Some new friends invited us to their boat docked in Lake Union, here in Seattle. This is the first year they’ve been at this dock and they are trying to get to know the other boat owners.  Although they’ve owned their boat for 5 years, they were docked at two other marinas with beautiful boats and tighter security but they were “dead”.  They were looking for more social interaction.   People they could recognize and say hello to.

I have never been a boater and did not grow up in a boating family, so I don’t know what it’s all about.  But it was obvious from the time I set foot on the dock  that part of the fun of boating is just to enjoy it while it is docked…which  means enjoying the  folks hanging out on the neighboring boats.

I know this is true for camps back east.  I know people that leave their homes on an acre or more, to go to their ‘camp’…a camper/trailer that is parked in a campground all year long.  The camper may be all of 12 feet wide and their whole campsite may be 30 feet wide.  They spend their summer weekends and more  hanging out in this small space just to be social with the other campers.  They sit outside and chat with everyone that walks by.  They drive their golf cart or ATV around the campground and say hello to everyone they meet.  They spend the day cooking, eating, tinkering around and being social.  They spontaneously  invite passersby to join them at their picnic table or around their fire  for drinks or dessert.  They go to a friend’s camper for dinner or morning coffee.  They take walks.

The same seemed to be true for the boaters.  They walked the dock and chatted with other boaters.  They wave or shout to everyone that walks or boats by.  They invited people for appetizers or spontaneously accepted an offer of margaritas from Keith, the guy who has a perfectly good house three blocks up the hill from the dock in a very desirable neighborhood…but he chooses to live on his houseboat that’s decked out in party lights and palm trees.

I find myself longing for the same thing this summer.  To take off and set up tent camp at a campground somewhere and narrow life down to making meals, tinkering around, watching the boys play, chatting with others and hopefully sharing a spontaneous margarita or a meal with a fellow camper.

I find it interesting that when we want to get away, take a break from our schedules and responsibilities, many of us move toward opportunities to be social with other people…even strangers!

At the same time, how many of us incorporate opportunities for social interaction into our everyday homes and lots?  We put up 6 foot fences around our yards.  We choose the homes with the bigger lot, further from neighbors, set back from the sidewalk and street.  We orient our lives toward the back yard and ignore the front yard and front porch (if we have one).  We choose neighborhoods with no destinations within them…no reasons for people to walk along the sidewalks.  All in the name of ‘privacy’.

We do design into our homes wonderful spaces for socializing like big social kitchens or back decks and patios for planned BBQs or parties.  But these interactions take some effort to instigate.  We have to coordinate schedules and invite people, grocery shop, cook, etc.

We don’t spend much thought or effort designing for spontaneous social interaction with neighbors walking by.  These are the freebies.  No planning involved.  A chat at the sidewalk or the fence.  A beer on the front porch.  These seem to be the same kind of social interactions we seek out at boat docks and campgrounds.

And I have to wonder….are we lonely at home?

I have come to call the type of home design process we went through, “intentional design“. I could call it “family functional” but it is absolutely applicable if there is only one person that will be living in the space. The idea behind intentional design is that life has been considered…ALL aspects of life…today and in the future. How we live now, how we long to live and how life will change into the future. These ideas are supported functionally by the space, first. The home is really designed “from the inside out”, on many levels.
Here is an example:
On the top of my list of things I would rather not spend time doing, as a mom, is cleaning. Everything I can do to minimize the time spent cleaning or picking up, doing laundry, etc. is incorporated into the house design. I don’t want to spend time cleaning or spend any energy thinking about cleaning. It takes away from everything else I would much rather do… fun times with the family, friend time, exercise time, work time for me.   I don’t want to be stressed when friends drop in if my house is a huge mess. I want the design of the house to make it easy to maintain some semblance of cleanliness and organization with little effort on my part….and easy for the rest of the family to have rituals that keep the house clean. 
In addition, being able to maintain a “shoe free” living space should cut down on unhealthy stuff being tracked into the home, improving air quality.  Intentionally incorporating this into the design can make it much easier to achieve a shoe free home.

Here is one of the ways I am trying to achieve this (hopefully not impossible) dream!

There is a dirty zone and a clean zone. The dirty zone, our mud room, has everything a dirty adult or child would need to access. The mud room is rather large as mud rooms go. It is separated from the “clean zone” ie. the rest of the house, by a door. Ah, the door. That wonderful visual reminder that says, “NO, you may not come in here looking like that.”

There are two other doors in the mud room that lead to the outside…two different sides of the house. Why two? Because we humans can be pretty lazy and tend to go in the door closest to us. Even if it is not the mud room door…AND we have muddy feet. So to accommodate laziness, there are two doors.

The mud room is equipped with a small bathroom. No need to come in the main house when you gotta go so badly you can’t stop to take your shoes off, or your dripping wet from a hose fight, or plastered with grass clippings from use of the weed whacker.

The mud room also has a utility sink and countertop for all those messy projects…cleaning paintbrushes, potting plants, washing muddy hands or caked baseball cleats, or even wonderful art projects.

There are cabinets galore to hold all the sports and beach equipment that tends to be full of hidden sand or dirt, cleaning supplies, shoes, winter gear, biking gear and tools. No need to keep those things in your room or the attic. There is a long bench for sitting to take off shoes and boots and is long enough to accommodate several kids after a few hours of sledding in the park.

The mud room is also home to the dog and all of his necessities. This is where he gets fed and watered. He has a bed in the mud room to access from his dog door. The door to the rest of the house can stay closed and keep him contained when we need him to be….still with access to a nice warm house but not able to track muddy paws up on the couch to take a nap. I want my dog to have indoor/outdoor access when he wants it…I just don’t want to clean up after him. And I know my life will always be full of dogs.

The mud room is where the trash and recycling go out the door. It is also where the groceries from the car get unloaded while it’s raining.

The finishes are all rugged and easy to clean. No ridges or bumpy surfaces that hold dirt. Just smooth surfaces. The cabinets are easy to wipe off. Did I mention the door to the rest of the house?

So, whereas mud rooms in many houses occupy maybe a four foot by six foot space mostly taken up by the swing of the door, I am declaring the mud room ELEVATED in importance. Perhaps to the top of the list. In exchange, I anticipate less carpet cleaning, less sweeping, less “reminding” to take off shoes, less yelling, less chasing children back outside followed by a trail of mud, less dirty paw prints on my comforter, less frustration….and more peace. I hope to achieve this…through this intentional design process. For me, it’s how I “long” to live.