the final frontier
RIBA’s new report ‘How We Live Now’ reveals the results of their survey of how people feel about their homes, and what it is that draws them to live where they do in the first place.*
‘Space standards: eight key needs of homeowners
- Long-term and short-term storage for functional items and personal possessions people have chosen to keep during their lives.
- Dedicated space for domestic utility tasks, such as vacuum cleaners, washing, drying and ironing clothes as well as storing rubbish and recycling
- Large windows for natural light, large rooms and high ceilings. These are typically referred to as ‘period features’. A ‘sense of space’ is vital to people’s wellbeing, and expectations of a new home are often shaped by the homes we have lived in previously.
- Large main living area for social functions such as eating and entertaining and relaxing. People typically prefer to have an element of open-plan layout to accommodate entertaining friends or family, regardless of age or lifestyle.
- Layouts which take into account technology used within the home. We want our homes to have enough sockets and storage for technology to enable us to arrange furniture and rooms in different layouts.
- Space for private time away from other members of the household – across all age groups, and especially where generations live together, private space makes an important contribution to our sense of wellbeing within our homes. Noise reduction within and between households is also essential.
- Private space outside or access to green public space in urban locations – this is important for wellbeing for all, and particularly crucial for families; parents like a safe place for children to play outside.
- Options for different home layouts. Despite some universal needs such as flexible space to entertain and socialise, there were different needs and expectations according to the life stage or the size and age of households and families, which meant that there was no single, standard layout that would cater for all people.’
My job is to design houses and flats every day, so I’m very interested in what people want in their homes. After all, if I can design a good home, people will be drawn to live there, and that’s good news for the homeowner and our clients.
What interested me was the finding that people want flexibility, but also dedicated spaces for tasks such as ironing. I can imagine that some kitchens are just too small for this, and I’ve lived in a flat where the clothes horse was kept in the living room as there wasn’t space for it anywhere else. I’m surprised that people struggle to store their vacuum cleaners; the Scottish regulations require 1m3 of storage space in a kitchen, which is difficult to achieve without some taller storage for ironing boards/mops etc.
The issue of long-term storage is also interesting. In affordable housing, I’m designing to space standards which require up to 3.5m2 of dedicated storage space in larger flats and houses. Often housing association design guides want built in wardrobes, which can offer storage space right up to the ceiling. After all, we all have photo albums, wedding dresses, spare bedding, camping equipment that we don’t need to access even on a monthly basis. There was an article on [font from which all knowledge flows] the BBC website about people who keep self storage containers for years and years because either they can’t part with their clutter, or they can’t afford a home large enough to store their treasured possessions.
There are definitely areas where I feel new build homes can improve their design in general. These are ares which I always aim for in house and flat layouts;
- space for multiple recycling bins. Most councils will give householders containers for glass, packaging, and general household non-recyclables. Often these have to go on the doorstep, which isn’t ideal.
- space for clothes drying indoors – minimum of a space in the hall or bathroom where a clothes horse will not get in the way of circulation, but better still fixings in the ceiling for a creel
- tall cupboards with space for short term storage below, and a higher cupboard up to the ceiling for long term storage
- flexibility in layout built in, with living/dining and kitchen adjacent, and a non-loadbearing partition between them the ideal.
- tall storage in the kitchen or hall for brushes, ironing board etc.
- rooms of a good proportion, which allow flexibility of furniture layout
It doesn’t take this report for us to realise that what people want varies massively depending on their family size and individual needs. Flexibility is obviously key, which is easier to achieve in larger homes.
*note the delightful ergonomes scattered about the report. Is that one admiring himself in the reflection from the window on page 6?