Moving walls, kitchen in a box: Functional design to accommodate modern lifestyles

Why live inside four walls when you can have moving walls? An exhibit at the National Building Museum showcases solutions to accommodate the country's housing needs.

WASHINGTON — In the 1950s, nuclear families represented 43 percent of American households. Now, they account for 20 percent. And while lifestyles and statistics have evolved over the years, the country’s housing supply, for the most part, has not.

“People now live with roommates, they live with adult family members, they have their mother move in with them, their adult children stay at home you really see a big range of people sharing their homes of all incomes and ages,” said Sarah Watson, deputy director of Citizens Housing & Planning.

“So the majority of households are these nontraditional households, but we keep designing households for that typical nuclear family.”

What does a nontraditional home look like? Head to the National Building Museum for an idea.

At the heart of the “Making Room: Housing for a Changing America” exhibit is Open House a 1,000-square-foot space that, over the span of 10 months, showcases how smart design can make a home functional throughout several scenarios, including living with roommates, living with a multigenerational family and aging in place.

Wall bed systems, retractable panels and closets concealed by bookshelves transform public living spaces into personal retreats. A height-adjustable kitchen countertop with an induction stove serves as a cookspace, table and workspace, making the kitchen versatile and wheelchair accessible.

“There’s no bedroom, there’s no dining room, there’s no living room. We have three living spaces and each of those spaces is multifunctional,” said curator Chrysanthe Broikos.

The Open House, designed by Italian architect Pierluigi Colombo, is currently in its second stage, highlighting design solutions for a multigenerational family. After Memorial Day, it will reflect the house of “empty nesters,” splitting the space into two independent homes.

The third and final layout will show how a homeowner can use the additional apartment as an income property and rent it out, or reserve it for a live-in family member or health care worker. Broikos said the highlight of this arrangement is the second kitchen, which unfolds out of a wall system.

“The entire exhibition is really focused on the fact that our housing today isn’t meeting who we really are, isn’t meeting our needs,” Broikos added.

Watson said there will always be nuclear families, and thus a need for houses to support them, but with almost 30 percent of American households comprised of single adults, she hopes the exhibit will inspire more diverse housing options.

“People just don’t live those linear, straightforward lives anymore,” she said.

“Making Room: Housing for a Changing America” runs through Sept. 16 at the National Building Museum. For more information, visit the museum’s website

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