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Posted by Linda Merrill | Nov 02, 2010

Thoughts on Defining Space with Roommates

An interior designer muses on how to best share space.

If you've ever had to share a room with someone -- a sibling, college roommate or apartment mate as an adult -- you have experienced the sometimes difficult give-and-take of co-habitation.

Unlike marriage or romantic partners, who by definition (if not in actuality) are partnering their living, plain roommates are merely co-living. It's less about merging and more about dividing: this is your space, this is my space. In the best situations, the roomies work together to create a cohesive space that fits everyone's needs and results in a unified look. But in the end, it's still about merging the needs and wants of separate people who will eventually go their separate ways.

Siblings

Let's start with siblings. Generally, siblings don't elect to share a bedroom, it's what is assigned to them by the parents. From our very earliest stages, we are looking for autonomy, self-expression and a sense of privacy, or if not actual privacy, respect for personal space. So, it's very important that siblings sharing a room be respected for their specific needs as best as possible. A cohesive look can be achieved by using matching furniture in the room, however, if the children wish a little sense of automony or self-expression, the bedding and accessories might be different. There are always ways of combining two different styles into a look that works. Create a sense of personal space (to the extent possible) by arranging furnishings so that there is open play space, communal space and independent space. Depending on the child, this may mean combined work space that separate the beds, or it could mean combined sleeping spaces that separate work spaces. Letting the children take the lead on how their space should be divided will go a long way to achieving harmony for all.

College Dormitories

Dormitory roommate situations are much like sibling bedrooms. If the students have never had to share a room, it can be a tricky road to navigate. Some students will work together on coordinating bedding for a matched look and others will want to express their own independence and yet others will simply not care. It's one of the first great lessons of college, or dormitory, life. Students may wish to create a "living room" space with their beds acting as day beds to hang out on with friends and have separate spaces for desks and wardrobes, or they may wish to use the study area as the dividing line for private sleeping areas. Many dorms have armoires for clothes and students have often used these as movable "walls" to create a total separation of space. Usually, this works for the roommates who don't get along or have no mutual interests.

Sharing a Flat

As adults, sharing an apartment can be a wonderful way to economize financially and have a built-in social life. But even in the best roommate situations, conflicts can arise when it comes to creating a living space that suits everyone. In these situations, it always seemed easiest to assign the "yours, mine and our" zones. Clearly, bedrooms are personal and kitchens are communal. The rest of the living space can become a war zone if not handled with respect.

I lived in a large apartment once with one other roommate that had three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room. We each had a bedroom and shared the third bedroom, but in a divided way. She had the closet for her extra clothes and I used the room as a craft/sewing space. And we both used the room as a guest room when needed. It worked well and served both our needs. The rest of the house was shared space, but she had prime use of the living room (her tv and air conditioner) and I had prime use of the dining room (more sewing space, my table and chairs). I did the bulk of the decorating and she didn't really care. In our case, it worked well and we got along. In cases of smaller apartments, there might need to be significantly more negotiating the "yours, mine and our" spaces.

Creative use of space shouldn't be forgotten in the space planning process. Just because a room has always been a dining room, doesn't mean it can't become a tv room or guest room. Or a bedroom can become the dining area or home office. As with any partnership, it takes thoughtful consideration of everyone's needs and wants and working together to create a space that is personal and functional.

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