Thursday, November 20, 2008


"So," I ask my friends Michael, Matt, and Clarissa, "Is the bedroom a female space?" Earlier that day, my professor and I discussed gender and space and after determining the porch male, the kitchen female, and the living areas shared, we were left with the bedroom. 

Michael and Clarissa claimed female while Matt later recanted that it is solely such. His parents, he said, share everything. It's a his and hers house. The conversation ended and the guys proceeded to the porch while the women stayed in the kitchen. 

While they did whatever it is men do on porches (Clarissa posits that the porch is actually a shared space, and while I think she is right, it has only recently become this way), we women cooked and dished on men. 

When Matt and Michael returned, the conversation resumed. Matt pointed out how in the 1980/90s there was a change in Southern architecture that witness the den (male space) become a shared space with the kitchen. A bar often separated the two. I'm curious about the truth of his observation. When did the open floor plan take hold of the south? Was it something that the west coast or more urban areas embraced before we did? Very likely, but I'll get the facts from my architect cousin in Portland and let everyone know. 

For now, our group seemed content to interpret the bedroom as a female space. Then I remembered that my mother, in the last year or so, painted her shared bedroom pink. Not a soft pink, but a garish flamingo color. Light comes through the windows on late afternoon and it becomes for my parents what Dr. Charles Wilson calls "a sanctuary." And perhaps he's right. As I write, I am in my sanctuary. A bed with a heated blanket. 


Nehemiah said...

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer the grandparents describe their marriage and their house. They described each spouse's nothing area where they could go and simply be nothing. Over time these places overlapped and eventually consumed the entire home. That's what this made me think of.

Anonymous said...

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Elizabeth L said...

Architect cousin from Portland here, and I have to say I find this all very interesting. I think it is true that the traditional gender-owned spaces of the last century have beeen turned on their side and often shared in this century, at least since WWII, when the men left home and the women took over all the spaces, including the porch. I'm reminded of the old sitcom "227" where the ladies, not the men, sit outside connecting to the neighbors while smoking cigarettes and gossipping about the passers-by. This is a very urban context of the porch, and I believe that urbanity does gender-bend traditional roles in the home. I've been living in a super-urban context for over 10 years now, but I believe that in the rural corners of the South and Midwest the traditional roles still hold true, and the porch is still the territory of the man and his cigars and shotguns.

As for evolution of the open floorplan, I believe this became popularized in the US along the West Coast, but it goes all the way back to Europe, especially the Itallian Villa, or even earlier, the Greek Villa, which were organized around a central outdoor courtyard used to allow natural light and ventillation into the other rooms of the house. The warm climates demanded it in order to make the other spaces livable. As central heating and cooling were developed with the Moderns and the Bauhaus, this outdoor courtyard evolved into an open space indoors between the kitchen and living spaces, allowing the feminine space of the home (the kitchen)to become a panopticon of sorts. This refers to Michel Foucault's discussion of the self-regulation of prisoners when they are being watched from a central tower (panopticon) due to the fact that they never know when they are or are not being watched so the behave just in case... stay with me here... with the open floor plan the mother is able to keep her eye on the entire family from the central space of the kitchen and inso her productivity and effectiveness is heightened because the children know they are within view and therefore self-regulate.
The paternal/masculine space of the den is never included in the open spaces for just this reason. It is the haven of privacy that the bedroom used to be. Now (in most families)the bedroom has evolved into a unisex space, especially with master baths and huge split master closets attached- the master suite becomes like a luxury hotel/spa for adults- it is the refuge of the parental unit from the children while the kitchen and den are often the refuge of the couple from one another. In my house this is reversed because my husband is the chef. So the kitchen and bedroom are his refuge (he looooves to sleep) and the office and porch are my refuge. But we're not normal. But back to the open floor plan- it turns the old idea of central courtyard inside out, allowing all rooms to have access to the outside spaces by means of one central open space, allowing the home to become more permeable and accessible to light, activity and movement. In so the front and backyard spaces become connected and can be simultaneously served by the common spaces of the home, hence increasing the necessity of the parental panopticon. This is also why this plan developed in places with temperate climates like the West Coast and Southern Europe and then became popular in warm climates such as the Southern US.

That's a pretty long answer, but that's what you get for asking an architect for her humble opinion... i love your blog by the way, and take care!

xoxo, Elizabeth

Jack Pendarvis said...

House/Sex/Wars is a great title for a TV show!