Page H1 . 16 July 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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    Patterns of Home
    Pattern Seven Private Edges, Common Core: Combining Private and Public

    ArchWeek Photo

    The desk nook to the left and the inviting booth to the right form private edges serving and connecting the kitchen and dining room in a house by James W. Givens Design.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston


    Most homes are made for groups of people. To support the social life of their residents, they must contain a balance and a variety of private and common spaces. But just because a home has these spaces doesn't necessarily mean they will work. It's the way the spaces are related that makes all the difference.

    For example, a private homework space won't help foster good study habits if it is too remote and children never use it. A dramatic dining room, beautifully lit and furnished but isolated from the casual flow of traffic through a house, will never become a space that draws people together and provides a focus for informal social life.

    In terms of privacy and community, the rooms in conventional homes are often either/or: They are either retreats or places to gather. But while family life requires such places, it also needs places that are half private, places where a few people can talk and still be socially connected with someone who is sitting nearby reading the paper. Children often want to be "alone" in the presence of the family, and this is a need that persists in various forms throughout adulthood.

    Homes that support these kinds of needs with a variety of private and half-private places more and less related to the common core help their inhabitants establish a personal common/private comfort level within the family. Finding the right mix of common and private spaces, and putting them together in a way that allows both to flourish, is one of the central issues of home design.

    ArchWeek Photo

    The private areas off the commons form a sequence from least to most private. Think of the private spaces as thick edges that define and protect the commons at the heart.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    A bed alcove off an inglenook forms a private edge.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Photo

    Private edges, common core the spaces work together to form a single whole.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    Working with the Pattern

    Organize the main social spaces of the house kitchen, dining, and living/family rooms as a single, flowing common space, with one place as its clear heart. Make the heart a generous, attractive space, just off the main circulation crossroads of the house protected from traffic, yet located so that everyone coming and going passes by it.

    Give the commons a semiprivate edge, with places to sit and read or even just lean places that allow people to take up a position away from the core but still be a part of it. In contrast to the common area at the heart, create a sequence of private spaces, some immediately adjacent to the heart, some relatively remote.

    The private spaces, even at their most remote, should be conceived as edges that give definition to the commons by the fact of separating themselves from it. Create an intimacy gradient, with a variety of corresponding ceiling heights, across the house, from the largest and highest-ceilinged commons to the most intimate and lowest-ceilinged edge.

    Patterns of Home

    Discuss this article in our Home Design Forum...



    Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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