Tuesday, December 18, 2018

WASTED LIVING SPACE: The Modern Kaisersaal

Can't you just picture lolling all over the couches in this
 cozy living room?  What—you can't?
In upper-class German homes of the last century, it was common to have a chamber known as the Kaisersaal—an off-limits room containing all the owner’s best furniture and possessions, and kept spotless in case the Kaiser happened by for a visit. This, of course, was about as likely as Queen Elizabeth stopping by your place for Pop-Tarts.

Today we chuckle at the silly pretense of the Kaisersaal, but in fact many of us have the modern-day equivalent in our homes—formal, showy rooms that may contain our best furniture, but are seldom used except to impress visitors. Come on, admit it—do you spend more time in your so-called “living room”, or in your kitchen?

The formal dining room: It uses lots of space,
but it doesn't get much use.
That’s what I thought.

Following are some notorious modern-day Kaisersaals and their appurtenances, each with the trait of existing mainly for show:

•  The top Kaisersaal award goes to the living room. For the last fifty years, it’s been steadily declining in usefulness, finally becoming a sort of furniture showroom forbidden to family, friends, and pets. The only people who actually sit in most living rooms are guests you want to impress with your good housekeeping and impeccable taste—in other words, people you’re trying to fake out.

That pretentious tract house must-have,
 the soaking tub, is another space hog
that doesn't earn its keep.
There are two solutions to the living room dilemma. One: if you already have a living room, for heaven’s sake, do your family a favor and let them live in it. Two: if you have the luxury of starting from scratch, either design your new home with a living room that’s actually for living, or else forego it altogether in favor of a bigger family room and kitchen. Those are the rooms that actually get lived in.

•  The beloved “formal dining room” runs a close second in uselessness. Even the most devoted gourmands use their dining room but a few times a month. The rest of us just try to keep the dust off the woodwork. Why waste an entire room just so you can dine like Henry VIII once in a blue moon?  If you’re planning a new home, consider devoting the 150 square feet consumed by a formal dining room to a more functional purpose. And if you’re among the many already “blessed” with a formal dining room, why not resign yourself to a few spaghetti stains on the carpet, and actually eat there every day?

Here's a Kaisersaal two-for-one—a pompous
soaking tub and a fireplace. Hey lady,
watch out for that burning log!
•  The modern tract house master bath, with its space- and energy wasting whirlpool tub, is another Kaisersaal gimmick. Be honest now—do you actually use that big tub, or do you just want your friends to know you’ve got one? If my remodeling clients are any indication, the space consumed by a giant tub would be far more useful as extra storage. But closets just don’t have that Kaisersaal allure, which is why developers keep offering this white elephant, and why consumers keep buying into it.
If this guy stops by,
give him the good bedroom.

•  And speaking of pointless appurtenances, many new homes routinely feature two or even three fireplaces, despite the fact that hardly anyone uses them. If you’re serious about practical living, you can probably get away with one. Or none.             
And by the way—if an old German guy in a spiked helmet stops by, you might want to give him the big bedroom.

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