Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Dream Home

Given the number of places I've lived over time, I've formed some opinions about the kinds of things that make or break a home for me. As we prepare to move at the end of September, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of home our family would like most. Adding up pros and cons of various available options, I have to say that I do not want to live in new construction again anytime soon. Given the strangeness of housing markets, talk of bailouts which would largely target builders, and a growing understanding of intelligent community planning, I figure a rant about new construction will be theraputic for me. Feel free to find the following interesting-or not.

Issues of Usable Space

Where's the common space?
It's a nice idea to give everyone a big bedroom, but not at the expense of common space for the family. Currently, my living room is only a bit bigger than my bedroom, and my dining area is slightly larger than the master bathroom. Where, exactly, are families supposed to congregate? When every bedroom is a fortress, complete with its own bathroom, families have no real reason to spend time in cramped common space.

How many toilets?
This may well be my biggest pet peeve. Does every man, woman, and child in a household actually need his or her own toilet? There are three of us here, and I have 3 toilets to clean. Because of the floorplan, it is not practical to just close off one bathroom. Not only is the cleaning of these things a pain (and environmentally unfriendly) but they take up space. Every square foot allotted to extraneous toilets is a square foot into which I can't fit a bookshelf or a dresser or...or...or...

Stupid floorplan
Bedrooms, regardless of size, need to be usable. It seems like a good idea to have an entire wall devoted to a sliding door for a gigantic closet until you realize that the room is going to need a place for a bed and maybe a dresser or two. I suppose the solution would be to never have a dresser and just use closet organizers. My current bedroom has one wall that isn't beset with doors and windows and funny alcoves. One. How hard would it be to put doors near each other and in corners so as to free up more usable wall space?

Master Bathrooms
I know a lot of people like having their bathrooms connected to their bedrooms. I hate it because it makes it impossible for one person to get up early and another to sleep in. The noise and light and steam and smells are going to invade the sleeping area. Attaching a bathroom to a bedroom often requires some other very stupid floorplan manipulations. And no matter how you slice it, someone is taking a dump in close proximity to where you lay your head on a regular basis.

Issues of Fit and Finish

What's the obsession? It looks shiny and all of that, but the versions I've seen are not exactly superior countertop material. Highly patterned varieties hide dirt very well. Which means that even with obsessive cleaning you never quite know if your work surface is actually clean. Bonus stupidity points for using it in the bathroom. Who wants to step out of a shower and accidentally brush bare skin against a literally "stone cold" counter? Good old formica doesn't get cold like that and is pretty easy to keep clean. Finally, a lot of granite is really porous. That means that wet stuff spilled on a counter, even plain water, will discolor the stone over time. The difference between granite and formica is that I can't use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on granite. In terms of cleanliness and durability there are better choices than granite.

Stainless Steel
This is the ultimate in shiny but stupid. It looks sleek. IF you keep it free of spots and fingerprints. That's pretty much a full-time job. And, depending on how the manufacturer felt at the time, the stuff may or may not have magnetic properties. Refrigerator magnets are downright useful. Spending my life spot-cleaning "stainless" steel so that it doesn't develop funny looking spots is not. I'm all for clean, but draw the line at lovingly polishing my appliances.

Clear Glass Shower Doors
This is one of those things that looks fantastic in magazines and really lousy in real life. For starters, it's a full-time job to keep the things transparent. Especially if you have hard water like we do. Even with using a squeegie after every shower and spraying with that daily shower cleaner stuff, it requrires serious scrubbing on a regular basis to keep it shining. Even if you like spending your life cleaning, these things render a bathroom incapable of multi-tasking. Well, if anyone wants any privacy that is. With frosted doors or ~gasp~ a shower curtain, someone can be in the shower while someone else uses the toilet or the sink. Not practical, unless of course everyone in the house has their very own bathroom.

Dual Vanities
This is another one of those features that a lot of people like. I don't think it's actually necessary, especially if you want a clean house. Most people that want their own sink do so because they don't want to have to pick up after themself or after someone else who doesn't. When we had one sink in the bathroom, I gave it a good swipe every day and it stayed clean. Now, I have two bathroom sinks and I have to make an appointment with myself to keep them clean instead of just a quick wipe down when I'm done brushing my teeth.

Kitchens Without Drawers
I like drawers. The more the better. One for towels, several for silverware and implements, places for food storage stuff. The less crap I have on the counters or stuffed willy-nilly in cupboards, the easier it is to use my kitchen.

Crappy Flooring
Pergo seems like a good idea, but it has to be done right. If it's the kind laid down with adhesive, a particle board subfloor is stupid. Also, get a kind that doesn't scratch easily. Otherwise, you spend your life trying to figure out how to get every last mote of dust off the floor so it doesn't scratch while simultaneously being unable to use a healthy amount of water for fear of buckling the floor. I realize we can't all have hardwood, but that doesn't mean we need crap.

Overall Design

Ventillation, Insulation
For much of human history, we did not have a lot of climate control options for our homes. We built in things like cross-breezes, attic ventillation, etc. Just because we ~can~ artificially control the temperature in the home doesn't mean we need to make that the only option. Windows should open, they should allow for cross-breezes. Some consideration of the direction the house faces, where there's shade, where to plant some vegetation for shade should come standard with new construction. So much of the new stuff I see seems to flaunt that these considerations aren't necessary in a shiny new place.

As I look over these complaints, I realize that I'm mostly railing against what I see as a trend in home-making. So many of the other moms I visit keep a home that's a showpiece. Small common areas, bedroom fortresses and personal toilets work well for that sort of mindset. It's not how I like to live, though. Shiny things seem nice, but then I realize that in order to keep them shiny I spend inordinate amounts of time to maintain them. I need to live in a clean place, and the fact that keeping shiny things clean enough to look clean is a full time job drives me batty.

If my home has to be a museum, it doesn't really get to be mine. Nothing is unique about my shiny, granite, stainless place and it could be home for anyone. Yet it's home for me and I know this only because I clean it nonstop.

Our next place will be clean, cleanable and functional. I'll be surprised if we find it in new construction. Give me a cute old bungalow from an era when they knew how to build homes instead of museums.


Jaya said...

To the list, may I add

Wall-to-wall carpeting
It's a big piece of fabric that you can't remove from the floor when it needs cleaning. What's the point?

Drywall in showers
Yes, it's cheaper than cement board. But why do you think it's called DRYwall?

Enormous walk-in showers
Even if I hadn't been on the building crew for one of these, I'd still find them pointless--even more so when they're in the same house as an enormous whirpool spa.

SWE said...

You're a woman after my own heart. We must be related! ;)

Wall-to-wall carpeting drives me nuts-it's easier to keep the dust down with hardwood, thank you.

The only thing more pointless than an enormous walk-in shower is when that whirlpool spa is a tub/shower combo. The worst of both worlds! It's awkward to get in and out to shower, and the tub is subject to the indignities of daily showering so requires scouring any time you're in the mood for a good soak.

Joe said...

My second wife and I bought a house with three bathrooms for the two of us. One for each of us upstairs and one for the downstairs guests. What can I tell you?
Now I live in a condo with 2.5 baths for three of us. I grew up in a 3 bedroom house with 1.5 baths and I thought we were living.

Unknown said...

In Europe there's much more old houses to choose from.
We live in a 100+ year old house where we removed everything but the walls and some historic floors.
I agree with most of the things but the walk in shower (the size of a decent toilet) does take care of the door/curtain issues and if it is placed well other people can still use the bathroom with privacy intact.

For hard water you could install a water softener, we have very hard water but with the watersoftner we don't have those stains on taps or sinks and our appliances keep working too. It cost me about $1200 but it is the one thing that I am really thankful for every day when I take a shower and don't have to wipe everything down immediately afterwards ;)

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand--especially here in Michigan and other colder areas (or they are colder some of the time, not today) is the two story high rooms. They look very dramatic but what a huge waste of space. Heating them is nearly impossible. I guess in warm places they offer a holding space to lots of warm air so there may be some--but not much logic.

I agree with you and Jaya on wall-to-wall carpeting. We are working to get rid of ours in bits and pieces--but that is the in thing to do. I sure do love my new wood floor. Even bird poop and cat vomit are easy to get off of it.

It seems that in so many modern homes there is a lot more for look and a lot less for function. Give me rooms that serve there purpose and save the frills for something else. Alas you will be hard pressed to find your dream house these days.

Anonymous said...

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Love, Mom