AT on...Whose Modern Home, Anyway?

AT on...Whose Modern Home, Anyway?

Sep 1, 2006

My childhood home was a paean to Modernism.

It was on the small side, so it was furnished sparingly, mostly with pieces that were already 20th century icons when my folks were starting out in the 1960's: in the living room leather Zographos chairs and a Thonet rocker; in the kitchen an Eames spider-legged dining table, etc.

My parents will tell you now that our home was not well adapted to kids, and my memories bear this out: we were constantly being asked not to play on the furniture. So we eventually claimed the areas under it -- the delicate polished steel legs of the coffee table made for a very kid- (but not adult-) accessible space underneath. In spite of all the hard edges down there our parents had no choice but to give in. (Also: the kids outnumbered the adults.) These days they even allow my spit-up prone baby daughter to hang out on the Zographos chairs.

My parents were very much of their time and place. In the late 60's in space-constrained urban environments the living room was an adult space, and play was relegated to kid bedrooms. At some point in the last 40 years the culture shifted, and people started to embrace the idea that their whole home could be comfortable and safe for their kids. This seems weird because today it's not hard to find beautiful and comfortable homes that are also child-friendly. But now as back then, these homes are more easily created in the suburbs, where homes are built big, many of them with family rooms as well as living rooms (case in point, Matt's home, which Jill house-toured for AT last year: see slides 11-30).

Here in the City, most of us live in old buildings. Most of us don't have family rooms. Some of us don't even have living rooms or dining rooms, as they've been repurposed as kid rooms!

My father says, "We wanted to create a space for entertaining and we chose what we loved. And we still like it 40 years later. But today we might do it differently."

Today they'd have many more options, and I'm not (just) talking about the witty modern sheets you can now find for the crib. These days more and more urban parents remain stubbornly in touch with their own youthful tastes (see the "Grup" phenomonen). And on the flip side, the design industry has responded, big time, to consumer interest in more sophisticated design for kids. (See this post for a list of some of them.) The tastes of kids and grown-ups are starting to collide.

Can you balance the needs (comfort and aesthetic) of adults with those of kids? Can you do it in a small space? And can you do it in a way that tempts your friends into coming over to babysit? As we start out Kids + Nursery month here at AT, I'd like to hope that the answers to all these questions are yes -- and that we'll be blogging them this September.

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