D.C. exhibit focuses on adaptable homes
Most housing is designed for nuclear families (one couple with dependent children), but today, most U.S. households don’t meet that description.
That’s why flexible floor plans — and innovations including moveable walls, smart technology, multifunctional furniture and space-saving features — are the future, according to a new exhibit, “Making Room: Housing for a Changing America,” at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
The museum’s curator, Chrysanthe Broikos, said only about 20 percent of households today are traditional nuclear families, so housing and zoning rules need to adapt to keep pace with demographic changes.
In addition to interiors, the exhibit highlights a number of studies on housing, and information about what’s going on around the country in new development and zoning.
“We’re trying to say, ‘Hey, what are the other 80 percent of households doing?’” Broikos said. The exhibit, which opened last November, runs through Sept. 16.
An adjustable house
One unique feature is an “Open House” designed by Italian architect Pierluigi Colombo, co-founder of the design firm Clei, which is changed during the course of the exhibit to illustrate how a flexible space can adapt to accommodate three different living arrangements.
Initially set up to house four imaginary roommates (two singles and a couple), the space was then transformed to house an imaginary multigenerational family. The space is currently configured to house an imaginary retired couple, and will include a rental apartment.
Although the Open House is only 1,000 square feet, it feels much larger — and allows for flexibility — because all the beds fold up to become walls, sofas or tables.
It also features acoustically sound motorized moving wall systems made by the Wisconsin-based Hufcor company, long known for making the bigger moving walls used in gyms and ballrooms.
“A floor plan should not just be a picture in time. It should be adaptable,” said Lisa Blecker, marketing director at Resource Furniture, whose multifunctional furnishings are featured in the exhibit.
“The big takeaway is that if you’re planning to renovate or reconfigure your home, it’s essential to think about the long term, and opportunities for flexibility in years to come,” she said.
“The makeup of a household is fluid and, more than ever, home layouts, wall configurations and furnishings need to keep up with those changes.”
Adaptable kitchens and baths
The beauty of the home set up in the exhibit is that it can accommodate multiple household configurations without moving bathrooms or the kitchen.
“And the kitchen has been carefully designed to work well for children, millennials, older people, and someone in a wheelchair,” Blecker said.
The kitchen in the exhibit features adjustable-height counters for wheelchair accessibility. Pull-down cabinet fittings, which allow high shelves to be pulled down to almost counter height, save people from having to stand on stools to reach upper shelves.
Bathrooms are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sinks are mounted separately from the vanity so a wheelchair can be accommodated without redoing the plumbing.
“We will always need single-family homes and apartments that are designed to accommodate a nuclear family,” said Sarah Watson, deputy director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, which helped organize the exhibit.
“But today, the majority of our households are comprised of singles living alone, multi-generational families, and adults sharing their homes with roommates. Our population is also aging rapidly, and will need new housing options that can support aging-in-place with diminished physical or cognitive abilities.”
Dan Soliman, director of the AARP Foundation, a major funder of the exhibit, said that one-fifth of U.S. adults will be 65 or older by 2030, “and a recent AARP study found that almost 90 percent of people want to continue living in their own home for as long as possible.”
“We need more designs like this one to meet the needs of individuals and families through all stages of their life,” Soliman said.
The National Building Museum is located at 401 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for those 60 and older; $10 for others. For more information, see www.nbm.org or call (202) 272-2448.