design family ideas observations

Designing Buildings with Space for the Practical & Messy

Erik and I spent the last few days helping our son Ian, his fiancé, and their roommate move to a new townhouse apartment. They had lived in their old apartment for about 10 years, so there was quite an accumulation of stuff to move.

When you’ve got furniture, loads of boxes of heavy books, and other household paraphernalia to move in a short period of time, finding efficient ways to move it without killing everyone’s backs is of the utmost importance.

We brought our enclosed trailer in order to cut down on the number of trips. Several other vehicles were part of the effort, as well.

At first, we parked our trailer in the apartment complex’s parking lot in a striped “no parking” zone and we were all taking trips down the hallway, opening and closing the common exterior door with each trip. Pretty soon, the door got propped in order to gain some efficiency, even though it was cold and the wind was gusting into the building.

After a trip or two, someone suggested parking in a lot that was outside the apartment’s patio door. The lot was for a business that was closed over the holiday weekend. The walk to the trailer was shorter and we didn’t have to open the common door to the building, so we could avoid letting the warm air out and cold air in.

Have you noticed that most apartment buildings or complexes don’t have dedicated places for people to unload and load their belongings? Most apartments are transitional housing. You’d think they’d design them with features that would make moving in and out of them easier. Thankfully, Ian’s apartment was on the ground floor or we would have been hauling everything up and down stairs because there was no elevator.

Parking at the new townhouse apartment was not much better. There was very little space to maneuver a trailer in the parking lot between units. A next door neighbor had to creatively shimmy her car around ours as we were unloading the trailer.

The lack of parking for loading and unloading trailers and trucks at apartments puts me in mind of other features of buildings that are often missing but needed. How many homes are designed without a dedicated place for recycling and garbage? How many work places are designed without a dedicated place to hang labor law posters or other required notices?

I work in a place that doesn’t have a dedicated space for custodial supplies and equipment. How many homes are also missing accessible places for mops, brooms, buckets, and rags and safe places for household chemicals? Our broom and mop are tucked into the space between the fridge and a wall, a default space that isn’t always convenient. Our household chemicals are under the kitchen sink. Raise your hand if your household chemicals are stored here, along with the garbage. It isn’t a safe place in terms of accessibility to children, but because so many homes don’t have a good, alternative storage space, it’s where the stuff ends up because the space exists and is convenient.

We’re going to poke stuff wherever we’ve been given space to do so, even if that space isn’t the best for what we need to store. Our extra rolls of toilet paper sit on the floor in the bathroom at home because we don’t have anyplace else to store them.

Granted, our house is 127 years old, so the concept of needing a space for multiple recycling bins or a giant package of toilet paper wasn’t a thing when it was built. (I’m pretty sure the first bathroom was added later, with an outhouse serving as the bathroom when the house was built.) Also, there probably weren’t as many household chemicals to store at the time. In general, people didn’t have as much stuff then as now. But this doesn’t excuse the lack of such spaces in newer homes and buildings.

It’s almost as though architects and building contractors forget that we need places for the practical and messy in our lives.

When it comes to hotels, though, these spaces for the practical and messy aren’t forgotten.

We stayed in a hotel during our moving adventures and I noted the loading zone at the front of the building, the elevator to make carrying stuff upstairs easier, and the storage room near the elevator on our floor. Staff of the hotel need to have easy access to cleaning supplies and I suspect most hotels have a storage room on each floor for this.

People are messy and practical in fairly predictable ways. While we haven’t always had recycling services, we do produce garbage and need a space for it. We also need cleaning items and a better place to store them. And loading zones at apartments. And places for public notices in business buildings.

A little bit of thought about these and other practical and messy parts of life and our buildings could be better designed to serve these functions.

What space for the practical and messy is missing from your home or work place? Let me know in the comments how you have adapted to the situation.