House Rule 2 – Combine Living Spaces

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hickox House of 1900 opens its dining room, living room and library onto each other, combining them into a single expansive living space that runs the full length of the house.  The glazed ends of this space imply its infinite exterior projection, even as the doors leading from its center onto a terrace allow the living room to spill outside.  “Vista without and vista within,” were Wright’s words for the effect.  The outward thrust of the living space is countered by its focal hearth.  Wright attuned his houses to the ingrained daily rhythm by which our forebears faced outward to hunt and gather in the landscape by day and returned to the fire at night, tapping into the primitive brain with the calculation of a movie about alien predators.  In its human insight, its simultaneous appropriation of exterior space and indoor simulation of outdoor scale, and its diagrammatic clarity – pure living pavilion on one side and unintruding support functions on the other – the Hickox House is a particularly compact illustration of Wright’s multilevel genius.  It was a radical dwelling in its time.  In his 1954 book, The Natural House, Wright described how he had broken the box of the American house a half-century earlier: 

“Dwellings of that period were cut up, advisedly and completely, with the grim determination that should go with any cutting process.  The interiors consisted of boxes beside boxes or inside boxes, called rooms.  All boxes were inside a complicated outside boxing.  Each domestic function was properly box to box.  I could see little sense in this inhibition, in this cellular sequestration that implied ancestors familiar with penal institutions, except for the privacy of bedrooms on the upper floor.  They were perhaps all right as sleeping boxes.  So I declared the whole lower floor as one room, cutting off the kitchen as a laboratory . . .  Then I screened various portions of the big room for certain domestic purposes like dining and reading.  There were no plans in existence like these at the time. . . .  The house became more free as space and more livable too.  Interior spaciousness began to dawn.”

The lived-in rear of today’s typical American house, with its combined kitchen, informal dining area and family room, owes its existence to Wright’s pioneering vision, even as today’s self-contained, under-used and obligatory formal living and dining rooms are over a century behind him.  

 

Rule 2 is to combine living spaces. 

 

 Who has more?

Combine living, dining and other activity areas to partake of each other’s space.  Create a single generous area rather than several smaller constrained rooms.  If private activity areas are needed, incorporate them in bedrooms or circulation space, so these do double-duty.  Most homeowners spend the great majority of their at-home waking time not only in a favorite room, but on one or two favorite pieces of furniture, and even the richest mansion owner can experience only one room at a time.  Redirect resources from unnecessary partitions and redundant spaces into the best of all possible – and always used – living spaces.       

One Response to “House Rule 2 – Combine Living Spaces”

  1. Tobias Wolf Says:

    Wright found some beautifully nuanced ways to combine spaces.  The Hickox House plan combines three rooms but the space is “punctuated” by partial walls that allow each room to retain its identity, allowing for a double reading in which the space is both one room and three rooms.

    In the Robie House, Living and Dining are part of one great space, but are separated by a solid “core” containing stairs.  At the Martin House, rooms are distinct but spill into one another. At the Willits House, two rooms are joined at a corner, providing diagonal sight lines and a small area, where the rooms overlap, that belongs to both.  Wright never built a simple box and designated zones within it for different uses; he always retained some vestige of the “original” spaces that he combined.

    Plans for these houses can be found at http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/Frank_Lloyd_Wright.html

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