Re: great rooms and ommon house spaces
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2005 13:12:23 -0800 (PST)

On Dec 5, 2005, at 8:45 PM, jim hanson wrote:

To help our
decision-making we could use more information about how the CH spaces,
especially the great room, are actually used.  Having scoured this list
serve for advice, we'd like to revisit the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" thread from 2001 (with our added questions on great rooms) and get updated info on
common houses from communities that are living in theirs.

ROOMS THAT CAN BE CLOSED OFF. Our room is surrounded by the hallway we all use to go from the front door to the back door to get our mail (or from the back door to get mail and go home through the front door). This means when someone is having a meeting or dinner in the large part of the room, if feels as if you are eavesdropping when you walk by. People do stop and talk which sometimes nice and sometimes a distraction.

The advantage is that the "hallway", cork around the central wooden floor, adds size to the room and becomes more seating space when needed. The disadvantage is that we can't close off the largest room in the commonhouse if we wanted to rent the space, as some would like to do.

BIG ROOMS. That said we also have a number of small rooms that we are now examining reorganizing into larger rooms. Office, music room, living room, kids room, workshop, etc. that we are finding are too large or small for their uses and cannot be combined well. They tend to be under used or become dumping grounds.

Big rooms can always be divided later but tearing out walls and doors is expensive.

WIDE STAIRS & HALLWAYS. I would make all stairs and hallways wider than they "need" to be. Ours are only slightly larger than the halls and stairs in our units. Wider halls and stairs create a sense of spaciousness and allow them to be two-way instead of one-way. And the walls get much dirtier because the children can touch both walls at the same time, and do. They take the stairs like airplanes.

That "extra" space will be heavily used with children playing and people carrying things (boxes, car seats, chairs, etc.) Children love running up and down hallways. From toddlers with toy cars and pull toys to older kids chasing balls.

NO SECURITY SYSTEMS. We have an expensive security system that we have never activated because it requires all the doors and windows to be closed and kept closed when the system is activated. Intended to be turned on when everyone is asleep and turned off when people get up -- but in cohousing that is at most four hours, from 1:00 to 5:00 am. And even that is not assured. With healthcare professionals coming and going at all hours of the night and runners getting up early, forget it.

Being urban we do have locked doors and entry with a code.

BUILD FOR EFFICIENCY, NOT ARTIFICIALLY FORCED INTIMACY. We built when the idea was to 'force' community by making cozy spaces and directing traffic toward people. Forcing people to go through the commonhouse to get their mail or go home. Forcing them to exit on foot through the green instead of through the parking lot, which was faster for most of us. Indirect paths to take out the trash rather than direct paths. (I have to navigate 3 or 4 doors and two flights of stairs plus a short flight along 4 hallways to take out my trash.) Give it a break. Think efficiency.

The need to force contact goes away pretty fast and it becomes irritating. Some people just park on the street, for example, because it is easier and closer to their units. Some just check their mail once a week.

"Enabling" community is a better standard than trying to control where and how people walk and see each other.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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