The following post originally appeared on Geek Force Network, May 9, 2014.
Hmmm…good question. A strange yet intriguing one. It was uttered during a conversation we recently had with a professional framer about hanging pictures . She was talking about proper height at which to hang certain types of framed art, mirrors, etc. Such thoughts had never passed my mind before when accomplishing such a task other than: does the picture fit? Yes? Good. No? Move it elsewhere. But she discussed all sorts of things to consider, from windows and glare to wall heights and other objects in the room to perspective. That’s where the dining room came in – perspective. Would people be viewing the picture standing or seated, like in a dining room? A formal dining room, presumably.
In response to her rhetoric, I almost piped up, “we don’t have a dining room, anymore,” but I remained silent instead. She wasn’t looking for an answer, but her remark hit home. Only a few months ago, we transformed our (formal) dining room into what we now lovingly call a “yoga room.” When we first moved in, having a dining room made sense in theory as a place to eat and entertain (duh). In practice…well, things started out that way but slowly evolved into something else. When entertaining, our guests usually migrated away from the dining room, ending up on outside on our porch (during nice weather) or congregating in our kitchen or den. For ourselves, we rarely used the dining room for eating, preferring instead a smaller nook in the kitchen or, like the land o’ the free, home o’ the brave, red-blooded Americans that we are, parking our dinner plates in front of the television. The dining room became a place for projects and clutter, and we soon found ourselves annoyed by our big, bulky dining room table that was just another obstacle in the way of the vacuum.
So we got rid of it. And we don’t miss it. We have modular tables that can be combined if we really need to go from downward-facing-dog to upward-facing-dinner-host, and we plenty of other areas in which to work on projects and stash clutter.
While the conversation with the framer had moved on, my mind wandered on another thought. What other rooms are becoming scarcer in houses these days? Take the living room. Or parlor. Or sitting room. Or whatever old fashioned name you or your grandmother might like to call a space solely for conversation.
The living rooms I knew growing up were only for adults and they only contained uncomfortable furniture, small tables, and lots of knick knacks and pictures. They were where my mother met and talked with friends over coffee. They were off limits to sticky, messy food. They were quiet places without stereo equipment and televisions. We have a “living room” in our house. It’s got our better set of furniture, lots of bookshelves, and a a few knick knacks and pictures. It’s a nice room in which to read and have coffee (no sticky, messy food please), but it also contains a television and a couple game consoles. It’s not always a quiet room, especially when the games are played and angry language echoes within its walls. Oh how my grandmother would swoon at the thought! [2017 edit: Actually, she wouldn’t today. We consolidated all our gaming stuff into the den. Our living room is now free of technology, save for lamps.]
Moving on, do any of you remember when “computer rooms” were in vogue? And what were they meant for? Gold stars to anyone who dimly answered “uh…computers.” When personal computers came into the market in a big way in the 1980s, they had to go somewhere in the house. But where? On the kitchen table? In the family room?? Next to the bathtub??? No, no, and heavens NO!
That’s where computer rooms came in – a space (or, if retrofitting, a spare room/guest bedroom) which held your pretty Apple IIe or IBM PC or Commodore 64 and all its accoutrements – cassettes, floppy discs, that awesome dot matrix printer, and for the super wealthy, a fax machine and, sweet jeezus, is that a…modem? There was no fumbling with portable electronics before bed or while brushing one’s teeth. If you wanted to use the only computer in the house, attached firmly in place with wires and cables of all sorts, you had to go to the computer room. And if someone was using it, you had to wait. Oh kids, it was such a sad and sorry past in which to live!
It’s interesting to think of what other spaces in our houses might someday become obsolete, or the types of new ones that might pop up in the future. The concept of “home” has changed drastically over the past couple decades (though it has always been in some state of flux it seems). As we integrate and become integrated with new technologies, redefine what it means to be “social,” and become more aware of new and different housing options, no longer does a cookie-cutter, development driven approach suffice. Not that mass housing is going anywhere, but we each make, break, and relate to our homes in a multitude of ways. As our housing needs evolve, so to do our houses. Nobody’s complained about us not having a dining room anymore because we’ve proven that it doesn’t make sense for us. Maybe we’ll transform the room again in a few years into a…I don’t know…library (to help save print media) or antique museum (for all our old computers and cell phones). But for now, if you want to join us for dinner, we’ll be in the den, in front of the television, which we’ll kindly keep off for the duration of conversation, or…until Jeopardy starts. Go ‘Murica.