Sunday, February 19, 2006

Death to the Great Room

I'm pretty sure I bit off more than I can chew today. You see, I met a new client duo this afternoon, and after listening to them tell me their idea to convert their first floor master bedroom suite to a nice private study, while expanding their currently unused Great Room into the adjacent master bathroom area, they concluded the architectural domino parade with the new necessity of adding on another master bedroom suite to make up for the previous one.

I couldn't take it anymore, as I am a great fan of finding new and more productive use of miserable floor plans versus the bigger-is-better idea of adding on more and more cancerous lesions to a lost architectural cause.

So what did I recommend? I asked them to consider ditching their Great Room -- which as an architectural residential concept that has swept the nation in the past twenty years, ranks as the greatest failure of imagination leading to unintended consequences since the sports utility vehicle. You know what I'm talking about -- you walk into a shiny new house and transition from an overly-scaled echo chamber called a foyer into a two-story behemoth of spacial and acoustical heebie-jeebies. You can't help but be impressed when you see that your Neighbor Jones has her own piece of the Taj Mahal. And you begin to yearn for that grandeur yourself. You can't help it. It's just so damned huge and majestic and rich-looking and... impressive, yes, impressive!

But Warning: The Great Room is the architectural equivalent to the Hummer! Because when you finally buy that piece of the Taj Mahal and you try to live in it... well, that's where the horror begins to sink in, and you find yourself slinking away to the nooks and crannies of your basement for the true solitude and quiet that you seek. The second guessing takes over as you ask why houses can't be filled with nooks and crannies instead. This usually happens each month as you write out that massive mortgage check and the equally massive check for the heating bill to warm your architectural Hummer.

The Great Room is an unusable scam that market-wise developers foisted upon unaware American Consumers, and those unfortunate consumers only realized they were had after moving in and trying to live in the voluminous madness.

So when I was faced with this Great Room at the heart of their house, while the client was asking me to convert perfectly good first floor space into private study space that can actually be used by real people -- a request that necessitates the addition of ANOTHER 400 square feet of master bedroom and master bath to be added like a tumor to the side of their house -- I couldn't stand it. I told them to dump the Great Room instead, to extend the second floor through the upper half of the unused Great Room, dropping the ceiling of their new living room down to nine feet instead of 18, and then convert their unused "formal" dining room into the study they seek, and while they were at it, realigning the stairs to provide better access to the new space upstairs while moving the stairs out of the traffic flow from the front door to the kitchen.

They loved it! They called me their muse, and wondered aloud why they hadn't considered such brilliance themselves.

And it all made perfect sense to me at the time. But now I have to figure out how to structurally support the new floor and ceiling over the Great Room that converts to a useable living room. There will be beams and joists and columns dropping down through the basement below, and footings, and... oh lord, what have I done? I've killed the Great Room but created an engineering nightmare for myself. At least it should cost them less money than building a new tumor of a master bedroom suite.

And what was it I wrote a few posts back about the most challenging design problems resulting in the most creative and wondrous design solutions? Creativity, don't fail me now. I need a muse of my own!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry. Your creativity won't fail you. Just let us know the solution when you come up with it....

Thanks for the insight on the "great-room"... I have a friend who has one of those in her home and I feel the same way about them... a cavernous space that is difficult to decorate appropriately...

Great rooms might have been OK for castles and if you had the knights of the round table dropping in (with their horses) - but that doesn't seem to happen much these days...


7:06 AM, February 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes ! Death to the Great Room! I like the analogy of the "architectural HummVee." I may even borrow it myself now and anon.

11:19 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Gravity said...

My little victorian is nothing but nooks and crannies. I love it like that.

6:53 AM, February 24, 2006  

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