Truly excellent interior design has the power to make our homes inclusive and create equal spaces that empower us to fulfil the kinds of domestic roles we choose.
Kim Williams, creative behavioral strategist focused on designing interior spaces, knows that when you pay attention to how people naturally gravitate in the space and design around it, excellent design is born.
Here are Kim’s top thoughts on how to balance femininity in your shared space.
Find fulfilling roles
Our spaces should enhance our functioning as human beings regardless of gender. While it’s true that the old fashioned notions of men being in the garage and women in the kitchen have become antiquated, ultimately roles and the structure they bring to our lives are the cornerstones of a successful family unit. In any home, it is important that everyone has a purpose and be given a place in which they can happily fulfil that purpose.
Traditional roles remain so topical because it taps into our fundamental human desire to not be limited. Historically speaking, many gender-based roles limited both sexes from exploring other dimensions and elements of who they wanted to be within a unit. Thankfully, we are seeing a societal shift towards our homes becoming spaces that encourage us to be whoever we want to be.
The beliefs that dictate how we use the space in our homes are deeply entrenched and inseparable in the western world from the roles we were expected to play. However, with the rise of millennial couples, attitudes towards who is responsible for what types of tasks in the home are changing.
The shift in the domestic space is toward being an accepting and inclusive realm that encourages a more equal share in domestic labour and a more integrated action decision-making process.
Understand your relationship dynamics
Our ideas of masculinity and femininity have intricate ties to the culture that surrounds us and how culture influences our home lives is ever-evolving and complex. However, culture does not dictate what relationship dynamics will work for your design process.
The relationship dynamics in shared spaces impacts design so profoundly because they link to how we function in a space and therefore what we will need from it to thrive.
In one home I just finished, the husband was the primary decision-maker and was deeply involved in how the space felt and lived. However, the wife was also given her say and was often involved in the final decision resulting in the whole project being completely codesigned by myself and the both of them.
Currently, I am finishing another home for a young couple in their twenties, where she has been more involved in the initial phases of designing and planning because it is what she loves to do, and he is very involved in the sign off of it.
Our family units work like teams where we all have different roles usually because they play to our strengths. All successful design dynamics respect that each party has a contribution to make but also have a clear primary decision-maker. Traditionally that has been the masculine figure but ultimately gender doesn’t matter.
We also tend to make design decisions according to what roles we fulfil. For example, whoever is in charge of maintaining the garden will tend to make landscaping decisions and whoever is in charge of cooking will tend to take the lead in the kitchen. Since culturally, we are in a place where we are more open about what roles we want to take on, spaces tend to become tailored to the needs of the person who uses them the most.
Acknowledge individual needs
How a space is used and by whom makes an enormous difference to how you zone the space. You want to acknowledge idiosyncrasies whilst preserving the all-important connectivity and flow between different spaces.
Connecting people through spaces that allow them to embrace the various facets of themselves is after all the greater purpose of design.
Passive and active personalities, different ages and cultures all impact how I design a shared space. The different ages that children are at, the different stages of your own life and the phases of a relationship are all primary drivers that functionally dictate what you need from a space. How you are brought up also has a limited influence. As we get older, we become much more aware and emotionally mature individuals and do introspective work to understand what it is that we want. Part of designing any space is introspection on the clients part to ensure they are communicating with me what they need to maximise their investment in their space.
Understanding the individuals that makeup families is fundamental to design. When people come together and when they go apart is different for every family. Some families may be sporty and want their communal lounge space to centre around a games area and TV. Others may not watch TV at all which is becoming more common as we move to use our devices more.
The behavioural aspect of the design is more important now than ever as we move beyond the basic functions of our homes like eating, cooking and sleeping to create our homes to be lifestyle hubs. Today we crave places that enhance our productivity and empower us to live our best lives.
Find your balance
My clients often prove that the correct balance of femininity and masculinity is unique to every couple. When it comes to their home design, women are traditionally more interested but there is no clear overarching dominance – more of a give and take in the collaborative design process. Individuals tend to be accountable at different points during the phases of design, such as women being involved in planning and men being involved in the sign-off phase. Availability also plays a significant role and if one person is more available than the other they tend to play a larger part.
Part of the driving force behind the domestic social shift towards equality in our homes is men wanting to be more expressed in their homes and feel more ownership of their spaces. There has been an evolution where I see women pressuring for the things they want less and taking a more collaborative approach. Men on the other hand are being more forward about what they are looking for in the spaces they enjoy – especially the kitchen.
This is in part due to us being more confident to express which roles we enjoy and in part due to men acknowledging their need to have spaces that are designed around their needs as well. We all have important contributions to make as people and from a design perspective playing with beautiful feminine energy and powerful masculine energy is a dynamic I simply adore.
The most successful interiors are composites of feminine and masculine elements unique to the inhabitants of the home. A balance between light and dark, a balance of colour and neutral, a balanced understanding of how to use a dark space versus a light space to create a mood.
Consider multi-generational dynamics
Balancing masculine and feminine is challenging already, so how do you balance them in family homes where you have vast age gaps too? Between my partner and me, there is a nine-year age gap. Although we do come from different generations, living together has always been easy as the real issue that causes friction in shared space is respect.
When you understand what is important to your partner and focus on creating an environment that satisfies that need, masculine and feminine elements naturally balance out into incredibly beautiful spaces.
Understand the characteristics of people who inhabit the space, where they spend their time, what they enjoy doing, what is important to them and the lifestyle they live. If they spend lots of time in a very high-pressure environment or work from home, designing areas for them to decompress is important.
Everyone reacts differently to pressure; some need quiet spaces while others need the energy of others to recharge. Once you understand what is important for the people who use the space you can use zoning tactics, such as permanent shelving and custom storage, to facilitate what you need.
Everybody, just like every item in your home, needs their place – regardless of age. Silence is very important to my partner to destress so we made sure his space was upstairs and away from my son’s space – who is energetic and can be a little noisy.
Facilitating a harmonious connection between the feminine and masculine elements in your design is a question of setting up a strategy upfront. Detail what you want to achieve, who you want to achieve it for and why you want to change the home.
Consider all the design elements of form, function, flow, energy to create something special and unique. It is not always about what I am trying to bring to the work but what I am trying to bring out of my clients.
Our home spaces define our behaviour and should account for our unique tastes. Planning is therefore fundamental. People often make the mistake of rushing out to buy random items to throw together without considering how they work together. Considering layout, storage, proportion, light and colour, and who uses the space and how often, are principles that apply to spaces of all sizes. Fundamentally, getting the plan signed off, thinking before you act and planning for sporadic items and spontaneity in a room is key.
Excellent design is a well thought out process that curates thinking and translates it into art that has the power to facilitate behaviour. Our shared spaces are there to help us evolve as human beings and as we find the strength to be courageous about who we want to be in our domestic spaces. If we can all learn from the principles of role division and work towards making contributions that are mutually defined, appreciated and respected by all we will be well on our way to creating spaces in which we can all evolve into happier healthier beings.
For more Insights from Kim Williams, sign-up for her blog at www.kimwilliams.co.za or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @kim_williams_design.