Choose functionality over fashion in home design

Valuing function over fashion

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 23, 2011

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Valuing function over fashion

Arrol Gellner
Inman News™

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series.

Last time, I invoked Henry David Thoreau -- "Simplify, simplify!" -- to buttress my contention that the best design choice is usually the simplest one that does the job. Yet things appear to be going in the other direction. Following are some currently popular design choices that needlessly complicate our homes:

Glass shower enclosures have become the default standard in bathrooms these days, showing up in every trendoid design magazine, invariably looking dazzling and pristine. Such adoring coverage might lead you to believe that shower curtains don't even exist anymore.

What's wrong with glass enclosures? First off, compared to the alternative -- our old friend, the shower curtain -- they're astronomically expensive. They're also a real headache to maintain, since those crystal-clear panes require constant cleaning to maintain that coveted magazine-spread sparkle. Lastly, they unnecessarily clutter up what is already a modestly sized room.

A $10 shower curtain, on the other hand, stops water just as well and can be drawn back to virtually disappear from the scene. Nor is there any slavish daily cleaning required -- when a shower curtain gets objectionably scuzzy, you can simply replace it and recycle the old one as a drop cloth.

Kitchens are another nexus of bad or impractical choices made for fashion reasons. Let's start with all those cabinet doors: Cabinet manufacturers delight in whipping up showroom kitchens with a plethora of doors: big doors, little doors, narrow doors, glass doors -- and with good reason: the more doors, the more profitable the order.

More doors don't equate to a more functional kitchen, however. A few generous cabinets with wide doors provide much better access to kitchen items. Even simpler, frequently used items can simply be left -- gasp! -- out in the open, just as they are in commercial kitchens. In short, generous, flexible storage areas beat a lot of little special-purpose cubbies, no matter how quaintly conceived.

Incidentally, with all due respect to closet organizer companies, the same holds true for closet space: The fewer subdivisions, the more flexible the storage space will be.

Faucets, both in bathrooms and in kitchens, have reached a zenith of functional absurdity. A client of mine, for instance, recently insisted on a very trendy and expensive kitchen faucet, but all she really got for her money was an ergonomic disaster.

For reasons that can only be ascribed to style, the single control lever stuck out from the right side of the spout, requiring a very unnatural sideward arm motion to control the flow. Worse, instead of observing the time-honored standard of "hot on the left, cold on the right," the manufacturer expected users to choose the temperature by rotating the lever forward and backward.

Needless to say, all this was virtually impossible for any first-time user to figure out -- and it's worth bearing in mind that homeowners aren't the only people who use the kitchen sink.

Why complicate your life in this way, especially when an ordinary faucet, a simple shelf, or a plain old shower curtain actually does the job better? I'm sure that Henry David Thoreau -- when he wasn't busy keeping his accounts on his thumbnail -- would have agreed.

Read Arrol Gellner's blog at, or follow him on Twitter: @ArrolGellner.

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