This week, we present the first of a special series called “Post-Occupancy” in which we feature the experience of the owner-dweller in different types of architectural spaces. Our goal is to present architecture by letting the users narrate for themselves what it means to them, how they experience it, how it has transformed them. We pose the questions. What do owners want? What do they need? How do they experience their homes after they’ve lived in them for a while?
Often, architectural discourse begins and ends with the designer. Here, the owners come first. They provide the answers in their own words, without the dialect of the discipline mediating what they say.
In this first installment, the goal was to examine the experience of domestic space from the point of view of a globe-trotting intellectual couple. James Massengale and Tracey Sands are both scholars. And as is the way of many academics, they have more than one residence: one in the United States and one abroad, located in the region of their studies. In this case, that is Scandinavia. And this is what they had to say.
More after the break.
What were the elements of a house that you were looking for that would make it a home for you? Was the location, for example, density or view, part of your decision?
We took a very long time to search before making an offer on the Colorado home—we had that luxury because Tracey was living in an apartment here and I was still working in California. We essentially scoured the area, eliminating areas north and west of Denver one by one. We finally settled on a close-in mountain area (backside of the ridge overlooking the main drag, Broadway, in Boulder). This was optimal for quality-of-life issues and practicality, the most important points being:
—Mountain living: lovely views looking more isolated than the spot actually is; peaceful area with deer jumping around, neighbors close enough to be friends but not right on top of us, small (1/2 acre) lot, closest neighbor about 100 yards away, cul de sac keeps motor noise away.
—Access to town but without city lights or noises, the access road is 5 minutes from Broadway in normal weather, a back trail can be hiked down to the main drag in 15 minutes. A possible miscalculation: a couple of switchbacks make driving hazardous in really deep snow: ordinarily 5-10 really bad days in winter when we would be cut off except for county plows and Tracey’s Subaru. Tracey was opposed to living off major canyon arteries because of crazy drivers especially in icy conditions.
—Important fire protection by a superb local team, and the water supply protected by a reservoir (not Boulder city water)—these two items extremely important in this naturally dry part of the country, as global warming affects this high mountain area.
—Personal needs: Jim needs space for a grand piano and music-making with friends (translates into need for high ceiling living room and space for instrument away from heat sources), Tracey needs access to horses (her choice was not, however, to wish for a barn in this mountain lion district, but to stable her horse on the plain, a half-hour away).
What are the most important spaces in your home? What, if anything, have you done to transform them?
The house (built late 1980’s) is built into the bedrock (lucky because wind can occasionally reach 80-90 mph), and its perch looks more precarious than it actually is. The house was clearly designed to maximize views toward south, west and north (all mountain views). 1100 feet of deck wraps around the house. The strange “beach house” stairway entry is often avoided by guests, and the kitchen entrance is also 14 steps down on the other side. You only understand this odd construction when you are in the living-dining-kitchen area below, which has large windows and panoramic views. Three bedrooms and 3 ½ baths are for our long-distance guests that we have expected since moving to a part of the country where we have no family or old friends.
We made one major change: a library for our Scandinavian collection, ca. 10,000 volumes. We found an unfinished space in the large basement area (400 sq. ft. with plywood floor, studs, no ceiling) and invested in a “seminar room” with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The finished part of the basement area became our oversized office, with wet bar and TV-watching. Cable connection is necessary because reception up here can be poor without it.
You have a residence in Scandinavia—where? Is it a free-standing structure or not and if not, where is it located (i.e. suburb, densely populated urban zone, rural area)? Why did you choose this area?
We divide our time, as Scandinavian researchers, between Colorado and Sweden (9 mo.-3 mo.). We rent in Sweden. The choice was made by Jim as a graduate student who had a grand piano on its way and could not get an apartment in Uppsala for a dissertation study year. A one-year rental on a rural farm (18 mi. from Uppsala, 33 mi. from Stockholm) has become a life-long commitment, to which Tracey has gladly attached herself. The Swedish family is—family. No decision was originally made regarding the living space in the beginning. It is one wing of an old (1809) manor house, with a large kitchen-dining area, a bedroom and a living room. Guest accommodations are upstairs in the manor, due to the kindness of the Swedish family. Reasonable proximity to Uppsala and Stockholm libraries, but requires owning a car (we finally have one that doesn’t break down).
How are the elements you felt were important in your home in the United States realized there, or are the elements you were seeking different?
Our social life is more active in Scandinavia, and we do investigative research there, travel to various libraries, photograph old church paintings and sculptures, etc. Music activities in Sweden have been professional at times (radio, TV) but Jim’s primary occupation was teaching as UCLA. The home library in Sweden is smaller, used for new purchases and sorting during the summer. We usually send 80-100 lbs. of books back to the U.S. each time we leave Sweden. Colorado is our place for consolidating research materials and writing.
Do you perceive cultural differences that shape your ability to express your spatial demands? In other words, are there cultural differences regarding spatial layout (plan), square-footage, or other amenities between the two residences which have shaped your own ways of expressing your needs (i.e. kitchen/cooking, research/library, other living space).
Our smaller home in Sweden is a summer residence (although we have access to it year round and occasionally visit in the winter). It is kept open and our contact with our Swedish family and friends is constant. Since Sweden is our “target” area for research, we engage in more cultural activity there (opera, archaeological sites, churches, art and music) than in Colorado. Activities such as cooking are much the same except for the use of marvelous Swedish local products (mushrooms from local woods, fish, cultured milk, fine cheeses and hearty bread).
Are there other cultural differences in how one views a home and/or inhabits a home? If there are any, do you feel that these have shaped the way you live in your home in these two different countries.
The home in Colorado was meant to be something of a refuge, and it functions well that way, but only the physical part. We find that we are much more “connected” than we thought we would be: Skype, e-mail, Google, etc. keep us together with our fellow researchers and to an increasing extent with various libraries via the Internet.
[And a further comment:]
Would we stay where we are??
It would take a great deal to remove us from our Swedish home, ever. Jim has been at the farm for more than 40 years already. The Colorado experiment has been a rewarding investment for the last 5-6 years, but has also taught us a good deal about how to purchase a single-family home, what questions to ask, how to accommodate our needs in a new living space, what issues to consider crucial, how to size up a residential area and a home for potential living. We could transfer this knowledge, I think, to another purchase in some other area, especially if Tracey’s employment needs demanded it.