Re: Common House Usage Questions
From: Fred H Olson (
Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2003 12:15:08 -0600 (MDT)
Laura Fitch <lfitch [at]>
is the author of the message below. 
It was posted by Fred the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at]> 
because the message included HTML ;      PLEASE do not post HTML, see  and
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Here are my answers to your questions regarding common house design.  They 
reflect 9 years of living with our common house at Pioneer Valley, and my 
experience touring other communities and designing many common houses for 
other groups..  Also, we offer a power point cd on common house design.  If 
you are interested please contact me.

Laura E. Fitch, AIA
Kraus-Fitch Architects, Inc.
110 Pulpit Hill Rd.
Amherst, MA  o1002

413-549-7918 (fax)


At 10:38 AM 10/1/03, you wrote:

>Hi all,
>I'm preparing to move from one coho to another (from FROG to SONG within
>Ecovillage Ithaca). I'm serving on the design committee for the SONG CH,
>and wondering how much to trust my own "wisdom" from 6 years experience
>with the FROG CH. I find I'm constantly feeling skeptical about
>idealistic visions for the new CH that often sound naive to me. So, I'd
>like to ask some questions of this group, to get a better grasp of "what
>is really possible" in the use of a CH, as distinct from the original
>visions of what should happen. For various usage goals, please describe
>what conditions, rules, etc you feel were essential in making it work
>(or why it has failed).
>TIA for any feedback!
>Your completed response will make you eligible for a free 3-day stay in
>our new CH!!
>Newbies here fantasize a lot about pleasant times "hanging out" in or
>around the CH during non-meal times. This almost never happens in FROG,
>even if someone announces that they are providing
>tea/bagels/newspapers/etc. Hard to get a critical mass.
>- Does it happen in your CH?

We hang out all the time in spring and fall outside the common house in the 
courtyard.  It is where everyone runs into each other and the kids play on 
their tricylces and such.  Hang out in the common house is usually meal or 
specific activity related.  The kids hang-out in the basement playing pool, 
ping-pong, fussball and ms packman - especially in the cold winter months.

>- What are the "magnets" that draw people in?

Movie night, birthday parties, holiday parties, potlucks, regular meals, 
adult-only meals, brunch, committee meetings, men's and women's group, 
professional activities / meetings.

>- Does it depend on a visual connection from outdoor high-traffic areas?

That helps a lot with the unscheduled hang-out time (kids after 
school.  Parents watching kids.

>- Laundry seems a likely nexus for socializing during non-busy times.
>Any success with enhancing the laundry experience, e.g. with ping-pong,
>comfy chairs, etc?

No, people just put in laundry and head to next activity - which may be 
going upstairs in the common house to sign up for a meal, check mail 
etc.  There is some adult use of ms. packman machine and pool while waiting 
for clothes to dry.  You need two to play ping pong.

>- What if any "Rec Room" amenities get used a lot, e.g. pool, ping-pong,
>air hockey, etc?

Yes, see above

>Another popular idea is that children can be involved in quiet
>activities such as art, crafts, puzzles, LEGOs, reading, etc. In FROG
>the play room is like an indoor playground (plus dress-ups) and is
>usually used in a loud boisterous manner, mainly after common meals or
>during meetings. Fragile or messy items have been removed due to
>experiences resulting from unsupervised use. The quieter activities seem
>to require an adult to initiate and oversee, e.g. we can have a Craft
>Night or Games Night if an adult makes the effort to organize it &
>ensure that cleanup happens.

Same experience.  Legos and board games are kept up high and only used in 
supervised way.

>- Do children utilize your CH during non-busy (meal/mtg) times?

Yes, mostly the toddler - 2nd grade crowd in Kids room.  Older kids in rec room

>- Is there a rule or system for supervision of children during busy times?

Family by family

>- Do quieter activities for children "work" in your CH?

Our common house is really big.  We have 2 meeting rooms.  Often 3-6 grade 
girls go in these rooms after meals to talk.

>   - If so, what is the key factor in enabling them to work?
>- Do quieter play & boisterous play require separate rooms in your

Yes.  Also school age boys are so rowdy that they scare toddlers.  We have 
a pillow nook in kids room (It is the next best solution to separate 
spaces.  It is often used by adults reading to toddlers while the rest of 
the room is rowdy, or the other way around, the toddlers play in the main 
area while the boys rough house on the pillows.  Cambridge Cohousing 
designed a really nice two room set up.

>- Any tips on what works for including children in daily activities such
>as cooking, laundry, cleanup?

I believe this is a family / parenting issue.  My kids are required to help 
me with every community related job I participate it.  Our family is the 
exception.  Most kids do not help much except on work days where everyone 
is outside doing fun things like digging holes.

>- We have windows between play room & dining area in FROG, which works
>pretty well. What other space adjacencies/strategies have worked out
>well in CHs?

Lounging area with fire place (we have a russian type, gas is a good 
option, too) within the dining room.  In the winter when we rarely run into 
each other (except to clean snow off cars) it is really nice to have a 
roaring fire in the dining room.  Folks will come a full hour before the 
meal to sit by the fire and read and talk!  In the summer no one is there 
until 5 minutes before the meal - such a difference!

>- Have you had success in sharing music CDs, videos, etc?

Yes, book shelf next to VCR in library

>- Success with sharing computers, printer, fax, etc?

Yes, in office building:  shared conference room, fax, copier, e-mail 
station - all used daily.

>- Success with TV/VCR?

Yes, mostly used for movie nights - about once a month.

>A popular idea here is to economize by making flexible spaces where
>furniture can be quickly stowed. In FROG, we have one room that works
>this way, and it gets used for meetings, wild play, and yoga.
>- What other uses for flexible space have you found & what makes them

We have a big dining room.  If we want to dance we shove all the furniture 

>- Good or bad experiences with sharing fitness machines, e.g. rowers,
>steppers, Cybex-style?

We have a fitness room.  It is a pretty yucky space with no windows.  It is 
used quite a bit in the winter by 3-4 people.  I think it would get more 
use with windows.

>My experience is that the noise & moisture associated with dishwashing
>necessitates a separate room adjacent to dining area.

We can close windows between our kitchen and dining.  It is usually NOT 
necessary during meals - it usually is necesary if folks are using the 
kitchen during meetings.

>- Different experiences?
>To reduce cost and increase socializing, it is desirable to combine
>multiple functions into spaces. However, fear of noise problems,
>unsupervised children ,etc often drive us to separate the functions.
>Here I'm not talking "flex" spaces, but spaces with permanent
>furnitures/fixtures (e.g. laundry + fitness equip).
>- What functions have you successfully combined into one space?

Our common house is big so we have the luxury of separation.  Off hand, 
breathing laundry soap while exercising does not appeal to me.

>Some in SONG are wary of negative impacts of private offices, especially
>for client-based businesses. FROG has had mainly good experiences with
>offices, after we solved a noise transmission problem.
>- What positive or negative effects has your community felt from private
>offices in (or external to) the CH?

We have a separate office building - it is a fabulous situation for office 
owners and community.

>- What degree of separation seems best?
>- What ecologically sound features have worked well (e.g. solar cooker,
>herb garden, etc)?

Most roofs facing south for future PV installation, super insulated 
building envelopes, sun-tempered window placement

>Joe Nolan
>Ecovillage at Ithaca

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