A country setting with a swimming pool, custom-designed interior and exterior spaces, a house with the look of success — a look that house magazines inspire others to want for their own homes. Yet it somehow just didn’t feel right for family living. While it was a showpiece house tour winner, its design was riddled with SDD (Space Deficit Disorder), a “toxic asset” for the entire family. The architects of this dream home had failed to consider the space/behavior connection in their design.
An April article in Scientific American Mind, on “How Room Designs Affect Your Work and Mood” confirms, through recent brain research, that we can “craft spaces that relax, inspire, awaken, comfort and heal.” We can do this through primarily using existing spaces and furnishings. Your home, condo, or apartment includes a collection of spaces designed to accommodate the various activities of you and your family’s life. These personal environments serve as a mold that reinforce patterns of behavior and performance, and can be either antagonistic or synergistic to your family’s goals.
Every room you live in sculpts both individual and interpersonal behavior, although most of us are unaware of our interconnection with designed spaces. Change happens because we slowly adapt to the physical restrictions and features our spaces give us. At this moment the acoustics and lighting in your dining room may destroy vital family interactions or your arrangement in your home office may minimize productivity.
Space and furniture layouts direct your use of space, affecting intimate and social behaviors. Seating arrangements impact interpersonal communications in living rooms, family rooms, and dining rooms (consider Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs.) You can learn how to use the existing features of your interior environment as positive assets to your growth, health and success. The results are often astounding and immediate.
The Blakes are a family of four who are no longer communicating
Meaningful interactions, so essential to healthy family communication, are becoming increasingly isolated. Emotional stress is increasing and the mother feels a negative environment insidiously developing within the house they moved into just over two years ago. They have started family counseling.Read on to discover the solution »
Space Deficit Disorder
Upon having the various spaces within the home evaluated for SDD, it can be observed that the dining and living room spaces are not functioning to supporting the family‘s stated desires of a creating a healthier family dynamic. The dining room, well furnished with beautiful antiques, is located in the center of the house with no access to natural sunlight. The walls of the room are painted sheet rock, producing a slightly hollow sound. Because of the echoey feeling, voices sound a little thin. A very small rug covers the floor beneath the table, but not under the legs of the chairs, thus denying the opportunity to establish a strong sense of an eating place within the room. Because there is no natural light, there is little natural contrast or visual stimulation that natural light normally produces. This “flat” space is flattening the attitude and mood of its occupants as they adapt to its offerings.
Although the room supports the requirements “dining” with sufficient square footage, it doesn’t support the social function of dining as a family interative and positive psychological experience. Dining in that space is setting up a family pattern of non-talking, because the physical qualities of the room don’t support it. The dining room — the room dedicated to the most social experience of family life — doesn’t bring the family together, but molds them in the opposite direction, the impact of which could affect interactions elsewhere in their behaviors.
Adjacent to the dining room, separated by a wall and doorway, is the living room, another space filled with SDD. The room is quite long and narrow with the seating arrangement beyond a ten foot diameter, too separated to support personal communication. The solution to both the dining room and living room dysfunction is to move the dining table into the under-used sunny end of the living room and convert the existing dining room into a well needed storage closet. By placing the dining table opposite the living room entry, still in close proximity to the kitchen, the living room is visually shortened and its new and cozier seating arrangement also better supports family communication around the shared coffee table.
The acoustics in the living room with its wall-to-wall carpeting are far better for communication. Installing an area rug under the dining table and chairs heightens the sense of containment of the eating space within the large space. A chandelier installed such that the bottom of fixture is at least 30“ off the table top and wall art installed at eye level of seated occupants adds the finishing touches of place making to the new family living space.
Improving the design and experience of your home and our world
I invite you to implement these design tips and in the process, Have fun! Break out of the mold of your habit-at. As Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche proclaims, “The only way to implement our vision for society is to bring it down to the situation of a single household.”
Sacred Gateway, Pathway & Destination
Whether transiting from a public roadway to your land, parking area to your front door, front door to entry space, or entry space to living room; create a clearly defined gateway that accesses a clearly defined pathway that leads to a clearly defined destination. Installing a boulder, plantings or gatepost at each side of your driveway entrance enhances the sense of arrival and transition from the public domain to your private sanctuary. Traveling down a meandering and acoustically pleasant gravel driveway, it still can be plowed, with an intermittent view of the final destination increases the sense of journey towards home. A clearly defined parking area becomes the second experiential transition space. Stepping from your car, a gateway to a pathway to the front door should be easily seen. Anything can be used, boulders, plants, trees, a pile of rubble, even your garbage cans painted your favorite color; any thing will suffice.
The front door serves as the next gateway from outdoors to a clearly defined entry. Strategic placement of existing furnishings, say within the living room, will work to hold the welcome and farewell experience if there is not a specifically defined entry room. As you move from room to room explore how gateways, pathways and destinations can be defined with effective placement of furnishings.
The quality of the journey is the destination!
A Good Massage
A massage by a qualified professional, applying compression and release at the right places feels good. That same pleasant feeling of compression and release can be created as you move through your home. Being ‘hugged’ in the warmer and darker colored entry space is a great compression, before the spatial release into the cooler and lighter colored living room, through contrast the experience made even more noticeable. The living room ceiling, perhaps the same height as the entry space ceiling, will feel higher and thus supportive of more expansive feelings and experiences. Explore how the mere placement of objects, in tandem with color and texture changes on the walls and ceilings can create a subtle yet pleasant sense of being massaged as you, your family and friends maneuver through your newly created sanctuary.
Bar stools lined up on one side of the kitchen counter do not support family interaction, but instead the fast serve-eat-thank you mom (maybe)-and run habitual routine. Arranging furniture for TV watching does not support family communication.
Behavioral psychology reveals that sitting side by side supports working on projects together (like cross word puzzles, or TV watching). Sitting in opposition at a standard ‘two-topper’ table at your favorite restaurant can encourage conflict. Arranging the chairs into an adjacency relationship, the position of maximum communication of all the sitting arrangements around a dining or conference table, will also allow for more intimate body contact. Take charge! Move the table; move the chairs. Always question the authority of space.
Distance between seating can also have a profound impact upon communication. If the seated occupants in your family or living room fall outside a 10’ diameter, intimate communication will be hindered. Find the tape measure. Move the furniture. Use the left over space for an additional function; perhaps a game table, or that piano you’ve always wanted to play.
The softer the acoustical environment, the more intimate the family dynamics. Soft materials like furniture, rugs, books, grass cloth wallpaper or wall carpet, and people can transform an acoustically hard, intimate thwarting space into a sanctuary where family members and friends will want to hang out. Why would anyone want a bedroom space, for example, as acoustically hard as say the kitchen or bathroom?
Imagine remodeling your home with just the use of your ears. Experiment! Have someone blindfold you, spin you into disorientation, and then walk you through your home. Try and guess what room you are in. Imagine a more supportive acoustical experience. Imagine what softer acoustics would do to the local town meeting, or your child’s classroom.
Virtual Windows with Horizon Line Art
Are you seeking a release from that windowless office cubicle or basement playroom? Want to honor yourself, family and friends? Easy peasy! Make ‘virtual windows’ by installing ‘HLA’.
You’ve probably noticed that horizon lines, like where the sky meets to ocean, are always level with the eyes of the observer; a clue to HLA. Hanging artwork where the nail happens to be or where your partner happens to be holding it for your approval is the norm. Installing HLA (horizon line art) can be a powerful way of honoring the observer and creating a ‘view’ and sense of release from an otherwise windowless and confined space. Artwork with a clearly discernible horizon line is HLA.
Whether for a standing, sitting or lying down position, I invite you to break out of the box, the mold, and consider hanging that special piece of art at an elevation whereby a clearly defined horizon line is dead level with the eyes of the person you want to honor. While Archie may complain to Edith that the artwork is too low, he will not fully appreciate the lower position until his eyes are level with the horizon line, at that moment when he reclines into his favorite chair.
Bringing your favorite image into your cone of vision, and specifically the horizon line level with your eyes, not only feels right, it buys the observer a ‘view’ through a ‘virtual window’.
I’m not suggesting a hard and fast rule that cannot be violated. Hang other artwork above or below your horizon line. Experiment. What about hanging that picture you took of the returning geese up near the ceiling, or the photo of the spring tulips near the floor. It’s all a matter of perspective. Enjoy the view!
Don’t Suffer: If you or someone you know needs support in achieving unparalleled results in creating beautiful unique spaces, that heal, nurture, emphasize family bonding, foster a loving and lasting relationship among its inhabitants and transform people’s lives, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me directly at 508-579-8233.
Change Your Space/Change Your Life,
ME Reg. Architect & Personal Environment Coach