“The big house represents the atomizing of the American family . . . Each person not only has his or her own television — each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children. This way, the family members rarely have to interact. And the notion of compromise is simply out one of the very many windows these houses sport.”
- John Stilgoe, Harvard University from an article on NPR.org
The average American home has doubled in size in the last fifty years while at the same time the number of people living in each of these homes has decreased drastically. The square footage per person in the average household has effectively tripled (a conservative estimate), and with it have grown the scope and quantity of bedrooms, bathrooms and other “personal spaces”. Along with the expansion in size has come an increase in amenities. Bedrooms, and even bathrooms, are equipped with televisions, refrigerators, microwaves, couches and other features once confined to the shared living areas of a home. The bedrooms in particular have become insular living spaces, homes within homes, from which family members need only emerge on the rarest of occasions.
Now, I am not a sociologist, psychologist or any other type of ologist, but there are some potential effects of this sort of living situation that seem immediately obvious to me. Decreased interaction between household members seems inevitable. This includes both positive and negative interactions, both fun and fights so to speak. The ability to retreat into a private space without sacrifice decreases the opportunity for important learned behaviors like compromise, negotiation and sharing. Even a simple discussion about what television program to watch is full of potentially important interactions.
In the same way that the move to suburbia, by which I mean a move away from towns, villages and cities, has increased the isolation of families from their communities, the increase in private space within the home has increased the family members’ isolation from one another. I can only speculate what effect this might have on both childhood development and the interrelationships between each individual, but common sense seems to suggest a degradation of certain important socialization skills and an increased ability to avoid issues with which one might have previously been forced to deal.
The small bedroom philosophy is an effort to encourage more interaction in the common space of the home. This philosophy assumes that the main purposes of the bedroom involve sleep, clothing storage and dressing. The size and the amenities of the bedrooms are designed around that functionality. This is not to say that a bedroom couldn’t offer a place of retreat and solitude, but rather that it should serve only temporarily as such. The bulk of living should be done outside of the bedrooms, with the other members of the home.
Again, I have very little support for some of the tenets of this argument apart from a sort of logical progression. I will, for the sake of those of you out there interested in this sort of thing, work on gathering some academic support for what I have written. This is what I would call a “starter idea” as are many of the concepts I will be writing about here. It is an idea we like very much, that feels right, but it isn’t completely formed or supported. It is, like our homes, not yet completely built.
Please help me build and refine this idea in the comments. If there is something I should read, tell me about it. If there is someone I should talk to, point them out. Your comments have helped us immensely in the design of our homes. Now, help us with the solidification of our ideas. Comment away.
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