Thursday, September 10, 2009
An Open-Concept Cacophony
I opened one bleary eye and tried squinting to bring the clock into focus. My other eye was gummed shut thanks to a terrific cold that made me feel as if my nickname should be Lumby. Every word I said sounded as if it was struggling up through a pound of wet cement.
The clock read 2:17 a.m. I groaned and turned over, only to encounter my husband, staring intently at me.
"It woke you, too." He quietly observed. "What is he doing down there?"
It sounded as if my son was busily conducting a dish circus in the kitchen below.
"He's getting cereal, honey. He can't help it, he gets hungry. Growing boy and all that." I was trying to sound more cheerful than I felt. After all, my husband had to be up in four hours, it was his night's rest that was being disrupted.
"Are you sure he's not juggling dishes? It sounds like he's juggling dishes."
I had to concede that point, "For all I know he is. Or maybe he's fending off an intruder with a cereal bowl." Either way, the reverberating sounds had a more frantic quality than one might associate with snack-time. "It's the acoustics, you know it's the acoustics."
"Guh." My husband said eloquently, and rolled over.
Moving from our solidly constructed, 1912 brick bungalow had brought a lot of changes into our lives, not the least of which was the open-concept din. It wasn't just in the dead of night that sounds were magnified ten-fold by lack of room definition, and vaulted ceilings, it was just less likely to disrupt anything. At least, after the first week. When we first moved in we all had to adjust to the fact that sounds were magnified throughout the house, particularly if they came from the hall, the kitchen, or living-room.
I found this out when I set down a carton of books in the hall outside of my office. The most gentle of thuds may have resulted, but my husband and son came tearing into view from opposite corners of the house.
"Is everything all right?!?" My husband asked, clearly startled.
"Uh...? Yes. Yup, I'm going to go with yes, everything is all right. Why?"
Evidently from two separate areas in the house what I had interpreted as a small thud, had sounded to both of them as if I was busily pitching adolescents elephants about the place. We soon found this to be true with anything we did, from closing a door, to muffling a sneeze, to unloading the dishwasher. It didn't matter how carefully we moved, or that we put felt pads on the interior frames for the doors. Elsewhere in the house it always sounded as if we were midway through wrecking the joint with great fervor.
In all of the real estate shows I watch every would-be buyer is mad keen for "open-concept living". A defined kitchen means they will be shunted off into cooking Siberia. A family room with a door is not welcoming enough. A living-room with only one story's worth of ceiling is suffocating. Open it up, open it up they say!
I now wonder how these buyers feel two weeks after moving in, when they've discovered that sound carries, and it carries spectacularly when it doesn't have any walls to bump into.
I never cared one way or the other about open-concept. Well, that's not true. I don't like open-concept homes particularly. However, when we bought this house we assumed that we'd eventually have to redo the kitchen, and I fully intended to close it off anyway. Siberian cooking, it's the way for me. Now I wonder if I'll be so deaf by the time our remodeling projects get underway next year, that it will cease to matter.
Besides, any trend will pass. Particularly in decorating. The craze for open-concept has only one direction in which to go; the wave of the future will have to be closing things up. Defined-space is the most likely next trend, in part because the current one has removed so many walls, the only option is to start putting them back. That or pry off the roof, but even the most trend conscious designer might balk at beginning to actually eliminate shelter. I hope.
Vessel sinks look lovely until you actually spend some time cleaning around them. I once saw a decorating show in which the designer proudly installed a clear glass, vessel sink. I'm sure the homeowner quietly weeps while brushing her teeth to this day. I've got clear glass shower doors aplenty, and the only thing worse than trying to keep those clean, would be trying to keep presentable a sink used constantly throughout the day.
Those vast, echoing master bathrooms? Yes, I've now got one of those too, and I'm likely to be discovered, frozen solid in my shower stall come January. A bathroom that big is only suited to a hot, humid climate where steam and heat not building up are good things. Somewhere is South Dakota there is a home owner who has decided to eschew bathing in the winter months, rather than risk the exposure afforded by their master suite. In Colorado, we still bathe, but we swear more frequently while doing so, in our cavernous, drafty, expensive chambers.
Under-mount sinks are also a craze, and I have to admit, in a bathroom, they are wonderful. They are also wonderful in a kitchen. Until the first time you have to thaw a turkey, or plop a stockpot full of liquid into one, at which point you will discover that what holds them up, often just caulking, is not equal to the task of facing gravity plus mass. However, a brace or two underneath helps. Almost every owner of an under-mount kitchen sink also has a suspiciously short-handled broom to go with it.
In decorating we all cast an appraising eye towards how something presents. In living, how it functions is far more important.
Of course, the last time the cat tossed his cookies, the resulting sound made me wonder if we were in the middle of a home invasion, conducted by ravenous space creatures. It's the only time in my life cat vomit was the better outcome.
I'm fairly certain that isn't a ringing endorsement of an architectural feature.