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“First we shape our dwellings. Then our dwellings shape us.” Winston Churchill

“First we shape our dwellings, then our dwellings shape us,” Winston Churchill.

For several months now, I have had the following quote as part of my email signature. I can’t remember where I first ran across it but it speaks to me of much more than just the pleasures of a beautifully designed space. As a designer those pleasures are, of course, very near and dear to my heart but this quote hints at the truth that within the oft-perceived “superficiality” of design is the very real affect an environment has on the people who dwell in it—for better or worse.

Leaving homes aside for a moment, I’d like to define dwellings more broadly—after all, when we spend six, eight, or more hours a day at school or work, we can be said to “dwell” in those spaces, too. As any cubicle inhabitant can tell you, a human being’s daily environment will affect him physically and psychologically. If only school architects would remember this. My own high school was a windowless, concrete-block prison—practical no doubt—but hardly conducive to free- or even clear thinking. Contrast that with the gracious, elegant Spanish-style architecture of my college where we benefited not only from that magical technology—windows—and the natural light they provided but from expansive lawns, mature shade trees, walled gardens and roses.

As adults, many of us don’t get to work in an environment of our choosing. Fluorescent lights, lack of privacy, lack of movement when you are chained to a computer—all contribute to the exhaustion we feel at the end of the day—above and beyond the natural amount of tiredness we feel from labor expended. I bring all this up because a client of mine recently commented that she felt guilty for being able to remodel her home. In today’s economy where some people struggle just to pay the mortgage, she is in a position to enhance her home to better meet her families’ needs. While it’s true that remodeling a home seems to be a kind of luxury—and luxury has become a dirty word of late—I want to argue that point a little, at least as it relates to my little corner of the word.

It should not be a “luxury” to have a kitchen that works. It should be a given—in every house, for every household. Certain elements of design—custom cherry cabinets, natural stone counters, expensive glass tile—these things can and should be considered luxury items. But the space-planning? A second sink? Enough counter-space? Quality Appliances? These are things that should be in the Cook’s Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, too many contractors, architects and housing developers think—when they think at all—about the minimum requirements of kitchen: stove, fridge, sink.

Home as Haven. We’ve all heard that phrase. And these days, that haven is needed more than ever. But how can a home be a haven when the room in which you spend a significant portion of your time is working against you? A dysfunctional kitchen—as most are—means that the process of cooking a healthy, cost-effective meal for your family takes twice as long as it should. That’s time you could be spending with your kids, your spouse, your bubble-bath and book. And that doesn’t even take into account the pleasure that cooking can become when the kitchen is designed to make it easier. Why is it considered a luxury to turn a chore into a pastime?

Well, as you can see, my first blog has become somewhat more than I intended. In the future, I will try to stay on target a little better. However, I hope you found something to interest you and I welcome your comments and suggestions.