Packrattery

In browsing through a website called HouseBlogs, I came upon House in Progress. This site is a diary of the restoration of a bungalow in Chicago. One entry, Uncluttered Living, Part I, sounded appealing, so I read on. Well, this post and the author’s subsequent Part II and Part III posts really touched home.

The author is a packrat at heart and so am I. Over the years, I’ve collected materials, tools, books, and sundry other things (see previous post, Tools) and it’s nearly impossible for me to let them go. After all, someday I might need something . . . and, to tell the truth, I frequently do need something and it’s satisfyingly handy to go down to my basement and simply bring it up. This packrat tendency does lead to an almost oppressive abundance, however, and the author has some good approaches for reducing the clutter.

Nevertheless, it is not these suggestions that I find the most compelling about this post. Rather, it is the author’s comments on design. She seques into design through an analysis of why she feels driven to save everything, concluding, in part, that her stuff allows her to “distract my eye from the room itself.” Thinking back to apartments she had lived in in the past, she notes that the actual size of the apartment was less important than how the apartment was conceived and built. The space in which she felt the least comfortable was one of the biggest, but was “a dwelling that symbolized a complete failure of imagination.” Awkward room shapes, cheap materials, drab colors, and dead end passageways left her feeling “itchy and restless.” She contrasts that apartment with another much smaller space that she loved that had well-maintained hardwood floors and lots of natural light.

Here’s her conclusion, which I think is right on all points:

Now I am beginning to get it. The design of the space needs to stand on its own. So much so that if I moved into a room with only a large pillow and a vase of tulips, I could call it welcoming and warm and live comfortably there.

“The design of the space needs to stand on its own.” This is what one of my professors was attempting to get across when he objected to the nice plants I wanted to plop down in the corners of one of my school projects. At the time I ruffled my feathers a bit – I love plants and this seemed a bit snobbish – but now I too am beginning to get it. Good design really does make the difference between an “itchy” space and one that is livable and alive.

So what are the keys to good design? If I had the answer I’d probably be rich, but at the minimum good design requires truly thinking about the problems of a space and the needs of the humans that will occupy it. My sense is that bad design occurs when it’s cheap, fast, and what-we’ve-always-done.

Thinking about this stirs me up. I’m appreciative of the training I’ve had, extraordinarily eager to learn more, and – I’m not sure what words to use – incredulous, exasperated, and bordering on belligerant about the preponderance of poor design. So, other than finishing school and getting that first job so I can actually put my passion about this to practical use, what’s next? Perhaps I’ll start with my closets.

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