Monday, April 16, 2018


Try having friendly dinner conversation with somebody
who's sitting right next to you.
Sometimes, a stupid idea just won’t die.  It’s certainly true of architecture, in which certain features appear over and over again despite their lack of practicality. Maybe people just get used to them, like we get used to a lumpy mattress, and we don’t realize what a drag it is until we’re rid of it. Here are some of my favorite stupid ideas in architecture.  I’ve got two of them in my own house, and I’m supposed to know better. How about you?

It's supposed to be a fireplace. So why does it look like a TV?
•  Kitchen eating bars. Your local restaurant can  give you a good clue as to why eating bars are stupid: no one wants to sit at one. They want a table instead. It’s bad enough eating at the bar when you’re alone, but it’s even more awkward when you’re not. It’s practically impossible to carry on a relaxed conversation with someone who’s sitting right next to you. This was one of those Modernist ideas that seemed to make perfect sense until someone actually tried to live with it. So why is it still with us?  

•  And as long as we’re in the kitchen, here's another dumb idea: cooking islands. People adore seeing them in magazines until they've got one in their own kitchen. Then they realize that everything they cook has to be carried across an aisle for no reason at all. In addition to needlessly interrupting the work area, islands waste a tremendous amount of floor space because they require generous isle space all around them. If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, that’s no problem. Otherwise, beware.

Bypassing closet doors:
Egad—no matter what I do, I can
only get to half of my clothes!
•  Fireplaces.  Once upon a time, a fireplace was a truly charming feature. Unfortunately, it was never a practical heat source, since it's actually negative in terms of thermal efficiency (the draft of the fire pulls cold air into the house faster than it adds heat).  As a result, energy-efficiency requirements have turned the charismatic old fireplace into little more than bland, gas-fired TV screen, with none of the crackling charm of yesteryear. Nevertheless, tract developers insist on featuring them in their new homes, where they’ve become little more than numerical status symbols, as in:  “5 bedrooms, 5 baths, 3 fireplaces.”  

•  Bypassing closet doors (often called sliding doors).  These are like those sliding-number puzzles in which you can’t get at one thing without moving something else.  Bypassing doors first caught on big way back in the 50s, so you’d think that after all these years, they would’ve died a merciful death. No such luck:  They’re inexpensive and easy to install, so tract builders and remodelers alike still love them.    

Vessel sinks: For people who love to clean their bathrooms,
and want it to be really, really difficult.
•  Top-mount sinks/vessel sinks. What’s that you say?  Cleaning the bathroom is too easy?  Then get a top-mount sink, which has a big fat flange that stands above the countertop. First, water will spill all over the place, and you won’t be able to wipe it back into the sink. Later, all kinds of interesting things will start growing around the edges. Still, whoever came up with this idea evidently didn't think it was stupid enough, and so they invented the vessel sink.

•  Double entrance doors.  We all love the idea of bursting through a pair of double doors, like the stars of an old MGM musical. But the reality is that, for security reasons, practically everyone locks one side of the door anyway. The net result: a door that’s actually narrower than the average single door. Fred and Ginger wouldn't stand that for a minute.  

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