New insight into how people use their homes shows where to invest time and money

What’s your dream home?

Plenty of inspiration is available from shelter magazines and home-centric television shows, but it’s more important to look at the way your own family lives, says Anthony Graesch.

Graesch worked with a team of researchers at the Center on Everyday Lives of Families at the University of California, Los Angeles, to complete an exhaustive study of how 32 middle-class, dual-income Los Angeles-area families with kids live in their homes.

The CELF study’s findings are documented in a new book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2012).  What emerges is valuable insight on what can make homes more functional.

Graesch, who is now an assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College, says that the CELF findings are important to people who plan to buy new homes or improve their current homes.  While the information focuses on one type of family, demographic groups that differ from the study can use the same methods to glean personal insights.

Kitchen Wisdom

By now, it’s common knowledge that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

But what is surprising, notes Graesch, is that families spend 68 percent of waking time in the kitchen or in adjacent areas.

Many of the homes in the CELF study were built before 1970, Graesch says, and kitchens in the past were used strictly for meal preparation.  As a consequence, many families indicated that if they were to remodel, they would open up the kitchen to adjoining rooms, better to hear and see all family members.

Paul Foresman of the Omaha, Neb., firm, Design Basics, says that many types of families can relate to the CELF findings.

Kitchen design keeps innovating to respond to the evolution of the area as an activity hub, Foresman says.  Since computers and televisions are usually used in this space, for example, island counters are larger with one flat surface, and they are equipped with outlets for charging and storing electronics.

No Parking

Three-quarters of the families in the study never parked in their garage.  “There wasn’t room because it was filled with supplies bought at warehouse stores, or with furniture and other stuff,” Graesch says.

This garage clutter raised tension amongst many of the women, as measured by saliva tests for stress hormones, when they walked researchers through their homes.

“We have also been aware of how stressful it is for women to walk in and see clutter,” Foresman adds.  He suggests creating a small back entry “drop zone” room, where mail, keys and other items that constitute clutter can be neatly tucked away.

Walk-in pantries are also becoming a frequent kitchen feature to store bulk supplies, Foresman says.

Yard Waste

Annual surveys of common home features conducted by the American Institute of Architects find that owners are investing in outdoor spaces, putting in patios, cooking equipment and similar amenities, says Kermit Baker, AIA economist.

Even though the yards of the CELF families contained amenities like pools and patios, researchers found parents spent less than 15 minutes weekly in the yard, and kids just 40 minutes.

Baker believes other demographic groups, like empty-nesters, use outdoor spaces more frequently.  The CELF study looked at families with two working parents who could be too busy to use the yard, he speculates.  In that case, they might reconsider how much money goes into outdoor living areas.

Graesch says, “People’s notion of what a home should be is often idealized.  We don’t realize how we actually use a home.”

Of course, different households have different needs.  Conduct your own home planning by keeping a time diary, noting where and what all family members are doing at different times, Graesch suggests.

reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal written by MARILYN KENNEDY MELIA