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24 June 2013

Open Concept Design for Open Concept Lives

My wife and I enjoy watching HGTV, particularly shows about real estate and renovation. It's obnoxiously domestic and middle-class, I know. It seems that every new homeowner who appears on these shows wants an "open concept." It's like listening to a broken record. There once was a time when the parlor was for entertaining, the dining room was for eating, and the kitchen was for preparing food. Today increasingly, these three spaces are used fairly interchangeably. I am equally as likely to eat in front of the TV in the living room as I am in either the kitchen or the dining room. I am equally as likely to entertain guests in the kitchen as the parlor. OK, I guess I'm not cooking food from the couch, yet, but you get my point. Given this, it makes sense that as the figurative divisions are coming down in our homes that we would want to demolish the literal divisions as well, tearing out walls so that we can more easily use the space in our homes as we are inclined. I think this is emblematic of a larger social change, though. In the not-so-distant past, our lives were more formally compartmentalized. Work was work; play was play; supper was supper. Modernism and capitalism fragmented our lives in some fairly rigid ways. Increasingly in the post-/late-modern period (pick your poison theoretically) and for better or worse, our lives lost a lot of that formal division. Work intrudes regularly into other parts of our lives in a way that is paralleled with the movement of guests into the kitchen and dinners into the living room. The architectural fads that we see amplified on HGTV programing are a reflection of bigger social trends. In effect, we are renovating our physical structures to better match our social structures.

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