A House Without Furniture: Case Study Diagrams Part 2

Sit in the chair. Eat at the table. Climb in the bed. These actions define life in a house; they’re so common we never really think about them. It’s taken for granted that we will fill our homes with furniture. After all, how would we get anything done without it?

But late one night last week I received an email from Corey and Melissa. Our conversations had gotten them thinking about how they felt at odds with most houses, how the furniture seemed to restrict their movement and how they felt part of their mission was to move away from sedentary culture. Melissa in particular was interested in a nascent theory of physical well-being called Nutritious Movement. It’s a fascinating approach to being in a home that involved sitting on the floor as much as possible, using standing desks, and creating structures in the house that encouraged people to keep moving. In my research I found people altering their homes to make them more “nutritious”. People cut the legs off their tables, threw out couches, and piled boxes on counters to make them standing desks. These were home hacks in the direction of what was referred to as “a house without furniture.”

It may seem that the design of a house is independent from the furniture inside it. But so much of that design, from the sizes of the rooms and the locations of the doors, to the placement of the lighting fixtures, is designed with specific furniture in mind. What would happen, I wondered, if, instead of regular furniture, a house was designed with a modular furniture block system in mind instead? What would be a simple, flexible module that could become the base of a bed, a floor table, or a standing desk? Melissa had spoken about wanting her rooms to be open and changeable, visually defined by large open floor spaces. I developed a simple 12 x 12 x 18 box module:

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With an operable top and additional table top pieces, the module can do pretty much anything most furniture does, but at many different heights and locations. When not in use, the boxes would stack along the wall as window seats.

We’re pretty excited to keep developing this as we continue the design process. The aim would be to make it simple enough that the boxes could be cut in a simple CNC router layout and more could be made as needed. The modular boxes could then be shared with other people interested in Nutritious Movement.

Next: Designing with Light…

Realtime Case Study: Corey and Melissa Miller. Step 1: Research

The first step in designing a home with the Long Architecture Project is research. Lots of research. This is, in many ways, the key to turning the designing of a home into the designing of a life. What is the life you would like to live? How do you hope to engage community? How would you like to relate to the environment? What will your family look like, ideally, in five years? In fifteen? The research is as much for the benefit of my understanding as it is for the benefit of the client. The aim is for everyone involved to come to a new understanding of how they wish to live

Corey and Melissa Miller, a Physicist and a Chiropractor, recently left Washington DC to try to build a more intentional life, and to design a home somewhere more livable than the nation’s capital. They began The Long Architecture process by filling out an extensive questionnaire which asked them why they were looking to build a home, what their understanding of home really was, and what they imagined their lives could be years from now.

They’ve been kind enough to let me publicly document their experience.

Certain answers jumped off the page when I read the questionnaire.

Is home a jumping off point or a destination? Fortress, Laboratory, Lookout Post, Forum, Spa, or some combination thereof?

[Melissa] Destination/laboratory/spa – I find that getting home as soon as I can is always on my mind. If most of my days can be spent at home, with venturing out (to run errands, see friends, travel, etc) being a “treat”… having home be the “treat”…that would be ideal for me!  I’ve somewhat always been like that.  As a kid I remember that a school break didn’t feel complete if I didn’t spend it at home. 

What role do you feel the natural environment plays in your life? What role would you like it to play?

[Corey]… One of my biggest issues with living in the DC area was the lack of natural environment there. …the many parks and trails hidden away there… were surrounded by highways and polluted with noise, and the trails were all paved and overcrowded and typically also followed a multi-lane road. If I can’t look up at night and see the milky way, I’m not in a place where I’ll feel comfortable staying.

What do you find most beautiful? Least beautiful?

… I have a high regard for strong colors, artwork that makes me think….

This and the rest of the answers pointed to a very particular worldview focused on curiosity and nature, and the raising of a family focused on wonder. In this, the home would be a base of exploration and a hearth.

 The Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, WA, noted for it’s unique use of light to define spaces in a generally open plan. Image by Frank Majka.

The Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, WA, noted for it’s unique use of light to define spaces in a generally open plan. Image by Frank Majka.

Their research also involved visiting architectural sites. Oftentimes we know what we want but it is hard to describe it specifically, especially when it comes to architecture. Corey and Melissa expressed a desire to live in a house filled with natural light, but what kind? To dig deeper, I sent them to visit a number of architectural spaces where light behaved in different ways. They started with the St. Ignatius Cathedral in Seattle, by Stephen Holl. Then we continued with a number of buildings at the Cornell Campus, near to where they would be building their home.

 A mural in Ithaca that Corey and Melissa found intriguing. They loved the way you have to keep looking at it to understand it.

A mural in Ithaca that Corey and Melissa found intriguing. They loved the way you have to keep looking at it to understand it.

We discovered a lot in this research. When we got to the site our research began to cohere into a bigger vision for what a real home would look like.

Next: We visit the site…