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The mindless gigantism of the Great Room has left the building.

November 1, 2010

Revealed to be as good an idea as the Mullet, the Great Room’s literal echoes resonate amid the lost heat of its inflated air bag of space and its un-washable double height glary glass walls.

The loss of the Great Room from new homes being built in today’s market tend to reduce the overall size of the average house.  It’s absurd brain dead blankness has caused reconsideration of how we actually use the living spaces in our house. 

The Great Room was designed for one thing – shock appeal for potential buyers and to have your visitors’ eyes widen and knees go weak over the initial vista of such a huge space being part of a house. 

This “wow” factor turned into an “oh no” factor when the utility bills, started arriving, the TV was turned on or teenagers gathered.   After perhaps five years of occupancy the window wall’s exterior trim began to rot, windows began to become inoperable.   Inevitably massive investment had to be made in blinds, curtains and other sun control devices as the view out also let the sun.

But the Great Room was a radical response to an earlier dysfunction.  The vast majority of “traditional” house plans built in America before the 1970s had little or no informal living space.  Basements were finished, a TV was put in a guest bedroom or a “sun room” was tacked on to one side of our parents’ generation house design to allow the family to actually share time together.  Pre 1970’s designs assumed mom and dad sat in the living room with a cocktail and a Lucky while the children busied themselves in their rooms. 

So the trick is to create informal living space in a home without the wasteful overkill of the Great Room.  This means renovating your home to reflect the way you live.  There are probably some people that have parties for 150, that’s probably not you.  For most people a large gathering involves 20 or 30 people and the vast majority of social “events” come down to several couples.  The truism is that parties end up with everyone gathering around the kitchen because the majority of people actually enjoy preparing food.  June Cleaver’s recusal in isolated kitchens slaving away at the deviled eggs and Velveeta log preparation is simply not happening anymore. 

The growing trend supplanting the knee-jerk blow-out of an outsized Great Room is to actually have a comfortable place to sit virtually in the kitchen – not the awkward stools at the island but a soft lumpy sofa that can accommodate any number of physical postures.  The kind of space that would accommodate lamps, soft sitting places, eating and reading material.  Accommodating these pieces of furniture and activities might take up a twelve foot by eighteen foot space in addition to the kitchen.

The other major activity that is involved in informal living space is dealing with a television set now firmly linked to the computer because a lot of what a TV does will be computer facilitated whether online movie purchases or interactive gaming or teleconferencing that puts a face on those you talk to, any video presence in formal living space involves several unique criteria.  First it does make noise (it’s dubious that everybody will be wearing headsets when the TV is on), it does need a controlled light level and TVs are now mounted  with hardware to move so that it can be seen by people that are both sitting and standing preparing food or eating food.

Eating is obviously part of the informal social experience and has a critical impact on the way you renovate your home.   Think about the true number of people that will eat informally in or near the kitchen.  That’s usually the size of your family plus two people at maximum.  Obviously this could be accommodated sitting at a kitchen island or the extension of a counter or a peninsula of cabinets but more than ever people want to connect to the outside so a glass bay or corner of windows is becoming part of informal dining area design. 

The next activity that informal living space should accommodate is “child’s play” – projects, homework, etc.  Clutter, mess, and the competing needs for focus can mean a wall defined space or one that can be shut off from the rest of the living area with multiple doors to keep space open when segregation is not needed.  These spaces usually involve task lighting for the work area – table, countertop or even an open floor for art/craft creation.  More than ever it involves also the ability to accommodate a laptop and perhaps connect to a printer. 

So whether it’s small adult gatherings, video integration, eating, “projects/homework” the Great Room model of everything under one big tent tried to mix too many elements of the functional stew of family life.

Segregation was outlawed by the Supreme Court in the 1950s but it’s being re-imposed upon the American house today.  Great Room’s all across the country are being either removed, subdivided or greatly modified to allow different functions to occur that simply can’t stand each other without some interventions.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 1:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! Love it!

  2. November 22, 2010 12:22 pm

    Spot on!

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