Magic, Delight, and Awe: Design and the Modern Home

When I think of the Harry Potter series, and specifically how the books were brought to life in the movies, I was struck by the spaces were magical enough to inspire delight and awe. While I am a fan of the open spaces and clean lines of modern design, there is something to be said for closed floor plans of old homes and the magic, delight, and awe that they sometimes create. There are plenty of examples of how people are creating cool and magical spaces today but the question I find myself kicking around is, “how might technology be woven into space design to create amazing experiences for the rest of us? ”

I was first struck by this years ago when I visited Monticello and saw the alcove bed between Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom and his office. This design certainly was not typical to the 3-bedroom ranch that I grew up in any of the neighborhood houses that I visited while growing up. If you have not seen it, Jim Merithew captured an image of it for an article he wrote for Wired:

More recently, thanks to Reddit (and Pinterest and Tumblr), I have become appreciative of / somewhat addicted to “room porn.” Why? There are countless examples of when design is used to create unique or unexpected experiences.

At the extreme end of the modern spectrum is Gary Chang’s apartment in Hong Kong: 24 rooms can be created in a 344 square foot space. Self-designed and not exactly inexpensive (the renovation described by the New York Times in 2009 cost $218,000), the space is pretty amazing. Kirsten Dirksen has a video from / for (a great resource for ideas about and insights into sustainable culture) exploring the apartment with Chang. As much I love the idea of the space, 344 square feet is a little small for me (I say this as a guy who can’t keep track of his keys when he knows that he left them on the counter; all the moving walls all but guarantee some rage-filled mornings trying to get out the door).

So what constitutes “magic” in a living space? I suspect that it is highly personal, though, looking through the images that people consider to be “room porn,” my eye gravitates toward spaces that exist in or in harmony with nature; that suggest a certain sense of peace or calm (heck, Al Capone managed to pull this off in his prison cell); or that are wildly organic or incredibly industrial. I think the key, when it comes to technology, will be making the “magic” seamless if not invisible. The secret doors made by the folks over at Creative Home Engineering or The Hidden Door Company come to mind as a means of creating a magical space…but the doors, in and of themselves, are not enough. I look to things like motion sensors, subtle LED (or fiber optic) lighting, interesting textures and palettes, and furniture and accessories for the actual magic.

I wonder what it would be like if HGTV, rather than focusing building a showcase Smart Home, set out to design and build a magical home. Who would they engage? Designers, certainly, but I wonder what the role of set designers, special effects artists, and technologists might be. I also wonder what the balance between magic, the practicality of a livable space, and cost would be.

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