Great rooms and wee spaces: new trends in domestic space

not so big II.jpg

A report from the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA), released 4 years ago, offers some thoughts on the future of the home. These touch on recent posts here on the “great room.”

Home interiors … will change radically: the sharp delineation between living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens will virtually disappear…

This is the great room in action, consuming the domestic space around it, releasing formal space back into family life. It is odd this took so long. We were surrendering too much space to the demands of ceremony.

Some highlights from the IFDA study:

An overwhelming 92 % of respondents forecast that the average house will contain more multi-functional rooms

73% predict a move toward more open plan design, and almost 40% expect moveable walls will replace permanent walls in home interiors

71% of survey respondents believe great rooms will eclipse living rooms

There will still be dining rooms, but they will frequently be used for other purposes as well, such as offices or libraries, media rooms and guest rooms.

One of the study participants refers to “‘the big blur.’ Our homes will no longer be clearly separate from work, hobbies, passions, education or entertainment.”

72% of survey respondents indicate that it is likely that kitchens will increase in size.

Kitchens will become more significant spaces, both from a functional as well as a social standpoint,

the kitchen [will become] “almost a mini- apartment with seating areas, home office space, wine cellars, food preparation areas all vying for attention.”

I still believe that the freeing of formal space is part of the motive here. But I wonder whether the great room is not also being driven by the need to having spaces that accomodate our expansionary individualism. We are now typically several creatures: father, husband, professional, colleague, media consumer, householder and sometimes more than one of each. We want rooms that provision us in these capacities, or at least enable, or at least get out of the way.

A great room has the advantage of a versatility. It can be as many rooms as we are people. We can take a call from a colleague, watch a ball game, catch up finances, read the paper, plan the 4th quarter expenditures, contemplate taking the dog for a walk, prepare the batting order for the next Little League game, drive off the aggressions of a four year old, prepare a signature Cesare salad for dinner, seek out googled answers to errant questions, take the pulse of wife and family, plan Saturday afternoon, wonder whether 12 year olds might have had a chance to take drugs, and all of this more or less seamlessly. Living rooms would have been too small. Dining rooms too uncomfortable. Kitchens too particular. A great room is “just right,” an expansionary space for our expansionary individualism.

And now yet another development. The IFDA, in this study from 2000, noted a “contradiction” in the data, with some consumers continuing to adhere to “smaller, more intimate spaces.” And today I heard of a writer called Sarah Susanka who now has 800,000 books in print, all of them dedicated to the theme of the “not so big” house. This suggests another trend at work, one that cares for cozy spaces more than great rooms.

Hard to know what is going on here. Has the great room trend peaked? Or can we expect to see great rooms running neck and neck with nooks and crannies? And if the little room is once more on the rise what forces and factors should we say are operating here?

One thing is clear. Pam and I, living as we do in a place that it is not much larger than a Japanese hotel room, may not be comfortable but we are once more in fashion. Whew.


IFDA. 2000. Viewing a “Crystal Ball” of Home Design: Pioneering Survey by IFDA Predicts Dramatic Changes in Homes and Lifestyles by the Year 2020.

McCracken, Grant. 2005. Homeyness. In Culture and Consumption II: markets, meaning and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 22-47. (appears in Apri.)

Susanka, Sarah 1998. The Not So Big House. Taunton Press.

The “not so big house” website here.

2 thoughts on “Great rooms and wee spaces: new trends in domestic space

  1. cmb

    I’m a wee space person, myself. I always wanted a loft – one big open space – until I was actually in one and it spooked me. Turns out I like separate rooms. And the ability to close the door on the counter full of dirty dishes.

  2. Josh

    We used Susanka’s books as guides when finishing construction on our loft (reclaimed shoe factory in coastal Maine now for sale – for anyone interested). Controlling open space, as in a loft, with boundaries (alcoves, lowered ceilings, semi-walls, etc.) is part of her mantra – keep long sight lines for a spacious feeling but designated space for coziness.

    She admits Christopher Alexander as her inspiration (A Pattern Language). A basic idea with both of them is a move from Victorian living patterns in which each activity had its own room to multi-functionalism – in this sense the space reflecting how we really live today.

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