A Lesson From Older Homes

Old houses tell stories about the way we used to live. (No – not ghost stories!) The older the home, the more pronounced the difference are with how we live now. But even 20 year old homes have that room we were all told was needed for resale – the living room. Here are the areas where we see the biggest changes in lifestyle.

Formal vs. Casual Living
Older homes emphasize formality with living and dining rooms. What strikes me the most is the amount of square footage devoted to these formal living spaces. Over a century ago, homes had tiny “nooks” in the kitchen that were used primarily for children not old enough to sit in the formal dining room or for the cook who had prepared the family meals. The “family room” was a tiny space as well and might have been called a study, or later on the TV room. 

There will be no "gathering" taking place in this kitchen!

More recently, say 20 to 25 years ago, family rooms and breakfast rooms grew to challenge the formal rooms in overall square footage. Houses today often don’t have any formal rooms, allowing the casual living spaces to grow in size. 

Utilitarian Kitchens vs. Entertaining Kitchens
The next most noticeable difference between old and new homes is the kitchen. The kitchens from yesteryear were functional for one person and closed off from the rest of the house. This likely grew out of a time when someone other than a family member did the cooking. Unfortunately, this trend made its way into homes that would never see an outside cook in the kitchen. Utilitarian kitchens were small and boasted the 21’ work triangle – you know, the work triangle that was relevant when June Cleaver worked in the kitchen, giving her a clear path so long as no one else entered the space!

Today’s kitchens are designed for multiple cooks in the kitchen while friends and family gather around. They are also open to the adjacent family room so the cook(s) can be included in family – not excluded. We call this relationship the “lifestyle triangle”; the connection and flow between the family room, casual dining space and the kitchen.

Lifestyle Triangle.jpg

Another striking difference between utilitarian and entertaining kitchens are the finishes. Older kitchens had vinyl floors and laminate cabinets and counter tops. Not today! Entertaining kitchens feature furniture grade cabinets, high end counter-tops, with pendant lights hanging over the massive kitchen island. 

Functional Bathrooms vs Rejuvenating Bathrooms
Much like the older kitchens, bathrooms were for doing your “business” only. The master bath (if there was more than one bath) might have two sinks if you were really splurging. Originally, there was just a tub – perhaps the over romanticized claw footed tub. Then the tub shower was created.

Not so today. We love our luxurious bathrooms with giant showers that beckon users to linger just a little bit longer. We even created on-demand water heaters so the warmth would never end. Of course, we have his and her sinks, and in larger homes they are separated so couple doesn’t have to “touch” in the mornings before coffee. If there is a tub, it is mainly for show but large and luxurious. The toilet is most certainly enclosed in its own room. Let’s face it, even couples can appreciate some privacy and no one looks great sitting on the toilet!  

Storage in the age of consumerism
In today’s homes, you simply can’t have enough storage! This is true for all bedroom closets – especially the master, walk-in pantries and places for all our gadgets. Older homes never seem to have enough storage.  The same is true for garages. Once upon a time, a car port for two cars was a luxury. Now we have three and four car garages and the need to be large enough for bikes and golf clubs and whatever else we store in our garages.

What can we learn?
If you’re a remodeler, you likely have vast amounts of formal space that can be captured for current lifestyles – bigger family rooms, closets and at the same time, opening the kitchen to rest of the living space.

In new construction, your homes begin with today's lifestyle. However, lifestyles are constantly changing. When was the last time you looked at your “best seller”? Is it still valid or does it need to be updated? And what about our homes in the future? As our lifestyles evolve and change, will our houses adapt and be proactive or be stuck the today’s model?