The Future is Here: Adaptable Housing for the 21st-Century Household Comes to DC

November 17, 2017

In the early 1990s, the share of nuclear family households in the U.S. was overtaken by the number of single-person households. Yet today, most of the nation’s housing stock is still geared toward the former. This mismatch directly contributes to the dearth of adequate housing supply and affordability seen nationwide.

Now, the National Building Museum is mounting a new exhibit that highlights currently-available, yet lesser-known housing trends that are directly responsive to the modern household.

A walk through the Making Room: Housing for a Changing America exhibit showcases data about U.S. household demographics and current jurisdictional regulations that dictate the type, density and quantity of housing that is built. As we’ve seen over the past couple of years, many localities are giving a renewed look at their zoning codes. For example, DC (and, perhaps soon, Arlington and Prince George’s County) loosened its stipulations around construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which can provide lower-cost housing options for a wider array of needs.

There has also been a move in many urban areas toward unique housing solutions that are more efficient, such as prefabrication, tiny houses, home-sharing, coliving, and microunits. Some of those concepts have been successfully employed in the DC area, such as in Ditto Residential’s Oslo developments, WeLive, and the Ker Conway veteran residences.

However, the centerpiece of the NBM exhibit is a nearly 1,000 square-foot house configured as a three-bedroom, two-bath to show how four adult roommates can coexist in a dwelling that takes advantage of the latest universal design and adaptable furniture technology.

Designed by Italian architect Pierluigi Colombo, the house has two moveable walls and three wall beds with built-in storage. While the “roommates” layout is the first on display, the house will be reconfigured with a multi-generational household layout in late February, followed by a layout for an older couple aging in place in late May.

The 220 square-foot kitchen is the primary communal space, with a hydraulic natural stone island that can be adjusted for cooking and seating heights and has a built-in induction stovetop and scale. The cabinets have pull-down shelving units inside, a retractable TV and outlets, and LED lighting around the handles. A portion of the counter along the wall recedes downward to create a bar sink with the touch of a button.

The house doesn’t have a living room, per se, but has three bedrooms that can be adapted into living rooms. A simple couch surrounded by built-ins can be turned into a queen-size bed once the wall unit above the couch is pulled down. Sliding partition doors can separate the rooms or join them as a larger space. Large wall mirrors double as television screens. A desk can be pulled out into a dining table that seats ten people.

The largest of the rooms is a 246 square-foot bedroom for a couple with seven feet of wall closet space; this will later serve as a studio apartment for an elderly couple when the house is reconfigured next year. In its studio form, two of the 7 feet of closet space will be outfitted with a hideaway kitchen box.

Making Room is organized by the Citizens Housing & Planning Council and presented in partnership with Resource Furniture and Clei. The exhibit opens on Saturday and will run through September 16, 2018.

As published by Urban Turf – Nena Perry Brown – 11-16-17

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