Climate change and the “average” American

I try to keep my blog and online space a positive place. This is not exactly negative, but climate change can be a contentious issue and there are some points that need to be made about how the issue of climate change is presented.
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Far be it from me to define the “average” American, but there is always an average to be found. Check out this map from Planet Money, The Most Common Job in Every State. What is the most common job? Truck driver, in the overwhelming majority of states….red and blue states.
 
most common job
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The average person probably takes one or two vacations a year, and they mostly drive. Growing up, I didn’t fly until I was eleven, and that was for funeral. We drove to grandma’s house for vacation, and maybe went camping. Unless you are lucky or strategic enough to be able to walk or take public transit to work, you don’t have any other choice but to drive, since our cities and suburbs are mostly designed for the car and walkable places are the most expensive. 
 
So, what is the “average” American to do, when they are being preached at by celebrities and politicians who travel all the time and have multiple houses? Authors and influential people who are traveling all over the world to go to conferences about climate change but look down on people who drive SUV’s to the grocery store? Politicians who talk about the environment but give massive tax breaks to all of our polluting industries (which we ALL use and currently depend on, from Boeing to Shell)? When their built environments give them few transportation choices except driving?
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What should be articulated as ambivalence, paralysis, powerlessness, etc comes out as denial. Yes, some politicians express flat out denial, this is well documented.  It might seem like people don’t “believe” in climate change, when really they just don’t see what they can do in their lives that will make any bit of difference when the messengers are not exactly leading by example. The average person is trapped in a framework with little control over the carbon they emit.
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If I may insert what I think is best, from an architect’s perspective. Each person should do what is in their power and what they can do. For example, the urban planning and architecture professions have a duty and responsibility to create places that are less dependent on cars. Living closer to work, driving less, walking more, buying less; all have benefits far beyond environmentalism. After that, there’s only so much guilt that be heaped on to the average person.
 

Where I’ve been and where I’m going

It’s been an eventful year for me.

OK, I admit I wrote that first line in January, meaning for this to be a “yeah 2015!” post. BUT now that I do have a full time job working for someone else and a baby, this is just now getting published. Writing is truly a passion of mine and I’m making it a priority TODAY. I believe we make the time for what we really love to do, no matter what else we have going on or how many piles of laundry are waiting to be folded in the other room (currently three for me, but that’s not important).

AKH design & consulting was launched in 2012 in order to wrap up projects for D+A Studio, where I was a Project Manager for over 6 years. In 2014, the Lopez Island House was featured on the Lopez Center for Community & the Arts Home Tour. Construction was completed on the Rocky Coast Retreat last summer. Construction continues on the Stuart Island House. It has been such a rich learning experience working closely on construction administration with the owner, who has been building the home himself with the help of neighbors and friends. I also worked on a handful of remodels and additions on San Juan Island and in West Seattle, Shoreline, and on my mom’s house north of Dallas. Helping homeowners with modest budgets create a space that works for them is one of my greatest passions. I am so honored and thankful to have been able to work with such awesome clients.

As these projects began to wrap up at the end of 2013, I was missing being part of a team and started as a Project Architect at Board & Vellum in Seattle in January 2014. I joined that team at a very exciting time of recognition and growth, and worked with wonderful clients on remodels and additions in Seattle. These projects included a complete gut and modern remodel to a home in Ballard overlooking the water, an historic Queen Anne remodel, and a house lift/addition/remodel/basement ADU for a small craftsman in Wallingford.

Sometimes I think I must be crazy to have left that amazing job (here is my goodbye), but after welcoming our son in July, we had the opportunity to move to my husband’s home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, a chance I had been waiting for for a long time. I’m now at Hight-Jackson Associates in Rogers, Arkansas.

This year, I’ll be blogging more about the Adaptable/Sustainable concept (still brainstorming on a name), about empowering ground up change through design and simplicity. In the meantime, please keep in touch with me on Twitter.

Thanks for checking in. I’m still here, I promise!

Lopez Island House on the Lopez Center for Community & the Arts Annual Home Tour

The Lopez Island House will be featured on the 11th annual home tour, hosted by the Lopez Island Center for Community & the Arts.

Lopez Home Tour

The original design and permitting happened while I was a Project Manager at D+A Studio. AKH finished the permitting process, construction administration, and worked closely with the clients on the interior design and with the contractor, KDL Builders.

It was so great working with the clients on this house, and I’m so excited that it will be on this home tour!

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More photos here.

 

 

 

Adaptable//Sustainable: Programming Outdoor Space

Part 9 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Speaking as someone who doesn’t have a yard (and would love the extra space), most yards I see are underutilized. Most people have this expanse of space behind their house that can be used much of the year. By programming outdoor space, we add to the amount of square footage of living area we can enjoy. OK, OK, it’s probably freezing outside right now, but what better time to dream about wonderful outdoor spaces?

The most obvious and ideal solution is to create a glassed-in porch on an existing slab or under an existing roof (bonus is it’s on the south side of the house, in an area like ours). Many activities can spill over to this room. A great solution is to use a sun porch as a combination play room/reading nook/guest room. Yes, guest room. Most of the year, Seattle weather is ideal for sleeping, and the coldest of nights can be aided by an inexpensive space heater. A day bed is ideal for reading or homework during the day and guests at night.
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A day bed can function as a guest bed and reading couch. Next to a dining or card table, it also serves as seating for little ones. Hillsdale House Redding Day Bed and Trundle. 
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One way to spend more time outside is to install a hot tub. Hot tubs can be intimidating because of the maintenance cost, but in climates like ours, this can be worth it, especially considering that they can be used all year long. A hot tub can be a great social draw and a way to get to know neighbors.
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A great outdoor space can be enhanced by a hot tub. Prodigy by the Olympic Hot Tub Company. Read about their commitment to Energy Efficiency. Greg Kossow, a carpenter based in Port Townsend, WA, published an article in Mother Earth News on How to Build a Hot Tub for less than $1,000.
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If you don’t have an existing space to make into a glassed in porch, enclose a space as much as possible to hold in heat, protect from weather, contain noise, and maximize privacy (be sure to comply with any relevant setbacks for your yard, if it’s something permanent). Line the space with a grill, outdoor seating, outdoor furniture, and container plants. Place an outdoor fireplace in the middle. Also, a very simple and inexpensive touch is to add small white Christmas lights. There is something about those little white lights that dress up and define a space, and make any time you spend in your outdoor space feel special. Chili pepper lights also work for a more festive setup.
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Create an outdoor room without an addition: start with a simple shelving unit like the Ikea Expedit. Fill in the shelves with ornamental plants and herbs in pots, baskets of garden supplies and outdoor toys, and large candles.(OK, I know I seem like a paid spokesperson for the Expedit since I feature it so much in the blog. It’s just a very versatile and simple solution that works for many situations)
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In my opinion, the biggest waste of space in our suburban neighborhoods is the front yard. Most of us don’t spend much time there, except when we are working on it. You can get more out of your outdoor square footage by maximizing the outdoor room potential and programmed space in your backyard, and moving the garden to the front yard. Many think that vegetable gardens are not attractive, but they can be easily lined with a rockery, railroad ties, ornamental plants, or containers. If your front yard is small, pots or a rockery will keep passing dogs away from your edibles. But, be careful–front yard gardens may be illegal in your municipality or HOA. For a great overview of the battle over front yard gardens, see the NYT piece “The Battlefront in the Front Yard” and “Fight for the Right to Grow Food: Orlando Man Cited for Illegal Gardening” in Mother Earth News.

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 A cute hutch like this one from JCP Home (Lindale Buffet and Hutch) would be just as comfortable on a porch as a home for garden supplies.
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If you have an outdoor covered porch, why not take advantage of the space for extra storage? You don’t have to look like a hillbilly to do this. Choose attractive cabinets or wardrobes. Look for well built used furniture on Craigslist or used furniture stores. A buffet, credenza, hutch, or china cabinet can be painted bright colors and used to store gardening supplies, camping or other outdoor equipment, sporting goods, or as an outdoor wine cellar. Place ornamental plants on any surfaces and surround the furniture with container plants, so it looks at home in the outdoors.
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Programming outdoor space has the added bonus of taking away the inefficient lawn, eliminating the need for watering, mowing and weed control.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Setting up a Shared Home Office

Part 8 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”
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One of the things I’m most passionate about in design and in my own reading and writing is sharing spaces and items. A great summary and update of the sharing movement, “The New Sharing Economy: A Study by Latitude in Collaboration with Shareable Magazine) can be found here (warning, it’s a PDF, but well worth opening), from the online magazine Shareable: Sharing by Design.
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DIY Home Adaptation has been about thinking of your space in a different way and utilizing it the way that works best for you, not just how the rooms are labeled on a floor plan. Simplifying your home to include only what you need can open up space and possibilities. This idea for setting up for sharing space fits in multiple categories under the Adaptable//Sustainable banner: casual cohousing, DIY home adaptation and grassroots retrofits.
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One room with so much possibility for sharing is a garage. Unless you live in place with very harsh winters, do your cars really need a bigger room than your bedroom? The area of a two car garage can be 25% of the average home.
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Along with ear plugs and headphones, one of the cheapest ways to “remodel” your house is to purchase a remote keyless entry, which you can do for under $50, to start your car from inside the house on a cold day. For under $200, you can purchase a storage shed for the backyard to hold outdoor and sports gear.
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A garage is an ideal place for a shared community office. It’s private and separated from the rest of the house, usually with its own entry. The ideal situation would be to have a powder room close by in the house. No one can agree on the temperature in an office anyway, so personal fans and space heaters can be used in lieu of central heat and air.
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Getting a garage in shape for an office will take some work, but not a full on remodel-some insulation in the walls, drywall and paint. Add sweat equity from those who will be sharing the office, and you can do it in a weekend (and as soon as a phone line can be hooked up).
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More and more people are working from home, and having a shared community office offers many of the advantages of working from home without many of the disadvantages, the main one (in my opinion) being isolation. Internet connection, phone lines (a business line can be a huge expense for small businesses), printers, scanner, fax machine and office supplies (ordering in bulk cheaply), and conference table can all be shared. Also, very small businesses can share an admin person that they may not otherwise be able to afford. The advantages of working from home are in tact: no commute (except a walk to the neighbor’s house), casual working environment, flexibility, saving money on commercial rent.
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As with most sharing solutions, there are many possibilities of how to handle the financial aspect. This could be a great way for the homeowner to earn some extra income from rent, and it would still be more affordable than standard office space for the other participants. A co-op could be formed among members, and one person could offer their garage as neighborhood storage for shared items such as tools, or as a neighborhood workshop.
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These ideas can of course be applied to other rooms besides the garage, the most ideal being a rarely-used formal living or dining space, usually ideally located at the front of the house by the entry way.
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Further Reading:
  • The Sharing Solution, by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow, both lawyers. This book gives practical advice on sharing everything from cars to houses.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Home Office in Small Spaces

Part 7 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”
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More and more people are working from home. Even if no one in your house works from home, chances are you need a space to pay bills, check the internet, and store records. Thinking of an office as a space rather than a room save you from designating an entire bedroom or using your extra living area as an office. Below are some ideas to fit an office into an existing space.
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Office under the stairs: This space may currently be an awkward closet or storage area, but it can be a great space to squeeze in an office. It can be open or closed. Below is an option for a closed office (the door will open outward and a little bit of the staircase will be exposed).
Office under a staircase in a home with typical 8′ ceilings. There is room for a bookshelf and a simple desk (use an old door or plywood, cut to fit the 3′ clear space, support with 2×4’s attached to studs). Use the space under the desk for extra storage (boxes holding records can double as a footrest) or for the hard drive for a desktop. Paint the walls a pleasant color, and add a mirror to the wall to make the space seem larger.
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Guidance from the DIY network: How to Build an Office Under the Stairs

Office at the end of a room: This idea only takes up 2′-3′ of space at the end of a room. In a 12′ room, that’s just 24-36 square feet.  You can use a reclaimed hollow core or smooth door, salvaged counter top (my desk growing up was an 8′ section of laminate counter top held up by kitchen table legs), or a few layers of plywood. Short file cabinets can prop up the desk. Run a curtain rod or wire along the edge and use a curtain to hide whatever is going on underneath. Shelves on either end can extend to the ceiling and provide storage for all of the books and DVD’s in the house. A closed cabinet or glass-door bookcase can be used to hide ugly binders or paperwork.
 Utilize the end of a room for a desk and floor to ceiling storage. If there is no window, a wire or rod can be hung and large curtain can disguise the area when not in use.
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Office in a closet: If you have a guest room or spare room, you can fit a desk in the closet to create an office that can be closed off when guests come or when the room is being utilized otherwise.  If you work from home but also have kids to watch, you can put the office in the kids play area and put a mirror behind the computer monitor to keep an eye on them while you work. A deadbolt placed at the top of the drawers will keep them out. The space can then also be used for art projects and craft supplies.
Even a small closet can be plenty of room for a computer and shelving. Photo credit.
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If you live in a small space, your headphones or earplugs can add virtual square footage to your home. Clever design can allow you to have a fully functional office in a small space that can be closed off when you don’t want to be reminded of work.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding Kids’ Bedrooms

Part 6 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Until I was nine years old, we lived in a small cape cod that was originally two bedrooms with an attic. My parents converted the second bedroom on the first floor to a dining room, and converted the attic into two bedrooms. This meant that the stairs led directly to my little brother’s room, and I had to walk through his room to get to my bedroom. Also, I shared a bedroom all through college.

Thus began my bias of thinking: do all kids need their own rooms, especially considering that the grown-ups share a bedroom? I know, I know, it’s easy for me to say this now, I am not a teenage girl or someone who all they wanted growing up was a room of their own. But when considering the cost of buying a new home or adding on just for sleeping space, the parent’s budget may just have to override a kid’s desire for their own room…or should I say, their own drywall box. There are many ways to ensure that kids have privacy, even if they have to share sleeping space.

 Bunk bed with storage under the Ginger Twin Full bunk bed from Platformbeds.com.

One solution is to turn with largest bedroom into the sleeping space, a different way to think of the bedroom. If you have 3 bedrooms and 4 young kids, you can fit two bunk beds into one bedroom. The other bedroom can house wardrobes for extra storage and clothing, desk for computers and can serve as the play area. As the kids get older, the rooms can then be divided by age. Curtains and sliding doors can be added to bunk beds to allow for privacy. Loft beds can house a mini room underneath, with a chair and bookshelf, also made private by curtains or sliding doors (and headphones).

 A loft bed like the Ikea Tromso provides space for a desk, chair, bookshelf and or dresser below. The space can be made private by adding a heavy curtain or closing out the bottom with painted plywood and sliding doors. 
 
Kids still need their private space. Consider creating some outdoor sanctuaries if your house is feeling cramped. A tree house is of course a classic example for younger kids. Cluster a few chairs under a canopy or in a gazebo, away from but facing the house, to give kids a place to read, talk on the phone or work on a lap top. Texture the yard with gardens, rockeries, or an outdoor water feature to provide noise buffers and privacy. Add an outdoor fireplace and instantly create another space that can be used most of the year.
 An outdoor fireplace can define an outdoor room or space and give you another room without adding square footage to your house. Coleman 5071-700 Ambient Firelight Propane Fireplace and Table.
Rooms can also be divided with sliding doors, available from Raydoor or the Sliding Door Company. This route is pricier, but still less expensive than adding a room or relocating.

What else do you need in a bedroom? An example of a bed-sized bedroom from Raydoor.
Create a bedroom or media area in the corner of a too-large living area, like this example from the Sliding Door Company

With a little creativity, you can avoid a relocation or a remodel for those few years when you need extra bedrooms, particularly when all the kids are living at home. This season of life may only be a small percentage of the time you spend in your home, and then you are left with empty bedrooms that are likely to end up being musty, rarely used guest rooms that you are paying to heat, cool, and furnish. Making a smaller house with less bedrooms work has financial rewards now and in the future.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Formal Dining Room Library Conversion

Part 5 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Make use of a formal dining room: do you have two dining areas, one of which is rarely used? Have the formal dining room do double duty as a library. This can help get visual clutter out of other rooms while adding to a room that may need a breath of life.

DINING-LIBRARY-FP-PARLORExample of a dining room/library/parlor/circulation space, originally intended to be the living room. The living room is now set up in the  smaller, cozier, no traffic original formal dining room.

The Royal Bookcase from Dania is formal yet provides ample storage for books and photos. Place antique books and classics in the glass cabinets. Place books that are tattered in the closed cabinets or a storage bin placed on the bottom shelf. 
Hide old or unattractive books in a storage bin fit for a formal room. Knos CD box by Ikea can be used for small paperback books.
A glass front cabinet keeps the room formal and makes any book or DVD look more attractive. Home Decorator’s Collection Oxford Shelf on Amazon.
Calix Chair
A snappy yet formal chair like the these Calix chairs from Dania provides a place for reading in your new Dining Room/Library. It can also be placed at the head of the table for dining.
A storage ottoman like this one from Moshya Home Furnishings on Amazon can replace chairs on one or both sides of the dining room table and provides lots of hidden storage.
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Adding function to a rarely used room will in turn add another room to your house without the hassle of a construction project.

Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding kids’ bedrooms.

Book Report: Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, by D.J. Waldie (Published in 1996, with a new introduction and afterward in 2005)

The author, who grew up and still resides in a tract home in Lakewood, CA, makes the ordinary fascinating, looking at the past and present of his city, one of the largest tract home developments of the post-war housing boom.

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The unique memoir consists of 316 entries, including personal thoughts, facts and figures about the development and how it was built (No sheathing! In California earthquake country!), and a fascinating look at L.A.’s water situation. It shows that even a seemingly painfully ordinary and banal place can have such a fascinating history.

The author says, “Who we are today is entangled with what we were. The past is always slipping away, nowhere more quickly than in Los Angeles, but the past isn’t always distant. Holy Land documents the material basis of a place-from its geology to the technology built into its houses-because these elements persist, despite the erasure of so much.”

Plaster and Roofing, Lakewood, California

Plaster and Roofing, Lakewood, California, 1950, William A. Garnett. Gelatin silver print. 7 11/16 x 9 9/16 in. © Estate of William A. Garnett – See more of these fascinating images here.
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“The suburb described in Holy Land  depended then-and depends now-on jobs that let men and women with ordinary skills make a living,” says the author. Elites (I am guilty of this too) decry the soul-sucking repetitive conformity of the suburbs. When we were in Europe this summer, people talked about the American suburbs with disdain and asked why they would build such cheap houses out of sticks. But, cheap houses made out of sticks allow people to have houses. Otherwise, it would be the United States of before the baby boom: the average worker could not afford a house within a reasonable distance of a metropolitan area.

This book touches on social, economic, geological and environmental factors. It’s not meant to be sentimental, but it made me long for a time I never knew and maybe never really existed, of dads home from work by 5, a rich and engaged civic life, a life of a few very appreciated material things, kids roaming free. This sentiment is almost a cliche at this point, but the cohesion of a neighborhood that existed before we were so “connected” is, I feel, one of the greatest loses of 21st century life.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Rethinking the Living/Dining Room

Part 4 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

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The living room is often hard to rearrange, since the furniture is big and may have some built-in elements, like the fireplace or an entertainment center.  Often living and family rooms are larger than we need them to be, if they are mostly used for television viewing.

Here are some tips for rearranging the furniture:

  • Pull it off the wall: it seems that both living rooms and televisions have been getting bigger. But unless you do aerobic workout videos, there’s no reason for the wide chasm between your TV and couch. Create an intimate sitting area and TV viewing area by pulling the couches and chairs away from the wall and arranging them around the coffee table. Use a rug to define the space.
  • Try some angles: make the new arrangement fresh by turning furniture 45 degrees from the wall. In a living area without a television or fireplace as a focal point, angle the couches and chairs to open up to the window.
  • Move the couch or seating cluster closer to the television, and use the extra space to add a table behind the couch. The table can be used for games, puzzles, homework, laptops, crafts, etc. And, without the wide chasm between the TV and couch, the TV doesn’t need to be so large.
  • On that note, if you have both a family room and a formal dining room, consider switching them. The larger room can serve as the formal dining area, library and parlor/formal living/TV-free area. The smaller room then serves as the smaller family room/TV viewing area.
  • Utilize an underused space:  Place a bookshelf behind the couch. Not only will you make use of an underutilized space, when you are sitting on the couch you are facing away from the visual clutter.

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Dine by the fire: Formal dining in what was meant to be a living room.

A large bookcase like the Expedit from Ikea is perfect for placing behind the couch. Books and DVDs are accessible but out of sight when sitting in the living room. Don’t want to let those blocked bottom shelves go to waste? Use them to store rarely used items, like holiday decorations or alternate throw pillows and blankets for changing up colors. 

If your house or condo was built in the last 10 years, chances are you have an open floor plan, with the kitchen open to the living room. This is great for many reasons: people working in the kitchen are not separated from those hanging out in the living room, the kitchen has replaced the living room as the center of the house, and the kitchen gets plenty of light. Practically, however, this is not always ideal, as there is no way to shut off kitchen noise (like when the dishwasher is running at night when you are trying to watch a movie). A piece of furniture like the Expedit shelf, shown above, can be placed back to back with an Expedit TV Storage Unit, can serve as a room divider to divide the TV area from the eating area, and should provide enough storage for every book, magazine, and DVD in the house.
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Add a game room without adding square footage. Really, how often would you use an extra game room or billiards room? Make use of the larger dining room you now have (if you switch the living and dining areas as suggested above) or that large open space if you have one of those open kitchen/dining/living areas. Instead of chairs on one side, use a storage bench to store cards, games and puzzles.
The Fusion Pool Table by Aramith is a clean, modern dining room table that doubles as a pool table.
 A storage bench in the place of a few kitchen/dining chairs provides seating and storage for games. Modus Furniture on Amazon.
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We all know that large home theater rooms in spec home McMansions are so 2004. Who wants to pay for 300 square feet with no windows and only one purpose? Create a home theater in the place you are most comfortable, your living room. Invest in some blackout curtains or Roman shades for the windows (which also come in very handy for keeping the house cool in the summer). Keep extra pillows and blankets in storage ottoman like the one shown above, and set up the front row of the theater in front of the ottoman.
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Make sure your living room is working for the way you really live. If not, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and rearrange that large furniture in way that will work for you.
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Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding a library to the formal dining room.