RE: design review
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 21:09:11 -0700 (MST)
In the community I reside, there is a 10X12 foot shack which is made of
entirely recycled building supplies, which cost $0 to build. The occupant is
very happy. There is a very deluxe, Post and Beam craftsman house which cost
some $500,000 to build. The occupant is very happy. There are blue houses,
tan houses, a green house with red trim, several shades of yellow. The
occupants are all happy.

The size, shape and color of your house does not mean squat when it really
comes down to defining your happiness as a community member. Your
relationships with other's decide that. You can ignore most everything else,
it's not really important. Don't become too house-centered. Its the people
and the caring that matter. Put your energy there.

Rob Sandelin
Northwest Intentional Communties Association
Building a better society, one neighborhood at a time

> -----Original Message-----
> From: cohousing-l [at]
> [mailto:cohousing-l [at]]On Behalf Of Kay Argyle
> Sent: Wednesday, December 22, 1999 11:23 PM
> To: Multiple recipients of list
> Subject: Re: design review
> Sorry this response is a little tardy, my ethernet card croaked.
> I'd like to offer moral support to Kate Nichols in her desire to
> accommodate individuality or even eccentricity in design.
> I'm deeply suspicious of designating one style.  Too often in my life I've
> been a victim of one-size-fits-all solutions (sometimes literally --
> required uniforms that didn't come in my size), too often I've been a
> square peg whose options were all round holes, too many people have
> regarded a difference in our tastes as a matter for moral superiority
> (theirs) instead of an occasion for celebrating diversity.  The person
> whose life was made easier or whose aesthetics were pleased by limiting my
> possibilities, didn't pay the costs that went with their choices.  I did.
> On a purely practical level, keep in mind that most people are better with
> shapes and colors than with digits.  People lose addresses, they forget
> house numbers, but they'll remember you said it's the yellow house with a
> window like a crescent moon.  They'll remember sitting on your unique
> wraparound porch longer than they'll remember whether it was the third or
> the fourth identical house on the left, or was it right?
> At an envisioning exercise soon after groundbreaking,  we were supposed to
> imagine coming home and walking into our kitchen.  One young teen woefully
> reported she hadn't been able to find her house, because they all looked
> alike.
> The more that all of the buildings adhere to a single style, the
> more dated
> your community will look in thirty years.
> The style of your buildings communicates what sort of people are expected
> to live there.  You're never going to achieve diversity if prospective
> members look at the architecture and say, no, this is a community for
> upwardly mobile professional people, I won't fit.  Diversity of style will
> attract diversity of people.
> Eighteen of twenty-six units at Wasatch Commons have the same open-plan
> kitchen/living room layout.  Most are townhouses, mostly
> duplexes, with two
> bedrooms above the kitchen and living room, sometimes a third bedroom to
> the side of the living room, and possibly a fourth bedroom on top of the
> third bedroom (the downstairs bath changes from 1/2 to 3/4 for the 3- &
> 4-bedroom units).   Two "stacked" buildings have a 2-bedroom
> downstairs and
> a 1-bedroom up.  Five units were designed/built to be low-income -- a
> 1-bedroom in a stacked unit, and a fourplex with a townhouse and three
> single-storey 2-bedrooms.  One of these is handicap (extra big bathroom,
> wide doorways etc.).  One unit for various reasons ended up being
> freestanding with a totally different floorplan and was even built by a
> different contractor.
> Some options were permitted -- open stair or enclosed, steel or porcelain
> sink, rear deck, white laminate or maple cabinets, etc.
> In addition, some households worked with the architect on customizations,
> mostly very early in the design process.  We joined just as they were
> trying to cut off customizations, and the architect really didn't
> have time
> to deal with us.  Our foundation was poured wrong, the roof trusses were
> the wrong slope, windows were framed wrong.  It wasn't the inspectors or
> our building committee that caught the mistakes, either.  My
> roommate works
> weekends and for months spent her weekdays on-site (lurking in our tiny
> patch of preserved "wild area," on the excuse of pruning the
> trees), and we
> went out several evenings a week to check every new thing they did.  Our
> customizations caused an incredible lot of hassle and not a few hard
> feelings.  Am I sorry?  No.  I wouldn't trade our kitchen pantry nor
> especially our extra windows.
> Lack of storage is a problem.  -- I know we're supposed to be
> "simplifying."  That doesn't mean amputating yourself from your
> possessions.  It needs to be a natural process, like abscising a leaf, so
> that it falls off by itself in the right season.  Meanwhile the community
> has summer tires, a half-dozen pickaxes, and twenty bikes to get
> out of the
> weather.
> Lack of soundproofing *inside* the house is a problem.  We are fairly well
> insulated from the other half of the duplex, but my roommate can't stay up
> late watching tv, and I can't load the dishwasher in the morning, because
> of waking the other up.  As a neighbor put it, if I sneeze in the kitchen,
> he says gesundheit from the bedroom.
> I joined after architectural design but before color selection.   Some
> members of Wasatch wanted a "unified look" in everything -- buildings,
> colors, yards.  I felt very strongly the other direction.  All through the
> weeks of the color discussions I kept hearing the songs "Silhouettes" and
> Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes" running through my head:  "Met two strangers
> who had been/Two silhouettes on the shade/Said to myself, you're on the
> wrong block," ....  "And the people/Live in boxes/And they all look/Just
> the same."
> The "unified look" contingent finally agreed that since the style of each
> building was so similar, it would be acceptable to have a slightly greater
> range of exterior colors.  Between members concerned about heat
> gain in our
> sometimes oppressively sunny summers and those arguing that the tan,
> chestnut, and cow-pasture khaki the architect was recommending for the
> stucco were nearly indistinguishable, it was decided to send the colors
> back to the architect with a request for paler, more distinct shades.
> Our building committee was telling us that natural stucco (already decided
> on) absolutely did not come in anything but earth tones.  Somebody laid
> hands on a brochure showing what colors were actually available, and the
> "color! give us color!" members pounced on a soft yellow shade (which has
> turned out to absorb less heat than the others).  We added a fourth color
> of shingles, green, to go with it, over the architect's recommendation of
> only two colors, or (if we absolutely insisted) three.  The khaki stucco
> was traded for a pale grey with grey shingles (but when the
> stucco actually
> went on, somehow had been changed again to an ash brown without consulting
> the group).
> Then (this was about the third or fourth meeting on the subject, under
> pressure because the first building already had its undercoat on) we did a
> quick survey who wanted what color on their own unit, laid a site map on
> the floor, arranged color chips on the outlines of the buildings, and
> shuffled them around until the people who were using "hodge-podge" as a
> dirty word were satisfied with the pattern the colors made.  I'm sure the
> seagulls and ducks flying overhead find it very pleasing. ;-)
> On to trim colors.  Again the architect picked colors -- stains for the
> facing, the soffit, the deck railing, in palettes of barn red, forest
> green, and plum purple.  The contractor rebelled, and the choice narrowed
> to just plum trim and white soffits or white everything.  We held
> a meeting
> on site to inspect the trim on the first two buildings.  The people who
> wanted color held their ground, the people who dislike the purple
> were told
> they could repaint (nobody had time this first summer, and so the question
> of whether we are permitted to choose our own color hasn't been
> answered --
> I expect we will, I'm not the only member likely to be mulish), and we
> consensed on the purple, with half the members there standing aside --
> which as far as I'm concerned says we did not have concensus.
> The subject of soffits (the underside of the eaves or porch roof) reminds
> me -- if you want photosensitive lights, keep the sensor well away from a
> white-painted soffit!  Our lights would turn on at dark, the
> reflection off
> the soffit would fool the photosensor cell, the light would turn off, so
> then it was dark again ...  on off on off on off.
> Bulk purchasing and standardization can save money up front on the cost of
> parts.  It can also save labor costs, because it saves the contractor time
> having to keep track of which house gets what, reading twenty different
> brands of installation instructions, and (most importantly, in my
> experience) ripping out mistakes when the wrong house got the dishwasher.
> On the other hand, don't fall into the trap of automatically assuming it
> will save money on everything.  Buying five households' worth of identical
> carpet doesn't necessarily give you a pricebreak.  Maybe it just forces
> somebody to live with a carpet that the color committee or
> architect adored
> and that they themselves refer to as "the pond scum."  Or they are offered
> the "consolation" that they can rip it out and throw it away as soon as
> they move in, and never mind that they joined cohousing to be with people
> who shared their ideal of not living in a throwaway society.
> We were restricted to the four interior color schemes the architect picked
> out.  I found all four appalling.  Come to find out, the guy building the
> countertops was stopping at the laminate distributor on his way
> to the site
> every morning and purchasing exactly as much as he would use that day.  My
> roommate and I took advantage of this to switch the pattern in our kitchen
> and bath -- *bad* cohousers!  evading process!  defying
> consensus!  and the
> worst sin of all, talking to subcontractors.   ;-)
> Hope there's an ingot of experience worth smelting from all this verbiage.
> Kay Argyle
> Wasatch Commons
> Wishing you all a happy solstice -- nice that the last full moon of the
> millenium is a memorable one ...  and I don't buy the "there was no year
> zero, so _next_ year is the last of the millenium" argument, because (a)
> for that matter there was no year one either, since it was calculated
> retroactively, (b) the monk who figured it got it wrong, and the millenium
> ended a couple of years ago, and (c) I don't feel the need to be bound by
> the oddities of an obsolete system.  ;-)
> Whatever you celebrate, have a good one.

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