I was out for an evening stroll in Connecticut over the weekend and I found myself staring into newly constructed or renovated homes. The anthropologist’s work is never done, especially when people refuse to pull their drapes.
Most of these places had very large and open spaces on the main floor, almost as if people had constructed lofts in their living rooms.
Pam knew exactly what these were: “great rooms,” she said. Apparently, great rooms are a standing fixture of the suburban home. Or, in the words of a construction firm on line:
“Great rooms have become essential components of today’s home designs. Many families plan the rest of the home around the great room. It is where friends are made, games are played and families spend quality time together.
Interesting. It feel as if the North American family is in the process of reinstalling the great hall of the medieval home. These were spaces in which many people, engaged in many activities, worked, played and mixed. The great room, by contradistinction, is not so much about allowing external diversities to assemble, as it is an attempt to accommodate the diversities within.
About 10 years ago, apparently, someone saw that if the family was to survive its new multiplicity of personnel and project, it would have to create spaces in which people could be alone together. Atomism was the only alternative. And no family, not even a post modern one, could survive that.
If the great room is a kind of great hall, it has lots implications for the ways in which the individual and the family define themselves, and once more we are looking at the rise of what the sociologists call loose boundedness. These spaces are designed to allow and forgive diverse activities, to make the self and the family more porous (or mutually accessible), to allow diversity to find their expressive beneath a single roof.
Loosebounded spaces are, in sum, emerging to accomodate, and so enable, loosebounded definitions of the family and the self. Once more, messiness is the structural signature of our age.
Any thoughts on whether and how these great rooms work as domestic spaces would be very much appreciated.
Clark, Clifford E. Jr. 1976. Domestic Architecture as an Index to Social History: The Romantic Revival and the Cult of Domesticity in America, 1840-1870. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 7: 35-56.
Douglas, Mary. 1993. The idea of a home: A kind of space. Home: A place in the world. editor Arien Mack, 261-81. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Grier, Katherine C. 1988. Culture and Comfort: People, Parlors and Upholstery, 1850-1930. Rochester: Strong Museum.
Halttunen, Karen. 1989. From parlor to living room: Domestic space, interior decoration, and the culture of personality. Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880-1920. editor Simon J. Bronner, 157-89. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company for the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.
Rybczynski, Witold. 1986. Home: a short history of an idea. New York, N.Y: Viking.