Designing a sociable home
WellBeing|WellBeing #196
Architecture and interior design can help build our personal relationships, and numerous design strategies can nurture fertile ground for social interaction. We explore how to foster feelings of togetherness and set the tone for sociable life at home.
JESSICA BELLEF
Humans have been communing around a fire since the first flintstones were bashed together to ignite a spark. Archaeologists and anthropologists suggest that tending fires and performing rituals taught Homo sapiens how to plan, cooperate and possibly even speak. Those early gatherings established the essential social interdependence of human groups. We are social creatures, and our mental and physical health is closely tied to our connection with others.

Loneliness manifests when a person feels a mismatch between the relationships they have and those they want, and when the innate need to belong to a group is unmet. According to research on the impacts of COVID-19 on health and wellbeing, conducted by Swinburne University at the end of 2020, one in two Australians reported feeling lonelier since the onset of the pandemic. The social isolation and loneliness widely experienced during the crisis exemplifies how vital meaningful social relationships are.

A home’s design plays a significant role in an individual’s ability to survive and thrive. Jenna Mikus is the founder of Eudae Group LLC, a Washington DC-based design consultancy that advises clients about how to enhance the connection between people and the built environment. The business name stems from the ancient Greek word “eudaemonia”, loosely translating to a state of human flourishing and happiness. “We look at understanding how you can design homes, in addition to offices, commercial spaces and more, to enable people to be their best, or ‘eudaemonic’, selves,” says Mikus.

Mikus believes that a sociable home “equates to meaningful connection — to the self, to others and to nature.” The concept drives the work of The Sociable Weaver, an Australian design and building company dedicated to creating sustainable, community-minded and functional homes that foster a sense of belonging for the dwellers. As their website states, “We’re interested in creating homes and streetscapes that open people up to one another, that cultivate meaningful relationships while still allowing residents to find the solitude they need in their daily lives.”

Creating a home that nurtures relationships goes hand in hand with addressing each household member’s needs. It’s a delicate balance but one that’s completely achievable.

Embrace open-plan design

Reece Stubbs, general manager of The Sociable Weaver, believes that an open-plan home is hugely integral to facilitate feelings of togetherness. A central hub that inhabitants often pass through will naturally create more meeting moments. “Everyone enjoys their privacy, which can be achieved by ensuring bedrooms are separated and private, but a central open-plan living space will encourage the day-to-day interaction between inhabitants,” says Stubbs.

Drawing on a concept from urban design, “serendipitous interaction” refers to those fleeting moments of random interactions with people in day-to-day life. When used in an office context, it can relate to catching up with a workmate at the water cooler or passing someone in a breakout space or hallway. Current research has proven that serendipitous interactions are beneficial to productivity, team morale and general wellbeing.

“The same applies to an open-plan home with communal areas,” Mikus offers. “Throughout the day, you casually see the people you live with, but can also retreat to a private area to work, read, play or do hobbies.” Open-plan homes are highly communal, but the ability to compartmentalise the spaces for solitude and time out needs to be present for true house harmony. “The magic lies in striking a balance,” says Mikus.

Allow for personalisation

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