Sunday, December 13, 2009

Contest house - owner profile and our guiding principle

The Who's Next contest did not provide a list of rooms or size for the home, but rather a profile of the owners leaving the contestants to determine the appropriate response.

We are really left to make the size of the house as we see fit which should elicit a interesting range of responses from contestants. We have elected to use the "Starter House" profile offered by the organizers. The profile tells us the owners will have 1 or 2 children, so we are going to take that as a need for a 3 bedroom house. We want to keep the house compact, and to us that means pushing the boundaries of what we already offer in our catalog. So our goal is to make this home design smaller than any other 3 bedroom house in our collection. In keeping with the idea of a "starter house" we are shooting for 1500 sqft. A home office is called for in the profile but to hit our target size its doubtful we can fit a home office the size of a 4th bedroom. There are many more factors from the profile, some of which we may or may not be able to satisfy within the size limit we are imposing. But that is our choice and points towards what will be our guiding principle for the design.

Scott Hedges introduced us to a Swedish concept, an idea that does not have a single word representation in English. The word is "lagom" (sounds like La-Gom) and in Sweden this is an idea which underlies much of the culture and disposition of the Swedish people. An adjective, lagom means roughly "just the right amount" or "just enough is best". Its a sentiment of appropriateness as well as modesty, quite the polar opposite of the driving motivation in the US of more is (almost) always better. We don't have a word for this idea, because we basically never think this idea. Scott described it to me well:

"The idea of Lagom as I understand it is that it means “the right amount” or more accurately “an optimal amount” … but this doesn’t get it either … Lagom conveys the notion of having just what you need and no more. It means more than just what is good for you, but good in a more expansive and considerate sense. It is the idea that nothing should be added and nothing should be taken away. "

That last thought really hits it home for me. Nothing added, nothing taken away. It suggests virtue in balance, and balance to me is a driving concept of sustainability, not just in building, but in living.

So with Scott's encouragement I want to endeavor to make lagom the driving principle of this design. As an idea it was not completely unfamiliar to me. I believe that there is a parallel sentiment in the community of people that have driven the revival of modern houses over the past 10 years - what I call the ReModern Movement. Way back when Dwell magazine first started and I was spending so much time on their first internet messageboard there was a strong consensus about what having a modern house meant to the people that came there looking for homes. It was not a simple aesthetic choice, or style choice. To these people a modern home meant moving towards a simpler and more manageable lifestyle. A choice that would bring you a fresh start to concentrate on what was important to you, and to brush aside the baggage and associations of past ideas of what constituted "home". It was a lifestyle choice that would enable you by lightening the burden of creating, maintaining, and paying for a traditional image of home. Instead replaced by a simpler, cleaner, easier living home - something that did not make demands on you so much as serve you in your pursuit of life. It was not the pursuit of the modern home as an extraordinary trophy, but rather the desire for the modern home as ordinary in every sense.

We never had a word for that idea. But lagom comes pretty close, pretty close indeed.


  1. Greg, I think you're right on about the underlying reason for the desire to go modern. I'm very drawn to modern design not so much becasue of what it is, rather than what it isn't....

    Do you live in a home of your own design? I'd be interestin hearing how these modern homes actually live for owners and their families.


  2. No, I actually don't have a modern house myself. We aspire to having one built for ourselves at some point - we were just lamenting the confinement of our discrete rooms the other day and longing for a more open floor plan.