E-BRIEFING: What's Up at Home

After all, the average home size in 2002 was 2,320 square feet as compared to 1,500 square feet in 1970, according to the National Association of Home Builders.  All the while, family size is shrinking.  As of 2001, the average family size in the United States was 3.1 persons.

We’re at the fashionable frontier of linking family togetherness with personal space where everyone is in the same space but each doing his own thing, according to our experts.  For home design, this means a reconfiguring of interior space.  For instance, the basement laundry has moved up, literally and figuratively.  It’s a first-floor, amenity-filled area, part of a central focal point – usually centered around the kitchen – where everyone gathers:  One family member watches TV in the kitchen proper.  Another is on the computer in the breakfast nook while a third listens to music in the laundry.

Table of contents:
1. A cycle of centralization

  • Returning to our colonial roots: the “keeping room”
  • Boomers drive the market: space use tied to concerns over aging
  • A builder who’s a Boomer example
  • The “keeping room” moves outside

2. We’re wising up

  • Time is short, so we make the most of it -- together
  • We’re not playing games. It’s about efficiency gains
  • A real-world example

3. Affluent aesthetics spread

  • Trend brings the sweet smell of success to manufacturers
  •  “Luxury” ironing boards at $250 a pop

4. Mourning the loss of our last retreats

1.  A cycle of centralization
A.  Returning to our colonial roots: the "keeping room" 
David Niland, UC professor emeritus of architecture, explains that American architecture has always cycled through periods of centralization vs. decentralization of functions in the home.  Early colonial architecture in this country generally consisted of three rooms – two front rooms (the Sunday parlor and a master bedroom) and then an attached shed at the back that ran the full extent of the house.  This was called the “keeping room” and contained the cooking fire.  It was where the family gathered, and represented a period when home living functions were centralized.  “If washers and dryers and other appliances had existed then, they’d have all been in the keeping room,” says Niland.

Rooms in the home later become more specialized with discrete spaces specifically for eating, sleeping, socializing, etc.  Now, centralized spaces are back in favor.  “It began on the West Coast after World War II with the disappearance of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room.  This is when Westinghouse developed the first stacked washer/dryer that could fit behind folding doors.  It brought laundry into the living room,” Niland adds.

He continued, “Today, people are spending $100,000 on the kitchen alone.  It’s the new keeping room where everyone gathers.  But though people want to be in the same space, they still want to do their own thing.  So, you have the TV in there, music player, mini-bar along with industrial-quality appliances that do more and more.  This cycle of centralization is not different today, it’s just more affluent.”

B.  Baby Boomers behind the new housing trends
Mike Studer, president, Studer Residential Designers, Cold Spring, Kentucky, was raised on a construction site by his builder father and designed his first home at age 18.  Today, his firm’s house designs are to be found in national magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Woman’s Day.  His home designs are constructed throughout the country.

Says Studer, “Baby Boomers will drive the new housing market for the next 30 years.  It’s a market that’s more and more user specific with designs targeting empty nesters, families with young children, and singles, especially single women.  The Boomers are driving design changes in the home because they don’t have to move as opposed to the young, growing family that needs space for child rearing.  Since the Boomers aren’t really compelled to move, they move or renovate because a new design better meets their current or expected needs.  Whereas the young family is compelled to move because they’re having children, and they have plenty of existing colonial homes to choose from.”

Since much new residential construction must appeal to Boomers, space use is increasingly tied to aging concerns.  Thus, unified spaces without barriers – or barriers like double doors that provide both drama and ease of movement for those with mobility problems – are key. 
Contact:  859-441-9460

C.  A builder who's a boomer example
Mike Studer, 57, of Cold Spring, Kentucky, uses himself as the perfect example of a Boomer who’s redesigning his home to meet his changing circumstances.  He redesigned his three-car garage to fit four cars – after recently acquiring a 1960 Corvette and a 1989 Chrysler Mazzarati.  He raised the roof of the garage and installed a lift so his Corvette is actually parked above the other cars.  He summarized, “In general, the garage is changing because it no longer needs to park a mini-van.  The rest of the house is likewise changing.  For instance, since it takes twice as long to dry clothes as to wash them, we’re designing laundry rooms with two driers, with front-load washers that make drying quicker, and with lines for hanging the permanent press items.  There’s basically a lot more thought to how you actually live.”
Contact:  859-441-9460

D.  The "keeping room" moves outside 
Architect John Senhauser, who specializes in designing custom, single-family homes across the country but concentrates his practice in the Midwest, notes changes in requested home designs among his clients:  Screened-in porches have replaced the open-air deck, and this porch is much more of an all-season room that includes a fireplace to extend its length of use in the early spring and into fall.  Senhauser is also designing any number of outdoor fireplaces as well, fireplaces in yards, pool houses and or adjacent to the tennis court as well.
Contact:  513-381-1669

2.  We're wising up?
A.  Time is short so we make the most of it – together

Architect Mary Cassinelli, who has been in practice for 10 years, specializes in residential home designs for dwellings priced at about $750,000 and up.  In both new home construction and remodeling, she sees significant changes in both the kitchen and laundry areas.  The cozy breakfast nook is now larger – but still intimate – and serves as the family focal point.  It’s the main eating space for everyone throughout the day.  “People want to be together.  Both parents are working and have limited time together and with the children.  The nook opens into the kitchen so there’s a clear line of sight and interaction while food is being prepared.  Homework gets done in the breakfast nook.  There’s a computer station nearby, and a television in the kitchen.  People are together but doing their own thing,” Cassinelli explains, adding that the emphasis in the new laundry area is comfort.
Contact:  513-321-5556

B.  We're not playing games.  It's about efficiency gains.
David Lee Smith, UC professor of architecture, explains that architects have long advocated more efficient use of home spaces.  Thus, integration of certain functions in the home makes sense.  “You want to place the work functions of the home together for efficiency, putting these functions within easy reach, where people are…not where they have to go to do them.  So, to me, it would make sense to place a laundry next to a kitchen.  Neither cooking nor laundry are full-time, full-attention tasks.  You tend to do both in short stints and could move back and forth between them if they were adjacent to one another,” he says.
Contact: 513-556-5291

C.  A real-world example
Dale and Amy Arlinghaus built a house in 1990 that foreshadowed today’s design trends.  Their laundry room, kitchen, living room and dining room all flow into one another in their 3,200 square-foot home.  In fact, Amy Arlinghaus specifically placed the kitchen and laundry room adjacent to one another for efficient use of her time.  As the mother of five, she could easily see herself having two washers and two dryers to keep up with laundry (but she only has one of each); however, since neither cooking nor laundry are full-time jobs, she integrated the functions by situating the rooms next to one another in order to move back and forth easily.  With their house design specifically planned to aid the flow of people and life, Amy still says, “We all end up in the kitchen no matter what.  It’s got a ten-foot bar and opens right onto the patio, just extending the flow outside.”

3.  Affluent aesthetics spread
A.  Trend brings the sweet smell of success to manufacturers
The changing trends in the actual design of homes is mirrored by trends in the appliances and products used in these changing spaces, products that both influence and are influenced by housing design. 

Monica Nassif, founder of the Caldrea Company of Minneapolis, a maker of high-end, earth-friendly household and laundry cleaners that smell of sweat pea, clover, jasmine and other scents rather than of ammonia, has grown the firm from zero to 2,500 stores since September 2000 while doubling sales every year.  She explained, “More people in every home are using all areas of the house.  It’s not just Mom in the kitchen or the laundry doing those chores.  Everyone’s cleaning, cooking, doing laundry.  There’s no set ‘laundry’ day or ‘cleaning’ day anymore.  And so, people are in the spaces, and they want to play the radio, listen to a CD, have a movie on.  They want to enjoy doing those tasks in a good space.  They want to enjoy cooking, enjoy laundry, enjoy cleaning…We’re giving them permission to do just that.”
Contact:  877-576-8808

B.  Luxury ironing boards at $250 a pop
Said Monica Nassif of Caldrea Company, “A couple of years ago at Chicago’s International Housewares Show, we started seeing $250 ironing boards that were beautifully padded.  You buy one for a lifetime.  Right now, the laundry room is being reinvented.  The kitchen, the spa bath, the media room have undergone redesign and are much more affluent.  Now, it’s happening to laundries.  It’s part of a larger trend that’s seen spending on home furnishings outpace spending on apparel.”
Contact:  877-576-8808

4.  Mourning the loss of our last retreats
Marc Swackhamer, UC assistant professor of architecture, questions the size and amenity upgrades coming to the “in-between” or “afterthought” spaces in the home, such as garages and laundry rooms.  He opines, “These spaces have always been very productive refuges.  They’re retreats from the complexities of daily life…no TV, no cell phone, no technological distractions.  For many people, they’re one of the few respites from technology we have left. They’re the spaces where you come up with an idea or figure out how to approach a tough conversation.”
Contact:  513-556-4675

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