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A Shift in Priorities

by David Krebs

Traditionally, people have purchased homes based on three priorities: “location, location, location.” But in today’s world, this just isn’t enough information, or potentially the correct information, on which to base this important decision. Our homes have a major impact on our wellness, and wellness must drive our lifestyle choices when deciding how to live.

While a number of criteria are important, there are three basics. The first is that the home must align with who we are as people today. The second is we have a greater need to connect to nature than in the past. Third, the pandemic has made us aware of how our homes need to function.

Who we are today

When the original concept of the home was designed, there was no technology, phones or transportation as we know it. It was purely for shelter. As culture evolved, so did the designs of homes to typically

reflect their stylistic time period. We can picture Victorian homes with intricate clothing and ornately designed light fixtures, etc., which aligned with Queen Victoria’s reign. While that evolution continues today in most areas of design, architecture has not always kept up with the times.

Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier were two of the founding leaders of the Modernist movement in architecture. In 1923, Le Corbusier wrote Towards a New Architecture, where he noted that people were not living in styles that belonged to the period, and that architecture was stifled by custom. At that time, he referenced that there were airplanes, steamships and automobiles and that new design philosophies, technologies and processes of construction should be reflected in the way we live. Le Corbusier said that living in the dichotomy between the world around us and the designs of our homes was not healthy. How much more so now, almost 100 years after he wrote that! We have again seen disruptive change in recent years, in technology, computers, smartphones, internet, etc. Yet we are conceptually still living in the same homes that Corbusier called out as an issue in 1923.

Connection to nature

There is research to prove that we are healthier humans if we are connected to nature. From our stress levels to digestive systems to clarity of thought, the list goes on, yet our daily connection to nature over time has drastically reduced.

The conceptual design of many homes we live in and are still building today were designed when people walked to work, rode horses/carriages or worked outside in professions like farming or construction. Being outside in nature was inherently a big part of the day, every day. Our ancestors were so connected to nature throughout their daily lives that they didn’t need their homes to be a part of that, too. Today a home needs to connect us to nature. This can be done through design, including materials and textures, choices of finishes, window-opening sizes, natural light and long views. With our daily disconnect from nature, the home needs to make up for what we
are lacking.

One of the biggest areas now evolving to accomplish this in home design is the outdoor living room. Features like fireplaces, roofs, screens and retractable walls can extend the seasons and times of day we can be outside. Amenities like outdoor kitchens, televisions, dining tables and comfortable lounge seating can increase the functions for being outside.

When an outdoor living room is not an option, sometimes it’s as simple as identifying the deterrents to being outside and finding solutions to them. Extending seasons and time outside may be as simple as an adjustable umbrella, an outdoor patio heater or an electric blanket.

Home function and the pandemic

While the functional issues of home design existed before the pandemic, Covid did bring forward an awareness of how home design needs to be thought of for today’s users. There has been a focus on designing open floor plan, multi-use spaces that can be great for sharing time with family and friends. The downside is that it is very difficult to separate the different parts of our days when everything happens in the same space. Without a gap time or gap space between events they all begin to blur. Typically, when we drove home from the office there was a gap of time between leaving the workday and coming home that could prepare you for what is next. This allowed you to be present when you arrived home to spend time with family, spouse or friends.

Currently, without any transitioning, there are people who are eating breakfast, working, eating lunch, working then eating dinner at the same table or in the same room. This makes it very difficult to mentally separate the parts of the day and the world begins to merge together making all parts suffer.

The design of homes needs to accommodate individual uses in a way that allows us to engage in particular experiences and tasks and then provide a break between the next set to allow us to mentally shift and be more present. In home design this could include the location of the office in a separate area of the house with different views and sun orientation than the rest of the home so you consciously know you are doing something different. It could be a small area between the kids’ rooms that allow them to play together and that they can identify as their own space.

Le Corbusier said, “The house is a machine for living.” The house plays an integral role in how we live in the same way that the right tool is essential for a fine craftsman. Through these new filters we can now make an educated decision to actively design our lifestyle and ultimately build our wellness.

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