Step 4 – Dining / Study

Step 4 – Dining / Study (PDF)
Step 4 – Dining / Study (Page 1)
Step 4 – Dining / Study (Page 2)
Step 4 – Dining / Study (Page 3)

  • Grace

    This looks clear, clean, etc. to me. I’m ceding detailed editing to Terri, who does such a great job on the jpeg!

    There’s been one area in which the slow home homes have always failed me–a quiet space to be alone that isn’t just a chair in a bedroom or an ‘away room,’ as susan susanka calls it. I don’t like being ‘away’ even if I vant to be alone. I’ve always railed against the vestigial parlor and the duplication of spaces, usually dining areas, so that’s not what I want. I need a dedicated space that is removed, yet part of, the living area. I do much of my work at home (I’m a writer and a weaver, although I don’t write about weaving!). My husband is also a writer and we now live in the perfect space for us: we have incorporated a library and a weaving studio in dedicated recesses (about 8′x 10+’) off our open living space.

    This is all probably totally off topic! Certainly it has little to do with transforming fast house development. Maybe I’m saturated by the current project (yeah for Friday!), but that’s what’s on my mind this morning.

  • David P


    With regards to the opening comments on dining rooms. I would hold that the formal dining room is anything but an idea on the wane. As a home builder I speak with potential buyers all the time and find the split about 50/50; those who like a formal dining room and those who do not. I agree that the design needs to be carefully thought through so that the room is not isolated from the rest of the house, yet maintains its identity. The one key element for me is that no one at the table is forced to look at the dirty dishes or an entry hall etc.

    Other than that I found this to be an informative and well exampled section.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    I work from home. I sit reading the check list from my basement office. I can look out my 2×4 glass block window every day. It is anything but luxurious. And yet, I have more daylight, more control over the temperature and lighting of my office than my co-workers.
    I guess I’ve a fast home ;)

  • Murray

    Quick question (?)

    Over the past few days I have found myself constantly referring to the previous days’ discussions. I have accessed these through the visual links immediately below the video clip “Recent Exercises”. Your web design limits this to 4.

    Is something in place to continue to allow easy access to previous discussions as per the archived exercises – I assume so, but just wanted to check. Thanks.


  • Li-Na

    I was surprised you chose to group dining and study together, but I’m happy to say that my initial reaction upon reading the section is a positive one. It seems to work although I think I’d be in a better position to judge once we’ve seen all the sections.

    Only have 2 comments today. Easy ones too!

    #1) In Pitfall 1, I think you mean “principle” not “principal”.

    #2) Also in Pitfall 1, I would get rid of the second “as a result” that appears in the last sentence.

    I’m curious though, to know what made you decide to group the dining and study together?

    I wanted to say that despite the fast pace of this project, I am quite enjoying it. I am glad to be able to give something in return for the knowledge I’ve gained from the Slow Home website (that is of course, provided you find my comments helpful, hee!).

    Also, I wanted to say that I really appreciate the simple language and diagrams you are using. These definitely make your points easier to understand and added to your (John’s) subtle humour, will make your book more accessible to folks.

    I hope everyone enjoys their Friday off. ;-)

  • BradW

    John – How did you determine that the dining room and the study are related enough to be grouped together in one chapter? I appreciate the format you are trying to achieve and hey its your book but it seems kind of arbitrary or forced to me.

    I also agree with DavidP regarding the dining room. It is not dead. I think whether you have a table in the kitchen and a separate dining room really depends on the size of the home. Many homes continue to be built which have a kitchen with an eat in area, a dining room/living room space and a family room. I see nothing wrong with that as long as the space is well designed. To be a Slow Home, does a house have to include an open kithen/dining/living space?

    Also outdoor dining is important – the first thing most people who have outdoor space do is buy a table and chairs.

    Finally, I find it very interesting when someone comments that they don’t live in a Slow Home. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

  • jim baer



    thanks for the recognition. i hope i did not go overboard this time.

    as an aside…i usually review the diagrams first and more intensely than the opening paragraphs. i guess it is the visual/architect thing in me. anyhow, there may be comments on the diagrams that would have been answered by reading first.

    i think the dining / study combination works better than the front / back entry and indoor / outdoor combinations did. i think the dining / study topics are small enough and different enough that they act like two sections in the same location. entires are intense spaces and indoor/outdoor/transition are big topics. all needed more time and space to get the information across.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the personal insight. I agree about the need for spaces like this but personally dislike the idea of something called an “away room”. It sounds too much like the naughty corner in kindergarten. A quiet space that can accommodate whatever specific tasks a given homeowner might need is an important component of a slow home. Perhaps this is something that can be addressed in the living section.

  • John Brown

    That is interesting. In our practice the number of people looking for a separate dining room is down to about 15% and we take them out of almost every old home we renovate. Perhaps this is a geographic issue. I will take your comments into consideration and make the opening statements a little less strident.

  • John Brown

    A good question. We have actually created a new category (along with What’s Wrong With This House and Design Project, etc.) that all of these discussions will go into. It will kick in as soon as the number of segments exceed 5.

  • John Brown

    The choice of how to “group” some of the spaces together was not an easy one to make. In the end I thought that dining and study worked together because we have often transformed formal dining rooms in older houses into a library/study in which you can also eat. We had an inset box that talked about that option but it was edited out for space reasons. Perhaps we should consider bringing it back in to the book.

    I also want you to know that your feedback is very much appreciated. It is insightful, direct and very helpful. Thanks to you – and everyone else – who has devoted so much of their valuable time this week to the project. I am glad of tomorrow off as well.

    I look forward to working with you next week.

  • Ruth Hasell


    Hi John,

    I am really enjoying reading and thinking about the comments from the Slow Home community, as well as (of course) the work that you and your partner have done to date. You have really assembled an exceptional community.

    I have attached some thoughts. I hope these are clear enough to read.

  • John Brown

    In my response to Li-Na’s comments directly above this one I spoke about the rationale for the combination. With the same question from both of you I think we definitely bring back the combo dining study idea. Would that be sufficient to meet your concerns?

    I also take the point that you and David make about toning down the rhetoric on the demise of the formal dining room.

    I really appreciate the honesty of a someone saying they don’t live in a slow home. I think that is true of many people. Until I started to learn about it, I didn’t really know that fast food hamburgers and those delicious morning donuts weren’t very good for me either.

    I really hope that the tone of the book will be such that people are not threatened but helped by what they discover about the potential for design. I think it has worked so far on the daily design exercises – and I really want that feeling of positive change to extend to the book.

    See you next week!

  • Murray


    Hello All,

    Dining and study? Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to read at the table?

    On reflection, for me, this section is about potentially wasted space in a house.

    Do you really need a formal dining room? Do you really need a study? If the answer is “yes”, great, but if the answer is “no, not really” then this becomes a valuable point to consider when looking at potential living spaces.

    “Wasted” can also take on the flavour of poorly-designed and, therefore, unusable, as opposed to redundant space that is under-utilized for any number of reasons including poor design.

    PS, John, I posted early this morning re: kitchens
    PPS – Grace, I am also a weaver.

  • BradW


    I like the idea of showing what can happen to the old formal dining room as a point of interest similar to the parlor discussion.

    Have a safe trip!

  • Peg

    Over all, I think each section needs to be put through a ‘plain English’ filter, to ensure that the writing is just as ‘simple, light and open’ as Slow Home itself.

    Here are a couple of suggestions:


    Remove the second ‘same’ in the sentence “At the same time, many of these [same] houses also have an informal eating area or ‘nook’”

    The word ‘actually’ pops up a lot. I think you could edit it out in most cases, without changing the meaning of the sentence.

    This sentence is a bit long and could be split:

    - Sharing a meal with family or friends is one of the most significant activities [that] we undertake. WE DESERVE TO ENJOY IT in a great space.

    Pitfall 1:

    Rewrite last sentence?:
    BECAUSE IT is so difficult to reach two of the chairs, PEOPLE PROBABLY WON’T use the table much.

    Pitfall 4:

    Take out the word ‘allocated’.

    Rewrite last sentence?
    Although the eating bar is BIG ENOUGH, it IS SO CLOSE to the eating nook that it is NOT REALLY NEEDED.

  • Jim X


    Hi everyone:

    As I note on the jpeg I think the checklist categories should be separate categories: Front Entry, Back Entry, Indoor Living, Outdoor Living, Kitchen, Dining Room, Study, Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Garage, Laundry.

    When categories are combined, the Dining room could be well designed (check the ‘slow home’ box) and the the study could be a dark corner with a desk and computer (check the ‘fast home’ box). Separate categories makes the checklist easier to use.
    However one reason for combining categories is to keep the number of pages down. Separate categories is like “supersizing” the book.
    Cutting back on the list of “common pitfalls” might help, but you may be adding examples of “good design.”

    To sign off here, I admire John’s courage in opening the project to a tidal wave of criticism. I find it interesting but time-consuming going through all the entries, so I am sure it is intellectually demanding for our leader.

    Jim X

  • Terri

    Hi John,
    Once again I’m so late to the Slow Home site that I really can’t add much to the discussion. I’ve read all of the comments up to Jim X and agree with everyone, as usual.
    I too wondered how you could combine Study and Dining and thought maybe the thrust would be that the dining table be used as a study space (true multi-tasking purpose)HA!
    I was at a home this summer where the eating bar was so large that the family of four used it everyday, and the father used the huge dining table adjacent as his desk, covered with stacks of papers and books. This was an open plan space, very generously sized too, but it certainly didn’t appeal to me. But I digress…

    My only comment pertains to the last box Do You Need a Home Office? This title does sound a little bit condescending. And I also take issue with its assertion that in reality we are not actually telecommuting all that much. Just a month or two ago, I heard something on the CBC which basically refutes this assertion. Apparently the numbers ARE increasing. And anyway, as Ruth says, it’s better to keep all that paper that comes into the home at a desk, and more families believe in communal computers, don’t they? (I haven’t heard any statistics on that yet.)

    Grace, You shouldn’t leave the editing to me. I may have got carried away yesterday (avoiding a tiresome proofing job), but I’m not always so inclined, and many eyes make for better proofing. BTW, I thought I’d like to try weaving (one of the few arts I haven’t tried yet). Sounds like you’ve found a nice balance between the “heady” stuff of writing and a more tactile art.

  • Jabari

    David P:

    My “must have” list for my first home included separate formal and informal dining spaces. Truth was, though, that formal space was hardly ever used. (Ironically, though, it got more use than did the informal space; most of my at-home meals were taken at the couch!)

    The second time at bat, and I’m in an open loft-like space, and the kitchen includes an island with a bar. I don’t even bother to purchase stools. … got a new couch, though.

    I’d likely queue up with the one-dining-room crowd. Of course, I’m also childless; I might have a different POV if I weren’t. Still, I think that a dining space should be easily *formalized*; that is, it should easily make the transition from everyday to holiday.


    My couch is the best. couch. EVER!!!11! In addition to being my informal eating space, it’s also my TV-watching place, gaming station, lounging-with-partner area, napping chaise, and – yes – my home office. (Mmmm… wi-fi.)

    I’m not certain that, taxonomically, “dining room” goes with “study,” plus the combination assumes some class/cultural things that may not be true for everyone in your audience. My little sister and brother-in-law, for instance, don’t want or need a “home office,” since neither of them have jobs that require them/allow them to work from home. They *do* however, want and need a craftroom, a homework station, and a multi-media gaming and theater room. (I know, right? We boys and our toys…)

    Everyone, though, needs a place to eat.

    I’d propose letting the dining room(s) have a chapter of its own, and instead grouping the study with all of those “other” spaces that differ along this context-and-lifestyle-specific want/need axis.

  • Annette Eason C.S.B.A.

    I like this grouping very much and agree with Jim’s reasoning. Both are often under utilized secondary living spaces. One of the main goals of sustainable building is to minimize or maintain(as in the case of remodeling) a building’s footprint(square footage) while maximizing function. Do you want a really separate, enclosed dining room or do you really want want a comfortable inviting space to entertain and dine with your family? Wanting in no way equates with poor design, but playing on wants as fast homes do often does lead to poor design choices. I also agree with Ruth’s comment on pitfall#7. In a family home such an open space might be preferred to allow for parental monitoring of homework and the family computer.
    Are you including a glossary in the book? If not I think it might be a good idea. You would not have to take up limited text space with explanation of specific terms. It would also increase the books functional value.

    Some overall comments since we have seen four sections:
    We really like the concept of the layout. Aside from some issues already address at length, it is accessible and user friendly. Just today in the office we were saying how great it would have been if some of our clients had this in hand when they were looking for their for their houses. More than once we have heard “we picked this house because we thought it would be easy to turn it into what we want.” Then they tell us about the house they did not choose and we sigh.

  • Elizabeth


    You may have to bring back your reason (in your answer to Li-Na) for joining these two! I guess the older-fashioned Study/Den/Library idea may be waning, but I think home offices are growing. I and most of my colleagues work exclusively at home. Of friends and family who still go to an office, many work at home one day a week or more, on average. Obviously this isn’t the case for every type of business, but in my anecdotal experience, I think the home office is at least as significant as it was 10 years ago. “Paperless” is another story!

    Also, people want to put computers into living areas in order to keep and eye on kids using the internet. This isn’t an office, exactly, but perhaps a new function? Mind you, the prevalence of the laptop is eliminating the need for a dedicated desk space. Musings…

    Anyway, on that topic, I took the liberty of combining the intro text on the office and the “Do you need…” box. Again, I think the best info is in this box, and it deserves to be up front. The combined paragraph (eliminating the idea that home offices are unnecessary. Sorry!) follows:

    A study or den, on the other hand, is not always an essential space. In many fast houses, studies are left-over spaces: tiny closet-sized rooms or slightly enlarged hallways, labelled falsely on the plans. If you do work from home, a functional home office need not be large but it should be a quiet, enclosed or semi-enclosed room with appropriate storage, adequate space to move around, and good daylight and ventilation. If a home office is one of the primary functions of a home, it too deserves to be a very high-quality space.

    I think in examples of a real home office, it would helpful to indicate storage, shelves for printers etc.

    Another overall question: how do the Rules of Thumb connect with the Common Pitfalls? Some examples demonstrate a rule of thumb and others don’t, such as “Dining room doesn’t have enough separation from kitchen.” If this is an important characteristic, should it be in the Rules of Thumb or in the Intro paragraph?

  • Elizabeth

    Sorry, included “enjoyed” twice in Dining description. I really like my meals!

  • Sherry

    My immediate reaction to reading the Dining/Study combo heading was to smile and think that it must be very common for folks to use the room intended to be a formal dining space for a study. We do this in our home. The room that was intended to be a formal dining room is a nice space that connects with both the kitchen and the main living area, making it perfect for the central family computer/family office area.

  • Steve

    A light bulb came on for me when John said Tuesday’s section combined the separate topics of indoor and outdoor living spaces. Bingo! I didn’t know that – I thought it was about the concept of “indoor/outdoor living” (as stated by the title and described in the concluding paragraph). I’ll have to revisit that discussion to see if “indoor living rooms” and “outdoor living spaces” – as separate topics – makes more sense of that section.

    A somewhat similar issue arises today. In particular instances, does “dining” or “study” refer to dining rooms and offices or to the functions of dining and studying? And are these dedicated rooms, or do you mean areas within a larger, open plan? The handling of these words seems to vary throughout the section, starting with the title and continuing through Rules 1, 2 and 8 and Pitfalls 6 and 7.

    It might also be helpful to flesh-out the many functions that fall under the “study” heading, including reading, writing, computing, printing, storing, displaying, conferencing, etc. And let’s not forget to make room for books! These needs will vary considerably and may be accommodated in many different ways. A sentence or two about the proper design of eating bars would also be helpful.

    Lastly, combining the discussion of dining and studying works OK by me. They seem to have similar problems and concerns.

  • Tom

    Just some food for thought in the dining room.

    I have always, in my mind, made a distinction between the words house and home, home includes people.

    Soooo, maybe………

    Slow “Home”: Rules of Thumb

    Rule 1 would be “The dining room is proportioned to fit a table, chairs,(sideboard, potted plants, whatever else?), the dining function and the people”

    In automotive design, vehicles are designed to be operated by a range of sizes of people, 5% female to 95% male. When I look at housing floor plans, I always get a little annoyed because they do not represent real life, showing a table and 6 chairs neatly tucked in, so the circulation looks good. Well, throw a sideboard in and put 95th percentile dad and four 95th percentile hockey sons around the table, I don’t think, even if mom is a 5th percentile size she is not going to be able to circulate around the table. (Ladies, just kidding about planting the image of the mom serving all the guys. Someone earlier suggested a 3d visual cartoon might help get the point across)

    Anyway, just my little rant on dining rooms, most of my friends and family live in houses where the dining room is a little on the small size, they look, OK, when nobody is using it, but put the people in and they don’t function well. There is always a few “suck it in, buddy, so I can pass through” comments. If the house is on the small size it should very definitely not have two ineffective eating areas vs one well sized room.

    After reading, the pages every day, I just can’t wait to see examples of good design and function!


  • James Scott

    Good evening.

    Grace & John – It’s interesting but when I read the chapter this morning I immediately thought of the “away room” of the “away space”. Whether you live with a growing family or on your own, a space that can divert your attention, reduce anxiety, calm your spirit, or the like is of greater value than I think many of us admit and certainly a vital component of any home, particularly a Slow Home.

    Whether it be an actual room, a corner shrine, a recess, a blind pulled across to change the mood of the space or alter the view, without this kind of environment the home could be unlivable.

    My wife and I are both professional nappers, and without a sanctuary to escape from the phone, the dog and the kids and their friends we would go bonkers. And the bedroom doesn’t count, that’s for night-time activities only.

    We do have a study/office/craft area. But that is a beehive of modern day activity. Not much of a retreat when all of us demand the use of the space.

    Though I do not agree with all of the examples Susan Susanka uses to sell her concepts I strongly support the idea of an “away space”.

  • Allan

    Good evening everyone:

    I felt this section worked pretty well for me as I read it. Others have already picked up on principal v. principle. But I want to add my support for a glossary. It should cover not only terms that are less familar to the novice, but especially terms and words that have a very specific meaning for the authors.
    Here I am thinking about the term “Environmental Footprint”. Society has had a slow but growing awareness of ‘the environment’ for a while. But I think it is fair to say that there is little consistancy in how to define ‘environment footprint’. For some it would mean the harm done to the Earth, while for others it might include resources that have been used in building the house, or perhaps the impact of the electrical appliances and choice of heating systems. In this manuscript the term seems to have a definition of ‘context within a house’. Another term that might be included is “falsely labelled space”. Ample room here (pardon the pun) for misunderstanding. So I would support Annette’s question and hope that a glossary will be included right beside the appendix.

    Another little item that is present on each of the samples, is a compact note about the size and location of the house. I really like this, John, as it tells me that these samples are ‘real’ and not a special creation of the author to give an illustration of the wretched pitfall.

    Here a suggestion for a the term ‘colliding geometry’. Maybe consider using “duelling doors” or something! It might be a bit more graphic for the reader, but maybe you’ve a more important concept that what I’m interpreting.

    Lastly, as Tom has noted above, the difference between house and home. For me, house is a rather empty shell while a home is a personalized space that just happens to have a civic address. Friends may think they are visiting our house, but really we invite them into our home. [Some people think you need a resident cat too, but I digress...]


    PS Grace! I too like the idea of a private space. The closest thing I’ve seen to date, is illustrated in the Susanka book “Creating the NSB House”. The caption calls it an inglenook, pg 130.

  • John Brown

    Sorry for the delay in responding to the afternoon’s posts.


    I like your interpretation of dining and study being together because they are both potential “wastes” of space in the typical cookie cutter house. I hadn’t thought of that before. As you say, if they are going to be used great – but don’t waste the money if they are only for show.

  • John Brown

    Thank you for the reminder to speak in plain, simple terms. It is certainly my goal. I am not a professional writer and I have found the whole book experience to be quite challenging. I appreciate your help.

  • John Brown

    Jim X,
    You bring up a really good point about the double sections that I hadn’t really considered yet. We haven’t really taken the checklist ‘out for a test drive around the track yet’ (the online version is still being debugged) and the idea that the dining room could be slow but the study fast poses a real problem.

    When we finish reviewing the checklist pages the next step is going to be to try out the checklist as a group on some test houses in order to calibrate the tool. We will have to get this sorted out before that, however.

    This is a really helpful observation – Thanks.

  • James Scott

    Oops! – I apologize, I tripped myself up once again and I realized it the moment I woke this morning. The architect and author of The Not So Big House is Sarah Susanka.

  • leo


    I think your personal experience with clients not wanting a formal dining room is a selection bias. Those who seek you out tend not to be the type who wants a formal dining room.

    However, I do agree that unless the room is FREQUENTLY used ie at least once a week, then having one really doesn’t meet “Slow Home” principles, regardless of how much a client likes the idea of it.

    End of Rant.

  • John Brown

    Sorry for the delay in responding to the rest of the comments – the result of a very nice visit with our daughter in Toronto.


    I can see how the title of the inset box could be seen as condescending – that wasn’t the intention and I take the comment about telecommuting.

    Definite revisions.

  • John Brown


    Thanks for the anecdote (confession) about the formal living and dining room in your first house. I also like the story about the multi-purpose sofa. I have a “Lazy Working Sofa” by Philippe Starck that was designed around that idea. It used by our family in all sorts of ways.

  • John Brown

    I really appreciate your review of the four sections to date. I am sure that others are as curious as I am about who the “we” is that you refer to.

    I also completely understand the “sigh” response when client come into the office after having just the wrong perfect house. It is why I got my real estate license and one of the big reasons why we wrote this book.

  • John Brown


    Thank you very much for the detailed markup and thoughtful comments. The working from home idea obviously need to be developed further and you are right that the “computer where you can see it” idea should be included.

  • John Brown

    It is good to hear that you are making good use of the formal dining room. Leaving those rooms to just collect dust is a real shame. Converting dining rooms into a study/ office area is a common feature of many of our renovation projects.

  • John Brown

    I have a new appreciation for the need for clarity after trying to combine indoor/outdoor living and dining/study. Your suggestions are helpful.

  • John Brown

    You bring up a really important point about fast house design marketing. In many situations the furniture that is shown is either unrealistically placed, intentionally mis-sized, or as you say, incomplete. Dining rooms (and bedrooms) are especially susceptible to this last issue. Perhaps we need a separate section or inset box on furnishing issues.

  • John Brown

    I think the idea of having some variety, flexibility in our living space is important. A bit of privacy is important. My comment was more about the actual name “away room” than the idea.

  • John Brown

    Good points all. The earlier chapters in the book do explain a number of the key terms – false labeling, colliding geometries, redundant spaces, environmental footprint, etc. With that said, however, I agree that a glossary or appendix would be very helpful. We were thinking of also including a guide to reading floor plans as well as an appendix.

  • Grace

    John–maybe it’s just a routine Canadian expression, but I’m still giggling at the thought of the ‘naughty corner’!

  • John Brown


    When my kids were in preschool and the first couple of years of elementary I remember that each classroom had a so called naughty corner for the kids who needed some “time out” during the day. I assumed that it was a widely used expression but maybe it is a Canadianism or maybe just a strange quirk of the school my kid’s attended.

    The term has been such a natural part of my life that I haven’t really thought about it but now that you mention it, it is pretty funny – particularly when you consider the multiple interpretations of naughty.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the rant and I apologize for the tardiness of my response.

    You are probably right about the selection bias of our clients and their general desire for formal dining rooms. However, I do know that, generally speaking, the use of these rooms has been decreasing over the past 40 years and the regular use of a formal dining room is now the rare exception rather than the rule.

    As you say, if people aren’t going to use any type of room frequently then they should seriously consider allocating the amount of space it occupies to another kind of use (or make the house smaller).

  • Terri

    Further on whether or not people today want formal dining rooms. It might be a slow evolution, but it seems that as kitchens become more deluxe in their finishings and layouts, people are wanting to show them off. Plus, the dining table and buffet/built-ins are often styled to coordinate with the kitchen cabinetry. This design detail is necessary in an open plan for continuity, but the simplicity is appealing. Comfort and ease found in open-plan living trumps the formality of tucking guests into a walled-in formal dining room. We are more at ease with guests sitting at an island to chat while we prepare drinks or food. In fact, if the space allows, we like that helping hand usually offered at large gatherings.
    Ultimately, with open living, a sort of “built-in” ease is allowed. The walls have literally come down, but so have the pretensions that used to accompany the walled-in dining room.

  • Big bonus