4.14.2008

Room to grow

The latest "hot trend' in home design reflects perfectly our modern, pell-mell, multi-tasking, cell-phone-gabbing way of life.

Look at home magazines and real estate ads and you'll see how designers now construct every room with three or four uses in mind. For example, a kitchen will also be a laundry and an office and a hobby center and a conversation pit built around a fireplace. And there'll be a TV hidden in the cabinetry.

These ingenious designs make use of every square foot of space in the house by using the latest technology: stoves that are also refrigerators, washing machines that are also dryers, microwave ovens that are also X-ray machines, beds that fold into walls, desks with built-in bars. Every nook and cranny of every floor plan these days is crammed with a computer station and a telephone.

Such designs allow us to do many things at once, which is the way we live. We work in bed and eat in the den and phone from the kitchen and sleep in the office. And everyone else in the family is running around like crazy, trying to do everything at once, too. This is why, when you call your friends, you can always hear in the background a TV yapping and a toilet flushing and something sizzling on the stove.

Most of us don't live in houses specially designed with multiple uses in mind. Older homes have your standard arrangement of rooms and cabinets and electrical sockets, so we have to furnish and shape these rooms to fit our needs. This is how reclining chairs end up in breakfast nooks and toy boxes get tucked into bathroom corners. It's why the accent piece in every room is a tangle of gray computer cables.

Traffic patterns, comfort preferences and time conflicts dictate where people congregate and where we put our stuff and where we find quiet nooks where we can avoid the rest of the family. And that requires using rooms in ways that weren't intended.

Hasn't the kitchen always doubled as meeting hall? Whenever you host a party, doesn't everyone gather in the kitchen, noshing and yakking and leaning on counters and resting their elbows in sticky, days-old spills?

At our house, the laundry room doubles as an entrance, the living room has a desk in one end and a piano in the other, the foyer acts as closet space. The master bedroom is essentially a book-jammed library with a bed in it. The kids' rooms are toy storage facilities/disaster areas.
Then there's the "great room." This oversized room combines dining room, den, my home office, sunroom, gym and entertainment district into one cluttered, multi-use, feng-shui-free zone.
The room has big windows with a southern exposure, which means that this time of year, it also becomes a greenhouse. My wife likes houseplants, so there's always several flowering on the window sills. But this summer we fixed up our patio -- another Southwestern necessity -- and she went a little overboard at the nursery, until you couldn't see the patio for the trees.

When nights started getting cold, many of these plants needed to come indoors, so naturally she put them all in the sunniest room. My office/den/dining room now overflows with flora. The room currently has 29 plants, ranging from three inches to eight feet tall.

I'm not complaining. The plants are beautiful and she's arranged them nicely and they're pumping oxygen into our cooped-up indoor air. But they're crowding me a little.

My wife may have a green thumb, but I don't. I'm afraid to get near houseplants. Past experience has taught that if I water, move, touch or breathe on them, they'll expire within minutes. If I look at one too hard, it's the kiss of death.

With so many plants and potted trees around, I must skirt them when I walk and avoid them when I choose a place to sit and avert my eyes if one of them notices me. Because of this constant evasion, I move around the room like a nervous geek trying to do the samba.

And why shouldn't I be nervous? It's a jungle in here.

(Editor's note: In our current home, we have an actual office, separate from every other use. It's full of plants.)

2 comments:

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