How we use our homes differs not only by individual but also by generation. A recent UCLA study found researchers using cameras to record how 32 family households living in the Los Angeles area used their homes and found what many already believe to be true: no one is actually using their formal areas.
With families increasingly spending most of their time in the kitchen and family room, it’s a conundrum home builders and house flippers continue to display spaces now wasted just because they imagine Americans are still into square footage. Sure— it looks great to see that model home hit you in the face with a beautifully pre-set table, but how often do today’s buyers sit down to formal meals anyway? With millennials increasingly refusing grandma’s bone china and mom’s sterling silver flatware, formal areas simply no longer make much sense to many homeowners.
Back in the days of 1960s sit-coms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, the starring couple routinely entertained. Guests arrived in suits and shiny dresses and held martini glasses as they looked one another over and made jokes. But if you recall the home in which these parties took place, it was one simple room with a lot of sofas and chairs, as the house had only one entertaining as well as living area. Of course, it may just have been easier for the cameras to have one set, but there was no doubt that these gatherings were a hit to the TV viewer. The more intimate the merrier.
So what’s at play here? Curbed.com's Kate Wagner wrote an in-depth covering this formal area phenomenon, speaking of how, since ancient times, humans have always maintained a separation of formal and informal spaces. She uses the simple reason for the proliferation of formal spaces as signifiers of wealth and prestige. Like the Ellis Island immigrants who often had their living room drapery cut a foot longer to show they could now afford the extra fabric, having formal spaces were signs of having “made it.”
This symbolism now shows up in exaggerated forms, according to the article — gargantuan windows and two-story ceilings, tray ceilings with recessed lighting and fancy crown molding in roomy formal dining rooms, many of which face the street in case passers-by catch a glimpse. “If these rooms were designed for their actual practical purposes (entertaining) instead of being architectural megaphones for their owners’ money, they wouldn’t be cavernous spaces where it takes 50 steps to walk from the refrigerator to the oven, where the windows are so large that the heating/cooling bill is hundreds of dollars with an added bonus of being able to get a sunburn inside, and where the mere clinking of plates (much less a conversation) mercilessly reverberates through 3,000 square feet of pure echo,” says Wagner.
So is it because we are pushed into thinking we need gorgeously set up formal spaces? “Entertaining is emotional, as anyone who has fretted about getting the house “presentable” for guests—or seen someone else fret about the same—can attest,” says Wagner. “When we allow others into our space, we become vulnerable. We want to be good hosts, for everything to go as smoothly as possible, and for our guests to be happy and comfortable.” She goes on to say, “But in all the hubbub of hosting, we sometimes forget that friends and family already care about us—they’re there to see us, not our houses, nor our stuff.”
True. Some people ARE power hosts, actually regularly needing more dining and sitting space than the average homeowner. But today’s more common dual-income homeowners often lack the time and/or money for a lot of entertaining, even though they may fantasize about doing it after their kids get older. Inviting a few people over to hang out in our informal areas, then, is often more fun and memorable than enduring the stress of making the entire house perfect and setting a table with cloth napkins.Source: Curbed.com, builderonline.com, TBWS
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