On Accepting Defaults

My Dad is moving into a house I rehabbed a few years back. He’s doing so after leaving a several year relationship. The house is unfurnished and has blank walls — a clean slate.

My Dad’s belongings mainly consist of the standard personal items and clothing as one would expect, but the remainder is heavily weighted by books, vinyl records, and audio equipment (he’s a freelance audio/radio engineer). As for furniture, he’s got some old library tables and bookshelves. He bought a bed right away so he’d have something to sleep on but otherwise, that’s about it. He says he’s not going to rush out and get more furniture right away. Instead, he’s going to set up what he has and fill in any missing things intentionally, as he discovers a need.

In walking though the house now scattered with unpacked boxes while listening to his plans, he also talked about how he was going to arrange the the house and the functions of the various rooms. He’s doesn’t plan to entertain guests regularly, if at all, so there’s likely no need for couches. Instead, what some would turn into the living room, and the space that has always been used as such by previous inhabitants, he’s going to turn into his library. Bookcases covering almost every wall, and a large table in the middle. Because it is just him, he does not see the need for a dining room. The room some naturally would use for that function would, for him, be an office. There’s a room off the living room that I have come to call the sunroom. For him, that is to be a project/craft workspace. He said, “I’m going to design the space for how I live my life, not other people’s.”

It got me thinking about defaults. How most homes are build and laid out with a standard concept in mind. If I were to ask ten people to draw the floorplan of a home, I’d likely get the same general picture from each. The front door would lead to a living room then to a dining room then to a kitchen. That would be the central flow with rooms hanging off of that. That’s the default.

Most of us move into a new house and move the couches into where we assume the couches should go and the dining table into what we assume is the place that such activities are supposed to happen. We accept the defaults. But why?

Furthermore, despite the likely fact that 99% of the homes in Western society are designed this way, why do we simply accept this without considering how we personally live and if that designs fits us? Why do we instead fit into the design we’re given? Why would someone who loves to cook and entertain not have the dining room right inside the front door and a large kitchen after that? Would they choose to have a “living room” at all? Writer Umberto Eco has largely converted his entire home into a library, which makes sense for a writer and scholar. Why not others who consider themselves such?

The truth is, this is not just about our living spaces but the many, many, areas of life where we simply accept the defaults we’re given. There are many things we do just because that’s the way they’re done or that’s what others expect or that’s what they called this. We never stop to question and decide if this fits us and how we live.

All of this is just to get myself (and hopefully you, dear reader) thinking about all of these defaults and consider if that is what works for us and how we live and, if we’re able, to consider rejecting those defaults and forging our own path.