Does your home have one of these design features? You’re living in the past


In a recent series of blog posts, architect Deryl Patterson of Housing Design Matters in Jacksonville took a “trip down memory lane” to discuss design elements that were hot in their day, but have since been cast aside by builders and buyers alike.

Take the sunken living room, which was popular from the 1950s to the early 1980s. It was built a step or two below the rest of the floor to delineate the importance of the space for entertaining. It was the most impressive room in the house. Builders thought they were “dramatic,” wrote Patterson, but in reality, these spaces just “gobble up square footage” that could have been better used elsewhere in the house.

Worse, they were a tripping hazard: At least one builder, on the advice of counsel, added a handrail and warning signs to the sunken living room in a model home.

Patterson has the same disdain for formal living rooms in general. It’s basically a “show room” — a special spot in the house that’s always clean, but rarely used until guests drop by. Again, that square footage could be put to better use elsewhere.

“As a young designer working on custom homes, my clients would tell me they never used their (formal) living room, but felt they needed it for resale,” Patterson wrote. “After hearing this so many times, I began to wonder: Who was this phantom living room buyer?”

Surprisingly, the architect doesn’t take on dining rooms, another space that sees little use apart from special occasions. Many have predicted the demise of dining rooms, especially as housing prices have skyrocketed. But there they still are, in practically every model house across the land.

Nowadays, the design trend is to offer up “the most expensive view possible from the front door,” Patterson wrote. But that wasn’t always the case. In my teenage years, the door usually opened to a wall, likely for privacy reasons.

Then, architects decided the view from the front door needed to be as long and light-filled as possible, perhaps including a bank of windows or sliding glass doors opening to the backyard. That meant looking across the living room, but never into the kitchen — “and heaven forbid a view of the kitchen sink!” the architect wrote. After all, in previous eras, “kitchens were closed off from the rest of the house,” Patterson remembers, “as if the person cooking or cleaning up wasn’t a part of the family.”

Today, kitchens are a work of open-space art, with beautifully designed islands, furniture-grade cabinets, striking countertops and designer faucets.

Kitchen islands have gone through a major metamorphosis, too. At one time, they were more like peninsulas holding a sink that faced inward toward the rest of the house. That was a major improvement over placing the sink on the back wall looking outside through the obligatory window. Then came the “bat wing island,” with counters coming off each side of the centered sink. But as Patterson recalls, this took too much square footage while also cutting into the surface area of the counters.

It was eventually replaced by the rectangular island — a “win-win” for both owners and builders because it was easier and more affordable to build, and more inviting for family and friends.

Corner bathtubs have also gone by the wayside. But there was a time when soaking tubs were set on a 45-degree angle between counters on either side, usually with separate sinks. “The concept looked better on the floor plan than in realty,” Patterson wrote. “Attempting to clean the far corner of the tub became a task only Stretch Armstrong could handle.”

Tiny, 3-by-3-foot showers are outdated, too. Placed next to a bathtub, they were thought to be an improvement over a tub-shower combo. But they are simply too small. I have twice bought a house that came with one of these showers, and in both cases, I took them out, replacing them with larger ones. Patterson calls these showers part of a “dark age of residential architecture.”

Two-story entry foyers and family rooms are yesterday’s news, too. They were inspired by custom houses with grand foyers and sweeping stairways, but these spaces proved expensive to heat and cool, and the stairs often became cluttered with shoes, books and backpacks. And when square footage was needed elsewhere and the foyer’s footprint shrunk, the space could feel “like an elevator shaft,” Patterson wrote.

Two-story family rooms were similarly impractical, often lined with so many windows that it was difficult to watch TV without sunglasses.

Meanwhile, 8-foot ceilings have given way to 9- and 10-foot ones. Patterson called 8-footers another part of the residential design dark ages: “They just don’t feel as good” as higher ceilings, she said.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at