A Case Study on Modern Living

Home is where the square-footage is.

 

While the average home size continues to grow, that space comes at a premium many Americans can’t afford. But what if you could increase the size of your current living space without the cost and headache of construction?

 

This reframe of modern living makes the most out of a room by combining the functionality of a desk and a table into a single, efficient piece of furniture. 

What is Modern Living? 

The first step to understanding how we might reform modern living is to set the criteria that created "modern" to begin with. Modernist designers and architects championed the use of new materials and technologies as well as simplicity of form to create beautiful, yet functional designs. 

A prominent method used to accomplish these ideas was modularity, the practice of designing with standardized dimensions to allow for flexible use within a system.

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Historically, the world has been designed according to a standard. While designing for an average can be helpful and sometimes even necessary, it does not come without consequences.

The issue with these standards is that they've been created using almost exclusively the male form. The Vitruvian Man (Vitruvius), The Modulor (Le Corbusier), and the Measure of a Man (Henry Dreyfuss), all reflect a lack of consideration for how women might interact with a design.

Although the impact of this process is often an inconvenience such as difficulty reaching something, this article provides a look into how this design practice has much more serious consequences.

 

As the author points out, something as critical as protective equipment for emergency services professionals is designed for a male standard, resulting in 95% of women saying that their equipment kept them from doing their job

properly. Even more surprising is that women are also at a higher risk when involved in a car crash due to the absence of female crash dummies in safety testing.

EXCLUSIVELY MALE FORM

WOMEN AT HIGHER RISK

 
The Measure of Woman

STANDARD FOR WOMEN

To explore this issue further, I conducted my own experiment to collect data on what a standard based on women would look like. 

In a temporary exhibition, over the course of 3 hours, I mapped the dimensions and general forms of 20 women. 

Although the exercise was designed to be rather quick in order to not inconvenience the participant, I was intrigued 

to find a high level of consistency across the measurements which supported the argument in favor of using a standard.

 

CONSISTENCY IN MEASUREMENTS

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However, when considering ways to design for all people, I could not ignore the reality that living spaces are fixed 

dimensions. Therefore, I decided that it was more important to first work on how someone might adapt an existing space to the needs of their lifestyle. Once the space was designed to function well, then I could dive into the process of expanding the demographics that the design caters to. 

DAILY NEEDS

TRANSFORM

Furniture as Architecture

On an architectural level, Mies van der Rohe designed the Illinois Institute of Technology campus on a 24x24 grid, or, modular system. This grid was determined from first knowing the size of the rooms which would accommodate the particular furniture, then how big each building needed to be to accommodate the rooms, and so on. 

This level of order and deliberate design allowed the campus to function the way it needed to. It inspired me to explore how we, in the present day, might better design our spaces and the things that fill them.

But first, how are spaces and products designed to accommodate people now?

EFFICIENT

SERVE NEEDS

 
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Without furniture, it can be argued that a living space is just a shell. Many of life's events from basic needs to cherished memories are empowered by our furniture. This is why it is so meaningful to think about it as a tool, a space-maker.

In this article, Professor Deborah Schneiderman presents several examples where furniture is considered on not only a modular level, but even further, incorporated into the structure. Schneider specifically refers to the way Corbusier's Maison Domino altered the way housing was thought of structurally and influenced the emergence of an open floorplan. Without creating enclosed rooms, designers used furniture to serve as designation for each space, as illustrated in Mies van der Rohe's Tugendhat House. They gave their clients freedom to live the way they wanted to in their home.

FREEDOM

ACTIVITY ORGANIZER

 
Shriveling Living Spaces

In 2018, the average rent for a new apartment was 28% more than it was in 2008. More puzzling is the fact that at the same time the prices were going up, the square footage went down by 5%.

As Rentcafe.com suggests, the demographic that makes up the biggest percentage of apartment renters are young adults who highly value the location of their apartment. Young adults are also more likely to be paying back student loans and as a result, are looking for a smaller, 

more affordable home to cut down on costs. Due to 

demand, smaller apartments are becoming more and morecommon, creating limitations on how one might live. 

HIGHER RENT

SMALLER SPACE

Defining Furniture
 

This prompted me to think about the value of space and how often it is inefficiently used. I took common pieces of furniture and compared them to find ways they could be combined in an effective manner. 

After observing the similarities between the dining table and the desk, I decided to iterate on that concept to see what potential it had. 

MAKING THE MOST OUT OF EACH SQUARE INCH

 

Testing and Tinkering

EXTRA

SURFACE

UNFOLDING

KIT OF PARTS

CHANGEABLE SURFACE

EXPANDING

WITH JOINTS 

STORING SURFACES

WITHIN

JOINERY

NO ADDITIONAL MECHANISMS

GUIDE

FINAL SKETCHES

HINGE

(closed)
(open)
Iterations

Through sketching, prototyping and 3D modeling, I explored the formal and mechanical aspects that could make up a desk or dining table. I wanted to think about both the legs and the table top in a way that separated them from how we traditionally view them. I decided on the concept of having an additional tabletop hinged to one of the same size. By pulling out the legs, they would support the extra surface when opened.  

FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Mentorship

I started by gluing up two pieces of pine to make both 24"x36" surfaces. I planed them both down to ensure they were flat throughout the process.

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Next, I attached one surface to a skirt for added stability and to serve as the structure for where the legs would move in and out.

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1

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As I was screwing the leg into the bottom of the surface, I decided that I didn't need to drill a pilot hole...I was incorrect in that assessment. 

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Similar to a drawer, I attached a cross piece along the length of the table in the center. This acted as a guide for the front legs to slide in and out and support the second surface once flipped out.

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 As I was finishing my prototype the Friday before my Monday 

critique, the woodshop closed unexpectedly. Fortunately, I had another option.

"Unexpected events can set you back or set you up. It's all a matter of - perspective."

Mary Anne Radmacher

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Beyond allowing me to work there, he suggested and assisted me with some techniques that I hadn't worked with before. Since these adjustments required additional wood, he also offered me some of his walnut. 

 

Pictured right is where we used a chisel and a plane to create an inset surface for the hinges to fit into and be flush when open. 

My mentor from my woodworking apprenticeship graciously agreed to let me finish my prototype at his shop in San Antonio. So I loaded it up and drove to San Antonio.

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Another adjustment made was routing out a channel in the slide attached to the front legs. Instead of a cross piece, I inserted a screw through the channel toward the front so that the legs would catch when pulled forward and not come out all the way.

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FUNCTIONING PROTOTYPE

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Further Tinkering

Once I built and tested this prototype, I explored a different concept. I took another one of my sketches and 3D modeled it. I designed the new prototype in a way that it could be cut out with a CNC router and only require one 4'x8' sheet of MDF. Unfortunately, the labs closed before this could be done due to COVID-19. However, the process shown below still provided new insights on how these pieces can interact.

3D Model
CNC Plans

The Infinite Process

 

Throughout this study, I have learned an immense amount. The most meaningful realization has been that the path to the right answer often takes a while. I haven't found the perfect solution to how we might accommodate the present day lifestyle yet, but I am continuing this exploration energized and optimistic about what I will discover next. 

The Exhibition That Never Was...

 

This project was created as a part of the University of Texas at Austin

B.F.A Design Capstone Exhibition

For more work from our exhibition, please visit:

https://utexhibition.design

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the entire Design Faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, especially:

Alyson Beaton

Kate Canales

Kate Catterall

Jon Freach

Gray Garmon

Kelcey Gray

Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness

Dr. Monica Penick

Jose Perez

Jim Walker

Jason Wilkins

Scott Witthoft

I am incredibly grateful for your guidance and the knowledge you have imparted. Each of you has supplied me with the skill set I needed in order to explore this concept and beyond.
I would also like to thank architectural historian Dr. Christopher Long from the UT School of Architecture, without whom I would not have been enlightened to the world of the built environment and the wonderful ways it can influence design in other disciplines.
In addition I would like to thank my mentor Walter Spencer, craftsman and owner of Woodstory, for generously sharing his knowledge of woodworking and resources with me. This effort would not have been possible without him. 
Finally, I want to dedicate this work to the memory of Gerald Melcher (1935-2019), the ultimate craftsman, designer, and grandfather. 
Front and Side Views