by: Janell Kapoor, inspired by Ianto Evans

We are human beings not human doings. Our society thrives on doing almost to the exclusion of being. We are in constant motion and most of our activities are transitory. A house should be the antidote to the freeway culture. Like the humble bird’s nest, built with an exacting use of materials and perfectly appropriate to its needs.

Here are some of our tips on designing places, spaces, and rooms in a way that have soul and better honor our Being.

Meditate… on your building site. Alone, in silence. Under every condition of season, time and weather. Observe the cycles of human activity.

Remember… the land came before you and will be there after you. Learn about its history and inhabitants. What indigenous people lived there and what were their ways? And remember, anything you do must be reversible when your building has vanished. Even a 1000 year building is only a tiny fraction of the life of a place.

Brainstorm… with family or people who will share the space. Analyze what the building needs to do. Inventory your resources. Match the needs of the building with your resources to determine the scope of what you can realistically take on.

Dispense… with convention. Does your home need to be an investment for monetary gain? We need to live well not die wealthy. Why do we build with right angles when there are none on our bodies? Try thinking in “round feet instead of “square feet.” Have the courage to safisfy your peculiarities. Build with love and live with joy, this will be the value of your home.

Think… about designing and building a house as a continuum, not a linear process. Keep it small. Quality over size. Extravagant materials and finely crafted details instead of stretching budgets to go big. You can add on later.

Construct… in phases. One enclosed space at a time. Temporary walls, windows that become doors, expandable roof system.

Prioritize… the need for shelter. Some rural homesteaders built their barn first because they could sleep in the barn but they couldn’t keep grain or horses in the house. Build sleeping space first. Make a kitchen with a futon and a composting toilet and you can stop paying rent.

Act… out the dance of your life for each space in your house. List the sequence of things you will do in each space and then use verbs and adjectives to describe your experience. Use your whole body to translate your imagined layout into actual steps in space.

Make… drawings and models of your layout.

Become… aware of ancient systems of designing with nature. Feng Shui (wind & water) teaches arrangements for positive energy (chi). Sacred geometry, geomancy, and many others, combined with your intuition, can inform and inspire your design process.

Learn… how to use the book A Pattern Language. It’s a meticulous study of time tested wisdom in architecture and public space design. Unique among any other volume on the subject, this book allows you to create your own “pattern” to guide you in making smart choices for your house.

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