“Home may be the only place we can control in this chaotic, unpredictable world,” writes Design Stories columnist Hanna-Katariina Mononen.
FOR THE LAST YEAR, our six-seat dining table has only been set for two. A year is a long enough time to learn something new: we could hardly have imagined that we could get even more familiar with the most familiar place in our lives. Ever since last spring, we have stayed home as much as possible. That is more than enough to affect the way we think about the rooms we inhabit.
We have seen all four seasons within the same walls. We have observed, consciously or subconsciously, which things in our homes bring us joy and which ones we could perhaps improve. Where we prefer to rest, where we do our daily chores. We have cleared space for work at home and understood the value of our own time, but also cherished shared idle moments in a completely new way. When much of what we took for granted has been taken away, it is easy to look at it all in a newly critical and curious way. What do I want and need in my life?
Now, I’m going to state something obvious that still gets easily overlooked, or at least ignored, amidst all our tax returns and shopping lists, all the noise of life: you are allowed to have a wonderful home. You are allowed to make your home the place of your dreams. It may be the only place we can control in this chaotic, unpredictable world.
During the past year, many of us have been forced to rethink our everyday life at home. I work from home even when the world is not in the throes of a pandemic or the exceptional conditions it causes. I understand the challenges and annoyances of remote work. However, I would still argue that with the right arrangements, you can make working from home at least a lot easier, even if it is not ideal.
In the documentary film Aalto, directed by Virpi Suutari, Aino and Alvar Aalto’s daughter Johanna Alanen talks about her father on an archival record: “He has always had an office at home. Now and again, he would come into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, humming, go to the office to draw some line or to chat with someone, and then he would come back again.” In Alvar Aalto's house, work and home life came together under the same roof – but on the other hand, they were also carefully kept separate. Even the surrounding fence and exterior cladding of the house indicate where the line between the public and the private lies. Adjoined rooms could be divided using sliding doors and the working spaces had their own, separate entrance. These small but ingenious strokes outlined a home that was able to abide by the rules and life of the family that inhabited it.
“On the weekends, we carry our mattresses to the living room and sleep there just because it is fun.”
I would venture to guess that children, with their strong intuition and unashamed attitude, would design excellent space solutions. In my own life, I try to hold on to a similar playful feeling. On the weekends, we carry our mattresses to the living room and sleep there just because it is fun. I find that the primary and only way to make a home is to imagine all your daily tasks and favorite things and how they will function in your home, and then work to make them possible. Existing norms and proven methods will certainly help us in space planning, but we can find the most special and fitting results when we decorate by living and with a slightly playful attitude.
I think that when you dress your home to your liking, the most important question to ask yourself is what makes you happy. What do you most prefer to spend your time on? How could you elevate all the experiences you will have in your home so that they will be as beautiful and exquisite as possible?
Who says that you should not have a whole room dedicated to listening to music? If the thing I enjoy most is watching television in the bedroom instead of the living room, why would I not place it in the bedroom? Could the chairs at the dining table be replaced by a sofa that you could relax on after lunch? Could you perhaps place the armchair in the spot with the most beautiful view instead of trying to follow every single rule of composition? What kind of a life do I imagine for myself here?
I imagine myself in the garden, planting seedlings, fetching firewood, and entertaining guests. I picture summer evenings outside, with the sun hanging just barely over the horizon, candles illuminating the evening, friends staying over for the night and the breakfast we will share the following morning. Little nieces and nephews who we will take out rowing. The dinners where we combine desks with dining tables, cover them both with white tablecloths, and set the table for twelve.
All of these moments that make up a happy, bubbly life play out at home, a place that is exactly right for every moment that we live in it.
The author, Hanna-Katariina Mononen, reflects on the issues of a beautiful and sustainable life in her monthly column for Design Stories. She thinks that just like in life, in the home, the most beautiful parts are unplanned – and often relatively ordinary as well.
Text and image: Hanna-Katariina Mononen