Simplicity’s Versatility

I saw the house as becoming my own creation within a traditional frame, in much the same way as a poet pours his vision of life into the traditional form of a sonnet.   May Sarton


We shape our dwellings, afterwards our dwellings shape us.  Winston Churchill


For being an old house, Simplicity has amazing flexibility.   As our needs and whims have changed in the use of rooms, she has exhibited a graciousness to this fruit basket upset or Mad Hatter’s tea party where things and people move.  Her simple design has been the secret ingredient, allowing an idea to shape a room like putty.


So many rooms of this house have lived multiple lives. The backroom off the kitchen was a tailor’s workspace in another life.  Prior to that, this room was likely to have been the pantry, as the wall of built-in cupboards missing their doors seems to indicate.  With its proximity to the kitchen, we momentary thought of using this as a dining space.  Further consideration said it was too small, plus I had always longed to have a home library.  This seemed ideal. Not only could this back room hold a wall of books, it provided a place for quieting activities. With the decision to not have a television in the living room, putting a small one here felt perfect, offering just enough space for two people to settle into their comfy upholstered chairs to watch a movie on a cold winter’s eve.  As Don’s photography business acquired several scanners and printers, one the size of a loveseat we lovingly call HUGO, the library location was the most likely place to house them.  The library let go and easily transformed into Don’s office.


Where would the comfy chairs and television find home?  What the floorplans call the front bedroom on the second floor, Don and I never considered as a room for sleeping.  Almost immediately we named it the Pondering Room.  The spirit of this room invited creative thoughts for writing or reading or art, not sleeping.  To accommodate our growing love of pages with a cover held together by a spine, a large bookcase was placed along one wall.  The room was pleasant enough, but after a year, we realized that we never pondered in the pondering room.  Around that same time, we took a drive into Amish country and became more aware of simple living.  We returned home and zero based the room, a process I used in my consulting with client spaces.


Zero basing a room requires taking everything out, including art work on the walls.  When the room is completely empty, the question is asked, “What is the intention of this room and what is the single most important piece of furniture to accommodate this?” As Don and I asked this question of the room, one item at a time was moved into place until we became aware that one more piece would overwhelm and alter the intention of the room.  The culprit in this case was the oversized bookcase with its many volumes and random knick-knacks. Too much visual noise to be able to ponder.  As we simplified the room, we simplified and clarified our lives.


Over the years, the pondering room has been Don’s office, then mine, then studio space. Now it hosts television viewing for just the two of us and a more intimate conversation space.    If I want to have a very focused or confidential chat with a friend or family member, this is the room that best serves that conversation.  Light comes in through the two windows and makes this a happy room.  Looking into the pondering room from our bedroom, which is just outside its door, makes the bedroom feel more relaxed than looking into its previous function as an office.  In those days, the computer was visible while lying in bed and work was never far enough away from sleep.



When family moved in with us for several months while their house was being built, Simplicity’s versatility became most evident. Who knew her capabilities?  Who knew her playful spirit?  Don and I decided to move our bedroom to the finished basement.  This provided the entire upper floor for the family of four (plus one on the way and dog) to have their own space. Doors at the top and bottom of each of the two staircases further defined the family’s separate quarters.  The upstairs long term memory of once being as independent apartment quickly returned. With three bedrooms, a family living space, bathroom and laundry, the alteration in use suited the basic needs of the new tenants.   With each modification, Simplicity found a way to welcome the change of plans.  Her gracious hospitality was noted and appreciated.


Where hospitality happens most regularly is in the upstairs guest room, one of the busiest rooms of the house.  Located on the back corner of the second floor, it is the first room accessible by the back stairs. A door in the upper hallway closes off our living suite of bedroom, pondering room and bathroom. This allows guests to come and go without disturbing or being disturbed.  The room is small and simply appointed.  A cast iron bed, found for free alongside the road on Madeline Island, is the signature piece of this room. Guests frequently say that their best night’s sleep is when they visit Simplicity.  Known as the ‘visiting artist’ room, a framed print with that same title hangs on the wall.  It shows an artist with his paintings for sale, set up next to his 1940’s automobile. This print reminds us that all who arrive at Simplicity are artists of life. The colors and textures of each guest’s life provide a rich canvas of greater insight for our own lives. Every guest is a gift.


Perhaps the biggest stretch of Simplicity’s spatial ability happened when the family of four was living with us and we were in need of one more bedroom for about a week.  Another family member was to join us.  With thinking caps on, the only room that offered possibility was the main floor dining room.  Into the neighboring living room went the dining table and chairs.  One chair and an end table from the living room moved into the former dining soon to be a bedroom. Curtains on a tension rod were inserted in the wide opening between the two rooms to offer privacy. An air mattress was put into place. Simplicity beamed with the success of her greatest challenge.


A principle of architecture, form follows function, says that the shape of a building should be based on its intended function or purpose.   Within the function of Simplicity’s basic structure, form frequently becomes very creative.  Who would expect such cleverness from an old house?  Toss in the basic nature of her residents who relish moving things around.  Who knew a house could be such a fine playmate?  Something tells me we have not seen the last of this Mad Hatter’s tea party.

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