You Are What You Design
A few weeks ago, my wife said to me, “I think I’d like some sunlight in my office.”
I’ve been married long enough to know that this simple proclamation signaled a major space and design change in our basement, and that I should likely set aside two to three weeks to make it happen. I was right.
Understanding the full scope of what happened and why takes more explanation than I have column length here, so suffice it to say that we each had our own “office” in our basement. Mine was designed like a library, complete with a reading nook for Little Bean and built shelf by shelf as a pandemic project. My wife’s office was designed as more of a guest bedroom, with a large set of closets and a major computer-work space.
The problem? My office had a window to the outside, and she wanted it. Since the sunlight has no draw for me, we set about rebuilding each of the rooms and, as you might expect, the project dominoed into a major basement redesign.
There were two differences this time from when we had originally moved into the house. First, we had the time and brain space to actually think about how the rooms should look and what their functions should be. It wasn’t just having bookcases. It became about having the proper, consistent bookcases. It wasn’t only about a window. It was about how that window would relate to the rest of the room. We were able to be deliberate.
The second difference was that Little Bean was old enough to be more involved. I spent days building her little reading nook, but she barely used it because she preferred being near other people, and the library room didn’t offer her that option. So we were finally able, as a family, to really dig in to a space that meant something to all of us; a space that, as my daughter often put it, is our forever space.
And I’m not talking about anything as curious as modern design Feng Shui, though there is plenty of research to suggest that mental health and well-being are connected to architecture and design. We are what we build, and what we build is us. We grow into spaces.
Conversely, a built environment that is cluttered or difficult to navigate can lead to stress or even depression. At the
very least, as is the case with my daughter, if you don’t feel at home in your space, then you’re not going to feel like it’s your home.
So, we set to work.
We hauled every piece of furniture, every book and rug, out into the main part of the basement. If it wasn’t bolted down, out it came. As you can imagine this created quite a disaster, but my daughter and her friends quickly took to the cave-like labyrinth like little Indiana Joneses exploring a new realm.
We spent days measuring and laying out and making sketches of what we needed, then headed down to IKEA to make sure the selections were perfect. The hours turned into days and days into weeks. There was furniture to build, walls and rugs to clean, spaces to downsize and plenty of boxes full of items to donate.
At one point, Little Bean gathered every single one of her stuffed animals into the center of a bare room and dove into the pile like an amusement park ball pit.
“Daddy,” she wanted to know, “can we just leave the room empty for dance parties?”
Eventually, our spaces returned to normal. My wife was able to open a shade in the morning as she sat at her desk and feel the sunlight on her skin. And my library became even more cavernous, the perfect setting for my volumes.
But the real judge, of course, would be our daughter.
I recall a moment a few weeks after the big redesign. It was a particularly cold and windy Saturday so a large group of Little Bean’s friends were over, playing in the basement. As any parent knows, when the children grow quiet, you
I discovered the children all splayed this way and that around the library. A couple were lying on the floor reading. One had settled into the big rocking chair. Another had created a small throne of cushions.
They all looked up at me as I peeked my head in as though to suggest I was bothering their vibe. I quickly retreated. Design can work. Space can have meaning. Slowly, our house is becoming our home.