-sized homes have proven to be unsustainable. They have high mortgage payments, high utility and maintenance bills, are not multi-functional, and require lots of furniture to fill.
Moving Towards Sustainability
The country has gone through a major purge. People are having garage sales all of sorts, in attempt to reduce what isn’t needed for living. We are adjusting our consumer habits to be more credit sensitive and space efficient. The parallel trend has been environmental sensitivity. Almost all products these days are either “green” or “organic”. Even before the recession, the construction industry was moving toward green building practices. Benefits of sustainable design were too sensible to ignore. Most do not argue the merits of energy efficient buildings, nor low maintenance materials, and as more studies prove the health benefits of increased indoor air quality and daylight, the decision to go green makes good investment sense. It is no surprise how LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rated buildings have become synonymous with sustainable design.
This convergence of fundamentals has generated the perfect situation to reset our building ideals to meet future needs. Already, the real estate investment community has embraced the benefits of green buildings. But what remains questionable is whether they have learned from recent past and adjusted for new trends and generational ideals for living space. It is time to stop building large, and start building smart!
The New Housing Frontier
The commercial office market has undergone a major shift in the past couple of decades. Open office plans with flexible space has become the norm. Our residential designs have been slow to adopt open plan homes with multi-functional uses. Now may be the time to look at typical living spaces with open plans. This creates space that could be more flexible and better utilized, resulting in smaller, but more efficient plans. More housing magazines are promoting these types of living spaces framed as a casual lifestyle, but one that is really pragmatic and allows for varied lifestyles
Open plan kitchen-dining-living spaces allow occupants to tailor space to their lifestyle. For example, one family may dedicate more room for the dining table as the communal center of family activity where meals are shared with homework, (home) office work, projects, etc. The living area may be reduced from formal layouts to casual seating that combines with dining and kitchen for entertaining. Some may even live in temperate climates where the dining table is moved outside or onto a covered porch. Furthermore, this allows the interior to be shared between the kitchen and living, or perhaps a home office or studio.
Built-in storage units can become dividers of the interior space, while containing multi-functional furniture. For example, sliding panels can hide built-in storage or home office workstations. Desks may fold down over sofas. Beds could fold out over desks. Entertainment units may even hide full size Murphy beds. Kitchen islands could be on adjustable lifts to transform from kitchen work surface to dining table or desk.
Closets have become another area that have seen more efficient utilization through better designed organizing features such as double height hanging rods, shelves and drawers, as well as shoe storage. Bathrooms are another area where space could be minimized. The tub and shower can combine into a “wet room,” or the tub can be eliminated altogether.
The ways people live today do not follow traditional models for homes that have been replicated for decades, even centuries. More people desire openness with flexible space utilizing views, daylight, and direct assess to the outdoors for expanded living space. This was once relegated to custom designed homes, but now more new compact homes are showing this trend. Perhaps it is time to re-assess all living environments we build.
Cooper Pierce, Principal Jones Pierce Inc. An Atlanta based Architectural firm specializing in custom home transformations and multi-family dwelling units. [email protected]
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