RE: furnishing our common house
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 09:05:21 -0500
One thing I reccomend if you are just starting dinners together in a new space 
is to set up the expectations for kids and noise up front ahead of time. Lots 
of groups have problems with kid energy around dinner time - non-parent adults 
find the noise and running around of kids to be hard to take around dinner and 
may even avoid the community meal because of it. Heck, even parents have 
trouble with the energy. Kids multiply their noise exponentially as their 
numbers increase.

So set some expectations for kids behavior right out of the starting gate, 
that way the group dining experience can be pleasant right from the start. Now 
don't get me wrong, kids are great. I have two active loud ones myself. But 
they don't get to yell and run around at dinner at MY house, so why should 
they get to do that in the commonhouse? They don't - but if left to their own 
devices, they would. Remember that as a group you will be spending time 
negotiating how you will use your common spaces, so do this bit before the 
first meal to set the reality in place. The commonhouse can have different 
rules than at peoples homes.

The tables and chairs really don't matter much. People will pretty much either 
hang out or not depending upon the atmosphere created by the people, not the 
furnishings.  I have had group meals on tables made of plywood, and group 
meals with very fine furniture. It didn't make a whit of difference in the 
meal experience.
If you can get people to hang around and talk after dinners, then you are 
doing well. If everybody eats and leaves immediately you might want to examine 
it closer. Used cast off chairs and tables work fine unless your goal is to be 
in Sunset magazine.

I read somewhere by some architect that a group should budget $40,000 for 
commonhouse furnishings. Totally unnecessary. Remember, with luck, you will be 
together as a group for decades and each years budget can include capital 
expenditures. So every year budget to buy 15 stackable chairs. Stackable 
chairs are handy when you want to mop the floor. Remember, you will need 
someone that is willing to fix broken chairs and a place to keep them while 
they are out of circulation.

What you WILL want to spend money right away on is cooking gear. Buy the best 
stuff you can getand plan to capital budget cookgear in the first couple of 
years. Our large pots are restraunt grade and it really makes a difference 
from the cheap, funky home stuff with thin bottoms that burn everything.

$600 for cook gear will get you a couple good pots, a couple good skillets, 
some good stainless casserole dishes. There are restraunt auction houses that 
sell stuff when restraunts fail that often have good deals. 

When you get around to buying plates try to get light ones. Again, you can buy 
15 plates a year for 3 years and slowly replace the hand me downs. Heavy china 
wear stuff makes a heavy, back hurting load in the dish rack. Of course you 
have an above counter dishwasher that the racks just slide into right? Under 
the counter dish washers are the stupidest things - drip water all over, have 
to lift at awkward angles to get loaded trays of plates in and out. Counter 
top units you just slide the trays in, slide them out on the other slide. 

Commission the kids to do some art for the walls. One thing I saw once was a 6 
foot square painters drop cloth that kids had finger painted on with bright 
primary colors. It was stretched on a two by two frame, stuffed with left over 
insulation and was sound absorbtion, breaking up the reflective surface on a 
bare wall. Totally cool looking, didn't cost a dime, and the kids were proud 
of it every time they came into the room.

With creative energy and can do spirit, you can furnish a commonhouse with a 
lot of love, and very little money.

Rob Sandelin

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