A few years ago, the American Institute of Architects ran an ad saying that if you have problems at home, you should consult an Architect. While I don't subscribe to the idea that an Architect can or should solve a domestic dispute, I have learned a thing or two about how a home can be designed to enhance the quality of a family's life. Below are a few of the things that I believe to be true about what makes a great and happy home:
1- Smaller houses make for tighter knit families - There was a time in America when a two bedroom home was common for a four person family. The parents were in one room and the kids were in the other. Kids did homework at the kitchen table while dinner was being made. There was one TV in the whole house and the family room was used by the entire family. Although it seems that many Americans desire a larger home, smaller homes actually create better environments for families to stay closer. When Sarah Susanka developed the 'Not So Big House' concept (which argues that a smaller home of higher quality yields a better lifestyle than a larger home of less character) people latched onto it with resounding approval. If you want to have a relationship with your kids and your partner, you have to live among them, not in the vicinity of them.
2- You need less than you think - Every year my wife and I do a complete inventory of our stuff. If any of our stuff hasn't been used in the previous year (whether clothes or possessions) we either donate or sell it. This ritual has made us very aware of what it is we actually need to survive. And although we are by no means minimalists, you start to understand that the best things in life aren't things. It also keeps us in check with respect to how much our kids need. Your stuff can weigh you down. Less stuff means less stress.
3- You'd be amazed what you can get done when you're not watching TV - now before you freak out, I'm not advocating you get rid of your TV. What I am saying is that it doesn't need to constantly be on in the background regardless of whatever else is going on. With DVR and On Demand, you can pretty much watch your shows whenever you want. So instead of hitting the couch for a solid block of time each night, dedicate one or two nights to catching your shows and use the other nights to do things that are productive. It's also good for kids to see that you don't need to be watching TV every night.
4- Your home will never be finished - Whether you move into a new home or an old one, there will always be work to do. That being said, don't sweat that weekend project that takes six months to finish. Your home is an ever changing tapestry of your family life. It will never be totally clean or totally finished unless your family stops growing and changing. And when that happens, you're probably ready for the nursing home anyway. Focus on keeping it warm and comfortable for whoever lives there and stop obsessing over how much stuff is on your kitchen table.
Think about your favorite memories from your childhood and your home. I guarantee they have nothing to do with a cavernous bedroom or a three story foyer. For me, they involve things like an old lawn chair that we used as the catcher when my brother and I played wiffle ball. Or my Dad and I playing catch for a few minutes on the side of the house while we waited for the grill to warm up. Memories are made by people, not by objects. A big house can be nice, but a great home is something far more desirable and much harder to achieve. When designing a great home, make sure that you leave room for that part of the design which cannot be planned or measured - otherwise known as LIFE.