Are you a Nomad or a Settler?

CR editor Patrick Burgoyne recently took part in a salon event hosted by Flamingo’s Cultural Intelligence in partnership with Shelter and Smoke Creatives (the team behind Shelter’s biannual magazine ‘Here’) to probe how our relationship with the home is undergoing a dramatic shift

Inspired in part by the CR October ‘Home’ issue, four panelists: Andre Anderson, writer and driving force behind the ‘Authors of the Estate’ project, journalist Rahul Verma who has written extensively about life for those at the fringes, Naomi Cleaver, author, The Joy of Home and presenter of Channel 4’s Other People’s Houses‎ and Grand Designs Trade Secrets joined Patrick Burgoyne, to debate whether the future is in the hands of the Nomad or the Settler.

Creative Review October 2015: the Home issue. Visualisation of Claesson Koivisto Rune-designed house by Peter Guthrie for Swedish builder Fiskarhedenvillan
Creative Review October 2015: the Home issue. Visualisation of Claesson Koivisto Rune-designed house by Peter Guthrie for Swedish builder Fiskarhedenvillan

We’ve heard a lot recently about the ‘digital nomad’, of how society is ‘always on’, consuming everything on the go, (particularly when it comes to marketing trends). It’s easy to overlook the home in all this excitement. The aim of the evening was to redress that imbalance, to give our understanding of ‘the home’ a bit of a revamp.

Shelter's Here magazine by Creatives
Shelter’s Here magazine by Creatives

Rahul Verma talked about how the consequences of the UK’s housing market has led to new approaches toward the home, including ‘property guardians’ and those living in unusual spaces such as canal boats. Thus, the concept of being a ‘settler’ may be moving from something exclusively staid and traditional to a concept that may involve adventure, excitement and even a little danger. And Naomi Cleaver talked about how the spaces she has been involved in designing often include shared areas for cooking, eating and mingling, making home life much more social.

Some of those ideas are now infiltrating the hotel room – the nomad’s foothold. Where once hotels were designed to feel very different from the home – and liberating for that reason – today a lot of the innovation in the hospitality sector sees it borrowing from the home. Airbnb for example has ‘welcome home’ on its homepage and is entirely sold around the idea of experiencing a home away from home. Meanwhile new hotel concept, Zoku, which opens next year in Amsterdam, has relegated the hotel room’s main– the bed – to a supporting role. Instead, in its rooms, the table takes centre-stage, with the bed tucked away in a mezzanine level accessed by a flight of retractable stairs. “The hotel room is moving in line with how we are starting to view the home,” said Burgoyne, “less as a place where you are when you aren’t doing anything else, and instead a base where you make things happen, it becomes the hub of everything.” So it looks like the world of the nomad is now being colonised by that of the settler.

And so what of the home itself – is this in turn being influenced by the ways of the nomad? Certainly when it comes to home working, yes. Remember all those home offices which we had fitted in the 90s? Well it turns out that people don’t like being tethered to a specific room in the house anymore. A recent study by office furniture brand, Coalesse which looked in detail at the habits of 16 workers in creative fields and found that whilst they all had home offices, none of them used them to work. In fact they used them for storage. Now we have wi-fi and neat little laptops, we want to work wherever we feel best. This might be at the kitchen table, lying in bed or curled up on the sofa with one eye on the kids.

In fact when you think about other activities in the home, why should these be assigned to certain spaces or ascribed to specific pieces of furniture either? We can watch media from those same laptops wherever we choose to open them. Likewise the coffee table and sofa are fast becoming a site for informal dining. Increasingly we are starting to see people acting like nomads within their own homes.

The Maison de Verre. Image: Subrealistsandu/Wikipedia
The Maison de Verre. Image: Subrealistsandu/Wikipedia

Which then raises the question for designers, how to create boundaries within increasingly fluid spaces? If your home is also your workplace, how do ever switch off? Whilst for some this may be as simple as closing your laptop, we heard some great examples of how people in the past have addressed the problem of separating work from family life, from the weavers’ cottages of old to the famous Maison de Verre. The latter was conceived in the 20s by interior designer Pierre Chareau and architect Bernard Bijvoet for Dr Dalsace. With clever use of moveable screens, the doctor was able to use the same space as both a consulting room and family home. A more modern take on all this is Veld van Klanken, a development of 38 family homes for musicians, built around a central courtyard which contains 30 sound-proof music rooms for rehearsal and performance.

Veld van Klanken is a development of 38 single-family homes for musicians. Each has its own music room. In the courtyard, a grassed mound covers 30 sound-proof music rooms
Veld van Klanken is a development of 38 single-family homes for musicians. Each has its own music room. In the courtyard, a grassed mound covers 30 sound-proof music rooms

Certainly what the panel wasn’t advocating was a need to re-erect the walls we’ve just been knocking down in our newly open plan homes. Something the Brits are very fond of: One in three homes now features a kitchen-diner, and one in five Britons plans to blend their separate living room and cooking spaces into a single area according to a Lloyds TSB Home Insurance survey.

Instead, this increased freedom within the home brings with it an increased responsibility. It requires us to live more consciously in our homes. To decide the way we want to be and set our own boundaries around that. Technology, furniture, design, these all help but one resounding conclusion of the evening’s debate was that much of the onus is on the individual to manage how they get there.

Miriam Rayman is Cultural Intelligence Strategist (head of content) at insight and brand consultancy Flamingo

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