More on self-driving rooms and homes

Parts of your home or even your home itself could soon be on wheels and drive around without your help:

Honda recently announced the IeMobi Concept. It is an autonomous mobile living room that attaches and detaches from your home. When parked, the vehicle becomes a 50-square-foot living or workspace. Mercedes-Benz Vans rolled out an all-electric digitally-connected van with fully integrated cargo space and drone delivery capability, and Volvo just unveiled its 360c concept vehicle that serves as either a living room or mobile office. In other cases, some folks are simply retrofitting existing vehicles. One couple in Oxford England successfully converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a micro-home that includes 153 square feet of living space, a complete kitchen, a sink, a fridge, a four-person dining area, and hidden storage spaces.

For those who are either unwilling or unable to own a home, self-driving van houses could become a convenient and affordable solution.  Soon, our mobile driverless vehicles may allow us to work from our cars and have our laundry and a hot meal delivered at the same time. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 15,000 people are already living in their cars and in most countries it is perfectly legal to live in your vehicle.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. The possibilities for adding a new and mobile room onto the homes of Americans might prove to be irresistible. Now I can add a room in which I can just drive away? Or, I can throw all sorts of things in there and then drive it out of view!
  2. The micro-home idea will find a market, particularly since the vehicles seem less cumbersome than the typical tiny home. At the same time, I imagine some wealthier communities will work to keep these sorts of vehicles out of the community. It may be an affordable option but if residents have concerns about apartment dwellers, wouldn’t they certainly have concerns about people who live out of their vehicles?
  3. These changes might only add to sprawl as it would enable residents to be more mobile. This could feed into the allure of driving and mobility. Of course, if some people give up large suburban homes for more mobile homes, perhaps the effects of sprawl might be reduced. Yet, I suspect that a good number of owners of mobile rooms and homes are purchasing them as a luxury item in addition to a home.

The consequences of self-driving cars as “rooms with wheels”

Thinking of autonomous vehicles as just another iteration of the car may not go far enough:

If you think of driverless cars as nothing more than cars without drivers, Burns says, you’re not seeing the full picture. These will be rooms with wheels. And that means their implications extend far beyond transportation—into retail, commerce, and even an expansive re-imagination of where Americans should live. Commuting an hour to work from the far suburbs isn’t such a drag when the autonomous pod comes with Netflix, email, and wi-fi.

What this might lead to is unclear:

In sum, self-driving cars have the potential to improve existing transportation technology in unambiguous ways, to expand the suburbs, and to create new economic opportunity for a variety of industries, from hotels to restaurants. But they might also change the character of our cities for the worse and strangle roads with cars in a way that ruins the urban experience for millions of people. What does this sound like? It sounds like the legacy of highways in America.

Given the love of cars among Americans plus the way social life is ordered around them, the implications could be wide-reaching.

But, the idea that cars could become rooms is intriguing. Americans like having private space. Hence, the ideal of the large single-family home in the suburbs. A few thoughts on cars as rooms:

  1. What kinds of rooms do they become? If primarily occupied during commuting, they could become work spaces. Of course, not everyone might want to work on the way to or the way home from work. Napping spaces? Outfitted with televisions and wifi?
  2. Does having a mobile room mean that homes do not have to be so large? The vehicle could become a mobile extension of the home. Members of the home could always escape to the vehicle, even if they are not going anywhere.
  3. Does a mobile room elevate vehicles to an even more important status symbol? If owners could customize their vehicle spaces to their tastes, the range of interiors could be impressive.

I would guess many Americans would like a mobile room.

A room by room look at the McMansion on The Sopranos

My study of what the term McMansions means included several newspaper references to the McMansion owned by the Soprano family on the HBO show. The Chicago Tribune story about my study included a large picture of the Sopranos eating a meal in their large dining room. Here is the house from the front:


Here is my look at the individual parts of the house to assess whether it contributes to the McMansion nature of the home.

1. The front exterior. I don’t know that the front looks that garish. There is certainly a large entryway with a double door and little vestibule but it has a two car garage, the proportions aren’t too bad, and roof has a smaller number of gables. Interestingly, the first season includes several long shots of the house from a distance (including prominent floodlights on the house/driveway) but later seasons include more views from the house down to the street and it appears much closer to the other homes and interlopers, like federal agents, pull into this shorter driveway multiple times. McMansion rating: looks like a big house but not too garish.

2. Foyer. McMansions often have expansive foyers. The Soprano’s house has two sets of doors, one to the outside and then another set into the room. It is a fairly big space with the main staircase to the house to the left when you enter. The foyer also has two columns which we see in later scenes have guns stored inside (they are locked up). McMansion rating: pretty big space.

3. Dining room. The family seems to be shown eating here more than they do in the eating area just off the kitchen. These meals include family members as well as “family” members. It is a big table but not too large. McMansion rating: not really.

4. Kitchen. The room is decorated in a more country style with lighter colored cabinets and floral patterns. The kitchen also has a large island that faces out to the foyer, eating area, and family room. The usable kitchen space itself is decently large but there is a lot of open space just beyond the large island. McMansion rating: no stainless steel, dark wood cabinets, or granite countertops but plenty big.

5. Family room. This room involves one large couch, some other seating, and a decent-sized TV (though nowhere near the common large flat-screen TVs of today). McMansion rating: big but not too ostentatious.

6. Garage. While it is only a two-car garage, it is quite deep. The show doesn’t have too many scenes in the garage but it seems to have lots of space. Also, it is pretty clean. McMansion rating: plenty big.

7. Upstairs. The kids’ rooms aren’t too large but the master suite is pretty  big and also has an ensuite bathroom. A pretty dark room, particularly when Tony is depressed and the curtains are drawn. McMansion rating: plenty big.

8. Basement. This unfinished space is where Tony often carries out face-to-face work conversations while in the house. It is used for some storage and for laundry. It has some decent light next to the laundry area. It is a little strange that the family owns a pricey house and hasn’t finished off the basement. McMansion rating: nope.

9. Pool and pool house. There is a large in-ground pool in the backyard and some important scenes, including Tony’s fascination with ducks in Season One and AJ’s attempted suicide in Season 6, take place there. Tony seems to use the space more than anyone else; we never see Carmela out there alone and the kids aren’t playing in it regularly on the show. There is a pool house which acts as a theater space. This is a definite luxury point in the home. McMansion rating: large luxury items.

10. Backyard. This is pretty large as there is space for a pool, pool house, areas for Tony to hide cash, and it is a little hike to the back fence to interact with neighbors. McMansion rating: plenty of space.

Areas of the house not examined: the more formal living room (rarely used), the eating area just off the kitchen (a small table with four chairs fills the space), the bathrooms (not portrayed much).

Overall, this home fits the general McMansion definition of a large house. It is hard to estimate from watching on the screen but the home is at least 3,000 square feet. Unlike some other McMansions, it is on a large lot – a mobster can’t live in a large house where the next door neighbors are peering in the windows just a few feet away. The architecture and design doesn’t seem too jumbled though there is a clear emphasis on space. And, the home is clearly a reminder of the suburban nature of the Sopranos: the house is the setting for both “normal” suburban life as well as the unusual family life that made Tony’s purchase of the home all possible in the first place. Such a home is intended for the boss, whether it is Tony or John Sacrimoni, as the guys below the boss tend to live in denser suburban settings.

“McMansions Gone Rogue”: critiquing McMansions on Pinterest

For a gallery of photos that critique McMansion rooms, check out this Pinterest page. These rooms have some interesting design elements and beyond these style choices, they don’t look very liveable.

I presume the solutions for these rooms is to consult the interior designer who put together this page. Is her solution primarily about better interior design in these spaces or would she advocate for different homes, like the Not So Big House, all together?


You need a McMansion to take home all the bulk items from Costco

Here is one argument for why Americans need McMansions: they need space to hold all of the bulk items from places like Costco.

But what I require now is a special place to house the mountain of junk I buy at Costco, because it certainly doesn’t fit in my existing house.

I suppose some of you reading this live in Tuscan-style McMansions with huge pantries that could hold the yield from a dozen trips to Costco, plus a few sheep and goats on the side…

My problem is that I like the bulk savings you can get at Costco. But I don’t like the Costco bulk. I’m not kidding: At this exact moment, there’s a case of water bottles on my tiny kitchen floor, because I haven’t figured out exactly where to put it. Cardboard boxes full of lunch snacks sit on top, along with enough canned tuna to last at least until the Rapture comes.

Putting away Costco stuff requires several days of planning in my house, especially when I bring my children, which I try not to do.

This would fit the data that shows while the average size of the American household has decreased, the average size of the new homes has gone up.

It would be interesting to do some analysis on how the space in recent homes compares to space in houses from earlier years. One way to get more space in a house is to simply have more space to start with. But there are other ways. Have more and bigger closets and take space from elsewhere. It seems like a lot of the new houses on HGTV have two walk-in closets for the master bedroom. You could also cut down on the “middle” space of rooms in order to free up space for other uses. Large living spaces may be nice but they could require more furniture and many homeowners may not use all that space most of the time. Another way is to have fewer hallways and more “combined” rooms. The classic bungalow does this by often combining the living room, dining room, and a kitchen as the main thoroughfare through the house.

International Furnishings and Design Association survey also suggests McMansions are on the way out

A number of commentators have suggested the era of McMansions is over. A new survey of the American members of the International Furnishings and Design Association agrees with this prediction. Here are some of the findings:

-Americans will be living in smaller spaces with fewer rooms by the year 2020, say more than 76% of IFDA members. Eleven years ago, only 49% foresaw less living space in our future…

-Separate rooms are disappearing; they are blending into spaces that serve many different purposes, believe 91.5% of the design experts – which is exactly what they foresaw back in 2000.

-Furniture also is going multipurpose, say 67.5% of the the IFDA forecasters. They see modular, moveable, and smaller-scaled furniture overtaking built-ins and big pieces. There will be more interest in ergonomic designs – designed to fit the human body – but almost none in furniture designed to be disposable…

-Everyone’s working at home. A home office is a given, say more than three-quarters of the respondents, but here’s the news: Nearly 40% of the forecasters see more than one home office under every roof…

In summary: leaders in the furnishings and design field think that Americans will be living in smaller, more multipurpose spaces.

Several questions regarding these survey findings:
1. How much do those surveyed get to set and sell these product changes in the years to come?
2. If the economy improves dramatically in the next few years, are all these predictions moot?
3. How long before these predictions and ideas become the norm set before average Americans in places like furniture showrooms or on HGTV?
4. What do you do with previous findings of the survey?
a. For example, in 2000, roughly half surveyed thought Americans would be living in smaller spaces. The actual Census numbers about new single-family homes: on average, they were 2,266 square feet, 2,438 square feet in 2009, and 2,392 square feet in 2010. This is still a net gain over most of the decade with a dip between 2008 and 2010. So half of those surveyed in 2000 were wrong?
b. The predictions about the drop in separate rooms were the same now as in 2000. Were they right?
c. If those surveyed can be wrong, what does it mean? Do their companies/firms lose money because they mispredicted the future? Is it really difficult to predict the directions in this particular field and anticipate what the American consumer wants?

Designing kitchens for the people who work in them

An exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City explores the changing design of kitchens in the 20th century. While this room may indeed be a functional space, designs were often based on clear ideas about what kind of women were to be in such a space:

These days, there are magazines and television programs devoted to kitchen design, but in 1926 it was a new idea. In fact, curator Juliet Kinchin tells NPR’s Robert Smith, designing a kitchen was actually a political act.

“There’s always been that political dimension to kitchens,” Kinchin explains.

“For centuries, really, the kitchen had been ignored by design professionals, not least because it tended to be lower-class women or servants who occupied the kitchen space,” she says…

It was women who led the reform of the kitchen into an efficient space — one to be proud of. Kinchin says, “they were trying to adopt a scientific approach to housework and raise the status of housework.”

This is a reminder that homes and spaces inside and outside are linked to broader ideas about gender, social class, and what is considered the “good life.” Based on images from shows like those on HGTV and looking at real estate ads, the kitchen in today’s home is often the centerpiece with gleaming new appliances, rich cabinets, and plenty of storage space. This is commonly tied to ideas about the kitchen being the center of the home where someone cooks and the family gathers to work or play nearby. (This is somewhat ironic considering how much home cooking is actually done these days compared to eating out or eating prepared food.) Is placing more emphasis on modern kitchens empowering for women or a constant reminder about traditional values that would seek to keep women there?

I wonder if there are homes that feature “men’s kitchens” – though there may be plenty of big homes that have this in an outdoor kitchen/grilling area. This inside space might include a large television, large stove/grill, and comfortable seating.