Once upon a time, or so we are led to believe, designing the Australian family home was as easy as assembling a Vegemite and cheese sandwich. It was just a case of putting together the tried and true basics, again and again, because everybody likes it.
You knew you needed a kitchen and laundry, a dining room, a lounge room, a bathroom (yes, just one) and a few bedrooms, usually three. When you walked through the front door into the hallway (vestibules hadn't been invented in Australia yet), the order of layout was generally lounge on one side, Mum and Dad's room on the other, then the kitchen and bathroom opposing each other, then the assortment of kid's bedrooms, and with the laundry hanging off the back of the house. The toilet was always next to the laundry, not in the bathroom (only American sitcoms had this, which is when I finally understood why they called going to the toilet, going to the 'bathroom').
There were some variations, but essentially this was the quintessential Aussie Family Home. On a 1/4 acre block. If in doubt, refresh your memory by watching a movie which demonstrates this clearly: The Castle. Okay, I forgot about the poolroom (they were obviously rich).
Ah, utopian times.
Now, as time-passengers of the twenty-first century teenies, we accept that house plans must be dissected, masticated, ruminated upon and finally examined for a spark of joy or alternative facts. We must have a plebiscite and present our prospective plan to complete strangers on social media for their edification and blessing.
Or, you can get liberated and do what's right for you and not worry about everyone else.
Liberated is how we felt when we made a radical change to our house design. We had spent several months on it, and it felt okay......except for the bedrooms. It literally kept me up at night. I worried about not hearing our kids when they had nightmares or a tummy bug, and the thought of them calling and crying while we slumbered obliviously was the clincher.
Our initial plan followed the current design default with the kids bedrooms and the master bedroom at opposite ends of the house. We stepped it out, and discovered that it would take about 35 steps from our bed to our son's. If that doesn't sound like much, try walking it in the dark at 2am down a hall, through several doorways, past the couch, kitchen table and most likely through a pile of schoolbags and toys. Now three times. Now every night.
Not so easy, huh?
I knew we had to have a conversation with our builder and they weren't going to like it because it meant starting the plan from scratch, after almost 12 months of planning.
The fact is, our kids are still relatively young at 6 and 9. It's complicated by the fact that our son has a disability which means he needs help nearly every night, usually several times. No matter how much we thought about it, the modern bias for a kids zone and parents zone wasn't going to fit our family. We bit the bullet and had the tough conversation with our designer.
So we decided to not the take the advice of those who told us teenagers need their space and privacy. That we needed our own space and privacy. That when our kids have parties we would want to get as far away as possible.
My husband and I agreed that we want our kids to know we're not far away. We want them to be able to call out if they need us, to be able to pass their bedroom each morning and ask how they slept, you're late for school, I love you. Life is short and you're a dead a long time.
And, just quietly, there's nothing wrong with your kids knowing that there's the teeniest chance Mum or Dad might spring them doing something that perhaps they shouldn't be doing - after all, this is how most of us were brought up, right? And we turned out okay.....right?
So there isn't a 'kids zone' in our house design. There isn't a 'parents retreat', either. I suppose the whole thing is one big Family Zone. A family home, even.
If need be, the kids can escape to a rumpus room, the lounge room or living room. There's lots of space outside and they will have their own bedrooms. In times of extreme teen angst, there are even doors on those bedrooms.
It's hard for many Aussies to understand, but there are people out there who don't like Vegemite and cheese sandwiches. It must be the cheese, I dunno. But it's true.
So it stands to reason that all house designs don't fit all families. The standard book of house designs that most builders show you doesn't contain a design that works the way you need it to. It's okay to want or need something else, and to ask how a house plan can work better for you. Don't be afraid to challenge your builder to think outside the box. It might just be one of the most liberating thing you do.
That, and truly loving a Vegemite and cheese sandwich.