Re: Commonhouse Design
From: Berrins (
Date: Mon, 27 May 2002 11:22:16 -0600 (MDT)
I'll echo a few concepts and add a couple.

We are:
Pathways Cohousing, Northampton, MA
24 on site units, 3 neighboring houses who also participate in community life.
Common House (CH), 3100 square feet, one floor, with a full basement

1) Definitely hire a pro architect.   We had Mary Krause and Laura Fitch 
design our community buildings (houses and CH) and love it.  Get someone who 
can come to your meetings and go through the design process with you.

2) Cubbies are cool.  Make 'em big enough to hold the usual lost and found 
stuff but not so big they require a lot of space.  We have hooks underneath 
for coats and scarves.  We are also getting ready to install mail boxes (our 
temporary boxes are outside).  

3) Unlike some other Massachusetts cohousing CHs, our city inspector required 
us to build our CH to commercial standards.  This cost us a lot more but, for 
example, during the first dance party I was in the basement underneath the 
Great Room and could see the floor shaking- was I ever glad we were required 
to put in the extra support!  

These standards are all about building safer buildings.  With all the various 
and sundry folks using the building, many of them just visiting, interspersed 
with long hours of nobody in the building at all, its nice to know the 
building is relatively safe.

4) Ditto for storage spaces.  We have a janitoral closet and two closets in 
the children's room.  We couldn't afford floor space for a kitchen pantry and 
wish we could have.  We don't have a community office and, for the nonce, are 
doing okay without one.  But I know we would use one a lot if we had one 
(especially for copying).

5) Bookshelves.  One thing we didn't design for and I wish we had.  The 
children's room has two smaller ones, which is enough.  But I would have 
liked to be able to keep a whole bunch of books and videos for our own 
lending library.  I suspect we have a few thousand books (a conservative 
estimate) languishing in boxes in basements.  We may eventually use the attic 
for book storage, but would have to build it out first- with all our other 
capital projects waiting to be funded, that won't happen for awhile.

6)  Guest rooms get used a lot.  We have one small and one medium size.  We 
haven't found a need to use them for anything else.

7) Create a quiet space away from the children's room and great room.  Our 
living room (on the southeast corner) is separated by the front hallway from 
the children's room (south central wall), with the Great Room (on the west 
side) on the other side of the children's room.  The fire doors we had to 
install in the hallways and as doors to some of the rooms are good sound 
barriers, too.  We debated putting the living room between the Great Room and 
the children's room, and I'm glad we didn't.  The guest rooms are even 
quieter; northeast corner and separated from the great room by the kitchen 
and fire walls.  The guest rooms and the handicap bathroom form sort of a 
guest suite- the only thing missing is a door to the "suite" to close it off 
for privacy.

8) We have folding tables (commercial quality) but the chairs (second hand 
from a used kitchen supply store) don't stack.  So far, space hasn't been a 

9) Dishwashers have been a theme on the list- check the archives.  We have a 
below-the-counter Hobart that does a load in 90 seconds.  Works great.  

10) Kitchen.  Commerical grade stove and refrigerator, lots of stainless, 
including a spray sink.  We've slowly been adding shelving- quite necessary 
for our relatively small space.

11) Children's room.  Has its own bathroom- no idea if that's necessary.  

That's about it for now.. Good luck!

Roger Berman

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