While designing the thorough-but-simple renovation of our apartment, my wife and I created a "big lively room" and a "small quiet room". Notice that we didn't specify the use: We didn’t say anything like “living room”, “bedroom”, “office” etc. Instead, we specified the atmosphere and created two atmospheres that can balance each other.
So we've successfully been using this space to live and to work, like two overlapping layers, each needing a big lively space and a small quiet one. It’s not surprising that the needs are similar because, after all, “living” and “working” are artificial categories. Life is one and whole. What’s important is whether the way you spend your time makes sense to you or not.
Sometimes you like to do things with a certain action-spirit, or with more people... With the buzz and the space and the chatter and the music and the kitchen smells and the hundred colourful post-its and the dance floor. And sometimes you need to focus, or relax, or talk privately, or get completely absorbed, or just sleep in peace.
But sometimes two people need two opposing atmospheres at the same time. Or sometimes one person needs to change between these atmospheres within the same day, or the same hour. And so it was: two rooms, one big and lively, another one small and quiet.
The big room has so far served as the living room, photo studio, workshop and playroom for up to 20 people, co-working space, handcraft studio, party space, sleeping space for 10 people, and more.
The small room has served as a bedroom, table-making workshop, quiet-work room, phone-call room, meditation room, interview room and more.
All these transformations were made possible by the fact that our furniture is lightweight and/or on wheels and/or easy to (dis)assemble. In addition to that, the disposition of spaces within the apartment and their relationship to the outside world (view, sunlight at different times) supports this atmosphere.
The effect is that we happily live-work (architecture, design, handcraft, facilitation, regenerative design) in 58 square meters, while one would "normally" think you would need bigger, separate spaces to do that.
But the “secret” is not in the furniture, and definitely not in the style of the spaces. The key is in the fact that we managed to dissolve the notion of bedrooms and living rooms and offices in our minds. We managed to listen to our deeper needs: How we want to feel and what we want to do.
All the “rooms” should just be a consequence of finding good ways to fulfill those needs. Sometimes what is usual, or standard, is a good way to go. Sometimes it’s not. Nothing should be taken for granted. Even when you’re pressed with time, it’s good to poke the norm with a few probing questions.
Like, “Do I really need this?” or “Is there a better way to do this?” or “Does this feel good?” or “Is this a remainder of an old wish that has nothing to do with who I really am?” or “Am I stuck to a picture from a magazine?” or “What kind of life situations do I imagine here?” or “Am I trying to impress someone by this?” or “What part of me wants to have this?” or “Who do I want to share this with?”
Whether you like it or not, spaces we live in are going to be shaping our behaviours, thoughts, feelings and relationships every day. We wouldn’t be so accustomed to dividing our spaces and lives into certain kinds of rooms if we didn’t have generations of conditioning that way.
So what we did with our apartment was trying to choose which “traditions” to keep because they are useful, and which to discard. And so we had to come up with creative and fitting solutions to our needs.
That process is different for each person. Architecture is a tool to make life truer to who we really are. For every single one of us.
But it’s important to remember that we all change. So it’s good that a space can accommodate our changes, from small and frequent changes in what we do and how we feel, to big changes in lifestyles and characters.
For my wife and me, the big-room-small-room duo proved to be a design and a way of thinking that has, for now, fitted us snuggly while allowing us to grow. And I feel such designs are worth noting down and sharing, which is why I’m writing this in the first place.
Considering our need for change though, I do wonder what will be next for us :)