Step 2 – Indoor / Outdoor Living

Step 2 – Indoor / Outdoor Living (PDF)
Step 2 – Indoor / Outdoor Living (Page 1)
Step 2 – Indoor / Outdoor Living (Page 2)
Step 2 – Indoor / Outdoor Living (Page 3)

  • John Brown

    Note To Readers

    Please review the attached excerpt from our upcoming book and provide comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc.
    The number of pages and basic format are fixed. The audience is non-professional. The goal is to help people learn how to use the Checklist to evaluate houses.

    Some issues to consider are:
    1. Is the introductory paragraph clearly stated?
    2. Are the rules of thumb the best ones (remember we can only have up to four for each side).
    3. Are the rules of thumb clearly worded?
    4. Are the common pitfall categories correct?
    5. Have we missed any critical common pitfalls?
    6. Are the diagram sufficiently clear examples of the common pitfalls?
    7. Is the wording of the common pitfalls clear?
    8. Am I missing something overall?
    9. Is the section clear and helpful?
    10. Is there anything else that would help someone make the determination of whether this particular part of this particular house is fast or slow?

    Thank you for your help.

    John Brown

  • Grace

    Good morning!
    Here’s my edit of the introductory paragraphs. I’ll let you know my take on the rest later. I’ve bracketed what I would eliminate and put in caps what I would add:

    The interior living spaces are usually the most important parts of a house[,] and often serve two or three functions at the same time. This kind of multi-tasking is harder to accomplish when the living spaces are [closed off] SEPARATED INTO individual rooms. An open, flexible, LOFT-LIKE living space that [also] includes the kitchen and dining area is a much more effective way to accommodate [this] overlapping [of] uses. Although many fast houses incorporate [some] versionS of [this arrangement] THE LOFT in [a] THE so called “great room” [concept], the reality is that many of these rooms are [just] not all that great. [They can be] OFTEN THEY ARE OF the wrong proportion or the wrong shape. OR They can be too large. [just as easily as being too small. Remember,] A big empty room might look impressive, but it isn’t necessarily [very] flexible.

    Outdoor living spaces are equally important and a Slow Home should have at least one. They should be visual extensions of the principal indoor living space, bringing many of the internal functions of the house out into the fresh air and sunlight. In good weather these spaces can often double the amount of available living space at only a fraction of the cost. [Unfortunately,] Most fast houses are designed as hermetically sealed boxes, and most terraces are JUST left over spaces that may hold a barbecue [but] AND little else. The situation can be even worse in multi-family units where the balconies are [usually] OFTEN oddly shaped, poorly proportioned, and HAVE only the minimum area required by the planning code.

  • David P


    I like this section and really like the little history lesson on the parlor. I also think the small “focus box” adds to the section. Perhaps this is how to address the good example issue that was raised by many yesterday. I found this “focus box” helped to put the examples into context and balanced the section as a whole.

    Regarding the break you suggested this morning. I think it might be good to take 1 day a week (Friday would be my suggestion) to summarize what you have observed and your expectations for the week to come.

  • BradW


    I enjoyed this section. You are going to think this is funny but example 4 is not bad enough or, at least, too subtle to make your point. The furniture is cheated in from the walls and both the living space and the kitchen eating areas have good connections to the outside. I know what you are trying to say but you need a more extreme example to say it.

    The focus box on the parlour was fine.

  • Murray


    My two bits on this section

    Yes, I think a break in proceedings would give everyone time
    to reflect and refocus.

  • John Brown

    As before – great decisive, detailed comments on the text. Thank you.

  • John Brown

    You make an interesting observation about the inset box “working” better today than yesterday. I am really curious about that – perhaps it is the fact that there is more text??? It is still a critical piece instead of a positive one but is it perhaps less specific than just talking about the lack of closets???

    Any suggestions or thoughts about why this is the case?

    I will put one vote down for a break on Friday!

  • John Brown

    Thank you very much for the comment on example 4. That is exactly the kind of feedback we really need. The pitfalls have to be FALLS not just stumbles and over the past few months it has gotten hard to be sure we haven’t just chosen one for expediency rather than content.

  • James Scott

    Though there is mention of the importance of the visual/physical connection from indoors to outdoors, there is no mention of the reverse impact of outdoors in.

    This is a feature discussed in earlier episodes, and I feel just as critical.

  • Murray

    Hello John and webmaster,

    I submitted 3 jpegs earlier this morning. On my computer screen my entry appears, but there is a message beside my name “Your comment is awaiting moderation” – I checked on a different computer and my entry does not show up at all.

    I am wondering if you can see my submission?

    The jpeg size is not too large, so I wonder what else might be the glitch. Any thoughts?


  • Li-Na

    Hello John,

    Having not seen the rest of the content, I’m just throwing this out there as a thought-question. Is there a section in your book that covers pitfalls that could happen in any room? For example, Pitfall 1 is the awkwardly shaped living room. What happens if there is an awkwardly shaped kitchen? Will that be listed in the Common Pitfalls for a kitchen?

    Pitfall 2: I wonder if there is a need to generalize Pitfall 2 to highlight that the problem is not necessarily having the TV and fireplace on opposite walls, but of having 2 focal points, in this case, the tv and the fireplace.

    Pitfall 3: I found that the last sentence, “Also note, that the laundry room opens directly into the principal living space” left me hanging. Perhaps a little elaboration here might help? Tell me what the issue is of having the laundry room there. :-)

    Pitfall 4: I’d like to suggest that you move the highlighted circle in the diagram so that it focusses directly on the living-dining area with the kitchen and entry still in the diagram but grayed out.

    Actually, I have a niggling problem with Pitfall 4 that I just can’t quite identify right now…

    Pitfall 5: I wonder if there is a way to present the diagram so that it is consistent with the other ones we have seen. This diagram does not have the circle highlighting the problem area and it took me a second to process because of this difference from the rest. I am not sure how this could be done with this plan however, and I may just be nitpicking on this one.

    Re: Commentary. I think that it still has the potential to be abrupt but that we may have gotten used to it after seeing yesterday’s. At this point, I hold onto my opinion that if you keep the commentaries where they are, they should be more clearly marked somehow as “part of, but separate from”, if that makes sense. Whether that is putting it in a sidebar or having the page a different background colour, I’m sure the book layout folks will have suggestions if this is something you think is important. :-)

    I am all for having a Friday break especially since you’ll be away, John (plus you look just a tad overwhelmed with all the responses!). I know that a little time to digest would certainly help *me* process all this, anyway! ;-)

  • Jane

    John, my only comment today is with example #3. I understand that the amount of light into the living area is compromised, however considering the layout of the house and having a nice bright kitchen maybe something that is good in this example.
    I would suggest the house from last week where the garage is facing south and the only light coming into the house is from the north. too many row houses are built like that!
    I thought the other examples illistrated what you were getting at.

  • Terri

    Your jpegs came through. I think we get that message you got when someone else is accessing the system at the same time.

  • John Brown

    The identification of a very important oversight – thanks.

  • John Brown

    Sorry for the glitch. The software thought it might have been spam and waited for the webmaster to come in this morning and approve it.

  • Murray

    Thanks Terri, Thanks John,

    I hope my offering is more “nutritional” than Spam!;-)

  • jim baer


    i am having problems with the concept of this one. i see it as indoor living, outdoor living and indoor / outdoor. i.e. the transition from one to the other.

    each of these could have its own list of livability, environmental footprint and pitfalls. i.e. circulation, furniture placement, awkward shapes, conflicting focal points, relationship to other spaces, etc….

    the pitfalls show only living rooms. what about kitchens and dining? or bedrooms?

    the introduction talks about “loft-like space that includes the kitchen and dining.” but none of the pitfalls address this or how fast homes don’t get it right. (except for the death of the parlor section that talks about the hold-over formal living room.)

    i know you want to keep the number of checklist items to an understandable number. there does seem to be a limit to what we can wrap our brains around and still keep organized. maybe there is a need for larger categories with more sub-categories. even though the total number would be greater, the user could keep the categories in their head and concentrate on the sub-categories they are most interested in or most concerned with at the particular time.

    i did not know that family rooms grew out of enclosed play room during the post war baby boom.

    the plant and grandma furniture comment made me laugh out loud. this did show your personality.

    in brooklyn, victorian townhouses often had two parlors on the main floor and were usually called the front parlor and the rear parlor. these were for separate entertaining of males and females. this floor is still generically referred to as the parlor floor even if it has been converted to other uses or even separate apartments.

  • jjim x

    Hi John

    I like “Death of the Parlour” although a better example is needed of a parlour space. If there are more little sections like this they could be set off. The box around the page is a good idea, but I think a defining title such as “A brief history…” is also needed

    I think there is a need for good examples to illustrate the right way to design the space. For example p103 “Terrace is too shallow” exposes the faults of balconies that supply the bare minimum, but an example of a terrace that shows the space needed for a small table and two chairs plus circulation area would be helpful. (Several weeks ago you talked about the dining room and the way the table should be placed, the amount of space needed for chairs and circulation. Similar rules of thumb could be provided here.)

    More suggestions for heading for Common Pitfalls:
    p100: “Awkwardly shaped living room” becomes “Angles = Awkward”
    p101: “The long and narrow room” becomes “The bowling alley room”
    I know I am walking a narrow line here: I think the headings should be memorable and concise without being smart ass.

    Jim X

  • Ruth Hasell

    Hi John,

    This is another vote for a break on Friday. And, for what it’s worth, I think extending the discussion of each section to two days would lose momentum.

    1. If the outside spaces are also living spaces, would it help to show them furnished? Also to be considered, what makes a good outside living space?

    2. ‘Death of the Parlor’ makes it sound like it is a passing that you regret, while it is clear from the writing that the death of the parlor is something you advocate – more in the manner of ‘Death to the Parlor’ (used for illustration of my point only, not promoting it as a title).

    Thanks again.

  • John Brown

    Very high protein comments actually. Thanks for taking the time, once again to mark up the drafts. It really helps clarify things for me.

  • John Brown

    Those are great comments about the pitfalls. Really helpful. In terms of the larger context we devote the second half of chapter two to the most common general problems in fast houses. However, I think your suggestion of generalizing these parts a bit more is a good one.

    It is also funny that you would bring up the laundry comment in pitfall 3 – I added that literally 30 seconds before we posted it. Obviously requires some more thought.

  • John Brown

    Looking back, I agree that there have been better examples of that common pitfall in recent design exercises. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.

  • John Brown

    Jim Baer,
    It is good to hear those kinds of more overarching problems. I find it difficult to address them right now when we are all so focused on specifics. I think that we should plan to have a more general collective discussion after we have gone through all the 12 sections. We can discuss overall approach, the consistency between the different sets of rules of thmb and so forth

  • John Brown


    Good suggestions for the inset box. As we go through the other sections I have a feeling that the character of these commentaries will become better defined by the group. I look forward to your specific comments on these “as a whole”.

    Good suggestions for the names and you are absolutely right – we have to walk the very narrow line between being memorable without being smart ass.

  • John Brown

    How could we have missed not furnishing the outside spaces – yikes!

    Also a good point about the demise of the parlour – am I executioner or witness.

    I think that gives us three votes for a break on Friday.

  • Annette Eason C.S.B.A.

    This morning you get all of us.
    Because the important point of showing the positive was raised so often yesterday, let’s start there. We all loved the “Focus on the Quality of Space …” box on the bottom of pg.5. It would be good if all the sections had the same feature where you focused on the most salient point of the section. The Entry section would greatly benefit from it.
    We really liked “The Death of the Parlor” especially the line “the place where potted plants and your grandmother’s furniture goes to die.” We think the example is sufficiently bad, but its explanation would be clearer if it were taken out of the body of the text and associated more directly with illustration(below it?)
    We all agreed that the pitfalls do not fall hard enough. We found simple solutions (i.e. furniture placement, skylights) way to quickly. Also with your dislike of the use of angled walls (and we are right there with you) we would like to suggest something like “Bad Angles, Space Robbers.”
    Finally we would like to see the concept of backyard expanded to be more inclusive of other types of outdoor living spaces. With the decreasing lot size and the sustainable need for higher density, we would want anyone to think a home was not a slow home just because it did not have a traditional backyard.

  • Elizabeth

    When I started this section, I thought it was going to be about how to marry indoor and outdoor spaces(the transition [another entry], levels, proximity to kitchen, living etc) not covering the entire living rm and deck in one. I expected a living room to be its own section, as it’s pretty much the primo room in the house. So, I might think of changing the title to: “Living Rooms: Indoor and Outdoor” or some such.

    I felt the “Focus on quality of space…” box had some of the best content, but was positioned as an afterthought or space filler. It also provides a good definition of the type of spaces the section addresses. So I’d put this content into the intro by editing back much of the current intro stuff.

    Under Environmental Footprint


    Next bullet change to: THE LIVING SPACES ARE NOT TOO BIG OR TOO SMALL. [But I don't know how to tell the difference!]

    Death of the Parlour

    REALLY LIKE THIS SEGMENT. I don’t think it needs an explanation as to why it’s there.

    Under Common Pitfalls
    1. Delete PROPERLY

    2. Change to: This condo unit has two focal points in the living room: the television and the fireplace, which are on opposite walls.

    3. The symbols for the south sunlight are too much with many very fine lines.
    Change the house WILL BE dark to: the house IS dark…Keep in the present tense.
    That note about the laundry rm is interesting but out of context here. I’d remove.

    4. The long [COMMA] narrow proportion of the living
    room in this multi[HYPHEN]family unit [DELETE: makes it, REPLACE WITH: is] difficult to furnish and use.
    Also, I don’t think this room is too bad. The “wasted” space is bigger than it really needs to be here.

    5. Did someone say add furniture to this picture? I agree. Everything is all circulation until you have a destination. A couple of lounge chairs may make the point.

    Is there an example of a room that’s too big to be useful? Because this is harder to imagine than a weirdly angled room, you might swap “weirdly” for a “too big” example.

  • John Brown

    I appreciate the group effort.

    Thanks for pointing out the “focus on quality” box. Perhaps, as you suggest that is how we can address the desire for some good examples without getting too specific and narrowly focused with plan examples.

    I also appreciate the need to make the pitfalls a little deeper. Hopefully there are bigger potholes in the other sections to come.

    I agree about the comments about the backyard. We need to make some room for this oversight.

  • Li-Na

    Quoting John: “It is also funny that you would bring up the laundry comment in pitfall 3 – I added that literally 30 seconds before we posted it.”

    Ahah! Busted! :-)

  • Terri


    There are some editorial issues that I haven’t addressed since I imagine your publisher will have a house style to follow. I agree with Murray to follow Canadian spelling, but again, that will depend on your publisher.

    Instead of trying to “say” everything that came to mind as I read, I quickly scratched my comments on the hard copy.

    I agree with others that the final “Focus” box is a good summary. It could be incorporated into the introduction, as Elizabeth suggests. If that were the choice, then I’d consider using the Rules of Thumb as summaries, since by the time a person reads the examples, he or she might like to have such an overview as these Rules boxes provide.

    Earlier today you asked if the Death to the Parlour sidebar worked better than the Where Have All the Closets Gone? because it included more text. I think maybe that is the case. There were too many examples in yesterday’s Closets bit, though possibly that seemed the only way to make the point. I don’t know how you could extrapolate on why closets have been removed, but it’d be interesting to know why!

  • Terri

    I’m sorry the pages aren’t all upright. Maybe next time…
    (Also, please excuse my lame attempts at making your pitfall subtitles lighter.)

  • Allan


    From your Indoor.Outdoor living header, I was anticipating this section to cover both the indoor room and the ‘outdoor room’, so in that sense the header did not work. I was intrigued by the Outdoor Living topic as for me, the concept of the outdoor room has walls that are not as solid. They are more pillars, arbours, ivy and clematis. Perhaps a bit of a title tweak needed.

    There really isn’t much difference in concept between Pitfall 1 & 4. But it might be worth hanging onto both of these for the end-user (like me!) who hasn’t been thinking about the ways the awkward room might present itself (either in shape or intended usage).

    I love the humour that creeps in. It keeps the reader’s attention and shows that there is a “real live person” who has devoted a lot of time and energy and knowledge. It also prevents the book from reading like “A Pattern Language”. There’s also a vault of knowledge there, but the price the reader pays to get it can be high. Lastly, I appreciate the word-play on “Death of the Parlour” I initially wondered if you were headed to the century old tradition of the home funeral and the parlour becoming the “viewing room”. :)

  • Allan


    I also cast a vote for a ‘reflective Friday’.

    I’m in meetings all day tomorrow, so will have to catch up afterwards.

  • John Brown

    A good suggestion about the title – it seems that it is confusing for several people. I also very much appreciate the close, detailed review of the text. Thank you

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the detailed review.

    I have been thinking a lot about the different perceptions of the closet inset box, the parlor inset, and the think quality not quantity inset. I have to admit to being somewhat perplexed although your analysis helps.

    Looking ahead to tomorrow’s discussion there is an inset box about the “Trophy Kitchen”. I can’t wait to hear about that one.

  • John Brown

    Very perceptive pick up on the parlour word play. I was sure that it was going to be too obscure – my own little private joke. Thank you as well for the comment about the humor – I want it to be enjoyable without being silly or mean.

    Glad to hear you agree about Friday. I think that is the consensus.

  • Jabari


    I’ve struggled with this section since early this morning. Frankly, it just didn’t sing to me.

    In part, it’s a function of dashed expectations: the title “Indoor/Outdoor Living” suggested a discussion of indoor spaces and (private) outdoor spaces, and the transitions and connections between these two discrete living areas. The text seems more tightly focused on the *quality* and *quantity* of a living space, irrespective of the presence of walls and a roof. A rethinking of the title may be in order. Especially since the “Focus on…” section was so well-written, why not incorporate that text within the introduction and call this section “Main Living Spaces”…?

    Plus, I find myself chafing under the two-paragraph constraint. I “got” where you were going, John (after all, I’ve been following your blog for months, and been thinking about similar content for years). Still, I hungered for more meat: What specific qualities and plan features make a living space flexible; or What makes a particular space out-of-proportion or unnecessary? I wanted metrics, and fear that someone with less subject-matter expertise might be left scratching his temple.

    A small complaint, too. I’ve lived in suburban tract homes, in a 120-year-old rowhouse, and in a high-rise condo with a balcony. Now, that condo’s balcony was serviceable enough, space-wise; there was room enough for a small cafe table and two chairs, plus a pot of tomatoes. The view was awesome, too (at least until the tower across the street was built). And I hardly went out there. Why? No privacy. With neighbors within spitting distance to the right, left, below and above (and eventually across the street), this was very much *public* space – complete with restrictions on the type and style of furniture that I could put out there. Seems to me that in your typical high-rise urban context, the outdoor space is for looking… not so much with the living. Thoughts, John?

    Finally (and off-topic), the aside regarding dead parlors got me to thinking: jim baer points to the parlors in his Brooklyn brownstone, and I note that this space was a particular architectural response to a particular time and place and – maybe most importantly – a particular class of people (you won’t find too many parlors in the housing built for immigrants in NYC’s Lower East Side). I wonder whether a Slow Home is also timeless, or at least flexible enough to adapt to different contexts? And by contexts, I don’t limit myself only to cultural contexts, but those changing contexts that coincide with the residents’ life stages.

  • BradW

    Jabari – great comments…

    I agree wholeheartedly that the Slow Home is timeless, after all, it would be the product of good design.

    And while I enjoyed the section, I also came away confused about its purpose…I felt it worked best analyzing the important connection between the indoor and outdoor space. It was not as effective as a specific examination of living space, indoor or outdoor.

  • Elva

    I hope you don’t mind a few comments on a macro level.
    I read the section on Front/Back Entries and felt that it had a negative tone with more space used to focused on bad design than good design or the Slow Home approach. I hope that including examples of good design as suggested in Tues prologue will provide a more positive tone to the book. I also think that it would be better to reword some of the “Rules of Thumb” and change the rules from a “does not” to “does”. For example change “The front entry does not open directly into a principal living space” to “The front entry provides a transitional space before entering a principle living space”.
    The tone of the Indoor/Outdoor Living Spaces was more evenly balanced. I agreed with Elizabeth and Terri on moving the “Focus on Quality …” insert It would be better as an introduction. I think equivalent inserts for the other sections would add to the book.
    On the index card format for Rules of Thumb; I think it would be better to use the tab for the area/areas to which the rules apply and find another location for “Slow Home: Rules of Thumb”. Perhaps along the bottom but a graphic artist may have a better suggestion? I just took another look at the card and noticed the “Graphic” denoting entries but think this may be a little subtle.

  • John Brown

    Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. There is clearly a need to rethink, rejig, reformulate the outdoor part of this section. We will also see what we can do in terms of more hard core metrics or suggestions. The balance, of course, is that those suggestions can often harden into rules which can cause even more problems.

    In terms of the high rise terrace, I can see your point. In fact, in the cold climate in which I live I spend more months of the year looking out onto my deck and garden than actually occupying it.

    I think that a Slow Home is flexible enough to adapt to a variety of contexts while at the same time being specific enough that it relates to its context and climate. Timeless? That may depend on the frame of reference – but certainly it means lasting, and remaining relevant, for several generations.

  • John Brown

    I appreciate the comment about a confusion of focus. Looking back through the day’s comments it is clear that we were thinking about it in a narrower context than we should be.

  • John Brown


    Macro comments are really useful and I am very happy to hear your comparison between the two sections. Hopefully you can extend the review to subsequent areas as well. I take your point about the tone of the section on entry.

  • Steve

    [This is a “big picture” post.] There are at least three subjects in this section, and I don’t think they fit together well.

    1. The whole first paragraph is about opening living spaces to each other without making the space too big. This topic is supported – though only indirectly – by Rules 1, 4, and 5. None of the Pitfalls address interior openness (though Pitfall 2 illustrates Rule 1).

    2. The second paragraph is about usable outdoor spaces. This is supported only indirectly by Rule 3 and directly by Pitfall 5 (and 6 if it wasn’t focused instead on angled walls).

    3. The third topic is in the closing Focus on Quality paragraph where it states that indoor spaces should have “a strong and direct connection to [the] outside” – a clean and simple definition (finally) of the title of this section, indoor/outdoor living. Rules 2, 3, and 6 directly relate, as do Pitfalls 1 and 3.

    So, the first topic is the weakest because it doesn’t seem to fit under this title and is given no illustration. Openness is the Big O in SLO home, so I’d suggest it have a section of its own with loads of positive and negative examples. That would free-up more room for the other subjects.

    The second topic, usable outdoor spaces, fits reasonably under the indoor/outdoor title and has one solid Pitfall – it could use a Rule or two describing what to look for as well. OPPORTUNITY: I think the fast house assumption is that any outdoor space is in the backyard. Let’s make Ms. Jacobs proud and encourage usable front yards as well. :)

    I think the third topic – connection between indoor and outdoor – should be the star of this section, but it gets lost in the clutter. More of the commentary, rules, and pitfalls should focus on describing, by positive and negative example, how a good interior space is “connected” to the outdoors. Aside from having windows and doors to the exterior, what does this mean exactly?

    Lastly, I don’t see a need for sidebars in this section of the book. Your format is smart and quick with a good balance of text, illustration, and white space. Sidebars are great when the text is heavy or the format boring, but that’s not the case here.

  • John Brown

    That is an very coherent dissection of the piece. It is really helpful to think of it this way. Thanks.

  • Terri

    An amazing dissection of this chapter. You should be an editor (or are you?). ;)

  • Barbara

    Hello John
    I don’t know if you’re still checking input but I do have a comment about the outdated parlour.
    I have a family room and a living room on the main floor of my house.
    The living room is separate and has no views to the family room or kitchen (which often can be messy).
    I appreciate having a room I can go to to get away from the mess and to bring clients or unexpected guests. Even to just walk by and see a tidy space is calming to me. It allows me to nag my family less.
    A luxury – yes. I’m going to miss it when I move.