I have a home-improvement book that poses an important, well-worded question in its section on one-room apartments:
“Do you want to sleep in your living room or live in your bedroom?”
In other words, do you want your one room to look and function primarily like a daytime living room but also have a place to sleep, or do you want the room to look and function primarily like a bedroom but also have places to eat and do daytime things? This is a wise question to consider before choosing furniture and so on.
I haven’t lived in a one-room place since 1994, but sleeping in the living room and living in the bedroom are ideas that have worked for me in various homes, and I think that being flexible about which activities belong in which room of your home can make it a lot more comfortable and efficient. Here’s one example:
A few years pre-parenthood, Daniel and I lived in a second-floor apartment whose entrance was at the back of the living room. It was a long, narrow place with the two bedrooms (one of which was very skinny) next to each other at the back. We naturally assumed that the larger bedroom with two closets should be our bedroom, and the smaller one should be Daniel’s home office. We also needed to store our two spare twin-size mattresses someplace, ideally a place that could be used as a sleeping area for guests.
After some pondering, we decided that the living room was so large we needed only the middle part of it for seating/conversation/TV-watching; the mattresses could go in the front part of the room, which was somewhat private (despite its six large windows) because it was a “dead end” away from the front door and other rooms and it was high above street level. We used our high-backed sofa to define the front edge of the conversation area, and we stacked the mattresses behind it, leaving enough space between them and the front wall that the top mattress could be pulled onto the floor next to the other one to create a king-size sleeping area.
We called this space “the guest nest”. Sitting or lying on the mattresses, our heads were below the level of the windowsills and the sofa back, which created a sense of privacy and cozy enclosure, yet the spaciousness overhead and the air and light from the windows kept it from feeling crowded or stuffy. We enjoyed hanging out there to read or play games, and guests liked sleeping there. Meanwhile, we also enjoyed our airy bedroom with ceiling fan and view of the shady back yard.
These arrangements worked out just fine at first. Then winter came.
This apartment had two kinds of windows: In the front rooms, it had its original wooden-framed windows from 1919. In the bedrooms and bathroom, it had newer, cheap, aluminum-framed windows. The cheap windows in the bedrooms faced north, toward the yard full of leafless trees now powerless to protect us from the icy north wind. Even after we pressed temporary caulk around all the edges where the windows met the frames, our curtains routinely fluttered in the air currents caused by cold passing through the glass. Condensation on the window frames froze into thin sheets of ice.
Our bedroom had a medium-sized radiator underneath the windows. Much of its warmth was sucked immediately through the cheap windows. Our living room had a huge radiator underneath its front windows, alongside the guest nest, and those south-facing windows filled the room with sunshine. The bedroom was the coldest room in the house, and the living room was the warmest.
We spent almost all our at-home waking hours in the living room, but of course we still slept in the bedroom–wearing extra socks and ski hats, clinging to each other and our hot-water bottle, and grumbling about how we needed to buy more blankets–because it was the bedroom and that’s where our bed was.
It wasn’t until one of us got sick in January that we realized how ignorant and unimaginative we’d been! I’ve actually forgotten now which one of us was sick, but the sickie moved to the guest nest to keep the germs away from the healthy person. The pleasantness of being warmer was immediately noted! By the time the illness was over, the sickie was raving about the wondrous comforts of the nest.
So, we moved the mattress from our full-size bed to the nest and stacked the twin mattresses on top of our box spring in the bedroom. When we had guests during the winter, we pushed our dining room furniture against the walls and brought the spare mattresses in there; it was visually screened from the nest by the sofa and the china cabinet between rooms, so it felt adequately private.
In a household of only two people, especially people who have approximately the same schedule and usually sleep together, sleeping in the living room doesn’t cause much conflict with other activities. When one of us was up later or earlier, we could use the kitchen and dining table without bothering the sleeper in the far end of the living room, almost 30 feet away. The sofa back exactly blocked the nest’s line of sight to the dining room’s ceiling light, so turning on that light only slightly illuminated the nest rather than shining light into the sleeper’s eyes.
Even when our bedroom became habitable again in the spring, we were reluctant to leave the nest. The springtime breezes through the six windows brought us the scent of flowers and the sound of fluttering leaves, and we lay in bed looking at branches against the sky. It was like a treehouse. We wound up sleeping there until early summer, when the heat from the sunlight became excessive and our shady bedroom finally seemed appealing again. The first crisp notes of autumn in the air made me look forward to returning to the nest.
Our current home has better weatherproofing, nicer bedrooms, and no private corners in the public rooms, so we now sleep in conventional locations. But the lesson of the guest nest has stayed with us: Beware of assigning activities to the rooms where they’re “supposed” to go. Think about what kind of space that activity really needs, and find the best space for it.