In every dream home a heartache
April 7, 2013 5:01 AM   Subscribe

The clean lines, the geometric decorative elements, the seamless blending of indoor and outdoor space… I sure do love mid-century modern architecture.

Do you know what I love more? My children. And that is why I will never live in my MCM dream home. Because mid-century modern architecture is designed to KILL YOUR CHILDREN. (Also, moderately clumsy or drunk adults).
posted by MartinWisse (167 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bonus title music.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:01 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do all you want to protect them, they are still going to run with scissors.
posted by HuronBob at 5:05 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thats why I plan to remove my childrens legs early.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:06 AM on April 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Because mid-century modern architecture is designed to KILL YOUR CHILDREN.

That's not a bug, it's a feature.
posted by scrowdid at 5:08 AM on April 7, 2013 [42 favorites]


I don't think I'd have lived long enough to reproduce in a house like that. I find my gently padded current residence something of a challenge.
posted by Jilder at 5:08 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I love houses like this. Like in a near-sexual way. They're just so beautiful to me. I dream of living in a house like this, with nooks and shelving for all my books and yarn and action figures and a pool in the middle and a giant boulder with a fireplace at one side, and giant windows and ledges with lounge chairs in the sun... God, it's a beautiful dream.

But I don't live in a house like this. I live in a rundown Victorian terrace meant for factory workers. With the back garden covered in concrete.

One day, while getting the laundry off the line, I managed to trip over my own feet, crashed down onto that concrete, and gave myself an impressive concussion.

I can't even begin to imagine the amount of damage I could give myself if I lived in my dream house.

And it breaks my heart.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:19 AM on April 7, 2013 [32 favorites]


This stylish modern mother is too absorbed in her reading to notice that all her children have fallen into the living room garden.

A living room garden sounds like the most amazing thing ever, but I would be its first victim thanks to a habit of reading while walking.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:22 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


While not quite an MCM, our house is a late 1970's contemporary that was strongly influenced by MCM architecture. We refer to the massive openings from two bedrooms that overlook the great room as 'the suicide holes'. You can actually see where a previous owner raised the height of a sill in the hallway that connects to the two halves of the house so that there wouldn't be three of the death-holes.

I can't complain - we actually took down the horrible looking wooden shades that filled the two bedroom holes.

...and we still have the 'concussion towers' - two steel columns wrapped in something not particularly giving on the edges of the great room (they support part of the rear bedrooms with the aforementioned suicide holes). The children have yet to concuss themselves running around the slippery (now wooden - no longer wall-to-wall carpeted) great room. I am glad we only live a mile from the hospital...

I am comforted by the fact that we do not have a roof garden without any railings. But only slightly.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 5:25 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


These people don't have children hence they can afford mid 20th century dream homes.
posted by the noob at 5:27 AM on April 7, 2013 [44 favorites]


Let me say first that I love the design and aesthetics of MCM furniture. Maybe it's because it was the big thing when I was a young kid, and the look of the stuff made it really easy to think you were living in a cartoon home. I dunno...

But, one thing I know is, a lot of that stuff is fucking uncomfortable to use. A good friend of mine has a set of these, and when we get together, we inevitably end up sitting around his table in them. I dread it. Because, just as inevitably, I will go home with a cripplingly painful lower back after trying to get comfortable in those damned buckets. They're horrible. Great looking, to be sure, but an utter fail in their (supposed) primary job...seating.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Every time I see those floating staircases on HGTV, I think "wow, I would so die on that". But modern architecture is often the triumph of aesthetics over practicality.
posted by octothorpe at 5:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


And don't get me started on every damned thin-cushioned-low-to-the-ground sofa I've ever encountered.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:34 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like to think of it as evolution in action.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:41 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or teach your kids to be sensible around sharp corners and drops. This would seem to be better than fretting and cosseting and trying to prevent them from ever being exposed to the slightest risk.
posted by Decani at 5:44 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm ambivalent to children, but I am a moderately clumsy adult, so these homes aren't for me either. Which is sad because they're so pretty.
posted by Xany at 5:50 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wonderful! Love the Roxy Music reference!
posted by quidividi at 5:51 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had a great time reading this and imagining shrieking, stampeding hordes of children plunging off of open staircases and low-railinged balconies.

That was the intended effect, right?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:55 AM on April 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


If your kid can't find a way to make your home dangerous you need to take them to a specialist and have them checked for developmental deficits.
posted by srboisvert at 5:55 AM on April 7, 2013 [49 favorites]


We live in a MCM house, albeit one that is not quite as wonderfully MCM as these, and it has proven to be wonderful for parenting our almost 2 year old. First, from the dining room table at one end of the house we can see into her bedroom at the other end of the house, leading her to think we have magic "kid's standing on the rocking chair again while we are finishing dinner" detecting powers. Second, it is always hilarious watching her try to climb the exposed stone wall feature. I know that she will succeed one day, but hey, it's not like our ceilings are that high...
posted by girl scientist at 5:57 AM on April 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why do you think they're called Baby-Go-Boom-ers?
posted by drlith at 5:58 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing like buying a house, having kids and then waking up and realizing that you live in a GIANT TERRIBLE DEATH TRAP. I live in a house built in the 1920s that I purchased when I was single and not even planning on having kids. It does not boast open bodies of water in the living room, or a chance to walk off of the roof, but there are so many elements to my home that I had though of as merely decorative, but now realize will probably earn a trip to the hospital or DEATH.

For example, I have iron bar stair railings look like this:
______
\/\/\/\/
¯¯¯¯¯¯
They are a perfect child death trap because they are the perfect size for a child head at the top of the V and slowly strangle you as you sit down, which you will if you are stuck there bent over for long enough. Right now it is covered in plastic garden mesh because my daughter, sure enough, saw those V shapes and inevitably thought "My head goes there!"

It's like some switch in my brain went off and suddenly things that look like pleasant design elements look like "NO, NO, NO, NO!" I hope it is just temporary because it makes trips to Falling Waters very unpleasant.

Also, I don't know what it is about two year olds, but they will find the most dangerous element in a room and instantly gravitate toward it. We went to a rehearsal dinner last week that took place on the balcony floor of a large Mexican Restaurant. There was railing all along the balcony to keep patrons from falling on the diners below except for in one, perfect toddler-sized gap. My daughter was of course more attracted to it than an entire bucket of candy and just wanted to spend dinner standing in the gap that offered her a perfect, unobstructed view out onto the restaurant. My husband and I spent all of dinner taking turns blocking the gap or trying to distract her elsewhere.

I take pride in the fact that I never dropped her as a baby, but maybe if I had dropped her at least once she would have a healthy respect for gravity.
posted by Alison at 5:59 AM on April 7, 2013 [38 favorites]


I think this commenter on the article says it all:

Kevin Burnett on March 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm
I’m actually somewhat offended by this article. I don’t find it funny at all, because it’s just another example of how we’ve dumbed down society, and as well, this is also a perfect example of how this “nanny state” we’ve come to live under came about… DO GOODERS!


I take it to mean that Rush Limbaugh probably lives in a mid century modern.
posted by item at 5:59 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose this means that with every generation the number of people who love Mid-Century Modern homes will diminish, as those who apparently can afford them aren't having kids, or those with kids who can afford them, will have very low life expectancies for their children for as long as they live in them.

MCM Free by 2204!
posted by Atreides at 6:02 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or teach your kids to be sensible around sharp corners and drops.

If you've come up with a way to tell a two-year-old something just once and have them retain that knowledge forever, you need to patent it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 AM on April 7, 2013 [66 favorites]


That is a beautiful web page. I know somebody whose extended family includes three people whose cause of death was falling downstairs. Two things about this fascinate me:

1.) the design element which seems very common of enormous stairways with no handrails,

2.) in the last industrial safety manual I looked at they said you should always use the handrail (going up and down) as falling down stairs is a common accident, yet they ignored the rather obvious (to me) fact that walking down stairs is significantly more hazardous than walking upstairs. I always use caution going downstairs even if I do not always hold on to the handrail, and I don't use any more caution going upstairs than I do walking on level ground. Am I some kind of daredevil thrillseeker doing that?
posted by bukvich at 6:07 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my area anyway open stairs like that are no longer permitted under building codes nor are open ledges like that.
posted by humanfont at 6:09 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been in the throes of house hunting throughout winter. For the most part, everything we've seen have been ancient colonials, drafty Georgians, and poky Cape Cods, because, well, New England. We don't have kids, so we haven't really worried too much about safety issues, but every once in awhile we run into homes where a love of style totally trumps Yankee common sense with mortal consequences. Here's a quick rundown of what I've learned:

1. A flat roof anywhere it snows (particularly after the Great Blizzard of '13) is just heartache and/or death from above waiting to happen.
2. Anything with crazy angles and dramatic eaves or overhangs will instantly develop an arsenal of death-dealing icicles at the first frost.
3. Water features + ice = instant death trap.
4. Open layouts are fine, but placing steps anywhere but a staircase? No bueno, my friend. You are just asking for absentminded death.
5. Kids love dumb waiters aka death lifts. See related: laundry chutes; built-in ironing boards.
6. Furniture corners hurt like a *&%^$ and may cause gangrene, but if you have one of those overstuffed sausage casing sofas I will judge the hell out of you.
posted by Diagonalize at 6:09 AM on April 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


My tiny house has this staircase leading to the small, upstairs bedroom. There is no door at the top, it opens directly into the bedroom, I have to walk by it, in the dark, stumbling, to get to the bathroom. The floor at the bottom is cement. The exposed ends of the stairs are hanging on threaded rod that runs from the floor to the ceiling. The dog is afraid of the stairs, the cats love them, and I'm sure they will, someday, kill me.
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love mid-century architecture. Specifically, mid first century BC. Mmmm, passive solar heating and climate-appropriate cooling.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


When I was a kid, my friend's family had this gorgeous midcentury marble coffee table in the middle of the family room. It was a huge (to my child's eyes) slab of rose marble, all exposed edges and sharp angles. We called it The Crippler.
posted by workerant at 6:20 AM on April 7, 2013 [23 favorites]


Or teach your kids to be sensible around sharp corners and drops. This would seem to be better than fretting and cosseting and trying to prevent them from ever being exposed to the slightest risk.

Have you ever even been in the same room as an 18 month old?
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:26 AM on April 7, 2013 [21 favorites]


I lived in a rental house that had an indoor waterfall and goldfish pond. I ended up having to cover the (empty) pond with a board because the cat thought it was her own personal Fancy Pooping Grotto.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:32 AM on April 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


I haven't found 14 year olds to be significantly more careful than 18 month olds.
posted by DU at 6:32 AM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Who here remembers those gorgeous glass table tops we got in the 70s? Massive slabs of glass, suspended over a few bendystraws worth of metal tubing? Wow, weren't those a thing. So beautiful! So dangerous. So deadly. It makes me sad that our human flesh is too fragile to live surrounded by geometric perfection. Robot meatships, take me away, etc.

Now we live in a beat up 80 year old house with dented hardwood floors and crumbling plaster walls that is full of crap and cathair but, when the "EVERYTHING MUST BE CLEAN AND TIDY" side of me is not ascendant, is as comforting as a nest.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:33 AM on April 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


And don't get me started on every damned thin-cushioned-low-to-the-ground sofa I've ever encountered.

no one expects the danish inquisition!
posted by pyramid termite at 6:42 AM on April 7, 2013 [60 favorites]


So you can't ever live in a MCM house because children will remain in that 2-3 years old age bracket for the rest of your life!!!! I think you will find that at any given time the majority of adults do NOT have a toddler under their care.

A lot of people do for a few years of their lives but then they grow up.
posted by mary8nne at 6:44 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps today's distracted, modern parents should revive an old tradition of putting their children in a Baby Tender. Didn't this topic come up recently on MeFi?
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:57 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the comments on the blog post:
Not everyone lives their lives around CHILDREN… Sigh. (this is the same battle I fight every time I want a medicine container without a childproof lid on it. I DON’T HAVE KIDS, dammit. Never have. Don’t intend to. I live in an environment where eveyrone is a responsible adult. Could I please be treated accordignly…? And yes, if I want to iive in a place which boasts a stair without a banister – I don’t, as it happens, but if I did – I don’t see why I should balk at it because, oh, I don’t know, CHILDREN.)
From the comments on this page:
Thats why I plan to remove my childrens legs early.
I love MetaFilter.
posted by headnsouth at 7:01 AM on April 7, 2013 [21 favorites]


I actually fell down a floating staircase and through one of those fancy 1970s glasstop tables in 1977 when I was 18 months old. I don't remember it, of course, but the accident required a trip to the emergency room and sixteen stitches down the side of my face. No scar remains (save the slightest pale suggestion that shows up after I spend too much time in the sun), but the event haunted every beach vacation of my childhood.

Also, though I'm (unfashionably?) more of a pre-war girl when it comes to architecture, I submit that the homes built in the first quarter of the 20th century have their own particular childhood perils. My childhood home (ca. 1920) had a terrifying coal room with a shoot leading to it, which led to several traumatic and painful events amongst my circle of friends.
posted by thivaia at 7:01 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's because it was the big thing when I was a young kid, and the look of the stuff made it really easy to think you were living in a cartoon home.

This reminds me of the way Bob Hoskins gets abused when he enters Toonville in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Cartoons are pretty but real humans aren't cartoons and a cartoon world is a pretty fucking hostile place for us.

I got a bit of flack when I said this about Frank Lloyd Wright, but it doesn't matter how pretty your buildings are if they leak or lack necessities like closets; taking care of the business of living is your first job as an architect and if you design a building that is miserable or dangerous to live in, no matter how pretty it is, you have failed.

I remember to this day the first time I saw a picture of one of those MCM staircases consisting of slabs jutting otherwise unsupported from a wall, without railings or opposite side support of any kind, and thinking OMG WTF. Anybody who has designed or built such a monstrosity in a situation where actual human beings are asked to climb it should be stripped of their license and blacklisted from the building industry forever. It is a sad thing that building codes need to be amended to specify basic OSHA compliance for homes.
posted by localroger at 7:03 AM on April 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


The original post had a lot of humor-challenged comments.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:04 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


My parents once rented a condo in Montana. The living room featured a large pit, containing plants. It was conveniently located at the back wall of the room, with an upstairs ledge directly above it, so that anything dropped off of the ledge fell not one story, but one story plus an additional 3-4 feet. I am not clear how deep it was, we were pretty young, but it seemed like a scary hole to us - with uneven edges thanks to the rough fieldstone floor.

So many toys were sacrificed to The Pit. Mom and Dad got tired of retrieving them. Especially the ones we intentionally dropped from the upstairs ledge. Pretty sure my little brother was the only child sacrifice we had in there, and he ended up with no lasting scars, but my parents probably aged a few years in the short time we lived there, trying to keep the three of us from murdering ourselves in The Pit.

(mary8nne - Yes, most parents don't have toddlers for too many years, but many parents have friends with kids or grandkids. Having a nice but deadly feature in the home is just asking for a liability issue later on, even if one's own kids live through it.)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:07 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


A good friend of mine has a set of these, and when we get together, we inevitably end up sitting around his table in them. I dread it. Because, just as inevitably, I will go home with a cripplingly painful lower back after trying to get comfortable in those damned buckets.

I found them amazingly nice to sit in, surprisingly nice since I'm kinda bony and my backside lacks nature's cushioning. Of course, I was only sitting down for an hour long lunch so maybe it's just that they're not made for extended lounging.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:09 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I was a kid in the same room as that floating staircase that goes nowhere towards the ceiling, there is no way I could keep off it, short of my mother's eyes directly on me at all times. I'd have been climbing that thing to the top and trying to poke at the ceiling tiles to find the magical secret world upstairs.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:10 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


the first time I saw a picture of one of those MCM staircases consisting of slabs jutting otherwise unsupported from a wall, without railings or opposite side support of any kind, and thinking OMG WTF.

To be fair, if built correctly, those minimalist stairs have some very serious cantilevering support built internally to the treads and anchored into a support inside the wall. Short of dropping a floor safe on them, there's very little chance of ever dislodging them.

The lack of railing, though, is worrisome if one has kids.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:12 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forget kids. Those stairways are not safe for people with SELVES.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:15 AM on April 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


(mary8nne - Yes, most parents don't have toddlers for too many years, but many parents have friends with kids or grandkids. Having a nice but deadly feature in the home is just asking for a liability issue later on, even if one's own kids live through it.)

Sounds like a perfect excuse to keep from having to endure visits from other people's children.
posted by scrowdid at 7:16 AM on April 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


The lack of railing, though, is worrisome if one has kids.

Or a hip problem, or back pain, or any number of minor disabilities, or just a bunch of crap in your arms. That's my problem with MCM architecture -- it's not a "machine for living," it's a set, built for actors, who have been cast as youthful, healthful and upright. The staff, the small children and the elderly are invisible.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:16 AM on April 7, 2013 [44 favorites]


This is not just a mid 20th cen issue. I teach at an architecture school, full of early 21st cen exposed concrete wonders, 10m drops with no railings, etc., and whenever I take my 5 year old for a visit I grip his hand so hard it bruises slightly.
posted by signal at 7:19 AM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Kids, schmids. I'd never make it. I once visited a tacky McMansion home which was built into the side of a hill and so had many dramatic stair stepped levels on the inside, all in wonderful slippery marble flooring or wood. God help you if you didn't constantly watch your feet while walking. Outside, there was a massive drop off from the deck down to a rocky creek. I'm a person who spent her 70s childhood tripping over sunken living room ledges. It was like a death trap in there.

I once saw a show featuring a mid century modern house with a giant unfenced hole in the upstairs floor. Living there would be like living in a Roadrunner cartoon. Sooner or later, you're going off that cliff.
posted by emjaybee at 7:21 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


....or lack necessities like closets...

My house has one closet, two feet deep, 5 feet wide... you figure it out eventually... and you tend not to accumulate "stuff".
posted by HuronBob at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love mid-century modern design, and I don't plan on having kids!


...or drunk adults.


Well, shit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:27 AM on April 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


My family will not be even visiting one of those houses. I almost walked straight off a loading dock a few months ago, my four year old walked face first into a table yesterday and my 13 year old son cut himself on a carrot last week. Not a carrot knife or a vegetable peeler. He broke a baby carrot in half for our hamster and somehow ended up with a bleeding finger. I love our stairless, ledge-free, rounded furniture, rectangular house.
posted by artychoke at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [36 favorites]


Lucky for me, I find this style ugly as hell, as well as terrifying. Although to be fair, some of those houses probably aren't significantly more dangerous places to play than a farm. But I'm a grownup and I don't really play, I just fall down and walk into things. If I have to do that, I prefer the things to be cozy and welcoming. I would get killed in one of those houses, or at least be in a perpetual state of fear.
posted by windykites at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2013


Keep off my lawn.

as for your drunken uncle, keep an eye on him or lose him.
posted by mule98J at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


In all fairness, the sole mission in a child's life is to get grievously injured or killed. Parental supervision is pretty key regardless of the environment.
posted by Renoroc at 7:34 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


In my family, we prefer the term "Druncle," thankyouverymuch.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:36 AM on April 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


Be sure to check those crevices for rabid bats.

Not something you need to worry about in those old houses.
posted by Segundus at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of the sprawling modernist house in Middlesex that the protagonist's family are allowed to buy only cause no respectable families want to deal with such a time intensive eyesore.

Or, any desire for Don's apartment in Mad Men is tempered with the knowledge that it's all drywall and cheap wood and will break if you look at it wrong. The waverly place apartment is a little more my speed.

Whatever I live in a former sanitarium with HUGE HALLWAYS cause...gurneys used to a be a thing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:56 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


i know this post was supposed to make me swear off midcentury housing, but it did the complete opposite. i want to live in a house with a rock formation and ledges and no stairway banisters. and if i ever have a kid, i'll just keep it in a cage until it's old enough to respect beautiful interior design.
posted by kerning at 7:57 AM on April 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Philistine here. If you have one of these houses and kids too, go ahead and put up all the close-weave safety netting and whatever that you might need. It's worth the aesthetic sacrifice just to enjoy the heartburn you'll give to your Heroic And Original architect. With maybe some left over for Philip Johnson, gulping Maalox somewhere beyond the grave. Maybe even Corbu.
posted by jfuller at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


But people did grow up in those houses, I assume?

I'd always thought that the floating-stairs/scary-water-feature ones were mostly either architects' houses or second homes for rich people - that's the impression I get from my stacks of vintage books about decor and architecture. I only ever see pictures of them where they are labeled, like, "Roger Cork-Nethersole, president of International Chemistry Modern Incorporated, wanted a second home in the California hills for entertaining" and "Alain Bayard-Corbeau renovated these mid-19th-century Parisian factories into a series of lofts for young designers and artists; he lives in this multistory apartment with its picturesque drops along with his roommate Richard St Meli-Melo".

The ones I see designed for families actually look pretty decent - nice indoor-outdoor space, good view of the house from the kitchen, sometimes some rather neat built-ins especially designed for kids.

I live in a crumbling Victorian that we are in theory renovating; it has a frighteningly steep servants' stair with a terrible blind plunge and no guardrail and no room to add one. If it weren't so convenient to have stairs straight up to my room from the kitchen, I'd block the whole thing off. Even now, I caution housemates about it and have been very cautious about letting anyone move in who drinks.
posted by Frowner at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


gorgeous midcentury marble coffee table in the middle of the family room. It was a huge (to my child's eyes) slab of rose marble, all exposed edges and sharp angles.
I was two and my parents were having a moon landing party and I smashed my head on the corner of one of these. My mom said I probobly could have used stiches but ... Party. Not that it would have occurred to them NOT to drive drunk.
posted by shothotbot at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have lived in two MCM-inspired Dream Homes now, both of which we used to laugh about as being completely unchildproofable, which was funny because we had no kids, but always made me wonder just how much rubber bumpering and bubble wrap it would take to keep a kid from falling through the open stairs.

And then there was the day when I was carrying a large stack of folded sheets to the linen cupboard and forgot I had left the laundry chute open - said laundry chute being (of course) a square hole right in the center of the hallway floor - and stepped through it down to my crotch. I was bruised so thoroughly from my knee to the top of my thigh that a friend who saw it asked if "everything was okay at home", ready to rush me to a women's shelter. It was almost more embarrassing to admit that it was self-inflicted than that my husband had beaten me (and I still don't think she believed me).

I now live in a standard duplex apartment with closed stairs, and found out fairly early that our son was a sleepwalker who had no problem coming down the steps fast asleep when he wanted to (aaaaa!!!!). So on the one hand, I miss the open architecture, and I would have done whatever I could to make it as safe as possible, and on the other hand: kids find a way to make any place a death trap.
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't use any more caution going upstairs than I do walking on level ground. Am I some kind of daredevil thrillseeker doing that?

Nah. Perfectly acceptable risk. If you fall upstairs, the stairs are rising to meet you. Maybe you'll bash up your knees and shins. In order to fall down stairs while charging up stairs you'd have to step on both a roller skate and a banana peel, do a 180º pirouette, and fall in the opposite direction.

Which would only be an ignoble way to die if no one sees it happen.
posted by device55 at 8:35 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, speaking of insane modern architecture that just screams out for kids to misuse it (and featuring possibly the most humorless actress ever to be surrounded by so much whimsy): Sky House
posted by Mchelly at 8:42 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I warned you about stairs, bro.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nah. Perfectly acceptable risk. If you fall upstairs, the stairs are rising to meet you. Maybe you'll bash up your knees and shins. In order to fall down stairs while charging up stairs you'd have to step on both a roller skate and a banana peel, do a 180º pirouette, and fall in the opposite direction.

Which would only be an ignoble way to die if no one sees it happen.


Dude, if I go out that way, I want it to end up on YouTube. Might as well be someone getting some pleasure out of it.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tonight at 6: is your home trying to kill your children?

Actually, if you look at stats on childhood accidents, by far the most dangerous thing any of us do with kids is put them in cars. After that there are a bunch of risks that are common to pretty much any Western home--scalding, drowning (in bathtub), ingesting household poisons, sticking heads in plastic bags, falling from changing tables/cribs etc. (baby furniture ranks high in baby accidents,--but of course that is because babies spend so much time on baby furniture, not because it's inherently dangerous).

Yeah, sure, there are safer house layouts than classic Bond villain MCM, but in terms of the really mitigating risks to your children's health and safety, the architectural genre of your house should be among the last of the things keeping you awake at night.
posted by yoink at 8:56 AM on April 7, 2013


But people did grow up in those houses, I assume?

Yes, as I was reading these comments I was thinking about all the kids I knew when I was growing up who lived in modern houses, and they were all fine. I babysat for some families on a road that had all modern houses and they all seemed cozy enough to me. No scary stairs or indoor water features that I can recall.

My brothers did manage all kinds of trouble in our pre-war house though. Once they raked a pile of leaves up next to the house and spent the afternoon jumping off our roof into the pile until my mom came home and gave them hell.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:58 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to mention house fires--they're another big risk factor.
posted by yoink at 8:58 AM on April 7, 2013


The genius that designed our ordinary suburban house built in 1964 placed a stair landing immediately adjacent to the strike side of the front door of the house. It had railings, but the rail posts were narrow 1/2" metal bars about 7" apart. I just knew someone was going to get a finger chopped off some day, and the cats got caught in the door more than once. Colonel Biscuit has a broken meow that we attribute to that door when he almost got decapitated about a week after we got him.

I never did get around to putting a metal mesh on those rails, but thankfully, we lost the house in foreclosure in 2010.
posted by Xoebe at 8:59 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I could have a modern ovoid house (no corners!) with foam-tiled walls and curvy plastic furniture, I could be both modern and live in a childproof space. Like the Jetsons except not high in the sky.
posted by emjaybee at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


...mid-century modern architecture is designed to KILL YOUR CHILDREN.

Less is more?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:20 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've been watching last season Mad Men and I love the handful of throwaway scenes where someone trips over, knocks over, or just derisively looks at the table lamps placed at floor height due to the sunken living room in Don and Megan's mod love nest.

I love both modern architecture and nooks and hidden utilities. I like comfort and sweeping gestures. I feel like one of the few practicioners in my field who embraces whimsy. There's no point in creating a seamless, modern kitchen if there's not a beer tap hidden in there somewhere.
posted by amanda at 9:27 AM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


My house is the genesis of the expression "safe as houses." As much as I love the look of these MCM homes, I love living in my 1908 house. As far as we can tell, it's an American Four Square with Queen Anne pretensions. The brick mantlepiece is the pokiest thing in the place.
posted by Biblio at 9:35 AM on April 7, 2013


This is all good fun, but anyone who thinks that Modernist architecture is unfriendly to children is completely missing the point. That icon of modernism, Erno Goldfinger's 2 Willow Road, was designed and built as a family home, and Goldfinger took endless trouble over the children's rooms, the children's furniture, even the children's toys. The multi-purpose, open-plan living space was deliberately designed to be child-friendly, by involving the children in their parents' lives. It was a conscious reaction against the Victorian style of domestic living where the study belonged to Papa, the living room belonged to Mamma, the kitchen belonged to the servants and the schoolroom belonged to the children.

Which raises the question: what went wrong? Why does a style of architecture that was designed to be child-friendly now strike us as an accident waiting to happen? One answer may be that we now take the Modernist open-plan interior so much for granted that we forget how radical it once was, or what it was originally designed to do. Another answer may be that the Modernist architects themselves were over-deterministic in the way they conceptualised the ideal of family living without taking into account the practical necessities of child-proofing a house, the practical hazards of exposed concrete, open staircases and so forth. And of course this style of Modernist architecture belongs to an era of middle-class affluence (and non-working mothers) when it was assumed that mother would always be at home, quite possibly with a nanny or aupair as well, to minimise the risk of young children running around unsupervised.

These are all valid points. But another answer, I suspect, is that we don't want to follow the logic of Modernism through to its conclusion. We value our privacy; we don't really want our children invading our adult lives; secretly we wish that the children could be banished upstairs to the schoolroom, and we breathe a sigh of relief when they are old enough for school and can be safely taken off our hands. But it isn't easy for us to admit that we don't want the company of our children, or that we can't live up to the ideal of full-on, full-time parenting. So what do we do with our feelings? We project them outwards, onto our architecture. We mock the failings of Modernist architecture to make ourselves feel better about our own failure to live up to the standards that it demands of us.
posted by verstegan at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


...mid-century modern architecture is designed to KILL YOUR CHILDREN.

And mid-century modern materials are designed to KILL EVERYONE.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


They had playpens and child gates in the olden days, too. I'm sure not too many of the toddlers who grew up in the gorgeous 'death traps' were left to fend for themselves like wolves.

In fact, given the extreme high-concept nature of most of those homes and the probable associated cost, I'd lay even money the children (if any) who dwelt therein had staff to follow them about and keep them from self-slaughter.

They're beautiful spaces but I'm conflicted. I hate the idea that everything has to be swaddled in nerf to protect an impulse-driven toddler with a death wish and inconveniently unpredictable speed/dexterity (which as far as I can tell describes all the breed), but a house is surely one of the places that should be designed in such a way that the people who live there are safe, even the small ones with no sense of danger or self-preservation. Since some of those lovely spaces would be dangerous even for adults (like that lovely unrailled stair in the last photo that would be slippery as ice if not utterly bone-dry - the only photo that made me balk at the idea of living in that space) I think the architects failed at the basic principle of home design.

But they are gorgeous. Maybe falling off the side of the house and down a rock-strewn cliff is a fair price to pay for such an existence.
posted by winna at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And of course this style of Modernist architecture belongs to an era of middle-class affluence (and non-working mothers) when it was assumed that mother would always be at home, quite possibly with a nanny or aupair as well, to minimise the risk of young children running around unsupervised.

Not to mention the complete lack of consideration given to the elderly or disabled people.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:57 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I clicked on the link about 2 Willow Road, and at first I thought: that's a national architectural treasure? It looks just like the ugly first-year dorm I lived in at boarding school!
Then I realized that this was because 2 Willow Road must have been a strong influence on the architect of that dorm, right down to the flooring, and felt at least a new respect for the old dorm.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:58 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always assumed nobody lived in these houses, they were just pictures in magazines because as a kid in the 50s I did not know anybody who lived in houses like that. They still look extremely sterile and uncomfortable.
posted by mermayd at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


We mock the failings of Modernist architecture to make ourselves feel better about our own failure to live up to the standards that it demands of us.

Modernism cannot fail, it can only be failed.
posted by fatbird at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


The wide rail-less staircases do not freak me out anywhere near as much as the memory of the steep, narrow staircase, floored in peeling linoleum, that led straight from the front door of my first apartment (the upper floor of a converted duplex), to the long, dark, narrow hallway that ran the length of the apartment. The stairwell entrance was open -- I suspect the hallway had insufficient clearance for a door, even if it wouldn't have been its own separate invitation to injury -- and divided the bedrooms from the living room, bathroom, and kitchen.

There was no way to avoid walking past the stairway multiple times a day, and I developed a dread of it, due mostly to paranoia, but partly to the fact that the damn hallway was so narrow that my roommate's cats could barely get by a person coming down the hall. And at night, since the switch for the hall light was on the other side of the staircase of doom from the bedrooms -- and of course on the same wall, requiring a gingerly groping along the wall to identify first the opening to the stairwell, then the light switch, although turning the light on was of mixed usefulness at best since turning it off on the way back to the bedrooms left you standing on the brink of the death stairs until your eyes adjusted to the darkness -- navigating the apartment was exercise we happened across a post-holiday sale on Christmas lights, and framed the entire hallway in purple lights. As one might imagine, in a long dingy hallway the effect was somewhat...unfortunate...but better a lighting effect that brought to mind of a cut-rate bordello than a plummet to one's death in the middle of the night.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to mention the complete lack of consideration given to the elderly or disabled people.

Yeah, I was just thinking something along the lines of "even if you have no kids, or a fleet of staff, and no elderly people come visit you, ever, what does one do after breaking an ankle skiing in St. Moritz?"
posted by ambrosia at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And it's all fun and games until someone sits on this chair wearing a bathing suit.
posted by peagood at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2013


verstegan: But it isn't easy for us to admit that we don't want the company of our children, or that we can't live up to the ideal of full-on, full-time parenting. So what do we do with our feelings? We project them outwards, onto our architecture. We mock the failings of Modernist architecture to make ourselves feel better about our own failure to live up to the standards that it demands of us.

I like the company of my children and always have. When they were little, they were fun, and as they grew older they became interesting. I can spend more time happily conversing with them, and their friends, now than with many other adults we know.

Which isn't to say that I never wanted any privacy, because I am at heart a solitary bookworm, and easily revert to type. I do enjoy my solitude as well. But the idea that the modernist architecture represents standards we wish we could live up to but can't does not resonate with my world, or my values, at all.

Incorporating nature is lovely; I have a lawn with shady trees and a bird feeder, and my pool in the back (which we put in AFTER the kids had learned to swim) has a small over- flowing waterfall that soothes me with the sound of running water. They all serve the purpose better than contrived "natural" death traps scattered around my house for me to trip and fall into, gathering dust, and likely mold as well.

Stairways with no railings, sunken spaces, sharp edges of stone and chrome and glass would diminish my comfortable living space. Those pretty things (some of which are arguably not even so pretty, like the hellacious metal slide linked above) are hardly representative of an idyllic lifestyle to me.

People are more important than things.
posted by misha at 10:44 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Apparently when I was a toddler I liked to walk along the little tiny ledge outside the railing around our front porch until I was standing over the 12 foot drop to the asphalt driveway. My mom likes to say something about the first gray hairs she ever got coming from that house. The thing is it was a full railing. Kids know exactly where trouble is, open ledges or not.

The more dangerous thing wasn't the big drop in that house, it was the sunken living room in the house in Palm Springs. A single step, but the lack of any actual height made us less cautious. I can't count the number of times someone stumbled on that step.

Safety railings are important for novel environments, but I really don't get why people who don't sleepwalk worry so much about this stuff in their homes.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:45 AM on April 7, 2013


They had playpens and child gates in the olden days, too

I reckon the 'playpen' (something you rarely see now) was the preferred option in those days.

These houses were designed in the times when nobody even spoke to their kids, let alone spent any time with them doing stuff in the house. All you were expected to do was say "GO PLAY!", Betty Draper-style, and then light up.

I know someone with 3 kids under 3, living in a house with five storeys + attic, a single room on each connected by the steepest victorian stairs. Its the 'gates of hell' in there.
posted by colie at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2013


Because shit happens. If the opportunity cost of having a house that isn't basically a deathtrap for the careless, luckless or infirm is having a house that isn't full of topographical fascinators, that's a trade-off most people are willing to make.

Honestly, I think the best 20th century architectural designs for living were the lush bachelor pads from the 50s and 60s that are full of huge sofas you can lose a prostitute in, shag carpets made for oh-mer-god-we-simply-must-have-a-shag-and-can't-make-it-to-the-bedroom moments, as well as all of that lovely and mind-warping Googie decor, because they were designed for people who were already half plastered when they got home from the office and knew they were planning on draining two bottles of wine for dinner and then half a bottle of Crown Royal for afters and when designing for career drunks you simply don't make spaces where people cannot arbitrarily slump over in and wind up snugly nestled in something or someone.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:29 AM on April 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


Once upon a time I was a museum curator. We did fundraising events and parties at a MCM house the university owned called the Erlanger House. I came to believe that Erlanger was german for "HATES LITTLE OLD LADIES!!!!!" Put a couple glasses (or bottles as the case may be) of wine into a bunch of donors in their 70s and inevitably every party would include spilled blood and one or more trips to the emergency room.
posted by Perfectibilist at 11:35 AM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am comforted by the fact that we do not have a roof garden without any railings.

We had TWO of these, one in front and one in back. The house was on a hill so you could access the front one via a bedroom window and then jump off it onto the lawn 6 or 7 feet below (assuming you cleared the rock garden with the spiky plants) then climb back up the support posts to regain the roof and do it again. The one in back was bout a 20 foot drop tho and there was a concrete patio below so mostly we just threw things off that one.

The damp, north facing, mossy concrete stairs from the house down to that patio were the most terrifying things. The dog fell down them more than once. We would go out the side door and all the way round to avoid them as a matter of course, I don't think they got used more than once or twice a year.
posted by fshgrl at 11:35 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, kids can make any house a death trap, but at least give them reason to WORK at it. Giving them a mid-century modern house filled with pools and rocks and maybe some rabid bats is like talking to your child exclusively in goo-goo-gah-gah baby talk. They'll never learn to use their imaginations. Challenge those little brains!
posted by maryr at 11:55 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love MCM architecture and would spend serious amounts of any lottery winnings on our dream 50s house. There's some really nice renovations of 50s houses taking place right now.
posted by arcticseal at 12:47 PM on April 7, 2013


One answer may be that we now take the Modernist open-plan interior so much for granted that we forget how radical it once was, or what it was originally designed to do. Another answer may be that the Modernist architects themselves were over-deterministic in the way they conceptualised the ideal of family living without taking into account the practical necessities of child-proofing a house, the practical hazards of exposed concrete, open staircases and so forth. And of course this style of Modernist architecture belongs to an era of middle-class affluence (and non-working mothers) when it was assumed that mother would always be at home, quite possibly with a nanny or aupair as well, to minimise the risk of young children running around unsupervised.

These are all valid points. But another answer, I suspect, is that we don't want to follow the logic of Modernism through to its conclusion. We value our privacy; we don't really want our children invading our adult lives; secretly we wish that the children could be banished upstairs to the schoolroom, and we breathe a sigh of relief when they are old enough for school and can be safely taken off our hands. But it isn't easy for us to admit that we don't want the company of our children, or that we can't live up to the ideal of full-on, full-time parenting. So what do we do with our feelings? We project them outwards, onto our architecture. We mock the failings of Modernist architecture to make ourselves feel better about our own failure to live up to the standards that it demands of us.


I don't really feel any shame in saying I am glad to not be around my child 24/7 and occasionally get time to myself...why would that be shameful? He gets tired of me as well.

I do actually love open-plan in itself. I love light and space and would gladly move into a house where you could stand in one room and see into every other "public" room (kitchen, dining room, living room, patio). If the bedrooms are upstairs or otherwise private, it's a great way to design a home. It's just the random floor levels and sharp edges I would avoid.

There are many happy mediums between dark fussy Victorian rooms and sharp-edged beautiful death traps.
posted by emjaybee at 1:06 PM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


But it isn't easy for us to admit that we don't want the company of our children, or that we can't live up to the ideal of full-on, full-time parenting.

Hmm, I dunno, I just don't agree with your premise. I was born in the late sixties to a two-parent home with a stay at home mom, and I am now the stay at home mom in a two-parent home. If anything I think parents today are way more serious about being "full-on, full-time" parents than parents in the sixties and seventies. I was off by myself for most of my childhood, and most kids in the suburbs today don't even go outside to play today unless a parent is out there watching. I mean my mom LOVED me, as much as I love my own daughter, but parenting seems much more laid back and low key then than it is now. I just think you are way off base.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:11 PM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can't imagine how it could even be legal to build a house with some of those features (open stairs, decks without railings). Anywhere I've lived, you need a building permit to build or remodel a house, and getting a building permit requires complying with gajillions of fussy little safety standards governing things like the dimensions of balusters, railings and ledges. This can certainly be inconvenient and annoying, but it does succeed in preventing some dopey things that look nice but put people in danger. Are there places in the US where you can just build whatever you want without a building permit?

And as a former personal injury lawyer, just looking at those pictures makes me itch all over.
posted by Corvid at 1:12 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have the same bench as the one in the header graphic, it's a hand-me-down from my parents' house. It's a neat bench, the slats slide back and forth so one can adjust its length. I don't recall having any problems with it while growing up but in the first few years I had it, it pinched the fingers or butts of 3 different children of visiting friends, another kid got his foot stuck in it requiring partial disassembly (of the bench, not the kid) and it planted one impressively sized goose-egg to the forehead of a 5th child. It's the perfect height for catching unwary adults in the shins too. The bench recently came back out of storage when my son hit his teens and lies in wait in my living room for its next victim, which likely will be sooner rather than later even though I warn visitors about its need for human sacrifice.

MCM, even the furniture tries to kill you.
posted by jamaro at 1:31 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The multi-purpose, open-plan living space was deliberately designed to be child-friendly, by involving the children in their parents' lives. It was a conscious reaction against the Victorian style of domestic living where the study belonged to Papa, the living room belonged to Mamma, the kitchen belonged to the servants and the schoolroom belonged to the children.

That's interesting. The other day I was leafing through a recent special issue of Dwell profiling modern homes around the country, and they seemed to have chosen a large number of houses with children living in them. There were a lot of photos of kids playing in and around the houses, almost as if the editors were consciously trying to create the impression that modern design is family friendly.

I don't know if that has anything to do with the backlash against modern architecture. At least in Seattle, there's a vocal minority of home owners who object to modern architecture on the grounds that it doesn't fit with "the character of the neighborhood" — which might be a code word for the stereotype that these aren't homes for families, and the neighborhood is becoming less family-oriented. As a father of two girls and soon-to-be owner of a beautiful blocky monstrosity, I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:33 PM on April 7, 2013


I love the look of MCM homes and furnishings but as a person with some physical limitations, some of it is pretty unfriendly to me. Having said that, I'd love to live in one of those homes that had been modified to deal with my limitations. (See: rails on the stairs.)
posted by immlass at 1:34 PM on April 7, 2013


When I was a smallish kid with a smaller brother, we lived in houses like that twice. Once my brother rode his tricycle down the fancy stairs and hurt himself badly, but not terminally. But that would have been the same in a normal house. Otherwise, nothing happened I can remember.

In the summer, when we visited our grandmothers 150 year old farm, that was something. We'd dare each other (now including our cousin) to walk on top of the pitched roof of the barn, to jump out from the hatch of the hayloft over the stables, to climb the tallest trees, to horse-race bare-back and helmet-less, to tease the neighbor's bull, etc.... We broke limbs and had concussions, and lived to tell the story.
Isn't that what a happy childhood is about?
posted by mumimor at 1:46 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man I love the look of cantilever stairs and no railing decks but they are idiotically unsafe and not just for children. And stairs without at least one hand rail are doubly so. Everyone is going to need a hand rail at some point.

yoink: "Actually, if you look at stats on childhood accidents, by far the most dangerous thing any of us do with kids is put them in cars.
"

Much of that is because of laws requiring safe design. Babies used to regularly die in cribs so we passed laws to make cribs safer. Kids used to choke themselves in railings so we passed laws mandating maximum railing openings and that the railings be of a non-climbable design. Kids died in house fires so we've mandated electrical safety and minimum egress requirements and smoke detectors to trim those deaths.

mumimor: "We broke limbs and had concussions, and lived to tell the story. "

Well to be fair the kids who died aren't posting on the internet.
posted by Mitheral at 1:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


Toddler-proof your house. They'll still injure themselves, but nothing permanent or disfiguring, hopefully. when a little older, unproof the house. They'll injure themselves, but nothing permanent or disfiguring, and they'll have the knowledge they gained when toddling around about how injuries hurt.

Repeat ad infinitum. give them a small play set before a large one, give then hand tools before power tools. the goal is not to keep then from being injured; the goal is to limit the severity of the injuries so that they learn caution but don't die in the process.

If your kid never bleeds before age four, you're doing it wrong...although better that than letting them electrocute themselves by that age, right?
posted by davejay at 2:04 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not designed to kill children. Designed to ignore children.
posted by telstar at 2:09 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rotating knives, yes?

Sorry, it looks like the videos of this sketch have been taken down.
posted by gauche at 2:51 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder about the stats on child-deaths 40 years ago and now. I knew children back then who were killed at an early age, but always by cars on quiet streets. Terrible for the parents, and scary for us other kids. I know traffic deaths have gone way down since the 60's, but still quite frequently, there is a horror story in the news about a dad who backed the car or tractor or his 2yo (almost once a year, I think). And obviously, kids get into car-crashes with their care-givers. Cars are really dangerous.

And child mortality in general has been greatly reduced because of advancements in health-care, like vaccine-programs.

But deaths by falling down stairs or into ponds? How frequent were they and are they now in real life? And is there any demographic or regional trend to whatever pattern shows?

I've noticed a really sad thing: that toddlers are relatively often caught and hanged in their winter-wear, if playing alone. But often is like: it's in the news once every three or four years. And every time I see it, I ask myself who would let a 2-3yo out of sight for more than five minutes anyway?

Children growing up in very poor homes, who are often home alone for long hours are more at risk than children who grow up in middle-class families; I've seen that quoted somewhere, but not that there was a difference over time.
posted by mumimor at 3:08 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


When my boss moved our home office in 1992, all the ramp and landing balustrades had to be updated. On our building's side dock and loading ramp (the latter of which was featured in the movie The Final Destination) we had to install toe plates because simply having a railing and simply having a railing with a middle bar wasn't enough; without the toe plate you might slip under the middle bar and fall 2.5 feet to your doom.

Even a 6 foot drop from a habitable space with no guard rail is a total compliance failure in industry, and industry isn't in the habit of hiring 2 year olds or allowing alcohol on the premesis. The idea that these features are considered, by anybody, to be acceptable much less a good idea in a residence or school is just mind-blowingly bizarre.
posted by localroger at 3:22 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is not just a mid 20th cen issue. I teach at an architecture school, full of early 21st cen exposed concrete wonders, 10m drops with no railings, etc., and whenever I take my 5 year old for a visit I grip his hand so hard it bruises slightly.

I agree. The interesting thing about this type of architecture is that you can see the danger. The little 10cm drop from the dining room to the family room, not so much. The staircase that's just a hole in the floor is a lot scarier than the one that is concealed by a door.

Yes, kids are exploring machines, trying to kill themselves at every turn. This can happen in every environment. And it is possible that it is better to learn about the dangers of falling when they are tiny and falling isn't so bad, than when they are larger and can climb higher and fall harder.

I think the complaints about this style are no different from any other style. Architects who don't take into consideration things like mobility and danger make bad buildings. And good architects can make good buildings in any style.

That said, staircases with no railings are beautiful, but terrifying. On the other hand, I think I'd rather a nice wide, gently-sloping staircase with no railing than a narrow or spiral one with a railing. Seems easier to get tangled up in.

(Also, see the movie "The Party" for a great example of this kind of house. That place would be a wonderland/nightmare for kids!)

mumimor- I think I agree. Lack of appropriate supervision probably causes more deaths than architecture. But I also think we are a lot smarter now about doing things like terracing slopes so that a person slipping near the pond will stop short of danger, and making things that go around necks break-away, and learning lessons about railings and stile spacing.
posted by gjc at 3:23 PM on April 7, 2013


The new solution for regulation compliant "open" staircases seems to be sheets of waist high glass on the outside.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:43 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did some research on the design of playgrounds several years ago, and learnt that then, playgrounds were a lot safer than 50 years ago, mostly for legal reasons. The child-development specialists I read and interviewed were fairly certain that these new playgrounds provided insufficient stimulation for the kids, both physically and mentally. I fell out of that field for unrelated reasons, but I've noticed the playgrounds in my neighborhood are getting more dangerous again. Maybe they've found a new set of priorities?
posted by mumimor at 3:47 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just suddenly reminded of the scene from Auntie Mame featuring the furniture designed by Yul Ulu.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:01 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or the scene in the book where she opens an avant gaurde furniture store full of glowing amorous blobs and accidentally sets it on fire due to misshapen ashtrays.
posted by The Whelk at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2013


Child Mortality in the United States, 1935-2007 (pdf)

Death from unintentional injuries dropped by 3% in children aged 1-4 years and 13% in children aged 5-14 years (from 1970 to 2007). Homicide rates for children aged 1-4 years went up 6%, and 4% for those aged 5-14 years.
posted by rtha at 5:15 PM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that a couple of these pictures are contemporary houses - the pic with cantilevered floating stairs, the house with the gangplank entrance. The term 'mid-century modern' seems to be applied to everything from post and beam to ranch houses in my city.

I thought the listicle was fairly funny, but I'm still surprised by the fury that non-traditional house design brings out in some people. I grew up in an early 70's open plan timber frame modern and survived relatively unharmed. That's still the style that seems homey to me - more cozy than the little 1920s bungalow I live in now.

To each his own...
posted by rock swoon has no past at 5:26 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


mumimor: "But deaths by falling down stairs or into ponds? How frequent were they and are they now in real life"

Not broken out for ponds but:
In 2009, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30% died from drowning. Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies (birth defects). Among those 1-14, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.
So for 1-4 year olds accidental drowning is the number 1 cause of accidental death (ahead of even auto accidents) and most of those deaths occur at home. Also according to that link keeping your own kids out of the pool as well as neighbourhood kids (via 4 sided fence instead of 3 sided) reduces deaths by 83%.

Also have you noticed the warnings on 5 gallon buckets? They are their because of the significant risk of toddlers drowning in buckets with even a few inches of water. Toddlers being so top heavy they can find it very difficult to get them selves upright once they are pointing downwards.
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


If anything, this thread has become a wonderful airing of grievances for '60s/'70s children. It's like Festivus come early!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:17 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The last time I was in the neighborhood of my elementary school I walked by and looked over the playground I used. It was updated to nothing but flat level ground. The slides, see-saws, swingsets, monkeybars: all disappeared. I wonder what is left of the gym class. Surely the dodgeball is gone. Maybe they are doing hatha yoga?
posted by bukvich at 6:28 PM on April 7, 2013


Video showing the perils of mid-20th century house design.
posted by adamg at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe they are doing hatha yoga?

Not in my town. All the dumb ass parents in my neighborhood think teaching yoga is teaching Hinduism which is Not Okay in their yuppie Christian evangelical minds.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:41 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ha! The first house pictured is the Catalano House, which was demolished only 47 years after it was built. The roof caved in from rot and was the neighborhood eyesore. Like most MCM houses, it was too expensive to maintain.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2013


As someone who spent 20k to put a 2000 square foot membrane roof on his garage, I can say that flat roofs just suck.
posted by octothorpe at 8:08 PM on April 7, 2013


Heh. When I was a child, my grandparents had a massive (and in retrospect massively tacky) MCM house that I thought was just about the coolest place in the world. Open stairways, sunken rooms, indoor fountains with colored lights, a waterfall - just everything about it was like a weird futuristic playground that I was free to explore.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:22 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


We looked at one of these houses in Canberra, because I love them (in Torrens, if anybody cares).

Inside the living room were long, rectangular concrete planter boxes, filled with wet, soft earth. Poking around with a broom showed they were part of, and opened through, the foundations. Like, you could plant something in them (one of them had ivy), and its roots would go under the house.

Or something could come up from under the ground into your fucking house.

We got the fuck out, because triffids and zombies.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:38 AM on April 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


Like most MCM houses, it was too expensive to maintain.

I wonder if that isn't the intersection of the building techniques of the time not being up to the challenge of the architect's vision. I would bet that the first iterations of every building type didn't last very long.

On the other hand, my condo has cantilevered balconies and the maintenance on them is a nightmare, and this place was built in the 70s. All because nobody learned ANY lessons about waterproofing, apparently, in the prior 50 years. It's called flashing, people. They invented it in the year 200 I think. /anger

As someone who spent 20k to put a 2000 square foot membrane roof on his garage, I can say that flat roofs just suck.

As someone who lives in a 625 sq foot condo, I am jealous of your garage.
posted by gjc at 3:08 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


We got the fuck out, because triffids and zombies.

Triffids terrorize me.. zombies I can deal with.
posted by HuronBob at 3:34 AM on April 8, 2013


I wonder what is left of the gym class. Surely the dodgeball is gone. Maybe they are doing hatha yoga?

My kids had to choreograph a dance routine while in elementary school (two different years!), the final performances of which parents were expected to come watch.

And the sweet rock-climbing wall is covered with a tarp. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 5:46 AM on April 8, 2013


HuronBob: you're worried about Triffids?! My dear man, you cheat death every day you remain in that house with those stairs and cats. It's just a matter of time before your cats (you know how they are) send you down those lovely stairs.
posted by she's not there at 6:50 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fantasize with me about building your aesthetically pleasing but up to code modern house.
posted by shothotbot at 6:56 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


A is for Amy who fell down the railingless stairs
B is for Baz, whom the sunken room caught unawares
C is for Clara, impaled on the glass coffee table
D is for Desmond, who rolled off the roof's low-pitched gable
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:27 AM on April 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Surely in a house like that it's Aymie or Aimei rather than Amy.
posted by headnsouth at 7:34 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


quidividi: "Wonderful! Love the Roxy Music reference!"

Who doesn't?
posted by Samizdata at 7:43 AM on April 8, 2013


E is for Emma, drowned in a water feature.
F is for Freda, an inattentive creature.
posted by shothotbot at 7:45 AM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Samizdata: Are you connected with a certain libertarian UK blog?
posted by quidividi at 7:54 AM on April 8, 2013


quidividi: "Samizdata: Are you connected with a certain libertarian UK blog?"

Nope. Never have been and try to distinguish myself from them.

I came up with the ID from a Gibson story when I used to do my own email/webhosting from home (a long time ago). Wanted something short and catchy, so I used to run Samizdata.org. Didn't even know of samizdata.net until later. Stuck with it after that.

I generally tell people if they run into a Samizdata or variant online that is not attached to a British libertarian blog, it's probably me.
posted by Samizdata at 8:30 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


G is for Gretchen, who fell to her death.
H is for Howard, in the rock garden cooking up meth.
posted by shothotbot at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


You are all failing to see the point. Lizard people don't have 'children', they spawn. You need lots of tricks and traps to weed out the weakest, it's nature's way! Wake up sheeple! Why would you think people lived in those houses?!
posted by Goofyy at 9:31 AM on April 8, 2013


My husband grew up in a similar house (there are great pictures of his mom welding the steel frame while pregnant). In his opinion, most of those problems would be solved with judicious use of glass and netting. I'm not sure if that bodes well or ill for little snickerfetus.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:07 AM on April 8, 2013


I is for Ike, curled up on the Eames.
J is for Jack, fell on Ike from exposed beams.
posted by Kabanos at 10:10 AM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


K is for Krystal who cracked her head on the stained Concrete Counter
posted by humanfont at 10:31 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


L is for Leona who walked into a glass wall
M is for Mary's husband who took a prat-fall
posted by jamaro at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


N is for Ned, who took glass block to the head.
O is for Ollie, broke his shin on the low, platform bed.
posted by amanda at 12:00 PM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


At least in Seattle, there's a vocal minority of home owners who object to modern architecture on the grounds that it doesn't fit with "the character of the neighborhood"

There's a vocal minority of home owners in Seattle who will object to absolutely anything.

But those godawful modern houses really are just awful. They don't look like houses, they look like a SketchUp newbie just discovered how to join cubes. They look like an alien came down from space with no knowledge of human beings or the human tradition of building houses to live in, read through the housing code, plugged all the minimums and maximums into a big equation, and ran out an architectural plan as output. They look like greed and careless self-importance. What's wrong with living in a normal house that looks welcoming and friendly and fits in to the neighborhood? Why does every new designer have to make some goddamn statement about new concepts for living when the human species has basically figured all this stuff out ages ago? Why can't a house just be a house? It's good enough for the rest of us, what makes you, mr. architect, so much more important?
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:08 PM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like that Space Needle. Can't just be a regular needle. Nooo. Gotta be all spacey.
posted by Kabanos at 12:21 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who lives in a 625 sq foot condo, I am jealous of your garage.

Move out here with us in the Rust-belt. Lots of cheap housing out here.
posted by octothorpe at 12:30 PM on April 8, 2013


What's wrong with living in a normal house that looks welcoming and friendly and fits in to the neighborhood?

Nothing, if that's what you like. Can you tell me why I should have to live in the kind of house you happen to like, though?

Oh, and there's absolutely no single thing about any aspect of your "nice normal house" that wasn't, once (and in many cases less long ago than you probably imagine) a radical new innovation.
posted by yoink at 1:10 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


My townhouse is pretty modern, but I'm still not entirely sure why we sharpened the stairs.
posted by uberchet at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


We make sure to scatter cat toys on the stairs of our 189something house, to give it that modern, dangerous feel. Works pretty well, especially in the dark!
posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Build it as ugly as you like, yoink - all I'm going to do is grumble about it, quietly judge you for having bad taste, and refuse to visit the open house when you decide to sell it. Passive bitchiness, it's the Seattle way.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:20 PM on April 8, 2013


Hey, those ugly houses aren't mid century modern. They're just modern.
posted by bq at 4:28 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, AlsoMike gave me a chance to derail the thread and I took it. I don't think mid-century modern actually happened in Seattle - if it did, it was off in some suburb I never visit.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:32 PM on April 8, 2013


Build it as ugly as you like, yoink - all I'm going to do is grumble about it, quietly judge you for having bad taste, and refuse to visit the open house when you decide to sell it. Passive bitchiness, it's the Seattle way.

I'm not sure what you think links those houses. It's not only not MCM, it's not even all "modernism" in the broader sense. No modernism enthusiast--whether paleo, midcentury or neo would own any kinship whatsoever with the abortion in the "ugly" link.

I don't care what architecture you like or dislike, though; what I don't get is why people think they have a right to dictate what other people should like or dislike and, worse, what they should get to build (I'm talking here of purely aesthetic objections, of course, not buildings that obstruct people's views or threaten their health or safety). In particular I find myself constantly amazed at people's unthinking assumption that the kinds of housing they like are "natural" and that no one could possibly object to them, while the kinds of housing they object to are "unnatural" and self-evidently "aggressive." Personally, I find your average Orange County suburban tract home (think Arrested Development) fingers-on-a-blackboard ugly. I would prefer to live next to any building I considered an aesthetic failure that had actually tried to do something interesting--had actually had some genuine aesthetic idea informing its design, than to live next to the vast majority of that soulless designed-by-robots pseudo-"Tuscan," pseudo-"Craftsman" crap. And yet, I'd ardently defend your right to build more of that beige, brainless, zero-degree "this-looks-kinda-like-what-I-think-homes-kinda-look-like" bullshit if that's what you wanted--just leave me and people like me to build what we want.
posted by yoink at 6:19 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmmm...coming back to that comment it reads kinda grumpier than it sounded in my head. The anger wasn't directed at you, Mars Saxman, but at the kinds of people who write and are quoted in that wretched piece about "the House on Queen Anne Avenue" that your "bad taste" image comes from. That obtuse and self-satisfied conviction that if it's unfamiliar it must be self-evidently ugly and immoral is just so smug, small-minded and ugly.
posted by yoink at 9:12 PM on April 8, 2013


What makes me bitter is that human beings evolved on the savanna--where there was nowhere to fall and nothing to run into. This has had tragic consequences for architecture.
posted by Transl3y at 12:17 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yessssss.... Imagine if we evolved from mountain goats or lemurs. Frink.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:23 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not that anyone gives a fuck what kind of house you choose to build and live in. The issue is whether it fits in aesthetically with the neighbourhood. People move to a neighbourhood (ideally) because they like it. If you want to be surrounded by MCM, why would you plunk yourself down in a victorian neighbourhood where everone wants to be surrounded by old-fashioned things, and start building? That's just mean.
posted by windykites at 6:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In some of the suburbs around New Orleans you see the occasional MCM influenced house plopped into a sprawling subdivision of otherwise similar postwar bungalows, and it's very jarring. Quite different from a neighborhood where everything is MCM and there is some effort to coordinate the styles.
posted by localroger at 7:05 AM on April 9, 2013


It's only mean if you feel a homogenous neighbourhood of clones is desireable. Not everyone thinks that's a desirable quality.
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


*snerk* Okay, last night I happened to see that episode of Top Gear where they all had to design and build their own motorhomes, and Jeremy Clarkson turned up with this ridiculous-looking modern-design thing stuck on top of a Citroen, which proved incredibly precarious to drive.

So now looking at all of the pictures in Mars Saxman's comment just makes me think of Jeremy Clarkson screaming in terror.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:23 AM on April 9, 2013


I'll just leave this here now
posted by Mchelly at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


not everyone thinks that's a desirable quality

And not everyone thinks it isn't. Impasse. You can complain about people complaining about your style but you're just doing the same thing as they are so get over it. And you can try to force your style in while they try to force your style out but you're still doing the same thing as they are. So your position isn't any better than theirs- it's essentially the same position: "I should be able to live in a place that I like and do things the way that I want".

I personally like to live somewhere that the homes are stylistically similar, not clones, which I find just as unpleasant. Or in an area that's a total mish-mash of styles. But a single, comparitively odd structure? I just find that disruptive and irritating.
posted by windykites at 9:35 AM on April 9, 2013


It's not that anyone gives a fuck what kind of house you choose to build and live in. The issue is whether it fits in aesthetically with the neighbourhood. People move to a neighbourhood (ideally) because they like it. If you want to be surrounded by MCM, why would you plunk yourself down in a victorian neighbourhood where everone wants to be surrounded by old-fashioned things, and start building? That's just mean.

Just because you happen to like a certain kind of uniformity is not the same thing as having a right to enforce it. Lots of people lived in all-white suburbs because they liked living with all-white neighbors, but that doesn't mean they should have the right to keep non-white neighbors moving in.

There will, of course, be situations where an area or a neighborhood has an historic character that needs to be managed and preserved. But this is not the case in most of the situations where we get these stupid arguments emerging. Your aesthetic preference for homogeneity has no inherent claim to preferential treatment over my aesthetic preference for variety. It is no more "natural" that someone should like a block to be entirely "Victorian" than it is "natural" for them to want a block that is a mixture of different periods. Down this road lies all the insanity of Homeowner Associations dictating which colors you're allowed to paint your front door and whether or not you're allowed to set up a swingset for your kids in the back yard.
posted by yoink at 1:30 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just realized that that weird, awful metal snake slide in the Sky House that Mchelly linked here looks like a replica of the time travel worms in Donnie Darko.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:10 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just because you happen to like a certain kind of uniformity is not the same thing as having a right to enforce it. Lots of people lived in all-white suburbs because they liked living with all-white neighbors, but that doesn't mean they should have the right to keep non-white neighbors moving in.

Hyperbolic much? Are you still grumpy?
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hyperbolic much?

I'm not saying they're the same order of moral gravity, but they're definitely of the same family: "I like things as they are, I don't want to have to incorporate new ideas or new ways of living into my worldview, I only want to be surrounded by the familiar and the easily understood."

If you get to tell me how I live my life because you want not to have your ideas of how things "ought" to look challenged, then why wouldn't that extend to, say, whether I choose to walk hand in hand down the street with someone of the same or the opposite sex, say, or whether I choose to walk down the street hand in hand with someone of a different race? Again, I'm not saying that the magnitude is remotely the same, but the impulse to make others conform to your ideas of what constitutes "normal" and "acceptable" is related.
posted by yoink at 3:54 PM on April 9, 2013


No sane architect designs a structure to deliberately clash with its surroundings, but it does happen. I do see HOAs enforcing a kind of tyranny of mediocrity in aesthetics more often than not though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:58 PM on April 9, 2013


If you get to tell me how I live my life because you want not to have your ideas of how things "ought" to look challenged,

And you all but accused windykites of being a racist whiteflighter. Are you sure there wasn't another less hostile way to make your point?

Take it up with your city zoning board, since this is exactly the kind of thing they do. Want to build a 4-story house that looks really different from the other houses on the street? Your potential neighbors and the zoning people will get to weigh in on that. That doesn't mean people love ticky-tacky (though some definitely do), and it doesn't mean they want to live in the 'burbs. It might just mean they don't want a sore thumb on their street.

There's a house on a street a few blocks from me that is very different from the other houses on the street. But because it's set back a little farther - with a larger front garden, where most houses here have back gardens - and is not HUGE in comparison to other houses, you could walk right by a dozen times without particularly noticing it (as I have). I've peeked through the gate/fence and through their large windows, and it looks like a gorgeous place. And it doesn't disrupt the rest of the street. It's possible to live and build in harmony.
posted by rtha at 4:22 PM on April 9, 2013


Yeah, I didn't mean at all neighborhoods of "clones." Metairie developed at a fairly gradual pace (compared to Gentilly or New Orleans East, which really are fields of clones). There is a wide mix of styles from the single story ranch to the pseudo-Victorian with hip and slant and mixed roofs, and you drop a flat roof MCM that looks like a small office building into that mix and it just doesn't work.
posted by localroger at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2013


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