Re: how public is my commonhouse?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 14:58:47 -0800 (PST)

On Dec 24, 2004, at 11:07 AM, Luk Jonckheere wrote:

Will the common spaces with all the friends and guests of our
neighbours-cohousers offer a sufficient sense of privacy?
Or will we have to be more severe than we intend on excluding strangers from
(parts of) our commonhouse?
Who are strangers? who are guests? invités? friends of members? friends of
the community? ...

No one is supposed to be in our commonhouse who is not a guest of a member. Many of us want an even more formal agreement that says residents who do not join as associate members (like renters) cannot use the commonhouse including the hot tub and exercise room. If people are using these spaces, they should also be cleaning them -- a commitment of membership.

We do not host any publicly announced activities and any activity that is open to the public has to have full community approval. We have been the home of the local neighborhood house tour and hosted neighborhood meetings on crime prevention, but events that are announced in the newspaper or on list serves as open the public are discouraged -- mostly because of security and people not wanting to invite unknown people onto the grounds. We have had problems with theft of anything left unlocked.

Other than that people have guests all the time and our guest rooms are in use at least 50% of the time. We have two. Guests are welcome at meals on various bases -- primarily notification to the cook and payment of a $4 fee for the food. We have had to rule that if you host someone in the guest rooms you must be in residence yourself (not out of town) so you can supervise them. Otherwise someone else has to. There are always questions and problems -- like being in the wrong room or not being able to find the key. "The guest rooms are for people who are your personal guests."

We do have traveling cohousers and actors for performances at the theater next door staying here but they have to have a designated host -- just as if they were staying in your home.

People often have parties in the common house. They let everyone know if they are "open" or closed. "Please join us" or "please stop by" or "this is closed sit-down dinner". And once, "This is a private group and some of the members will not want to be recognized. If you see anyone you know, please do not speak to them or acknowledge their presence unless they speak to you." Children's parties are announced and parents told whether they are open or invitation -- we have an age range sometimes the much younger or much older kids are not welcome.

Personally, I found that sometimes we had too many guests -- a Christmas Day dinner where there were more guests than residents. Some were guests of guests of guests and had no idea who had invited them. That was not pleasant. It felt like a soup kitchen and not a personal space. But that has not happened since the first two years when people were still trying things out. Now the guests are usually people we all know who visit regularly -- relatives or close friends of residents. Some are "almost members" and chip in with chores when they are here. This is not only more personal but makes for smaller meals which I find desirable. More than 30 people at a meal is too many for me.

People also reserve the commonhouse to bring home their office mates for retreats.

My favorite use of the commonhouse is when parents of young children gather there for the kids to play. They play on the piazza outside but when it gets dark early or is cold or hot, the commonhouse is a godsend for active toddlers and tired parents.

Right now we are having movie madness -- each night between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve we show a film. Some for kids, some not.

I don't know if that answers your question but that's how we use the commonhouse.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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