Tuesday 16 July 2019

Community challenge - interior design tips to ease communal living problems

With shared living on the rise, making the most of your own space has never been so crucial

When co-living, your bedroom can also be the space where you study, as laid out in this interior from Ikea
When co-living, your bedroom can also be the space where you study, as laid out in this interior from Ikea
Pixers do bicycle wall murals and decals
Wire and Rope Bohemian Chair from April And The Bear
TK Maxx baskets and containers

The British sitcom The Young Ones (1982-84) presented a parody of student living in which the shared house was chaotic and personal possessions were up for grabs.

When the TV licence inspector asked where the toilet was, he was told "just follow your nose". Comedy though it was, anyone who was around in the 1980s knew at least one such student dive. Interior design just didn't come into it.

Now, shared living - the new buzz term is 'co-living' - is becoming trendy on a global level. In America, a recent survey claimed that the number of people living in shared accommodation has doubled since 1980. And, according to Ikea's new Life at Home Report, shared living is on the rise in cities around the world.

While young people have always teamed up with housemates in order to pay the rent, more people are now living in shared accommodation and they're staying there for longer. Usually, this is for economic reasons, but people also choose to live together because it's less lonely than living alone. The result is a new generation of homes with interiors designed for shared living.

When the Irish designer Seamus Moran was doing up his Manhattan loft as a house-share, he thought carefully about the layout of the space. "I was going to put all three bedrooms at the back to have a big communal living space, but then I realised that we might want separate hang-out areas. It's hard to live with people when there's only one shared space."

He put the bedrooms in the middle of the loft, where they created a natural partition between two communal areas: a living space at the front and a kitchen and dining area at the back.

Living with housemates over time, Moran came to realise the need for a clear division between communal and private property.

"There are certain things that you don't share. I lived with a South Indian mathematician who was a strict vegetarian and someone who was writing a book on meat." One day, the vegetarian came home and was horrified to find the meat-eater using his saucepans. After that, he kept his cooking utensils in his bedroom.

A television tends to dominate communal areas but, according to the Ikea survey, contemporary housemates are more likely to use their tablets than gather around the telly. "When we all got TVs, they soon became a central object in our homes and the TV room was the place where all family members got together. But today, TV doesn't have that same function as a social glue."

The way that we use technology is changing and this has changed the way that we design our homes.

"Much like television replaced radio and the fireplace, these devices may cause small but important changes to how we think of and use our spaces."

Following from this, the survey found that 23pc thought it was more important to have good Wi-Fi than to have "social spaces" at home.

The generation known as Millennials (18-29 years) were especially keen on using social media in the kitchen with 16pc eating or drinking online and 15pc posting pictures while cooking.

While there's something a little depressing about the thought of isolated people plugged in to separate devices, WiFi can also be used communally.

"One of the pleasures of living with people is sharing your cultural discoveries," says Moran. "I think it's important to have a decent stereo so people can use Bluetooth to play their music."

For Moran, one of the advantages of living with housemates is that it makes the home environment a stimulating place to be.

"Every time you come home there's something interesting going on, but that can be distracting too. It takes discipline to live with people and not get sucked in."

Lack of privacy is one of the challenges of shared living and this was also reflected in the Ikea survey. When people were asked what would improve their homes, more people wanted "more private space" than wanted "more social space".

"We need our own space," says the interior designer Anita Oakey of Aoki Interiors. "In a shared house or apartment, your bedroom will end up being your sitting room and possibly your study as well."

In terms of decoration, the communal space needs to appeal to everyone. It also needs to be clutter free. "Minimal is key and the key to minimal is proper storage," Oakey explains.

When people are living together, it's very important they're not tripping over each other's stuff. Furniture needs to be robust, with enough comfortable seating for everyone. Three good chairs and four housemates adds up to trouble.

Ikea, of course, has excellent value in multi-functional storage while TK Maxx has a good range of baskets and containers. Combine these with artwork or even wall decals that you can peel off when you leave. If you have to hang bicycles in the hall, make a feature of them with a bicycle wall mural from Pixers (€149).

"A lot of the people that I talk to want to invest in things that reflect their personality but don't have their own space just yet," says Siobhán Lam of the online retailer April And The Bear. "What I would always suggest is to focus on the space that is not shared - the bedroom."

She suggests you invest in items you can take with you when you leave: large silver velvet cushions (€60) to dress up the bed, an art print (€100) to anchor the room. Small details, like a metallic side table with a concrete and brass table lamp (€78) also can make a huge difference, as can a signature bedroom chair. The Wire & Rope Bohemian chair from April And The Bear costs €280.

For those on a shoestring budget, Penneys has great fun bits and pieces for pocket-money prices, including cushions (from €6), duvet covers (€16) and quirky lighting in the shape of a love heart (€12).

See pixersize.com, ikea.ie, aprilandthebear.com, aokiinteriors.ie.

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