Home design may change following pandemic

Listening to some background chatter while a “Love-it or List it” show is on the H&G channel: “I dunno if I’d want a wide-open kitchen like that! I run my husband out when he comes in when I’m cooking;” “Yeah, mine used to do that too … until I threatened to smack him next time and not give ‘em any dinner.”

All those open spaces make a body wonder about those walls being knocked down inside older houses. It was the trend before the pandemic, but after being holed up at home for a year, is that really what’s needed?

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Yes, they are clean and beautiful, expensive and 100 percent resalable. But then again, there’s another side to the issue of wide open interiors. If you’ve ever cooked a smelly batch of food and weren’t able to get the odor out for days, then you understand. A door between food being prepared and where you eat it can be a life saver. Not everyone enjoys the smell of lutefisk two days after it was cooked in a room wide open to the bedrooms and kids’ play area. Rooms with doors have other advantages too: heat conservation.

The reason houses in the ‘40s and earlier were built using small rooms with doors between was for saving heat. It’s easier to close off a door and stay warm during cold nights if the room is small and the people sleeping are toasty warm under their covers. That other advantage? Smells stay put better behind doors.

Fireplaces were great heat sources in well-furnished small rooms but pretty useless for warmth in large, open spaces. Dining rooms are going the route of the Model-T. New homes are seating everyone at a counter, usually 36 inches from the floor. Seats are stools, not comfy chairs with your feet firmly grounded. Short people, especially kids, keep their feet on the rungs and the center of gravity can be iffy.

It’s interesting to see how renovated home “needs” are changing. Two sinks are now the norm for bathrooms. Large showcase spaces allow the residents to “stage” bathroom activities. It all looks amazing on television, but does stepping into a shower really need a curtain call and trumpet blasting for an audience? “Site-lines” have to be unobstructed from stove to backyard. But is it practical? We’ve all seen Department of Transportation statistics about people driving while occupied. Can you imagine how dangerous it is to be frying something in hot oil and seeing the family dog in the yard chasing the meter reader? There are many activities that need full concentration and attention. Cooking food, like driving a vehicle, is one of those activities.

Homes in this area, especially Craftsman and mid-century modern, have spaces closed off by doors. Few Craftsman homes had grand spaces for large crowds. You’d meet at the “hall” or church for that. And during the pandemic, when most people were relegated to working from home, schooling, shopping and entertainment from home, we saw a change in needs for something very special: a closed-off space where each family member could literally get away. Even while still being inside, under the same roof, people needed a place to be alone.

Home designs may change. There’s logic behind smaller spaces where residents can just get away and not have to be in earshot or view of everybody else in the family. Not all cooks want to perform for an audience. Some just want to get the food ready and not be “on.” It will be interesting to catch some shows over the next few years to see if there has been a change in the current “open-concept” trend. Fashions come and go. Architectural structures don’t always need to follow fashion; they need to be practical.

If anyone has an item for this column, please send it to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.