Re: Statistics on common house usage
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 17 May 2021 10:26:38 -0700 (PDT)
Related to my last post on use of the commonhouse but more boots on the ground:

I agree with all the things Ann mentioned and the research of Rebecca Disbrow, 
except for one thing — we have not had the experience that renting or allowing 
outside groups to use the CH has been felt as a good use of the CH or that it 
adds value even if it does add income. We allow any group who needs a space in 
an emergency, office retreats, occasional neighborhood meetings particularly 
large ones, etc. So the CH isn’t “off limits” or strictly private but having a 
group there on a regular basis reduces the spontaneous use of the common house, 
adds complexity to maintenance and monitoring safety, and increases wear and 
tear. Members can reserve the space anytime for their outside events but we ask 
that repeated events be posted for objections. Having the living room used 
every Thursday night by any group “gets old.” But it feels rather rich to have 
a place that we can offer for use. When a cohousing community is forming, they 
have always been allowed to meet here.

> much the community kitchen/dining room/lounge area REALLY gets used in
> cohousing communities.

This is an area where planning might lead reality — if the community wants the 
kitchen to be a center of activity then planning it that way will eventually 
produce it. We didn’t have an active weekly meal for the first few years, then 
we had 1, then 1 meal and a brunch. Use really took off when people moved in 
who liked to cook and used the kitchen for baking on Saturday morning and left 
cookies on the counter. And who wanted to cook for more meals. The cooking gave 
them energy. 

So things change and can be changed.

> my goal is a K/DR/L space large enough to allow
> for the entire community to be together in comfort for meals 3-4x a week,
> and for all other whole community gatherings.  We're guessing a population
> of 40-50.

Katie’s community has a very active meal program and says about 1/3 of the 
community will appear at any one meal. And the more meals you have the fewer 
that will be at any one meal. If you only have one a week, more than 1/3 might 

Our largest meals are celebrations or special dinners of one kind or another — 
Chili Cook-off, Pesto Festo, Pi Day, etc.

We bought 50 chairs when we moved in and they are mostly used but we rarely run 
out of chairs except at the largest meals maybe 1-2 times a year. People spread 
out onto soft furniture with no tables. We average about 80 people in residence 
including the children. We’ve never talked about  needing more chairs inside.

> My designer/developer is suggesting that 1200 square feet is adequate for
> the K/DR/L common amenities space (+ bathroom). 

I’m not a good estimator of SF at the scale of the CH but one piece of advice 
is to keep the space flexible and let uses develop. We had a music room at 
first because we had a composer who wanted to use it and others who did or 
wanted to practice instruments there. The composer found that the room was too 
noisy to compose there and of course all those other people forgot about their 
instruments. And when we wanted to do a sing-a-long, the room was too small.

It became a “game room” used by mostly teens for Wii, TV, video games, and a 
meeting room in the evening for teams. Now it is on its way to becoming a 
homework and quiet hangout room.

The key to attracting households with or wanting children is to have a kids 
room whether you have any children or not. Unless parents and potential parents 
can see it, they won’t believe it. And they are wise because it is very hard to 
get space uses changed once they are working well for something else. And to 
get the money approved to make the changes for that first child.

I think we need a question that evaluates the importance of the room to each 
resident, or potential importance. People say build for what people are 
actually doing, not what they want to be doing. I think that is only half 
right. The real value is on the facilities that are very important to the 
people they are important to. I like living in a community where people are 
using the workshop and the exercise room whether I ever use them or not. And 
the workshop does benefit the general maintenance and repair of the CH and 
other activities.

Maybe measuring the dream is not a waste of time or money, even if the dream 
doesn’t come true right away. Dreams give people energy and hope. I’m sure 
every person enjoyed looking at the drum set in the music room even if only 2 
teens ever touched it.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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