-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Friday, February 17, 2006

applying patterns (2): Interior

These patterns are my favourites from the book "Pattern Language", as described in my previous post. In this post I look at the ones relating to the details of the interior, such as how furniture is laid out, window heights, etc.

#134: Zen View
There is a problem with any beautiful view. You want to enjoy it every day, but the more open and obvious it is, the more it shouts, the sooner it will fade. Gradually it will become part of the building, like the wallpaper, and the intensity of its beauty will no longer be accessible to the people who live there. Therefore:
If there is a beautiful view, don't spoil it by building huge
windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which
look onto the view at places of transition - along paths, in hallways,
in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms. If the view window is
correctly placed, people will see a glimpse of the distant view as
they come up to the window or pass it, but the view is never visible
from the places where people stay.

I'm not sure I fully subscribe to this theory, because it presumes that the view is never changing, whereas in fact it differs all the time with the variation in weather, plants, etc. But, I think a view is a bit like chocolate... if you have too much you start to take it for granted and not enjoy it like you would if you kept it as a treat. I don't want to have floor to ceiling huge expanses of glass everywhere to 'bring in the view' like so many modern houses seem to, and our plans for Amherst don't.

#135: Tapestry of light and dark
In a building with uniform light level, there are few places which function as effective settings for human events. This happens because, to a large extent, the places which make effective settings are defined by light. Therefore:
Create alternating areas of light and dark throughout the
building, in such a way that people naturally walk toward the
light, whenever they are going to important places: seats,
entrances, stairs, passages, places of special beauty, and
make other areas darker to increase the contrast.

Hmmm... I think this will happen naturally, especially if we use a variety of lights, wall lights, table lamps etc, and of course have dimmer switches everywhere. (That was the best thing I did here in London was to put dimmer switches in almost every room, it made such a difference to the atmosphere). I guess that when we eventually get to the stage of designing in for lighting, wall colours, etc we'll have to think more carefully about this.

#139: Farmhouse kitchen
The isolated kitchen, separate from the family and considered as a factory for food is a hangover from the days of servants. A much better model for modern living is the farmhouse kitchen. Therefore:
Make the kitchen big enough to include the 'family room' space,
and place it near the center of the commons, not so far back in the
house as an ordinary kitchen. Make it large enough to hold a good
big table and chairs, some soft and some hard, wth counters and stove
and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and
comfortable space.

Yes, this is what we aspire to have in our kitchen area, although it will still be a separate area so that you can shut off the mess if you want.

#179: Alcoves
To give a group of people a chance to be together, as a group, a room must also give them the chance to be alone, in one's and two's in the same place. This is particular true for places like the kitchen and the living room, where if there are not these areas then people who are doing one thing (eg: reading) will be disturbed by people doing something else, and thus be less likely to spend time together. Therefore:
Make small places at the edge of any common room, usually
no more than 6 feet wide and 3 to 6 feet deep and possible
much smaller. These alcoves should be large enough for 2
people to sit, chat or play, and sometimes large enough to
contain a desk or a table. Give the alcove a ceiling which
is markedly lower in height than the main room, and consider
making a partial boundary using low walls and thick columns.

I really like the idea of having alcoves. This is going to be the biggest challenge to design in I suspect. I especially like the idea of varying the ceiling height... perhaps we could even have drawers high up in the extra ceiling space that's been enclosed for storage?

#180: Window place
Everybody loves window seats, bay windows and big windows with low sills and comfortable chairs drawn up to them. These kinds of windows create 'places', and a room which does not have such places seldom allows you to feel fully at ease because you will always remain slightly torn between being drawn to the light and drawn to sit down. Therefore:
In every room where you spend any length of time during
the day, make at least one window into a window place.
Make it low and self-contained if there is room for it
(eg: alcove); under sloping roofs use dormer windows.
Window seats built into niches are a good way to execute
this in a small space. Low sills should be very low -
12 to 14 inches - and the armchair nearby should give
a sense of enclosure, eg with tall back and sides.

Yes, window seats are a definite must. I like the idea of having low sills too.

#182: Eating atmosphere
Some rooms invite people to eat leisurely and comfortably and feel together, while others force people to eat as quickly as possible so they can go somewhere else to relax. Therefore:
Put a heavy table in the centre of the eating space -
large enough for the group of people using it. Put a
light over the tapbel to create a pool of light over
the group, and enclose the space with walls or with
contrasting darkness. Make the space large enough so
the chairs can be pulled back comfortably, and provide
shelves and counters close at hand for things related
to the meal.

#184: Cooking layout
Cooking is uncomfortable if the kitchen counter is too short and also if it is too long. Therefore:
To strick the balance between the kitchen being too
small and too spread out, place the stove, sink and food
storage and counter in such a way that 1) No two of the
four are more than 10 feet apart. 2) the total length
of the counter - excluding sink, stove and refrigerator -
is at least 12 feet. 3) No one section of the counter
is less than 4 feet long.

#185: Sitting circle
A group of chairs, a sofa and a chair, a pile of cushions - these are the most obvious things - and yet to make them work, so people become animated and alive in them is a very subtle business. Most seating arrangements are sterile, people avoid them, nothing ever happens there. Others seem somehow to gather life aroudn them to concentrate and liberate energy. The most important difference between them is their position, shape and informality. To get the best arrangement:
Place each sitting space in a position which is protected,
not cut by paths or movement, roughly circular, made so that
the room itself helps to suggest the circle - not too strongly
- with paths and activities around it so that people naturally
gravitate toward the chairs when they get into the mood to
sit. Place the chairs and cushions loosely in the circule
and have a few too many.

arrange seats informally

#188: Bed alcove
Bedrooms make no sense because the valuable space around the bed is used for nothing except access to the bed. Therefore:
Don't put single beds in empty rooms called bedrooms.
Instead put individual bed alcoves off rooms with other
nonsleeping functions, so the bed itself becomes a tiny
private haven. This is a particular useful way to get
extra sleeping spaces without making the house grow
much larger.

#189: Dressing rooms
Dressing and undressing, storing clothes, having clothes lying around, have no reason to be part of any larger complex of activities. Indeed they disturb other activities: they are so self contained that they themselves need concentrated space which has no other function. Therefore:
Give everyone a dressing room between their bed and
the bathing room. Make it big enough so there is an
open area in it at least 6 feet in diameter; a mixture
of hanging space, open shelves and drawers, and a mirror.
Place it so it gets plenty of natural light, ideally
light on two sides.

#190: Ceiling height variety
A building in which the ceiling heights are all the same is virtually incapable of making people comfortable. Therefore:
Vary the ceiling heights continuously thorugh the
building, especially between rooms which open into
each other, so that the relative intimacy of different
spaces can be felt. In particular, make ceilings high
in rooms which are public or meant for large gatherings
(10 to 12 feet), lower in rooms for smaller gatherings
(7 to 9 feet) and very low in rooms or alcoves for one
to two people (6 to 7 feet). Where ceiling height varies
within one storey, put storage in the spaces between the
different heights, and vary ceiling heights from storey
to storey, with the highest ceilings on the ground floor.

#193: Half open wall
Rooms which are too closed prevent thenatural flow of social occasions, and thenatural process of transition from one social moment to another. And rooms which are too open will not support the differentiation of events which social life requires. Therefore:
Adjust the walls, opening and windows in each indoor
space until you reach the right balance between open,
flowing space and closed cell-like space. Do not take
it or granted that each space is a room; nor, on the
other hand, that all spaces must flow into each other.
The right balance will always lie between these extremes:
no one room entirely enclosed; and no space totally
connected to another. Use combinations of columns,
half-open walls, porches, indoor windows, sliding
doors, low sills, frenchdoors, sitting walls, and so
on, to hit the right balance.

#194: Interior windows
Windows are most often used to create connections between the indoor and the outdoors. But there are many cases when an indoor space needs a connecting window to another indoor space besides the obvious (corridors, small rooms that would otherwise feel like prisons). In particular:
Put in fully glazed fixed windonws betwen rooms which
tend to be dead because they have too little action in
them or where inside rooms are unusually dark.

#196: Corner doors
The success of a room depends to a great extent on the position of the doors. If the doors create a pattern of movement which destroys the places in the room, the room will never allow people to be comfortable. Therefore:
Except in very large rooms, a door only rarely makes
sense in the middle of a wall. It does in an entrance
room,for instance, because this room gets its character
essentially from the door. But inmost rooms, especially
small ones, put the doors as near the corners of the
room as possible. If the room has two doors, and people
move through it, keep both doors at one end of the room.

#199: Sunny counter
Dark gloomy kitchens are depressing. The kitchen needs the sun more than the other rooms, not less. Therefore:
Place the main part of the kitchen counter on the
south and southeast side of the kitchen, with big windows
around it, so that sun can flood in and fill the kitchen
with yellow light both morning and afternoon.

#200: Open shelves
Cupboards that are too deep waste valuable space, and it always seems that what you want is behind something else. Therefore:
Cover the walls with narrow shelves of varying depth
but always shallow enough so that things can be placed
on them one deep - nothing hiding behind anything else.

#210: Waist-high shelf
In every house and every workplace there is a daily 'traffic' of the objects which are handled most. Unless such things are immediately at hant, the flow of life is awkward, full of mistakes, things are forgotten, misplaced. Therefore:
Build waist-high shelves around at least a part of
the main rooms hwere people live and work. make them
long,9 to 15 inches deep, with shelves or cupbard
underneath. Interrupt the shelf for seats, windows
and doors.

#202: Built-in seats
Built-in seats are great. Everybody loves them. They make a building feel comfortable and luxurious. But most often they do not actually work. They are placed wrong, or too narrow, or the back does not slope, or the view is wrong, or the seat is too hard. To make a built-in seat that really works:
Before you build the seat, get hold of an old armchair
or a sofa and put it into the pusotion where you intend
to build a seat. Move it until you really like it.
Leave it there for a few days. See if you enjoy sitting
in it. Move it if you don't. When you have got it into
a position which you like, and where you often find
yourself sitting, you know it is a good position. Now
build a seat that is just as wide adn just as well
padded - and your built in seat will work

#221: Natural doors and windows
Finding the right position for a window or a door is a subtle matter. But there are very few ways of building which take this into consideration. The delicacy of placing a window or a door has nearly vanished, but it is just this refinement, sometimes down to the last inch or two, which makes an immense difference. Therefore:
On no account use standard doors or windows. Make
each window a differen size, according to its place.
Do not fix the exact position or size of the door and
window frames until the rough framing of the room has
actually been built, and you can really stand inside
the room and judge, by eye, exactly where you want to
put them , and how big you want them. Make the windows
smaller and smaller, as you go higher in the building.

#222: Low sill
One of a window's most important functions is to put you in touch with the outdoors. If the sill is too high, it cuts you off. Therefore:
When determing exact location of windows also decide
which windows should have low sills. On the first floor,
make the sills of windows which you plan to sit by
between 12 and 14 inches high. ON the upper stories
make them higher, around 20 inches.

low sills

#223: Deep reveals
Windows with a sharp edge where the frame meeting the wall create harch, blinding glar, and make the rooms they serve uncomfortable. They have the same effect as the bright headlines of an oncoming car: the glare prevents fyou from seeing anything else on the road. To solve this:
Make the window frame a deep, splayed edge: about a foot
wide and splayed at about 50 to 60 degrees to the plane of
the window, so that the gentle gradient of daylight gives
a smooth transition between the light of the window and
the dark of the inner wall.

#235: Soft inside walls
A wall which is too hard or too cold or too solid is unpleasant to touch; it makes decoration impossible and creates hollow echoes. Therefore:
Make every inside surface warm to the touch, soft enough
to take small nails and tacks, and with a certain slight
"give" to the touch. A very good material is soft white
gypsum plaster, it is warm in colour, warm to the touch,
soft enough to take tacks, easy to repair and makes a
mellow sound. Whereas cement plaster, though only slightly
different in makeup is opposite in all of these respects.
Wood is also good (if you can afford it!)

#236: Windows which open wide
Many building nowadays have no opening windows at all, and manyof the opening windows that people do build don't do the job that opnening windows ought to do - ie: fully open! Therefore:
Decide which of the windows will be opening windows.
Pick those which are easy to get to, and choose the
ones which open onto flowers wyou want to smell, paths
where you might want to talk, and natural breezes.
Then put in side-hung casements that open outward.
Here and there, go all the way and build full French

#237: Solid doors with glass
An opaque door makes sense in a vast house or palace, where every room is large enough to be a world unto itself; but in a small building, with small rooms, the opaque door is only very rarely useful. Therefore:
As often as possible, build doors with glazing in
them so that the upper half at least allows you to see
through them. At the same time, build the doors solid
enough, so that they give acoustic isolation and make
a comfortable 'thunk' when they are closed.

#251: Different chairs
People are different sizes, they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike. A better approach is:
Never furnish any place with chairs that are
identically the same. Choose a variety of different
chairs, some big, some small, some softerthan others,
some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms,
without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

#252: Pools of light
Uniform illumination serves nouseful purpose whatsoever. In fact, it destroys the social nature of space and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded. Instead:
Place the lights low, and apart, to form individual
pools of light which encompass chairs and table like
bubble to reinforce the social character of the spaces
which they form. Remember that you can't have pools
of light without the darker places in between.

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