Monday, March 10, 2008

Timeless Advice

Long before Martha Stewart came along with all her frills and fuss, and Ralph Lauren built his empire, there was another design personality who taught Americans a thing or two about fine living.  Russel Wright (1904-1976) was an industrial designer who revolutionized households across America.  With his simple yet elegant style and practical approach to organizing the home, he persuaded ordinary people to embrace modern design. 

The products he created were spectacular, including his line American Modern, the best-selling ceramic dinnerware in American history.  What I really want to talk about though is his book, Guide to Easier Living, published in 1950.  It offers timeless advice for every room in the house and details his view on how the home can be full of personal expression, but also practical and easy to care for.  Sound like a familiar dream? Finding a balance can be difficult, but at the core of any well designed space isn't the perfect wall color or accessories.  It's about creating personalized solutions for the way you live.

Start by identifying what activities happen in the space.  If you make an actual list, you'll be surprised at how quickly it grows.  Our homes are expected to perform day and night for everything from personal comfort to entertaining friends and family; not to mention all the stuff that has to be organized.  Try to break down the activities into individual tasks, so it's not simply dining, but setting the table, serving the meal, pouring drinks, eating, and then cleaning up.  Creating atmosphere can also be considered an activity.  What will make these tasks as simple as possible for you? That's the next step.

From that list of activities, create a second column that quantifies your needs.  If watching movies/television is one of your activities, how many DVDs do you own?  How many media components do you have and how much space do they take up? Also make sure there is proper ventilation since certain units put out a lot of heat.  How close do you need to be seated from the TV to be comfortable? What is a comfortable height to insert a disc or access the controls on your components?  Add a mood light to lessen the contrast around the TV and reduce eye strain.  Also keep in mind durability, ease of maintenance, and cord management.  If dusting is not one of  your favorite chores (and let's be honest, who actually enjoys it?) then store everything behind doors so dusting doesn't need to be done as often.  Just make sure the remote will work through the type of door you select (clear or frosted glass, or a signal repeater).  If you have kids, maybe glass doors aren't the best option because you'll be constantly cleaning up fingerprints or it may be a safety concern.   

Once activities and needs are identified, solutions can be tailored to your lifestyle.  This is where it all comes together!  Sketch out your space and create bubbles for each of the activities and try to keep the needs associated with each grouped together for ease of use.  Also think about the flow from each of the zones that you have created.  Do they make sense or will you be running back and forth across the room to complete a task?  Remember when you're creating solutions for collections, whether it be books, DVDs, or decorative objects, plan 25% more space for your collection to grow.  Own 200 DVDs?  Plan for 250 and make sure they are stored so that the titles can be read and the discs can be accessed easily.  As you create these solutions, you'll soon discover you'll be able to quickly find your favorite romantic comedy when you need a good laugh, the mail won't pile up by the front door and you won't have to make a dozen trips across the kitchen just to bake a frozen pizza.  You may want to consult an interior designer to help you with this process, especially when it comes to finding the right solutions.   

Although Wright's book doesn't dive specifically into the activities/need/solutions model, it's right in tune with his "easy living" philosophy and there are plenty of useful tips he details that I haven't mentioned here today.  Hopefully, I've piqued your curiosity enough to check it out.  It will certainly be more useful than an issue of Martha Stewart Living.    

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